Monday, January 05, 2015

I'm pretty sure that's not the correct use of the word.

Now that I'm back from the AALS Annual Meeting, I remember what I liked about going in years past (seeing old friends; making new ones) and what I didn't (a lot of puffery and jockeying for status).*  But the topper this year was the indiscriminate use of the word "scholar," as in "I'm a scholar of ______."

I'm comfortable with people self-identifying as professors (after all, that's our title), or saying that their area of study is X, or suggesting that they're focusing on X.  I love hearing what someone's researching, just as much as I love hearing about what that person's doing in terms of teaching (or, for that matter, his or her hobbies).  And I love batting around ideas just as much as the next person.  I got some great suggestions about some of my projects from friends at the conference. 

But saying "I'm a scholar"?  Um, that's something that the person reading the scholarship gets to decide.  

Why is it that I think that we can call what we do "producing scholarship," but that referring to ourselves as scholars is a bad idea?

Answer #1:  It's pretentious.

Answer #2:  Just as you can't make something "interesting" by declaring it thus, you can't be a scholar just because you're writing something in a particular area.  Trust me:  the best scholars don't toot their own horns that way.  Some of the most amazing folks in academia are jaw-droppingly modest.  Let your readers decide how good your work is--not you.

Just sayin.'

*  I seriously went through Faculty Recruitment Conference flashbacks when I checked into the hotel this year--and my own FRC experience was way back in 1991.

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