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Thursday, June 18, 2020


I wouldn't be a good "generalist." The reason is that when I get deeply into a subject, I realize my earlier ideas were mostly wrong. This is deeply humbling, but in a good way.

As a consequence, I am most probably wrong about things that I haven't investigated in more depth. Pretending to know about a lot of things is not for me, because I have enough experience to know when I am likely to be ignorant, which is the majority of the time.

Socratic ignorance, where you start off by presuming you don't know anything, is the only intellectually honest position to take. Depth in scholarship is the goal, but you must start out with the depth of ignorance. Simply not knowing in advance what you might find.  It can't be faked ignorance, where you pretend you don't know but you actually have a dogmatic position.

In my facebook group people were debating whether Spain was a "slave society." I didn't know much about this, but people provided some references that schooled me a bit on the issue. Some Spaniards in the group, one in particular, got defensive. But if you simply think that the issue is slave labor in peninsular Spain, then I think you are wrong. Spain was an empire, and as such began to importation of Africans into the New World, and also enslaved indigenous people. So if Spain held Cuba as a colony, and Cuba had slaves, then Spain is a society based on slavery, to the exact extent that it drew wealth from this source. Spain had abolitionists too, many of them the women writers of the romantic period. This is also good to know. It wouldn't have had abolitionists if it wasn't a society based on slavery to some extent.  


Leslie B. said...

The one who got defensive is a bully and a major ass. No matter how many prizes he has won, he's also a bad poet. And super full of himself. And probably can't get laid or is a failure at it if he actually manages. I don't say this because I disagree with him but of how he treated your Yale colleague. It was beyond the pale. He's not fit to teach.

Leslie B. said...

But anyway, generalists. What you say is true but I also know specialists who keep repeating their same article in different formats (not even always different words). But anyway -- yes -- and you can't be research oriented and keep up as a generalist both, unless you define the whole field in a really narrow way