Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Of Value To The World
In a recent Chronicle column, "Tales of Western Adventure," (via) historian Patricia Limerick writes on the challenges facing "public" scholars. The public scholar vs. "scholar of the esoteric" dichotomy is fraught with brambles (might the passionate pursuer of the arcane run afoul of hasty caricatures?), of course, but nevertheless the column is a must read. I was especially taken in by her bulleted lists. The first one, halfway into the short piece, weighs reasons for not encouraging newcomers to pursue academic careers in the humanities. The second list consists of Limerick's everyday techniques or manners for delivering "on the promise that university-based academics are of value to the world." Among them:
- Face up to the fact that your own convictions may not be the final word in human wisdom. Surrender the pretension that can poison professorial efforts to communicate with the public.
- Apply to the world around you the methods you were taught you in graduate school for assessing evidence. Take in information carefully; keep your hypotheses in a limber state; do not leap to conclusions; resist the common human habit of celebrating the evidence that supports your pre-existing point of view, while dismissing the evidence that invites you to question your assumptions.