Saturday, September 7, 2013

Going public

So I won this award-thingy, which is nice, I guess. It means my colleagues think well of me, and it will look good when I submit my tenure file (which I am resolutely NOT THINKING ABOUT, as it is not due until January and I have ten million more urgent things to do between now and then.)

One of these things, as of yesterday, is giving an hour-long lecture on "scholarly research or current humanities interests," open to the public. This is one of the obligations that go along with accepting the award (which is why it is a bit of a white elephant, and why people who have already won it once tend to decline all future nominations). The lectures are videotaped, and possibly made available online, and / or archived somewhere forever (I'm a little fuzzy about what goes on after the taping, although I have definitely witnessed the taping). So it is very public. This is precisely the kind of thing I find terrifying. My colleagues in the history department are better at this, since they get called upon to talk to the public much more regularly. One of them was even on TV last February, explaining how Valentine's Day is all about wolves and blood.

Also, most people at four-year schools seem to do some sort of research talk, although some of the presentations at community colleges are more generalist in nature. And I kind of hate my scholarly research. Well, I don't absolutely hate it now that I am at a school where nobody really cares whether you do any, and you're free to work on random puttery little projects, or not, or whatever you feel like. But I truly cannot imagine giving an hour-long public talk about my dissertation (which I haven't even thought about much for the last five years) or about either of the current puttery projects I'm working on. One of them is about a play that almost nobody other than early modern lit scholars has ever heard of. The other one is about a very, very canonical text that everybody has heard of, but that particular project is making me feel like an idiot right now. (I have NO idea what possessed me to take on Hypercanonical Author, who isn't even early modern, but it was clear from the reviewer's comments that I have a lot to learn about "the rich history of Hypercanonical Author criticism," so I've been trying to soak up as much as possible before the revisions are due. So maybe I should talk about Hypercanonical Author, because at least he's inhabiting a lot of headspace right now. But I don't really WANT to talk about something that makes me feel like an idiot, and also this project would STILL take a lot of explaining, because although people know who Hypercanonical Author is, his actual works aren't familiar in the way that Shakespeare, for example, is familiar.)

Honestly, I think I just want to geek out about Shakespeare. I can do that for an hour, easily, and people are interested in Shakespeare. Would it be weird or nonscholarly to just deliver a "here are some random moments that I like in Shakespeare, and here is why they are cool" talk? (Of course I would jazz it up with a proper title, like "Shakespeare at 450: Why He Still Matters" or something. Or "Shakespeare: He's All About Pirates and Severed Heads.")

4 comments:

Mike Kanner said...

As fellow academic (political science), how about this - why is Shakespeare and literature relevant if you are not an academic? So much academic research is not read (even by academics) because it has no real meaning. But, literature. My God! My favorite class to teach is POLITICS AND LITERATURE because I teach students to go beyond the mere storyline.

Bardiac said...

Congratulations on your award!

And Mike has a great idea! That gets at a really important issue of late, but in a specific, non-threatening sort of way. And SHAKESPEARE!

Dr Virago said...

I definitely think "why Shakespeare?" (however conceived)is a proper topic for a broad public talk. Go for it!

FWIW, I've been tapped to head up a revived institute at our uni and I want to do a similar series of public talks, and I'd say your idea is *exactly* what I'm looking for. (Oh, and btw, we'd give people an honorarium for doing the talks, rather than calling it an award and then requiring the talk. People like to get paid for doing things more than being "rewarded" with work!)

Fretful Porpentine said...

Dr. Virago -- There is money involved with this award, although you have to wait until the state awards banquet to get it. Woo hoo!

Thanks for the suggestions, Bardiac and Mike Kanner!