Thursday, March 31, 2011

Scholarly Base Maintenance Month

On his interesting and useful blog that helps people become research scholars, Jonathan Mayhew introduces the concept of scholarly base. This term refers to all the readings, all the knowledge that a scholar has accumulated in the course of his or her life. This is the kind of knowledge that one draws upon in one's research, that allows one not to feel stupid and lost at scholarly conferences, and that helps one to maintain a coherent picture of one's own field of study as well as several other fields that in some ways overlap with or border upon one's own research area(s).

A scholarly base needs to be maintained and expanded at all times because nothing is sadder than a scholar who works on the basis of limited and outdated readings that were done 20 years ago. I usually have my scholarly base maintenance month in the summer. This year, however, I have other things planned for the summer vacations, so my scholarly base maintenance month started this week. I have gathered a stack of books that need to be read before the end of the semester five weeks from now. Here are what these books are:

1. Three Latin American novels. As I was writing my recent blog post on Latin American literature, I discovered that my familiarity with it has grown pretty dim. To be completely honest, I read nothing new in this field since my doctoral comprehensive exams in 2005. So now I will be catching up using great reading suggestions from a fellow blogger who publishes her informative posts here.

2. Four books of philosophy (Badiou, Laclau, Bauman, and Eagleton).

3. Two books of literary criticism. Possibly I will write a review of one of them since it came out very recently.

4. Four books in my field of contemporary Spanish literature. There are several authors that I follow and some of them have recently released new books (most of which are extremely long, too.) 

The good news is that I read extremely fast, so I have no doubt all these books can be read by the end of the semester. I really can't wait to get into each one of them, so it will be a very fun month.

The readers of this blog should expect to be inundated with book reviews.


Spanish prof said...

Thanks for the compliments, Clarissa.

One thing I usually do is I spend one afternoon every so often just going through articles in journals connected to my studies. When I find one article that interest me, I just print it, even if it's not about something I'm working at that time. Then, at least one every three month, I make sure to take the time to read those printed articles. I've gotten a lot of ideas and knowledge based on that.

By the way, I'm planning on reading "Reivindicación del Conde Don Julian" as soon as possible. I grew up in a household where my father said very seriously that the world is divided in two: those who think that Stendhal's "Rojo y Negro" is the best novel ever written, and those who think that that prize belongs to "La cartuja de Parma". A very typical Argentine Jewish household. Therefore, I need to read "the best novel of the twentieth century"

Shedding Khawatir said...

What do you do to keep your memory of what you read current? As in, how do you remember the themes and ideas from a specific book five or ten years from now? I often feel overwhelmed by the amount of things to keep current with, so I am curious as to how you deal with this.

Clarissa said...

I have a database where I record all books that I have read and write small synopses for each. For philosophy and criticism I take notes. I now have piles of notebooks with notes. Of course, with the advent of Kindle it is much easier to keep notes in one place, organize and review them.

Rimi said...

Ah, you do take notes. I wondered when you said you're a very fast reader. Because I am a very fast reader too, but it still took me a week to finish Liquid Modernity (which I noticed you were reading) because I wrote section synopses, quotations with page numbers, ideas with page numbers, and my own addendas, which linked certain ideas to specific works of other philosophers/thinkers. As much as I'd like to just keep reading without these interruptions, I've learned notebook-reading is the biggest research favour I can do myself.

So, do you maintain an actual, searchable electronic base? I used to have one on my hard drive, but after I lost it when my laptop went wonky, I decided to maintain a private blog. Searchable, file-able (tags), and there till Google goes down :-)

Shedding Khawatir said...

Thanks! Sorry for the much delayed reply--it's currently difficult for me to be on the internet a lot. Do you have a way of organizing your review process?

Clarissa said...

No, I just selected the books and read them one by one. Or, rather, the books selected themselves. :-) They just accumulated somehow and stood there on the shelf, clamoring for attention.

Shedding Khawatir said...

Sorry, I mean, do you have a process set up for reviewing the notes on things you've already read after a certain amount of time or by topic or something? Alternatively, if you have any ideas on how to stop getting books to select themselves, as with the advent of the Kindle I can no longer use lack of shelf space and moving a lot as an excuse . . . ;-)

Clarissa said...

In terms of reviewing notes, the Kindle page has this service where every time you access it, it gives you random highlights from your books. i find that to be very helpful as it reminds me of things I read a while ago and might have forgotten about completely.

I also get to review notes whenever I'm writing an article that might use these particular sources. Or before/after a conference where these sources are mentioned.

As for selecting books one really needs, instead of letting them select themselves, it might be a good idea to follow the advice that Jonathan gives at He says that you need to create an inventory of your scholarly base. Just sit down and write a description of everything that you do and do not know, even if it doesn't pertain directly to your scholarly interests. My inventory could look something like the following:

XVIII century literature: English - good; French - very good; German - limited; Spanish - better than most.

XIX century literature: English, French, Russian, Spanish, german - outstanding. Italian - non-existent.

Etc, etc, etc.

Then, you identify weak areas and proceed to fill them in one by one.

Shedding Khawatir said...

Thanks! Despite doing a lot of reading on my Kindle, I'd never heard of the Kindle page; it seems pretty useful. Now, off to make a list of everything I don't know!

Clarissa said...

The Kindle page can be found at: