How instead of written exams and term papers, this semester brought me a Jane Austen public talk and a Bachelor thesis
We’re halfway through July, and the exam mood has descended on campus. From the beginning of the month, students are elbowing their way to the last available places at the library, while bright marker pen is urgently streaked on page upon page lecture notes and hand-outs. Since I am currently writing my Bachelor thesis, my whole semester has been one long exam period of research, writing and editing. Yet before reaching the thesis or even the research seminars, which require the submission of a term paper, each English undergraduate student goes through several lectures, which cover the theoretical basis of the subject and its practical application. While preparing for the exams, you would then not simply memorise definitions, but also be ready to analyse a text in Old English for example, or the narratological structure of a literary text. Such exercises like scheming syntactic trees or determining the rhythmic pattern of a poem by counting its feet, require steady practice to the point where you can do it automatically. Yet, this semester I experienced quite an unconventional oral examination – I found myself standing behind a tall rostrum and bending towards a threatening microphone in front of the large audience for a talk on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
The talk took place on the 29th of June at DAStietz and was part of the lecture series “Viktorianische Jubiläen” commemorating noteworthy anniversaries of Victorian writers. As 2017 marks 200 years since the death of Jane Austen, the seminar on her novels concluded with a talk in front of the Deutsche-Britische Gesellschaft (German-British Society) and other interested guests. Nine of the students participating in the seminar were faced with the task of researching different issues represented in the novel and adapting them as engaging content for a non-academic audience. Apart from the speeches, we also needed to create compelling presentations and to perfect our performance after numerous rehearsals at home. Apart from the knowledge we gathered in the field of English literature, the talk was a great practice for content adaptation and public speaking, which are two essential skills in the Humanities.
We went through a plethora of topics – including: the captivating plot and memorable quotations; the intricately-developed characters and settings in the story; the significance of the Pemberley residence; the novel’s exploration of class and gender; and the symbols used for love and journeys. The issues addressed were further explored in the Q&A portion of the event, where the presenters were put in the hot seat. The lively dialogue with the audience calmed one’s prickly fear of sounding incompetent under pressure, and the event came to a smooth and successful end after the interesting discussion.
What I learned during the organisation of this event is that even if you are confident that you have practiced your presentation to perfection, anxieties will inevitably try to hinder you from showing your full potential. To prevent this from happening, you would not only need to be ready to execute your performance in your sleep, but also to even exaggerate it, so that you will reach the desired outcome in front of the dozens of eyes expectantly staring up at you.
Good luck for your upcoming exams and projects!
(Bachelor English & American Studies, 6th semester)