Making Your Work Visible

Over at ProfHacker, Mark Sample wonders how humanities scholars can make their work as teachers and scholars “visible” to the general public and to their own colleagues.   Here is a taste:

In Clueless in Academe, Gerald Graff argues that academic culture suffers from a debilitating, often self-induced opacity that makes it difficult for anyone outside colleges and universities to understand—or even care—what it is scholars and teachers do. This charge was not new when Graff made it in 2003, of course, and it sadly remains relevant today. Most recently, Ian Bogost has flogged the humanities for being too insular and isolated from public life. “The humanities needs more courage and more contact with the world,” Bogost writes—a declaration that could probably be extended to the sciences as well…

And then—it’s quite possible, I realize, that perhaps I haven’t even done a good job explaining what it is I do to my own colleagues. How many of them really know what I teach? How many know the nuts and bolts of my current research? Sure, there are course catalog descriptions and my own 2-minute blurb about my research. But neither capture the complexity of what my teaching and intellectual life entails. And it works both ways; I may know who teaches ENGL 354, but do I really know how she shapes the class? Do I really know what research question is gnawing at my longtime office mate?

As most of my readers know, I have been committed to making my work accessible to larger audiences.  I try to do this through my blog, through public speaking, through writing for general readers, and doing as much work as I can (or as much as the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History will let me) with school teachers.  I have been giving a lot of thought in the last year as to how I might be more effective and productive at doing this.  I have a few things in the works, but they are still at the visionary stage.  If I can get up my courage I may start sharing some of them here.

I have a serious question for all of you humanities-types who want to make your work public.  How do you make your work visible without coming across as a self-promoter, narcissist, or, unduly prideful?

3 thoughts on “Making Your Work Visible

  1. Ian Bogost, linked in the OP:

    And here, despite their name, the humanities have generally failed. As I've argued before, humanists bear active disdain for actual humans, whom they often perceive to be ignorant suckers, willing interpellees too far outside the “honorable” inner sanctum of Fishy humanism to be capable of the reflection the humanities claims to offer them. Humanist intellectuals like to think of themselves as secular saviors working tirelessly in the shadows. But too often, they're just vampires who can't remember the warmth of daylight.

    Heh heh. Even I didn't go that far in my exchange with Dr. Stephens.

    To your own question, John, it depends on one's view of the Great Unwashed, whether philosophy is the province of the few who make it outside the cave [the classical view], or if it can be universalized, per, say Kojeve.

    If the former, your audience is the next generation of leaders; if the latter, better not to yell at them and keep saying how stupid they are. [My remark is not directed at you specifically here. ;-} ]

    Then of course, there's the question of the pedagogue's job, whether it's to inform or inculcate. This determination is made based on one's view of man as stated above: if truth and knowledge are egalitarian, then the teacher interferes with the quest for truth by shading the facts or advocating a position on them: if sufficient, the facts should speak for themselves.

    If they're all deluded idiots, then you wack them with your ideological and rhetorical two-by-four.

    Since this doesn't appear to be your own approach, I have found that passion and enthusiasm are contagious. Best teacher I ever had was in calculus, with an accent as thick as Hillary Clinton's thighs. He was by far the most popular teacher at my college, although few had the slightest interest in calculus. But he did, and we caught the fever.

    Thoughts like “self-promoter, narcissist, or, unduly prideful” would never have occurred to us. Passion must be gregarious, or it isn't passion atall.


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