U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Tim’s Light Reading (02/3/2010)

1. Studying Reading Reception: The Reception Study Society and its associated annual, Reception: Texts, Readers, Audiences, History, should be of interest to practicing U.S. Intellectual historians. Why? It seems to me that every single community of discourse that ever existed in U.S. history worked, in some way, around the production and reception of some kind of text. Practitioners of reception history studying recent times have recourse to oral histories. This is an exciting development. In the past, however, reception was studied only through personal or institutional papers, and published accounts. On the last, I believe that book reviews are an understudied and under-explored resource for intellectual historians. While I fully understand the weaknesses of this source (e.g. word limitations, written for money, notoriety, for spite, etc.), the problems in assessing authorial motivations in reviews are no different than for any other publication. In other words, we can correct for those limitations, or publicly acknowledge them, and still pick out relevant nuggets of thought from reviews. Of course there are limits: How do we assess the audiences of reviews? That seems to throw us back into the archives to examine personal papers, diaries, etc.

2. The Weight Of Tradition In Publishing: A Berkeley study, summarized in the Chronicle of Higher Education, unsurprisingly reports that tradition weighs heavily on authors in considering publication options. This paragraph sums up the situation:

Although the seven fields surveyed have very different cultures, which are explored at length in the 733-page report, the executive summary points to the persistence of doing scholarly business as usual. “Experiments in new genres of scholarship and dissemination are occurring in every field, but they are taking place within the context of relatively conservative value and reward systems that have the practice of peer review at their core,” the report states. It found that young scholars “can be particularly conservative” in their behavior, perhaps because they have more to lose than senior scholars, who “can afford to be the most innovative with regard to dissemination practices.”

[The report’s authors] identified five key needs of faculty members in regard to scholarly communication. Those include developing “more nuanced tenure and promotion practices that do not rely exclusively on the imprimatur of the publication or easily gamed citation metrics,” and reassessing “the locus, mechanisms, timing, and meaning of peer review.”

Here are the report’s findings on its “History Case Study” (p. 388-503).

3. The Effects Of Catholic Higher Education On Catholics: Positive, Negative, Or In-Between?: Some relatively conservative American Catholic organizations criticize Catholic colleges and universities on the historical grounds that Catholics who attend Catholic institutions come out less Catholic (intellectually, socially, theologically) than when they entered. I have not seen a precise starting date put on this trend by critics. In his comprehensive history of American Catholic higher education, titled Contending With Modernity, Philip Gleason identified a turning point as the 1967 Land O’ Lakes Conference held in the Wisconsin town of the same name. Here is the famous statement produced at the conference. Conservative critics pointed back to Land O’ Lakes during last year’s debates about Obama’s Notre Dame address. But a new study, underscored by this InsideHigherEd article, forwards that while Catholics do indeed lose ground on specific Catholic teachings, they gain ground on others at Catholic colleges. In sum, the broad claim by some that Catholic colleges are really not functioning as such is questionable at best. It is more the case that Catholic colleges are not doing exactly what the conservative critics want.

4. Book of Interest: Williams, Zachery R., In Search of the Talented Tenth: Howard University Public Intellectuals and the Dilemmas of Race, 1926–1970. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2009. xiv, 250 pp. $39.95, isbn 978-0-8262-1862-9.)

5. Workshop of Interest: This Harvard University gathering will be of interest to some of our readers:

International Seminar on the History of the Atlantic World, 1500-1825 (Bernard Bailyn, Director)

Workshop—Intellectual History: New Findings, New Approaches, in the Study of Religion, Science, and Cultural Identity

April 10, 2010

This Workshop will concentrate on current innovations in the study of the intellectual history of the Atlantic world, the flow of ideas between Europe and the Americas, from José de Acosta to Jonathan Edwards – new findings on Biblicism, alchemy, science, architecture, critiques of idolatry, and approaches to the Enlightenment. The intention is not to present descriptive summaries of these subjects but for leading authorities to identify, from work in progress, innovative points of inquiry and to indicate profitable lines for future study. … To register, and for additional information, please see our Web site or contact the Atlantic History Seminar [Emerson Hall 4th Floor, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138; Phone: 617-496-3066; Fax: 617-496-8869; e-mail elebaron-at-fas.harvard.edu].

3 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Eric: Agreed. Except that intellectual historians look at the reception of ideas and thinkers in more than just text reception. Sometimes we look for the intellect in operation in sound and visual media, yes? Or perhaps in the non-written relics of material culture? I say all this only because my nugget above is merely in relation to reading reception. – TL

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