Majorly Outside the Box
Sara Hersh ’10 knew from the start of her Colby experience that she would be in a minority: she was spending her first-year fall in Dijon, France, with only a couple dozen (instead of a few hundred) classmates, living with a French family instead of in a dorm. She chose this unconventional start to college because of her talent for French and her plan to major in French. It turned out, though, that there were things she couldn’t see coming.
Not long into the year, Hersh learned that a friend had died in a car accident. About a week later, she found herself wondering what he would have wanted to do if he’d had more time—ultimately leading her to question her own path. “It really made me realize I had to pursue film and not waste my time doing … something that I wasn’t going to use” in a future career. A longtime film buff who has been making short movies since high school, she realized that the career she would love was in film.
Hersh arrived on Mayflower Hill and, instead of declaring a French major, she created her own major: film studies. She hand-picked relevant classes adding up to at least 40 credits, submitted a lengthy application to the Independent Study Committee, and got the approval to blaze a hitherto untraveled trail to graduation.
With 53 majors and 33 minors to choose from in 24 departments and 11 interdisciplinary programs, why would anyone bother creating a major, given the red tape, self-motivation, and independent planning required? For Hersh, Fritz Freudenberger ’09 (geography), Sarah Ross-Benjamin ’09 (medieval and Renaissance studies), and a handful of others, it was the obvious way to go.
Ross-Benjamin originally planned to double major in English and history. But her affinity for the humanities focused on the medieval-Renaissance time period, an era she says isn’t fully explored in a history major. “There’s art history that needs to be covered, and literature,” she said. “Plus, I kind of hate modern history, so that was my way out of that.” In particular Ross-Benjamin has always favored the history of medieval-Renaissance England; she’s currently studying the power shifts that culminated in the reign of the Tudors. She admits to being “obsessed” with Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and his other five wives. “He’s just wicked interesting,” she said. “Maybe it’s a little unhealthy.”
Where Ross-Benjamin wanted to specialize, Freudenberger preferred an interdisciplinary approach. Focused study in a specialized field wasn’t for him. “In biology or something,” he said, “you look at the tsetse fly, and you research everything about the tsetse fly.” Freudenberger is interested in patterns and processes, which lie at geography’s heart. “A common misconception is that geography is memorizing place names and where things are,” he said. In reality it is a complex hybrid of natural and social sciences, with two main sub-disciplines: physical geography, which focuses on land formations, and human geography, of which a good case study is India, Freudenberger said. “One explanation for why India is so different from the rest of the world’s cultures,” he said, “is because you have the Himalayas in the north … and there’s only a few passages through, and you have the Indian Ocean in the south. So there really wasn’t much interaction for a long time … for other cultures to get in, and that’s why India developed a really strong Indian culture.”