Greetings ITM readers: This special guest posting proposes a great idea for a new blog (dreamed up by Asa Mittman and Shyama Rajendran). Here's what Asa writes:
The conclusion to my dissertation is clever. It is sharp and witty and pulls together many of the strands that run through the work, as a whole. It is also simply wrong. I bungled the etymology, and conflated a few Old English terms that I ought not have -- those macrons get me every time. Luckily, I sorted all this out before it became my first book, Maps and Monsters. Since hardly anyone (thankfully) has read the dissertation version, hardly anyone knows about my error, there. I benefited from having figured it out, but nobody else has benefited from this error.
The recent BABEL conference contained many moments of brilliance, as have been evoked by Jeffrey and Mary Kate and Eileen and Steve Mentz and Maggie Williams.
It was, though, not an unmitigated success. There were moments of failure, of stumbling and faltering, of awkwardness and outright error. And this is how it ought to be. If we are serious about embracing experimentation, we must also be willing to accept that not all experiments succeed.
In his plenary on "How the Hippies Saved Physics," David Kaiser discussed Neils Bohr, who was famously wrong in his model of the atom. While he was utterly mistaken about how atoms are composed, his errors were generative, spurring a generation of physicists and their research.
In discussing this subject, Shyama Rajendran and I came to wonder about the utility of being wrong. In the sciences, when an experiment fails, the results are often published so that the scientific community can benefit from the errors, can learn from the errors, be they algebraic or conceptual. In the humanities, we are less often demonstrably "wrong," since much of what we offer is interpretive rather than factual. You might disagree with my reading of the Donestre in the Beowulf Manuscript's Wonders of the East, but you would be hard-pressed to conclusively invalidate it. Still, we falter and fail all the time. However, many of us in the humanities are still in our 19th-century paradigm of the lonely scholar, toiling in the solitude of a garret, perhaps with a glass of absinthe at the elbow. And so our failures are solitary, which renders them of less use than they might otherwise be. When I head down a wrong-headed path, I (hopefully) learn something. But you don't, unless I share my failure with you.
Shyama and I therefore propose to create an Academic Failblog, as it were, a place for any and all of us to post our scholarly missteps for all and sundry to read and learn from. These might be related to research, teaching, job searching or any other aspect of the academic world. We have bandied about a few titles:
[Grandiloquent]: "Before the Phoenix Rises: Swimming in the Ashes of the Humanities."
[Goofy]: "Faceplanting: Tripping Over the Scholarly Cracks."
[Self-Abusing]: "Head, Meet Desk"
Ben Tilghman offers "Fumblr."
Mary Kate Hurley suggested "Scholarly Facepalms."
All are probably wrong, but perhaps one or more is productively so.
Shyama and I offer this post to accomplish three things: First, to see if there is interest in such a venture. Second, if so, to garner suggestions for titles. Finally, assuming 1 and B go well, to get the discussion rolling forward, so that when we have the site up and running, we have a stable of eager participants. What say you? Care to stumble with us?