What counts as historical scholarship?

I occasionally interact with assistant professors who teach at research universities. They are often worried about meeting the requirements of tenure. They wonder if their articles have been published in journals that were “prestigious” enough. Will their monographs with university presses meet the tenure requirements of their institutions? Will they need another book? What about the edited collection they are working on? Will it count towards tenure? Are they wasting too much time writing op-eds, articles for magazines, and blog posts. What counts as scholarship?

One of the most freeing things about working at a small liberal arts college devoted to teaching is that I do not need to conform to narrow definitions of scholarship. When I filed for tenure at Messiah College (now Messiah University) The Way of Improvement Leads Home (University of Pennsylvania Press) was under contract, but it had not been published yet. I had published an article in The Journal of American History and I was brainstorming with my co-editors about the book that would become Confessing History. This was more than enough for tenure at Messiah, a school that defines scholarship through the Boyer categories. (Ernie Boyer is a Messiah alum).

With the exception of The Way of Improvement Leads Home and The Bible Cause (published with Oxford University Press), little of what I have published would count for tenure at an American research university. Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction was one of three finalists for the George Washington Book Prize, but it was written for a public audience and published with a religious publisher. Why Study History? was designed as a textbook. Believe Me was also written for a public audience. Confessing History was published with an academic press (Notre Dame), but I doubt the subject of the book (“Christian faith and the historian’s vocation”) would excite a research university tenure committee.

I have also spent a significant part of my career lecturing, blogging, leading history teacher seminars, and writing op-eds and magazine articles. Messiah University rewarded me with the title “Distinguished Professor” for my work in this area, but if I was a member of a history department at a research university this work would not help me obtain tenure. Perhaps such activity would count as “service,” but it would certainly not count as “scholarship.”

I thought about all of these things as I read Jim Grossman’s recent column at Perspectives on History. Grossman is Executive Director of the American Historical Association. Some of you may also know him as our first guest on The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Here is a taste of Grossman’s piece, “The Diffusion of Knowledge: Toward a Wider Definition of Scholarship”;

Beyond conventional publication, various other modes of historical work elicit appreciation or applause but are too often dismissed as mere popularization, and hence a distraction from “real scholarship.” These endeavors include but are not limited to op-eds, blog posts, magazine articles, museum exhibitions, public lectures, congressional testimony, oral history projects, expert witness testimony, media appearances, and podcasts. Some of these could lie within the blurry boundaries that encompass public history, and hence worthy enhancements to a CV, but inadequate as central qualifications for promotion without also the requisite standard monograph and traditional scholarly articles. 

The AHA, in collaboration with the Organization of American Historians and the National Council for Public History, has already approved a report recommending full academic recognition of “publicly engaged and collaborative scholarship,” but within a separate frame as public history, rather than on the same plane as more traditional modes of creating and disseminating useful knowledge. I am thinking in this column more along the lines of the AHA’s guide to considering digital scholarship in professional evaluation and the scholarship of teaching and learning in history. In each of these cases, the Association has promoted broadening our notions of what constitutes legitimate and valuable scholarship. Indeed, the considerable efforts of the AHA and the Modern Language Association to legitimate digital scholarship suggests that it’s easier to convince some of our colleagues to value new methods than to validate work many historians have been doing for a long time.

For many of our colleagues, the obstacles to further expanding these boundaries lie in defining and evaluating quality. This is not unreasonable; metrics are indeed essential to evaluation. Some op-eds could not have been written without the author’s training as a historian; others fall into the category of informed punditry or commentary whose content and method bears little relationship to historical method or expertise. Some might be historical and qualify as scholarship but are poorly executed. Still, there is no reason such work cannot be peer reviewed after publication as part of a promotion process. This principle would extend to any format that creates a product, whether written or preserved in other media. A history department can readily adapt its standards of quality and quantity to any mode of diffusing knowledge, just as we have different criteria for evaluating books, articles, and digital scholarship. 

Read the entire column here.

The American Historical Society announces its 2020 awards

Here are a few that might be of interest to readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

Award for Scholarly Distinction: David Levering Lewis, New York University.

Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching Award: Robert D. Johnson, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Herbert Feis Award in Public History: Valerie Paley, Center for Women’s History, New-York Historical Society

Allen K. Breveridge Award in American History: Jeremy Zallen, Lafayette College for American Lucifers: The Dark History of Artificial Light, 1750–1865 (Univ. of North Carolina Press)

Raymond J. Cunningham Prize for Undergraduate Journal Article: Jubilee Marshall, Villanova University (BA, 2019): “Race, Death, and Public Health in Early Philadelphia, 1750–1793,” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies (Spring 2020).

Littleton-Griswold Prize in US Legal History: Sara Seo, Columbia Law School for Policing the Open Road: How Cars Transformed American Freedom

John O’Connor Film Award for Dramatic Feature: Harriet

James A. Rawley Prize in Atlantic History: Sophie White, University of Notre Dame for Voices of the Enslaved: Love, Labor, and Longing in French Louisiana

James Harvey Robinson Prize for Teaching AIDS: Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Ohio State University for Understanding and Teaching the Civil Rights Movement

Click here for a list of all the winners.

Free Scholarship on Guns in America

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Earlier today we posted a syllabus on guns in America.  One of our readers directed me to a Project Muse website called Muse in Focus: Addressing Gun Violence.

Here is what it is all about:

Gun violence remains a pervasive public health crisis in the United States. As the country grows all too familiar with the cycle of violence, mourning, and inaction that takes place after any mass shooting, evidence-based research from experts and scholars is essential for any meaningful policy solutions to take place. In this spirit, and in collaboration with our publishers, we have decided to temporarily open up select content on Project MUSE that address the complex challenge of gun violence.

“MUSE in Focus: Addressing Gun Violence” is a selection of recent scholarship from Project MUSE publishers on gun violence, its effect throughout the culture, and its possible solutions. Our hope is that bringing these pieces together, and broadening their reach beyond the limits of our subscribing institutions, will help to inform the policymakers responsible for solving this crisis, as well as to educate researchers and other concerned citizens who seek evidence-based work on this topic.

Click here to access books published by Johns Hopkins University Press, University of Michigan Press, University of Massachusetts Press, University of North Carolina Press, Penn State University Press, Michigan State University Press, and University of Pennsylvania Press.   Authors/editors include Saul Cornell, Craig Rood, Angela Stroud, Nathan Kozuskanich, and Michael Hogan.

What’s the Most Influential Book of the Past 20 Years?

Rodgers

The Chronicle of Higher Education asked scholars to answer this question.  Here are some of the titles they chose:

Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

Robert Putnam: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Jo Guildi and David Armitage, The History Manifesto

Jonathan Levy: Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in Modern America

Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty

David Harvey,  A Brief History of Neoliberalism

Jessica Riskin, The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick

Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker & the Black Freedom Movement

Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness

Daniel T. Rodgers, The Age of Fracture

Read the entire list here.

2 Questions:

  1. How many have you read?
  2. What books would you add to the list?

The Funding of Religious Scholarship

01n/25/ARVE/G2168/017John Schmalzbauer‘s recent piece at Immanent Frame is a reminder that scholarship and scholarly organizations cannot function without money.  We need philanthropists, such as John D. Rockefeller Jr., to keep doing what we do.  Here is a taste of his excellent essay: “As rich as Rockefeller, Danforth, Lilly, Lice, Pew, and Templeton“:

At the outset of the twenty-first century, what do these Rockefeller-funded projects have to teach us about religion in higher education?

First, they teach us that philanthropy matters. Just as Lilly Endowment, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the John Templeton Foundation have sponsored much of the current wave of religious scholarship, the Rockefeller family helped underwrite an earlier era of research. Equally significant, the Danforth and Hazen foundations bankrolled the revival of religious intellectual life following the Second World War.

Second, these earlier projects show that religious scholarship is shaped by the hopes and anxieties of its funders. From the University of Chicago Divinity School to the Riverside Church, the Rockefellers fostered the growth of liberal Protestant institutions in the United States. Inspired by a global ecumenical vision, at least some of this philanthropy was rooted in fears of Protestant fundamentalism. Assisted by public relations founder Ivy LeeJohn D. Rockefeller, Jr. subsidized the distribution of Harry Emerson Fosdick’s 1922 sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” Reflecting the close ties among mainline Protestant elites, Fosdick’s brother Raymond later served as the president of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Similar concerns have shaped more recent support for the academic study of religion. Chronicling the “mainstream Protestant ‘decline,’” many of Lilly’s grantees focused on two questions: “1) Just how bad is it? and 2) How did we get here?” Other foundations worried about the rise of the New Christian Right. Commenting on the MacArthur Foundation’s sponsorship of the Fundamentalism ProjectPeter Berger quipped that it “was a matter of knowing one’s enemies,” a fear with deep roots in American culture. Describing a similar sentiment on The Immanent Frame, historian David Hollinger attributed the popularity of American religious history to electoral politics, noting that religion is “harder to ignore if it keeps coming back and hitting you again and again.”

Read the entire piece here.

In Defense of Faculty Scholarship at Small Christian Colleges

faculty-scholarship

In the last six months I have had conversations with at least four different professors at four different small Christian colleges in the United States.  These professors were all lamenting the fact that the administrations at their colleges had recently made decisions to cut funding for faculty scholarship.  One school had severely limited the number of sabbaticals offered each year.  Another school had cut internal grant money for faculty working on scholarly projects.  Two professors said that administrators told them that their primary job was teaching and if they wanted to do scholarship they were certainly welcome to pursue such a course, but it would need to be done on their own time.  According to another professor, an administrator told him/her that faculty scholarship is not a bad thing, but in an “age of prioritization” the funding for such scholarship needed to be cut because, in the long run, it doesn’t put students in the seats.

The emotions of these professors ranged from angry to sad.  They all had really interesting research projects, but they did not have the resources or support to pursue them.  One professor had to turn down an external grant because the administration could not afford to have him be away from the classroom for an entire academic year.

I am sympathetic to the idea that faculty books and articles do not attract prospective students. (Although I am sure that if a faculty member at a small Christian college won a Pulitzer Prize the PR department and the administration would not hesitate to bring attention to such an achievement!).

I also understand that many small schools need to make serious budget cuts in order to keep the doors open.  But to cut funds and opportunities for faculty scholarship at small, largely teaching, institutions is a short-sighted approach that ultimately hurts students.

In the past year or so I have had other kinds of conversations with other colleagues in my field.  They have told me stories of students at small colleges who have won entrance to graduate school or landed jobs precisely because faculty at their institutions had published books and articles that gave the school academic and intellectual credibility.

This is especially relevant for small Christian colleges.  Since many prestigious graduate programs–especially in the humanities–are overwhelmingly secular in orientation, many of the faculty in these graduate programs tend to be suspect of Christian college graduates.  This is unfortunate since many students at Christian colleges are more than capable of doing work at the best graduate schools in the country.  But it is also a reality.  Let’s face it, an absolutely outstanding student at a small Christian college with high test scores needs to have a great vita and letters of reference if they are going to compete for a spot in a graduate program with an above-average student who went to college at Harvard or Yale.

Having said that, it doesn’t take much to convince faculty at prestigious graduate schools that Christian college alums are legitimate.  When graduate committees at these schools are familiar with the scholarly work of faculty at these small Christian colleges it legitimizes the academic quality of such colleges and the students who graduate from them.  I can think of many Messiah College history students who were accepted and funded at top schools around the country because someone in the history department at those schools knew about the scholarly work of one our faculty members.

Just this week I was talking to a history professor at a small Christian college who landed one of his students at a high-powered and very competitive graduate program because one of the graduate faculty in that program had read one of his books and cited it in his own scholarly work.

Also this week I met a student who just got accepted to one of the best graduate programs in his field.  When I learned about this I approached the student to offer my congratulations.  (I should add that I did not write a letter for this student.  I have never taught this student.  I had no idea he was even applying to this particular program.  And to the best of my memory this was the first time I had ever actually spoken more than a few words to him). When we chatted he told me that he was very nervous during his campus interview.  He was was worried about how his Messiah College degree would be received at this elite institution.  But during the course of the interview the director of the graduate program told him that he was familiar with my work and followed me on Twitter.  I have no doubt that this student was accepted to this program on his own merits, but the fact that the director knew the academic reputation of Messiah College certainly helped him. I hope he left the conversation thankful that Messiah supports faculty scholarship. I know I did.

Faculty do scholarly work for a number of reasons.  Some feel called to make contributions to knowledge.  Others may do it to pursue personal glory or prestige at their institutions or in their disciplines.  Still other do it as way of climbing the academic ladder, landing a better job, or securing higher speaking fees.  But we rarely frame faculty scholarship in terms of what it might do for our students. When it is framed this way, scholarship becomes less about the career or even professional development of the individual scholar-teacher and more about an act of service to the young men and women we encounter everyday in our classrooms.

What is the Most Important Word in Historical Scholarship Today?

EmpathyWhen Oxford University Press asked me this question I decided to consider “scholarship” in a very broad fashion to include the scholarship of teaching and historical thinking.

I chose the word “empathy.”

Here is a taste of the blog post on this subject at the OUP blog:

In addition to catching up with authors and discovering new research, the annual Organization of American Historians conference is a productive and inspiring time to check-in on the state of the field. At this OAH in Providence, we had one burning question on our mind: What is one important word that all historians should have on their minds?…

 Read the entire post here.

 Why empathy?

 As historian John Cairns notes, empathy “is the passport to gaining a genuine entry into the past as a foreign land, and something distinct from our time.”  Empathy requires the historians to step into the shoes of historical actors in order to see the world as they did, to understand them on their own terms and not ours.  Historian John Lewis Gaddis writes, “Getting inside other people’s minds requires that your own mind be open to their impressions–their hopes and fears, their beliefs and dreams, their sense of right and wrong, their perception of the world and where they fit within it.”  The practice of empathy may be the hardest part of being a historian.  This is largely because our natural inclination, or, as Sam Wineburg calls it, our “psychological condition at rest,” is to find something useful in the past.  We want to make the past work for us rather than enter into it with an attitude of wonder about what we might find and the kinds of people and ideas we might encounter.  Historical empathy thus requires an act of the imagination.  The practice of bracketing our own ways of seeing the world in order to see a strange world more clearly requires discipline on the part of the historian.  It demands a certain level of intellectual maturity.  It requires a willingness to listen to the past…

Johann Neem on the Importance of Scholarly Writing

Scholarly-penJohann Neem, an American historian at Western Washington University, is very aware of the fact that academic writing can be impenetrable.  He also believes that it is important for historians and other academics to write for the public.

Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Neem defends both kinds of writing.

Neem’s argument makes perfect sense to me.

Here is a taste:

Basic research in the arts and sciences is the source of wisdom. Yet that wisdom needs to be shared. There are in all disciplines scholars who fit Cicero’s definition of the ideal orator, combining eloquence with wisdom. Yet Cicero recognized that the philosophical pursuit of truth requires different things from us than public engagement because it is a different kind of activity. We do neither academics nor the public any service when we conflate the two. Indeed, doing so is a category mistake.

We want physicists who write for each other. I appreciate that, at conferences and in academic papers, they have challenged each other’s conclusions and, in doing so, have pushed forward the boundaries of knowledge. Yet I am also grateful for my scientist friends who posted on Facebook links to videos and essays in which scientists explained, in terms that I could understand, why it was so significant that we had heard black holes colliding.

I enjoyed physicist Lawrence Krauss’s clear articulation of why a citizen like me — who could never understand an academic paper in physics — should continue to support investing oodles of money in basic research: “By exploring processes near the event horizon, or by observing gravitational waves from the early universe, we may learn more about the beginning of the universe itself, or even the possible existence of other universes.” This matters: “Every child has wondered at some time where we came from and how we got here. That we can try and answer such questions by building devices like LIGO to peer out into the cosmos stands as a testament to the persistent curiosity and ingenuity of humankind — the qualities that we should most celebrate about being human.”

I appreciate the scientists who have taken time to write for readers like me about the importance of hearing ripples in space-time. But I am also thankful for the many scientists who spend most of their time talking to each other. Instead of writing for me, they devoted their efforts to producing inaccessible scholarship that, over time, produced public insights of profound beauty.

Read the entire piece here.

Former Chairman of the NEH Defends Humanities, Rips Humanities Scholars

ColeBruce Cole was the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 2001-2009.  Before joining the NEH he was a Distinguished Professor of Art History  and Professor of Comparative Literature at Indiana University in Bloomington. He was appointed to the NEH chair by George W. Bush.  Cole is now a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank in Washington D.C.

Cole offers a common conservative critique of the humanities.  It is also a critique that should be taken seriously regardless of how one views the world.

Here is a taste of his recent piece at The Public Discourse

Too many humanities scholars are alienating students and the public with their opacity, triviality, and irrelevance. A good case in point is this passage from Manifesto for the Humanities, a recent book by the director of an institute for the humanities at a major US university:

Writing this book, I came to see the new scholar subject as a performative of passionate singularity, hybrid materiality and networked relationality. This is one sense in which the humanities scholar that is becoming is possibly posthuman, and a posthumanist scholar. The locus of thinking, for the prosthetically extendable scholar joined along the currents of networked relationality, is an ensemble affair.

There’s no denying the importance of the humanities, but this sort of writing and thinking gives us a pretty good picture of why so many academics are alienating those who could benefit most from them.

It is undeniable that, for centuries, the humanities have made important contributions to other fields of inquiry, such as medicine, law, and engineering, to cite just a few. Ideally, university administrators, business executives, foundation directors, policymakers and many others—both in the private sector and in state and federal government—can and should benefit from the knowledge and wisdom embedded in the humanities. Unfortunately, these people are increasingly alienated from studying them in our colleges and universities.

I saw this as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency chartered to bring their benefits to all Americans. This gave me an up-close and personal view of the state of the humanities on the national level. That experience fortified my faith in their importance, but it also left me with serious doubts about how their values and knowledge are being transmitted.

Let me explain. The chairman is, by law, the only person in the agency who decides what gets funded. Recommendations for awards are made by peer review panels composed mainly of academics. These recommendations are then sent to the National Council on the Humanities, a board made up of twenty-six scholars and citizen members. The Council then makes its own recommendations and sends these on to the chairman, who then makes the final, and only, decision on the disbursement of funds.

Because I had to personally approve every grant, I attended hundreds and hundreds of peer review panels to be sure that I made informed decisions. I also read thousands of applications. Over the seven years I served as chairman, this gave me a unique overview of all the humanities disciplines, but for the sake of brevity, I will confine my observations to the content of applicants for NEH research fellowships. About half of all applications to the NEH are for such fellowships, most from humanities professors at the nation’s colleges and universities. On average, only about 8 percent of these are funded.

My experience with these applications was, to put it mildly, disappointing. The weaknesses and trends I observed in them are worth examining because they illustrate larger problems in today’s academy.

Obscurity is Not an Intellectual Virtue

Huge numbers of applications were written, and written badly, in fashionable and impenetrable jargon. The opacity of academic prose, much of it couched in unfathomable theory-speak (such as the prattled quote above), has long been the subject of discussion, and even mockery, much of it well deserved.

In some parts of the academy, such obscurantist writing is seen as a sign of brilliance, but that’s something I never understood. I suppose I’m very old-fashioned in believing that clear writing is the result of clear thought and that the use of jargon is sometimes the lazy way to avoid hard thinking. Whatever the cause, too many books and articles written by humanities professors are needlessly opaque. Moreover, great numbers of the applications I read dealt with amazingly tiny fragments of the applicants’ fields, a sort of atomization of inquiry.

Now, I am not against deep dives into seemingly arcane subjects. There was no more fervent defender and supporter of funds for The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon or The Sumerian Dictionary than I, because these seemingly obscure reference works advance and enrich our knowledge of their important subjects. The problem was, however, that many of the fellowship proposals asked for support for projects that did neither. They were simply frivolous and added no discernible value to their fields of study. Not all knowledge is equally useful; successful applications offered projects that were understandable and were likely to make an important impact on and contribution to humanities studies.

Equally disappointing was the fact that large numbers of applications stuck to the deeply grooved paths first trod by the postmodern humanities of the sixties and seventies. There was a uniformity, and conservatism, among them that indicated a lack of fresh thinking. Instead of advancing new ideas, such proposals left me with a feeling that their shelf lives had expired years before. Whatever their subjects, applicants often viewed their research exclusively through the same predictable lens of race, class, gender, theory, or some trivial aspects of popular culture. New and original approaches to the various areas of the humanities were all too rare.

Read the entire piece here.

The New *Journal of the Early Republic* is Here

Winter 2015:

ARTICLES
Reassessing Responses to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions:
New Evidence from the Tennessee and Georgia Resolutions and from Other States
WENDELL BIRD

A ‘‘Voice of Benevolence from the Western Wilderness’’: The Politics of Native Philanthropy in the Trans-Mississippi West
ANELISE HANSON SHROUT

Trick or Constitutional Treaty?: The Jay Treaty and the Quarrel over the Diplomatic Separation of Powers
AMANDA C. DEMMER

‘‘The Music of a well tun’d State’’: ‘‘The Star Spangled Banner’’ and the Development of a Federalist Musical Tradition\
WILLIAM COLEMAN

EDITOR’ PAGE

REVIEW ESSAY
Digitizing Dolley, and Eliza and Harriott Pinckney
MARY CARROLL JOHANSON

REVIEWS
Saunt, West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776
PAUL W. MAPP

Miller, Dangerous Guests: Enemy Captives and Revolutionary Communities during the War for Independence
FRIEDERIKE BAER

Nelson, The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding
ROBERT W. T. MARTIN

Glover, Founders as Fathers: The Private Lives and Politics of the American Revolutionaries
CHARLENE BOYER LEWIS

Smith, Robert Morris’s Folly: The Architectural and Financial Failures of an American Founder
GABRIELLE M. LANIER

Connors, Ingenious Machinists: Two Inventive Lives from the American Industrial Revolution
ROBERT MARTELLO

Peart, Era of Experimentation: American Political Practices in the Early Republic
ANDREW SHANKMAN

Criblez, Parading Patriotism: Independence Day Celebrations in the Urban Midwest, 1826–1876
KELLY WENIG

Roth, Gender and Race in Antebellum Popular Culture
HOLLY M. KENT

Chambers, The Weston Sisters: An American Abolitionist Family
BETH A. SALERNO

Demos, The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic
KARIANN AKEMI YOKOTA

Scott and He´brard, Freedom Papers: An Atlantic Odyssey in the Age of Emancipation
CHRISTOPHER HODSON

The New Issue of "The Journal of the Early American Republic* Is Here

ARTICLES

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
John Lauritz Larson

The View from Piqua Agency: The War of 1812, the White River Delawares, and the Origins of Indian Removal
Karim M. Tiro

A Crisis of Legitimacy: Defining the Boundaries of Kinship in the Low Country during the Early Republic
Adam Wolkoff

Of Salt Mountains, Prairie Dogs, and Horned Frogs: The Louisiana Purchase and the Evolution of Federalist Satire 1803–1812
David Dzurec

Saying ‘‘No’’ to the State 
Staughton Lynd

How to Be a Prolific Scholar

Tonight my daughter and I drove past our local Planet Fitness.  The parking lot was full.  I imagine that January is a busy month at health clubs.  I think it has something to do with New Year’s resolutions.

I imagine that some of our readers have made resolutions to start writing more consistently.  I know I have had.  Oxford University Press must have my American Bible Society book by May 1, 2015 in order for it to appear in time for the organization’s 200th anniversary in May 2016.  I need to get moving.

Earlier today someone told me that his adviser–a very prominent Ivy League historian–once told him that scholarship is 10% intellectual and 90% hard work.  There is some truth to this.  All prolific scholars should have a regular writing schedule.

Tanya Golash-Boza, a sociology professor at University of California at Merced, knows this.  Here is a taste of her Vitae essay: “The Trick to Being a Prolific Scholar.”

A study by Robert Boice, reported in his book, Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing as well as in this article, provides concrete evidence that daily writing produces both more writing and more ideas. Boice conducted an experiment with 27 faculty members who wanted to improve their productivity. He divided them into three groups and examined their writing progress for 10 weeks.
Boice instructed Group No. 1 – the abstinent writers – not to schedule any writing sessions but to write only if they felt compelled to. He also asked them to keep a log of creative ideas to write about. The thought behind planned abstinence was that these writers would have a list of creative ideas ready when they finally did feel like writing. Result: The abstinent writers produced an average of 0.2 pages a day and had one creative idea a week.
Boice told Group No. 2 – the spontaneous writers – to schedule writing sessions five days a week for 10 weeks, but encouraged them to write in those sessions only when they were in the mood. They also were asked to use part of the scheduled writing time each day to come up with a new idea to write about. Result: The spontaneous writers produced an average of 0.9 pages a day and one creative idea a week.
Group No. 3 – the forced writers – agreed to a strict accountability plan. They scheduled five writing sessions a week for 10 weeks, and kept a log of creative ideas to write about. To ensure they would write every day, whether or not they felt like it, the members of this group each gave Boice a prepaid check for $25, made out to an organization they despised. If they failed to write in any of their planned sessions, Boice would mail the check. Result: The forced writers produced an average of 3.2 pages a day and one creative idea each day.

Read the rest here.  And get to work.

On Writing a History of the American Bible Society–Update #13

Richard Varick: President of ABS during 1st General Supply

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

It was a pretty quiet Friday at the American Bible Society (ABS).  I finished my last day of my first summer 2014 stint in the archives here and it was a productive one. Thanks again to Mary Cordato and Kristin Hellman for making the ABS a great place to conduct research.

On Friday I worked my way through ABS Extracts published in the late 1820s and early 1830s.  This was about the time of the ABS’s “General Supply.” Between 1829 and 1831 the Society attempted to give a Bible to every family and adult individual in the United States. It was an ambitious undertaking.  I have been looking at the way the local auxiliaries and ABS field agents have been responding to this call. I have been uncovering a lot of good anecdotes and stories.

I have also been wrestling with the nature of the book I am writing . My original goal was to write a semi-scholarly/semi-popular history of the American Bible Society that was deeply grounded in the primary sources and informed by the best secondary literature in American religious history and other fields.  I am enjoying my work on this project and wish I could spend more time on it. But, alas, I have agreed to deliver a book in time for the 200th anniversary of the ABS.  With this in mind, I am just not sure I can deliver a book with the kind of depth and scholarly analysis I had originally planned.

This is a rather new kind of history writing.  I am going to have to try to figure out how to write an institutional history in one year without sacrificing my own standards as a critical historian.  I am not sure if this is possible.  We will see what happens. This is going to take a lot of work over the course of the next year, but it is also a challenge I need right now.

More on "Is Blogging Scholarship?"

As my readers know, on Sunday I participated in a session at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians entitled “Is Blogging Scholarship.”  I blogged about the session here. You can also read Michael Hattem’s collection of tweets posted by those in attendance.

Today some of the bloggers from the session and those who followed the session via social media are writing about it.  Here is what I have been able to find so far:

Ben Alpers summarizes his panel comments at U.S. Intellectual History.

Ann Little has posted her comments here.

Chris Gehrz was not in Atlanta, but he was following the Twitter feed and this blog.  See his comments at The Pietist Schoolman.

Paul Harvey discusses the session at Religion in American History

I like what Joseph Adelman has to say here.  (And thanks for the plug).  A taste:

Other blogs don’t aim for “scholarship” in the narrowest sense (John Fea had interesting thoughts on how to construe the term) but do wonderful service to the profession by highlighting books of interest, topics that deserve coverage, and connecting history to the present. And some blogs do a little bit of everything. John Fea is my best example of this. In a single day, he will post interviews with authors and book reviews, highlights of research projects, notes about teaching, and Springsteen concert clips. Go ahead over and read The Way of Improvement Leads Home and then tell me how you’d classify it. I can’t—and I like it that way.

Michael O’Malley discussed the session and summarized his remarks at his excellent blog, The Aporetic.

And in case you were not in Atlanta, the OAH filmed the session.  I imagine it will be appearing soon somewhere on the OAH website.

Sunday Morning at the OAH

I hope you are still in Atlanta.  If you are, I want to invite you to the 10:45 session: “Is Blogging Scholarship?” Historiann has already tipped her hand.  I am holding my thoughts close to the vest. Not sure what O’Malley, Pasley, or Alpers will say.  I hope to see you there.

Chair:  Jeffrey Pasley (University of Missouri)

Panelists:
John Fea (Messiah College)
Ann Little (Colorado State University)
Michael O’ Malley (George Mason University)
Benjamin Alpers (University of Oklahoma)

Should be fun.

I will be live-tweeting the 9:00am session on the state of religion in American history.  Stay tuned.

The OAH Program is Here

The annual meeting of the AHA just ended and I am now gearing up for the April meeting of the OAH–the Organization of American Historians.  I will be presenting on Sunday morning from 10:45-12:15 on a panel called “Is Blogging Scholarship.”  My co-panelists are Jeffrey Pasley (Publick Occurrences 2.0), Ann Little (Historiann), Michael O’Malley (The Aproetic), and Benjamin Alpers (U.S. Intellectual History).

I just received my program in the mail today and jotted down a few sessions that caught my eye.  Here they are:

“The Boston Tea Party: The Most Dangerous Memory of the Revolution” (Benjamin Carp, Barbara Clark Smith, Nathaniel Sheidley, and Ron Formisano)

“To Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine” (Written and performed by Ian Ruskin)

“Internationalizing American History: Assessment and Future Directions” (David Engerman, Thomas Bender, Jane Kamensky, Kristin Hoganson, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, Johann Neem, and Kiran Klaus Patel)

“Crossing the Boundary Between Academic and Public Practice” (Patricia Limerick, Alea Henle, Cindy Ott, Sarah Keyes, and Patrick Blythe)

“Rebellion and Revolution in the War of Independence: Occupation and the Civilian-Military Borderland” (Caroline Cox, Jessica Choppin Roney, John Roche, Aaron Sullivan, and Emily Merrill)

“State of the Field: American Popular Culture” (Jackson Lears, Lauren Sklaroff, Burton Peretti, and Jefferson Cowie)

“Religion and Transatlantic Print Culture in the Early Republic” (Jonathan Den Hartog, Lily Santoro, Ashley Moreshead)

“Writing Religious Lives” (Rachel Wheeler, Richard Pointer, Anna Lawrence, Joshua Paddison, and John Hayes)

“The Scholarship and Legacy of Eugene Genovese” (John Boles, Stephanie McCurry, Julie Sayville, Jon Wakelyn, and Robin Blackburn)

“The State of the Field: The Trans-Atlantic Enlightenment in America” (Rosemarie Zagarri, Joyce Chaplin, Sarah Knott, Michael Meranze, Jason Opal, Jose Torre, and Caroline Winterer)

“Historians and Their Publics” (Alan Kraut, Spencer Crew, Jill Lepore, Sean Wilentz, and Shola Lynch)

“New Knowledge in Old Containers: How Early Republic Scholars Are Changing The Story” (John Larson, Patricia Cohen, Andrew Cayton, Harry Watson, and Mary Kelley)

“Beyond Coverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for History Survey Courses” (Lendol Calder, Laura Baker, Keith Erekson, Laura Westhoff, Joel Sipress, David Voelker, and Nikki Mandell)

“The Legacy of Edmund S. Morgan” (Craig Yirush, Richard Godbeer, Barbara Oberg, David Waldstreicher, and Michael Winship)

“State of the Field: Religion in American History” (Jon Butler, Wallace Best, Susan Juster, Kathryn Lofton, Kevin Schultz, Sarah Barringer Gordon)

“Educating Future History Teachers: Models of University and High School Collaboration” (Betty Dessants, Billie Jean Clemens, Linda Sargent Wood, Wilson Warren, Mary Ella Engel)

See you in Atlanta!

A Peer-Reviewed Article is Written in Response to a Blog Post

Mark Goodacre calls our attention to an article in the peer-reviewed, Journal of Theological Studies that offers a “detailed critique” of one of his blog posts.  The article provides an opportunity for Goodacre to reflect on the relationship between blogging and scholarship–a hot topic these days among academic bloggers. (In fact, I will be on a panel on this very topic next Spring at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians).  Here is a taste of Goodacre’s reflection:

I will confess to mixed feelings.  On one level, I am really flattered that Foster, and the editors of JTS, regarded my blog post of sufficient merit to warrant an extended response, and I am grateful to them, I think, for noticing my blog and regarding it so highly.  On another level, I have to admit that it makes me slightly uneasy to see my random jottings here subjected to the same kind of detailed critique that one would normally reserve for scholarly books and peer-reviewed articles. 

The difficulty in part may be that there is not really any established etiquette for this kind of thing.  Blogs and the blogging phenomenon are still pretty young, and we don’t really know yet how they should fit into the scholarly landscape. Should we treat them like casual academic gossip, a kind of online senior common room, or is every post fair game for a full, formal response in a peer-reviewed journal? 

One thing that focuses the discussion for me is to compare the status of the blog post with the status of the academic conference paper. Many scholars add a kind of rider to their conference papers, “Work in progress; not to be cited” and so on.  The point there is that conference papers are for discussion at conferences but not (yet) in formal publications.  I think I see something similar for blog sketches like mine — it will, I hope, eventually make its way to publication, but it does not yet have that kind of status. Indeed, in the case in question, I did subsequently present the idea in a conference paper (International SBL, London, 2011), which will form the basis of a future formal publication. 

For me, the blog is something more informal, more chatty than the published paper.  I write differently here from the way that I write in peer-reviewed articles. My tone is much more colloquial….

Read the rest, along with the 43 comments, here.  I tend to agree with Mark here.