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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: June ::
It's Academic
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0411  Tuesday, 26 June 2007

From: 		Hardy M. Cook <
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Date: 		Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Subject: 	It's Academic

[Warning: What follows is a rather long reflection, which may or may not 
be of interest to the members.]

A few days ago, I called attention to an essay I had written reflecting 
on my experiences editing and moderating this list: SHK 18.0399 
Shameless Plug.

In response, I received a thoughtful reply from Virginia Byrne 
<
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 >:

Could you please share with us your definition of 'academic'?  I, for 
example, teach Shakespeare on the secondary level (high school) and am 
virtually totally absorbed and driven by my love of Shakespeare, his 
works and developing in students a love and a passion for the man, his 
words and his works. Yet...I do not particularly appreciate the rather 
intense discussions that often thread through the listserv (yet I 
respect those that do appreciate them)..i.e. a discussion of 
'presentism'.  Do I therefore not qualify as an academic and worthy of 
membership?

Before I attempt to answer these questions, I need to revisit the first 
post of 2006, which was the first mailing after the server crash of 
December 2005 and the launching of the new server that day. In it I 
wrote that "These past eight weeks have been the longest hiatus I have 
had as SHAKSPER's editor . . . [and that] . . . I have had plenty of 
time to think and even some time to rest from my labors and work on 
other projects." One of these projects was the SAA essay that resulted 
in the _Borrowers and Lenders_ piece I mentioned in "Shameless Plug."

While working on that paper, I determined that at the present half the 
members of SHAKSPER were academics and the other half non-academics. I 
went on to write that I welcomed the diversity of members, but that I 
wanted to regain the academic focus of the early days of the list. Then 
I announced that the only way that I could see that regaining the 
academic focus was possible was for me to become active as moderator and 
by my only posting messages that I believe are of interest to the 
academic community.

To clarify my intentions, I went on to write: "In posting messages only 
of interest to the academic community, I am not proposing to restrict 
the membership of SHAKSPER or to eliminate significant questions and 
comments from actors, directors, or any member of SHAKSPER. The source 
of the post is not the issue; the issue will be its relevance to the 
broad scope of academic interests in Shakespeare studies." [I am in debt 
to Phyllis Gorfain, a member of the SHAKSPER Advisory Board, who 
suggested the wording I used here.]

So, Virginia, in response to the second part of your second question: 
"Do I . . . qualify as . . . worthy of membership? Of course, you are 
worthy for membership. To my knowledge, I have never proposed 
restricting membership to SHAKSPER.

The answer to your first question -- "Could you please share with us 
your definition of 'academic'?" and the other part of your second -- "Do 
I . . . qualify as an academic?" -- are a bit more complicated.

In my _B&L_ essay, in reference to when I took on the functions of 
owner, editor, and moderator of SHAKSPER in 1992, I observed that "the 
293 members [of the list] were virtually all from academia.  Commercial 
Internet service providers were just getting started in the early 1990s. 
  The January 1, 1992, membership list of 223, for example, contains 
only eight addresses that ended in ".COM," and none of these are from 
the Internet service providers we are so familiar with today.  The 
remaining, except for one with an "ORG" extension, i.e., an 
organization, are Bitnet or Internet addresses from academic 
institutions."

Here, as in the 2006 post I quote from above, I am clearly using the OED 
definition of the noun (2.a.): "A member of a college or university; a 
collegian." Specifically, "a senior member of a university; a member of 
the academic staff of a university or college." And in the cases in 
which I am referring to the adjectival meaning of academic -- "academic 
focus" -- I am principally using the adjective 2.a. definition: "Of or 
belonging to an academy or institution for higher learning; hence, 
collegiate, scholarly." Academic in the sense of scholarly does, 
however, expand upon the definition: "Pertaining to, or characterizing, 
a scholar; befitting, or natural to, a scholar; learned, erudite" (OED).

In 1992, SHAKSPER's members were college and university professors, 
instructors, and graduate students; as the membership grew 
undergraduates, community-college professors, high-school teachers, 
actors, theatre professionals, authors, poets, playwrights, librarians, 
computer scientists, lawyers, doctors, retirees, and other interested 
persons joined the ranks. Nevertheless, from the earliest days, the 
orientation of SHAKSPER professed to be scholarly, focusing on both 
academic research and theatrical production. Also, from the earliest 
days, the membership included prominent Shakespearean textual scholars 
and bibliographers, editors and critics, and efforts were made to appeal 
to their interests to retain them as members.

Now, what is my definition of academic?

Well, as the Supreme Court Justice said of pornography, I know it when I 
see it. But I imagine such a definition would not satisfy many. I could 
as New Criticism often did define itself by what it is not or what it is 
opposed to, but again I am not sure such an approach satisfies either 
even though defining by the negative is perhaps the easiest option open 
to me. I could go on for pages and pages about what academic Shakespeare 
studies is not, but I will spare everyone.

The most direct definition I can offer is that academic refers to those 
interests of scholars, of the learned, of those whose profession it is 
to talk and write about the works of Shakespeare from a scholarly 
perspective, observing the agreed upon rules of evidence and argument as 
practiced in colleges, universities, and institutions of learned pursuit.

Let me stop now and put this tentative definition out for discussion 
should anyone wish to discuss it, acknowledging that I have spent 
considerably more time writing the setup to my definition than writing 
the definition itself.

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
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