Wednesday 30 May 2012

Scholarship. What It Means. What It Demands of Us

Scholarship /ˈskɒləʃɪp/ n.
1) The methods, discipline, and attainments of a scholar or scholars.
2) Knowledge resulting from study and research in a particular field.
Today, for all sorts of reasons, I'm made painfully aware of the responsibilities incumbent on us as scholars in the discipline of archaeology. I've come up with a few fundamentals of scholarship as I see it. See what you think.
     The first principal is, I believe, never to prevaricate. Sure, it happens, for monetary gain, or to build and then maintain a reputation. But it must be viewed as the one unpardonable sin of those who'd call themselves, or desire others to consider them to be scholars, whether archaeologist or art critic. 
     Second, and corollary to the first, is our fealty to the truth. We are, after all, doctors of philosophy--doctors that love truth. Through our work we hope to inch ever closer to a true accounting of the universe now and in the past. 
     Third, we owe it to one another to give our equals in this search a thorough and sincere hearing. Without that we cannot engage in meaningful discourse. And without meaningful discourse the search for truths will recede inexorably into an unattainable future. 
     Fourth, as best we can, we should make it possible for others to examine our premises, observations, and assumptions, so that they might have the ability to follow our arguments to the same conclusion. Notwithstanding that we cannot fully describe anything we observe, nor observe everything that we should, our peers need to be able to verify our conclusions. 'I saw it and it is as I said' can never be sufficient. 
     Fifth, we are constrained to acknowledge the work on which we base our own, or upon which we depend for evidence in our arguments. 
     Sixth, as anthropologists we should learn to recognize and to avoid promulgating just so stories, those that propose an unverifiable and unfalsifiable narrative explanation for a cultural practice, a biological trait, or behavior of humans or other animals. 
     Finally, we must acknowledge that the truth might elude us, now and for ever, or that there may be more than one possible explanation for a given set of observations, and that we might never have enough information to decide on one or another.
     I think I've pontificated enough. We should all now sleep on it.

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  1. Amen. Have you ever read the North American gray literature? I read it every day and I have to wonder where some folks got their training. I mean sure we all have projects we'd love to forget. As I read through your list it reminded me why I started down the part of archaeology 38 years ago. I can only hope that when folks read my work they don't view it as a load of codswallop.

  2. Yeppers. Read it? I've contributed to some of it. Some of it's better than some other of it, but overall not too much malarky!
    And thanks for the hat tip.


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