Defining What a Scholar Does ~ Praxis Habitus - On Race Religion & Culture

Monday, May 4, 2009

Defining What a Scholar Does

Read a post by Amanda French, not quite an English Professor (yet), but still a "scholar."

Amanda French is seeking a tenure-track position. Until then, she considers herself largely undefined. She writes, "Recently I’ve claimed 'digital humanist,' though that term is arcane and hard to define. I define it as 'someone with a humanities degree who’s interested in computers.'”

phd notesImage by Wrote via Flickr

So, she blogs about her identity.

In the midst of talking about her recent engagement blogging about Facebook's Terms of Service, Dr. French writes,
One label that I secretly like a lot and hope to deserve is “scholar,” and that’s what scholars do, I think: find out and tell the truth. Journalists do that too (ideally), but scholars get a lot more time to do it than journalists do, and scholars can seek out the truth about stuff that very few people care about at the moment.

We scholars, bless us, can be as verbose and sesquipedalian as we like, and we can duck the current daily frenzy and spend our days humming through frenzies long turned to dust. That was my very favorite part of graduate school. While I was writing my dissertation, I got my investigation on, big time. Such fun.

And then I also had fun finding a way to write the truth in a way that was accurate, fair, compassionate, and interesting.

The trick is always to balance the desire to be witty or shocking or alliterative or otherwise attention-grabbing with the mandate to be correct and thorough and just. Get out of balance one way, and you’ve got a tabloid; get out of balance another, and you’ve got a 1040 form. As a scholar, I want to be, oh, let’s pull a phrase out of the air, “engaging and authentic.”

Early science, particularly geometry and astro...Image via Wikipedia

And I think Dr. French makes observations in this post that I've wrestled with myself in my professional work.

Distinguishing between the "journalist" and the "scholar," she hits on the investment of skill and time put into ideas, questions, and issues beyond fleeting hot-button topics of the day. And the balance between "tabloid" and "1040" is spot on.

I'd like to think of myself as a "scholar" too. Despite the frustrations and misunderstandings, there is a satisfaction at being dedicated to the pursuit of truth and using that truth to expand the boundaries of our too-often-mundane humanity.

And beyond the technical achievement of producing knowledge, the goal of being "engaging and authentic" seems about right.

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