Humanities Major Alumni

After leaving Yale, Wallace spent a year in Japan on a Light Fellowship.When he returned, he entered Harvard Law School. Taking a year’s leave of absence, he spent this past year at King’s College, Cambridge in order to take an MPhil in Oriental Studies. He is now back at Harvard to finish up his last two years of law school. When he graduates, he plans to work for the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, likely in their Tokyo, Hong Kong, or Beijing office.

On the Humanities major: While a major like Humanities of course does not confer the practical skills necessary for capital markets law, it does confer a feeling of intellectual confidence that is extraordinarily useful to a law student. Harvard Law is a rather intense place, but in my experience, people who have been through Directed Studies or the Humanities major are well-positioned to think and write carefully, which are the requisite abilities of a good lawyer.

I liked the fact that we were a sort of elite within Yale, permitted to take courses where and when we liked, with professors of our choosing. I combined Humanities with International Studies—which was also very flexible when I was there—and would not change a thing, even if I were given the chance. I do not think I have a single friend who was exposed to the breadth and depth of the Yale faculty in the way that I was. I am a big fan of the program.

After the Humanities major (and before that, Directed Studies), Christopher moved to New York, where he was a consultant in new media. Deciding to pursue his passion to become a filmmaker, he received his MFA from the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television and won a student Academy Award for his short film Mr. October. He has gone on to direct five feature films. This Is Not a Test, his first as both writer and director, was released on January 20, 2009, and is a satire about a man who becomes overly afraid that terrorists might attack Los Angeles. Christopher was also nominated for an Emmy for his work as the editor of James Cameron’s Expedition: Bismarck.

On the Humanities major: I could not imagine a better grounding for any filmmaker than the Humanities major. The interdisciplinary approach of the major allowed me to focus on narrative storytelling and the history of ideas, as well as on art history, and the history of aesthetics. As a writer, director, and editor of film, I still apply that interdisciplinary approach on a daily basis, approaching a project both from the point of view of a storyteller and as a visual artist. At Yale, as the Humanities major’s courses moved into the modernism period, I was able to make film and its relation to literature the focus of my studies. But the grounding in literature, philosophy, history, and art history from the entire course of study still serves as an inspiration and model for much of the work I seek to do today.

After studying Humanities at Yale, Daria was an artist-in-residence at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris, earned her MFA cum laude from UCLA, and was an artist-in-residence at the Defina Studios Trust in London. A filmmaker and an artist, over the past several years Daria has exhibited her work across Europe and has been featured or reviewed in numerous publications, including Art Review, Artforum, the Daily Telegraph, and the Guardian.

On her work and her experience as a Humanities major: Film is a medium that invites a world of conflicting emotions and ideas to resonate, to perform, to hesitate, merge, and part. Like pretend lovers on a stage, the elements that make up a film—actors, costumes, lighting, sets, sound, music, camerawork, editing—play out a scene of seduction and withdrawal, accord and tension. Film attracts and holds—then releases—whatever it is given. Its transformed beam of light is like a psychological projection, harboring as many possibilities as viewers in the room.

I came to film as a medium because of its open potential: the chance to travel through space and time within an imagined world. My films have allowed me to journey through assembled impulses, investigations, memories, reveries, scholarly research, and grabbed citations. This chosen medium offers the possibility of creating a fragmented totality.

As “total artworks,” my films require profoundly interdisciplinary research. I work with dancers, musicians, filmmakers, fashion designers, and pull from historical, art historical and literary research; all of these interests and skills were stimulated and strengthened by the Humanities major.

During his senior year in the Humanities major, Jason also pursued a master’s degree in clarinet performance at the Yale School of Music. After finishing up both degrees, he attended the Peabody Institute in Baltimore to study conducting with Gustav Meier. While in the mid-Atlantic region he directed the orchestra program at the Baltimore School for the Arts, an urban arts high school, and had his professional debut with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. After continuing to work with the NSO for several seasons, Jason relocated to Iowa, where he is currently music director of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony. He has been active teaching clarinet, conducting, and performing chamber music at the university level in Iowa, and in the past year traveled to guest conduct the orchestras of Kansas City, Memphis, and Daejeon, South Korea.

On the Humanities major: I owe my involvement in the Humanities major to a fellow student who pushed me to look into it—probably the best advice I’ve ever received. I remember the program as incredibly stimulating from an intellectual perspective, particularly in the way that it allowed our small, close-knit group to explore and even challenge a variety of historical and aesthetic concepts.

I invariably get funny looks when I tell colleagues or students that I don’t have an undergraduate degree in music. But, to be honest, I cannot imagine a better educational background for a conductor than the thought-provoking approach to intellectual history provided by the Humanities major at Yale. I use the skills and knowledge gained in the major in every facet of my work—from making historically informed artistic decisions about pieces I perform; to presenting talks, interviews, and pre-concert lectures; to advocating for and articulating the value of concert music of our own time.

Upon graduating from Yale, Josh spent a few years acting in New York before deciding to go to medical school at Stanford. In addition to acting, before going to medical school he worked as a National Park ranger, as a research assistant in medical ethics, and in business development in the dotcom sector. He has published two medical thrillers, Isolation Ward and Flawless, both with Bantam/Dell.

On the Humanities major: I enjoyed the balance between breadth and rigor in the major. Most importantly, I liked the focus on the interconnectedness of thought across disciplines. Many majors look at their disciplines as more self-contained, so they might not pay much attention to what impact philosophy has had on art, or to how art has effected history. Humanities provides what I feel is a more “real” or “organic” look at the past, by encouraging investigation into how these disparate elements of the past worked with and influenced one another.

 The Humanities major was also crucial for my writing. The broad education it provided exposed me to ideas that help me structure thematic elements and enabled me to enrich my novels with apt references for those who know their philosophy, history, and arts. In my books, for example, I might reference Vesalius—perfect for a medical thriller—or Nietzsche, or Caravaggio. And my experience as a Humanities major will have even more bearing upon any historically based books I may write in the future.

After working for a couple of years as a journalist, Margaret entered the PhD program at the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. She finished in June 2006 with a dissertation examining the way Arab intellectuals since the 1950s have used Shakespeare’s plays, particularly Hamlet, to formulate and express their political ideas and aspirations. Her research interests include Arab political culture and political theatre, Soviet-Arab cultural influences, Shakespeare’s afterlives, and the ways in which people in two semi-Western contexts (the former Eastern bloc and the Arab world) discuss the problem of justice.

On her experience as a Humanities major: The Humanities major (along with Directed Studies) showed me how much there was to learn about life and literature, and how little of it I knew. For instance, take my fun but completely inadequate senior essay: the discrepancy between the enormous question and the tiny piece of the answer I was able to provide has been a continuing source of provocation. It has inspired me to read, think, and travel more, and to seek out a course of study and a line of work that will let me.

The Humanities major is an extremely advantageous course of study for an undergraduate, offering small seminars, enthusiastic teachers with varied interests and backgrounds, lots of primary reading material, and a continuous conversation with fellow-majors. It’s hard to find a major that manages to be coherent without teaching overly rigid habits of thought, and I think Humanities manages to negotiate that challenge.

Following graduation, Sasha went to Italy on a Fulbright Fellowship to continue the studies on Dante he began as a Humanities major. He then turned to the financial world, working for Corporate Decisions, Inc., a strategy consulting firm, first in Boston and then in Paris. After attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, he continued his work in the financial services industry at a number of companies: Boston Consulting Group; Frontline Capital Group, a publicly traded venture fund that invested in venture companies; Goldman Sachs’s private equity group; Citigroup’s strategic investment group; and TH Lee Putnam Ventures, a growth equity fund that focused on financial services and outsourced business services. In 2008 he founded Deucalion Advisors, an investment and advisory firm focused on financial and business services.

On the Humanities major: I selected the Humanities major because I was looking for a way of organizing my studies in an interdisciplinary manner. I found that studying questions of how literature, history, and history of art interact had a profound effect on me. I ended up focusing my studies on Dante, who appealed to me because he could serve as my “guide” to my studies. As a medieval man whose model was Virgil, he was rooted in the classical world. And as the first writer to write a “high” literature in the vernacular, he was a very modern individual.

Since my years at Yale, I have put my Dante studies on the back burner and spend most of my time as an investor and advisor to financial services companies. But the interdisciplinary approach that we used at Yale I still use today in how I evaluate companies and investments. I try to see business problems from multiple points of view, and I feel my studies at Yale helped me learn how to do this. And when I have a spare minute, I still like to read (and reread) the texts that would naturally fit into the Humanities program.