Archive for June 25th, 2009

History in the Bust to Boom and Boom to Bust

25 June 2009

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Scrooge McDuckA friend from the further left of the political spectrum once dismissed all academic conferences, seminars, symposia and any other gathering you might care to name, as ‘a bunch of people sitting around a room talking, but doing nothing’. And, playing devil’s advocate, maybe he had a point. Is it really worth paying fees for a bunch of academics to sit around researching and writing papers and books that only they will ever read, while (begrudgingly) doing a bit of teaching on the side?

The short answer is yes, yes it is; but let me rewind a bit first, to what got me started on this discussion. Towards the end of Olivia O’Leary’s recent BBC Radio 4 documentary ‘Ireland: From Boom to Bust’ – an interesting if slightly less than satisfactory piece put together with the help of an odd selection of talking heads (Frank McDonald, Claire Kilroy, Richard Corrigan, some suburban house-owners and a Drogheda taxi-driver) – we are introduced to James Mooney, a 23-year-old quantity surveyor who recently emigrated to London for work. In the midst of recounting his thoroughly modern tale of returning home every five weeks or so, Mooney offered a recollection of his college years: ‘We had lecturers telling us that if we stuck out the course … we’d be well on our way to being millionaires by the time we were 30, 35. You know? As a lecturer he’s probably on a hundred grand, you know what I mean? For doing fifteen hours of work, lecturing a week.  Read More

Some facts are bigger than others

25 June 2009

By Juliana Adelman

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I’ve been on my holidays in the US (don’t be jealous, we’ve had 8 straight days of drizzle) and so in addition to novels I’ve been reading random things I find on the shelf of the cabin. One such random thing was a collection of essays by Gore Vidal (The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000). Highly recommended: lots of food for thought on the purpose of scholarship, of academia, of literature. At the end of an essay/review from 1997 on the appearance of a new collection of letters written by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) Vidal commented: ‘American scholarship is now a sort of huge make-work program for the conventionally educated. In a case like this, scholar squirrels gather up every scrap of writing they can find and stuff these bits into volume after volume, with metastisizing footnotes.’ Vidal continues: ‘To them, one “fact” is equal to any other’ (p.86). Although these remarks are now more than ten years old, they would hardly be considered less controversial (I imagine) if made today. Being myself ‘conventionally educated’ and essentially a participant in the system which Vidal was condemning, his dismissal of what was surely painstaking labour by ‘scholar squirrels’ stung a bit. But he has a point. Scholarship must be something more than simply gathering up facts without deciding which facts are bigger than others. Read More