This article has been making the rounds in English Departments lately. I received it from four different people and it was posted at least once to the departmental list, where no one commented on it, perhaps because of the break, perhaps because no one had anything to say.
Basically, the argument is this: faculty members in English Departments are hyper-productive in terms of writing journal articles and monographs, but it’s not clear what purpose this prodigious output serves. Using Google Scholar, the author argues that few other people cite this research (even a decade after its publication) and that its impact is negligible.
I’m not going to quibble with the use of Google Scholar or other citation indices. I think that it’s reasonable to talk about how, and to whom, our research matters.
But I am going to quibble with the author’s conclusion, which is to argue that faculty members should be expected to produce less research, focusing on quality rather than quantity. Yawn. Here I thought that the article was going to have something interesting to say and not just make the case for not having a book for tenure.
I think Bauerlein misses the point entirely: “More books and articles,” he argues, ” don’t expand the audience for literary studies. A spurt of publications in a department does not attract more sophomores to the major, nor does it make the dean add another tenure-track line, nor does it urge a curriculum committee to add another English course to the general requirements. All it does is ‘author-ize’ the producers.”
So this is what I don’t get: how would another book on Gerard Manley Hopkins (his example, not mine — I’ve always been kind of fond Hopkins’ weird and surprising sprung rhythm), however excellent, expand the audience for literary studies? This is no rhetorical question, but in an era of dwindling resources and public education fails, how do we insist on research that enhances our understanding of worlds beyond our immediate ken and research that contributes to knowledge writ large and not just the narrow field of say, Gerard Manley Hopkins studies? I think these are questions that folks in the humanities need to confront — questions about relevance and thinking beyond the traditional boundaries of institutional knowledge.