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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: June ::
It's Academic
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0420  Friday, 29 June 2007

From: 		Hannibal Hamlin <
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Date: 		Thursday, 28 Jun 2007 11:42:54 -0400
Subject: 18.0411 It's Academic
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0411 It's Academic

A very interesting topic.  Of course, part of the dilemma that we face 
(here and elsewhere) is that the popular sense of "academic" has 
degenerated into something like "useless" or "irrelevant."  This is 
probably part of the broader anti-intellectual strain of modern, 
especially American, culture.  On the other hand, it's also a sense for 
which academics are themselves partly to blame, many having deliberately 
cut themselves off from the general public during the high theory days 
of the late twentieth century.  (Of course, there is a heavy irony here, 
since what many academics THOUGHT they were doing was precisely the 
opposite -- re-engaging with the public sphere.)  But this is to 
oversimplify -- some.

I have taught at both the high school and university levels, so I have 
some sense of the similarities and differences between them.  High 
school teachers probably have some impatience with a certain amount of 
the discussion going on among university scholars.  Anyone who has 
taught Shakespeare to a grade 10 class of students who would rather be 
doing almost anything else will probably feel that a good deal of what 
is published in scholarly journals is of little use to them.  On the 
other hand, this may also be true for many of us who teach college 
students.  But scholarly discourse is shaped by factors more important 
than pedagogical utility.  One great feature of the university is its 
preservation and support of "useless" study, the pursuit of knowledge 
for its own sake.  The discussion of presentism might be an example. 
(Though we're back to the irony -- those interested in presentism are 
surely motivated by a desire to be as useful, as relevant as possible. 
Ah well.)

To take a different approach, however, the fact that scholarship is not 
governed by utility or practicality doesn't mean it lacks rigor.  The 
general public is fascinated by all sorts of topics that academics have 
no time for, because they fail to pass basic tests of scholarship (a 
perfect example is the Great Taboo on this list -- the authorship 
question -- a subject scholars find irritating and idiotic).

All this simply is to say that I agree with Hardy's principles.  If this 
list is to be more than simply a chat room, it needs to aim at an 
"academic" -- positive sense -- level of discussion.  Otherwise it risks 
becoming "academic" in that other sense.  All should feel welcome to 
join in, but the matters under discussion will not always be of interest 
(or use) to everyone.  And that will be true of university professors as 
well as high school teachers.

Hannibal
Associate Professor of English
The Ohio State University


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