Students looking for a new and different line of academic rigor can now pursue a master's degree in the Beatles at the University of Liverpool, the city where the famous English rock band was formed in 1960.
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The degree encompases more than just a dive into the Fab Four's music or taking a comparative literature approach to the lyrics. It digs into the band's shifting perceptions over more than half a century, and how it's affected other sectors like the record business and tourism.
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Holly Tessler, the professor who came up with the idea, and who is leading the new program, joined The World's host Marco Werman from Liverpool to explain what the degree entails.
Marco Werman: So, Holly, what exactly are these master's candidates going to be learning about the Beatles?
Holly Tessler: So, we're really taking a cultural and industrial approach to understanding the question of how and why the Beatles still so popular in the 21st century, some 50 years after they broke up. So, it's something that's substantial, particularly within the heritage, culture, leisure industries.
So, what prompted this idea in the first place?
Because I've done my PhD on the Beatles in Liverpool, lots of people are getting in touch, very interested to study the Beatles, and at the same time, the university was looking to expand its postgraduate, what Americans would call master's study. So, the opportunity came up, I proposed the idea for a Beatles M.A., and, happily, it went through.
So, in your course, you use terms like "intermediality" and "narrative theory" to describe the Beatles as a cultural brand. Can you explain those terms?
What we're looking at is this idea of how the stories of the Beatles circulate. So, transmediality then, is the idea that we hear stories from lots of different areas. So we'll see a TV show or read a newspaper article or read a book, we'll watch a video and all of those different media tell stories in a particular way.
What's been the reaction to studying the Beatles at the master's level? Are people excited about it, or have you heard some dismissive attitudes?
The students themselves are really eager. They're a great bunch of students, very dedicated, very enthusiastic. We've had a lot of energy in the room. It's been brilliant from that regard. In terms of the reception more broadly, overwhelmingly, it's been positive. There are, of course, people who say, "Oh, what are you doing a degree in the Beatles for?" But those are the same people who have issues with studying music, art or culture in general.
So, as a Beatles fan, personally, I love this idea. But do you think it's going to be easy to carry on for a long time in a sustainable way?
One of the things we're looking at is the reasons how and why the Beatles still connect with people. So, what we're looking at is how people still connect, interact with them, how their stories intersect with contemporary culture. So, I do think we'll have lots to talk about for years to come.
How do you expect your students to take what they learn in this line of study and apply it beyond campus? In other words, when they go to their parents and tell them about their studies, what answer will they give them when they're asked, "How are you going to make a living knowing about the Beatles?"
We wanted to ensure that there is an employability element to it, so we've intentionally targeted the degree to people who are looking to work in the tourism, heritage, leisure sectors. So, even if they don't work in Liverpool or in Britain, what they can do is study how the Beatles work as an industry here and can apply it to their own places and areas of the world.
Have you heard from Paul or Ringo about how they feel about becoming subjects of advanced academic study?
Not yet. They haven't called me yet. I live in hope.
So, finally, Holly, you're from Philadelphia. What started your own interest in the Beatles to such a degree that you're now running this program at the University of Liverpool?
I came to the UK to do my master's degree in 2001, just before George Harrison, unfortunately, had died. There was so much media attention and people from all over the world descending on the city and just the outpouring of grief, and it really sparked an interest in me in thinking about how and why the Beatles are still so influential, and I'm still here 20 years later, teaching a Beatles M.A.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.