Bridging the Gap

We should listen to the intertextual multivocalities of postcolonial others outside of Western culture in order to learn about the phallogocentric biases that mediate our identities.

– Stephen Katz[1]

 Here, Stephen Katz employs parody to inform the reader how to survive in the academic sphere of a postmodern era. It is articulated by Katz that “plainly expressed language is out of the question,” and therefore something like “[w]e should listen to the views of people outside of Western society in order to learn about the cultural biases that affect us,” becomes the above linguistic monstrosity.[2]

 I bring this up because in our last class we discussed the problem of academic jargon pervading the discipline and making it impossible for the public to engage with academics in any meaningful way. For me this concern is of the utmost importance, especially for the humanities. If we fail to actively engage the public, then how can we expect them to care about what we do, and if the public doesn’t care, then why should any institution, especially those funded by the public? It’s not like we’re making next generation technology or curing diseases here. I came across this same problem on Wednesday in my Topography of Ancient Rome class – the author of an article that we read spoke to some complex, post-modern ideas, and although some of the assertions made were certainly questionable (in particular the use of a postmodern lens to describe the potential worldviews of a civilization 2000 years old), one of the biggest issues that students had with the article was the writing style. Everyone agreed that the writing was elegant and engaging, but they stipulated that the numerous metaphors and general poetics somehow detracted from the article’s academic impact. I feel like this is treading into dangerous ground for the above mentioned reasons.

 I had a conversation with some of the other graduate students about public history and the public audience, and they expressed some consternation about the state of the field and the type of information that the public gets from what they qualify as pseudo-historians. I left the conversation wondering how else they expected the public to get information when they (as upcoming academics) are unwilling to write for an audience that hungers to be engaged (as we can clearly see by the sales of things like historical fictions and public histories), but which is not engaged via the current academic writing style.

 All that said, I was glad to see that Spichiger, Lynne, and Jacobson attempted (with some success it seems) to engage both the academic and public audiences through a layered approach to the information on their website. This ability to appeal to multiple audiences at once via layering information is perhaps one of the areas where websites will be shown to outstrip books, which might help push both knowledge production and dissemination to the digital arena, wherein the humanities can start to construct tools for dealing with multiple audiences simultaneously for the betterment of the discipline as a whole.

[1] Stephen Katz, “How to Speak and Write Postmodern,” in The Truth About the Truth: De-confusing and Re-constructing the Postmodern World, edited by Walter Truett Anderson (New York: Putnam Books, 1995): 93.

[2] Ibid., 93.



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2 responses to “Bridging the Gap

  1. Pingback: Bridging the Gap | Clio Wired

  2. I think poetic narration is often looked down upon in academics. From the Roman Topography class it seemed that people didn’t find it scholarly enough. But I couldn’t agree with you more, we need to be able to bridge the gap between academics and the general public.

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