Scholar-type people and academics often frustrate me. There’s a picture I love that hangs in the law library where I used to work; I’d push book trucks by it most everyday. In the picture a wizened old African-American man is outfitted in well-used work gear and he’s got his hand out offering something to the viewer: a small white pillar shaped object. The caption is “Ivory Tower.” The way that I interpret the watercolor is that those who “make it” into academia never get there on their own. Yes, it takes tremendous sacrifice from family (that’s a whole series of posts by itself…) but there are hundreds of thousands of others who make it possible as well from the great philanthropists down to the share-croppers.
As a result, we have an obligation. We’re not sitting around thinking great thoughts for our own sake even though that’s how so many of us seem to act. We study and think in order to advance human understanding in all realms for and on behalf of all. Even if our work is arcane and abstract, I have a conviction that we have to share what of it we can for wider consumption, for the benefit of those who have enabled us to do what we do.
Many of us don’t take this seriously. Furthermore, many of us can barely string together a sentence about our work coherent to those outside of our discipline—and that’s just wrong… As I see it, that’s one of the reasons why academics should be blogging. People like Mark Goodacre and Richard Nokes (among others) have the right idea; blog about academic topics and subjects in ways that are accessible and meaningful to the rest of life on the planet that doesn’t care—or perhaps doesn’t know why they should care—about the minutia of our fields.
Here’s another thing scholars should be doing: Wikipedia edits. What sparked this post was the discovery of a well-done entry on Latin Psalters. As more and more people start relying on things like Wikipedia for information, scholars of various fields need to step up and make sure that the data is right. (And yes, you can debate about whether people should rely on these sources of information but that debate is secondary to the fact that they do.)
Of course, now that I’ve said all of this, I realize that I have my own civic duty to do… The page currently states that Jerome’s Roman Psalter was used in “Britain ” until the Conquest. While it is true that editions of the Roman Psalter were in use and were copied until the Conquest, the majority of Anglo-Saxon era psalters were Gallican…