In Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” there is a scene where the requirements of an accomplished woman are discussed and determined to include a thorough knowledge of drawing, dancing and the modern languages. In addition, she must improve her mind with extensive reading. Miss Elizabeth Bennett, the heroine of the story, finds all these requirements outrageous and finds it hard to believe that such a woman exists.
It may seem preposterous to expect such achievements, however, I think there is something to be taken from this scene in the book. In addition to the traditional expectations of a woman in that day, in order for her to be regarded as accomplished, she must demonstrate competency in several unrelated areas of education. Much like as students at a liberal arts college, we are expected to be proficient in subjects beyond our main area of study.
At times it may be difficult to accept that the sonnets of Shakespeare or the differences between Beethoven and Bach are important to an accounting major, but there is value in the knowledge.
Being conversant in different aspects of knowledge opens windows to understanding and appreciating the world. For example, understanding the physics and physiology behind how sound is produced can enrich a musician’s appreciation for his practice. And understanding various philosophical and ethical systems can help anyone working alongside people understand why they do what they do.
Today, we’re not trying to be the accomplished women of “Pride and Prejudice.” However, we are trying to become accomplished people in our field of study. Having a liberal arts education provides a more wholesome view of the world and enhances our ability to make connections across the various disciplines.
To be an accomplished scholar of the day, I think it requires more than just the understanding of what is expected for your field. To truly be accomplished requires the opening of the eyes to the way your area of expertise fits into the vast sea of knowledge, and being familiar with other disciplines is one of the best ways to discover this.