Kevin Block

Although I didn’t know it at the time, my experience in the Princeton English Department served as excellent preparation for an academic career in architectural history and theory. Architectural studies is a broad field, one that requires familiarity with a variety of disciplines and methodologies. In the very first class that I took as a Princeton English major, “Urban Futures” with Zahid Chaudhary, I was challenged with a syllabus that included Wordsworth’s “Westminster Bridge,” Tayeb Salih’s Seasons of Migration to the North, the photography of Laura Mulvey, films like Koyaanisqatsi, Marx on commodity fetishism, and Simmel on the mental life of the metropolis. My capacities as a young, interdisciplinary scholar with interests in design and development stem from this kind of remarkable course and the mentorship that Zahid provided to me as a thesis advisor and continues to provide to me as a senior colleague.

After graduation I spent a year as a Princeton in Africa Fellow in Mozambique. The following year I interned at an architecture firm in Philadelphia. Eventually, having spent some time wandering about and working, I decided that I wanted to pursue graduate studies and I joined the Rhetoric Department at the University of California, Berkeley in September 2010. In many ways, I have never stopped thinking about the questions that Zahid first posed to me in that “Urban Futures” course--questions about justice and difference, as well as their formal and technical means of articulation. Like pathmarks, I use these questions to determine the trajectory of my career as it continues to take shape. They have made my degree from the English Department both meaningful to me and, I hope, valuable to others.

When I recall my time at Princeton--it already feels like a long time ago!--what is clear is that I was not the kind of precocious underclassman who came to campus knowing in advance his or her intellectual interests and professional aspirations. I certainly was not burning with a passion to read Spenser or Milton. But as I found out, the English Department at Princeton is much more than a place to study the literary canon. It is a faculty with diverse interests that encourages students to consider some of the great issues of contemporary life with cultural sensitivity and intellectual rigor. I am very thankful for the intellectual freedom that the English Department provided to me and the academic career that it enabled.

Listen to Kevin's interview speaking about his current dissertation research on "The Graduates", 90.7 FM, Berkeley.