scott a. mitchell

AAR-eve

Scott

So. I promised “more soon,” and it’s been a month. Does a month count as soon? I suppose, in the grand scheme of things.

It is the eve of the AAR — “nerd Christmas” if you will. My AAR schedule has been dutifully added to the official AAR app. I have a dozen meetings scheduled with editors, colleagues, friends, potential students, donors, alumni, beloved hangers-on. I’m in it for the long haul, arriving Thursday and staying till the bitter end on Tuesday. I am, as always, inspired by the great James Benn to offer my time to rising scholars and grad students who are interested in discussing the state of the field over a cup of coffee (or something stronger, if that’s your thing; but, really, it doesn’t have to be).

In the interest of self-promotion, I am presenting my own scholarship Saturday morning. The session is doing pre-circulated papers, so, technically, you can read my paper on the AAR website…. I think… (Does this actually work?). But please do me the favor of treating this paper as very much as a work in progress and save any feedback for Saturday at around 11:30. I’m nervous as hell (but, also, feeling good as hell).

Why am I nervous? I’m nervous because scholarly work is, I believe, essentially creative work, meaning that I’ve conjured something up in my brain and am offering it to the world, explicitly for the purpose of getting feedback and criticism. This is insane. I am inviting people to critique something that is intensely personal — my thoughts — and therefore directly related to my own sense of self-worth. This is (one reason among many) why so many academics suffer from imposter syndrome. We are constantly putting some part of ourselves out into the world and inviting others (sometimes others who are assholes) to pass judgement.

Why am I telling you this? I am telling you this because I am interested in speaking more openly about academia. This means speaking about not only the content of what we produce (the actual papers, the books, the think-pieces, the op-eds), but also the actual work we do (the writing of the papers, attending the conferences and the meetings, the drudgery, the labor), as well as the costs of this work and labor both in terms actual, literal, costs (going to AAR is fucking expensive) as well as human costs — what it does to us as people, how we respond to this work.

On that note, I am hoping to join a cadre of other scholars at AAR who seek to bring humanity to the humanities. An initial thought of mine is the need to be (unapologetically) open and honest about the human costs of academic work. These costs impact people in specific ways that often intersect with race or gender or class or employment status or identity; but they also impact those of us who are in relative positions of privilege (or are just plain privileged); and, when unchecked, allow for the perpetuation of competitiveness and general assholery. Perhaps, if we can collectively acknowledge that academe doesn’t always bring out our better selves, we can actively promote our better selves and treat others (and ourselves) with more than a little compassion.

And so here we are, on the eve of Nerd Christmas. I won’t live-blog my experiences, but I am likely to post pithy comments on Twitter and #awakwardacademicselfies on Instagram.

See ya in San Diego.

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