Saturday, June 19, 2010

No, really: I AM a fraud.

Here's why: I don't know much of anything about the history of Exotic Research Country.

No, that's not quite true. I know a great deal about it -- more than my medievalist colleagues who study other countries. But my knowledge of it can't even be put on the same page with that of my friends and colleagues who also study ERC which, for the duration of this post, I'm going to call Blargistan.

I went to grad school specifically to study the history of Blargistan. I was fascinated by it for various reasons that I won't get into here. And sure enough, I did my M.A. with a professor whose research was in the history of Blargistan. But most of his reading on the subject was a couple of decades out of date, and since I wasn't yet savvy enough to find the best current scholarship on my own, I ended up reading a lot of the same books he had read in grad school many years ago, and little else.

For the Ph.D., I switched to work with a professor whose advising style I worked better with. It was a good choice, and I don't regret it one bit. But this professor's work had nothing at all to do with Blargistan. He read and wrote fluently -- even elegantly -- in Blarg, but his area of specialty was thematic -- let's say, for the sake of argument, scholastic theology. So, I ended up writing a dissertation (and later a book) on scholastic theology and kittens in Blargistan.

And as I'm now moving on to another project, I'm realizing that I now know a great deal more about both scholastic theology and kittens (separately and together) in the Blargistanian context than probably most medieval Blargistan historians working in this country. What I don't have, I'm coming to realize, is a good grasp on the general literature of medieval Blargistan -- all that stuff that my friends read as a matter of course in grad school completely passed me by. In fact, there is one Very Important Author in the field who doesn't appear in my book's bibliography at all because, other than a single article, I've never read any of his work. That's not my judgment on the worth of his work, which is universally acknowledged to be excellent; it's just never come up.

If people knew, they would be shocked.

So, as I move away from kittens and scholastic theology and onto a new thematic project, I find that I have a hell of a lot of catching up to do, simply to make myself into the moderately competent Blargistan scholar that I claim to be.

And quickly: before I get found out as the fraud I am.


Comrade PhysioProf said...

If people knew, they would be shocked.

How will scholars in your field interpret the absence of Very Important Author from your bibliography?

squadratomagico said...

Well, but we ALL are, I think. One of the most liberating moments I have experienced in my scholarly career was realizing that, even though I was terribly afraid that I didn't know enough, hadn't read enough, to have the right to claim any expertise, in fact I really DID know more about my particular topic than just about anyone else in the world. And that's the secret: almost no one is an expert *in general*; we all are experts in particular. So, as you note, you are *the* expert on Scholastic Philosophy and Kittens in Blergistan; the so-called experts on the history of Blergistan, generally, probably are really political historians who know little about kittens or scholastic philosophy there. Or folks who know a lot of broad historical movements, but little about how things worked close to the ground. Everyone's knowledge is limited.
After you write the next book, though, you might become *the* expert on scholastic philosophy, kittens, and horticulture in Blergistan, thus adding another element (or maybe even two!) to your lineup.
We're ALL either experts or frauds to some degree-- just depends on how you're looking at it.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Oh hell -- welcome to my world. I've had numerous colleagues in my field, several of them Very Important Scholars, about this. They tend to be very helpful and are always impressed at what I have done given that I worked with an advisor who worked 400 years out of my period. And they always point out that I have breadth they really don't.

Which is to say, don't worry. Remember that your colleagues are by and large happy to help. Btw, did you say you already knew Extremely Cool Colleague? She also works on Blargistan, and has been a wonderful mentor to me, and is committed to mentoring more junior people. I'll be happy to put you in touch with her if you don't know her.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Tongue is halfway planted in cheek here, folks. I know I wrote a good book. I think I am now the country's expert on ideas about kittenhood in scholastic theology in Blargistan, and I think my book even has important implications for the study of theological approaches to kittenhood in general. I'm cool with that. But I'm leaving both kittens and theologians behind, which leaves me with trying to reinvent myself as primarily a Blargistan historian. And that's gonna take some work.

On a more positive note, I think it could be fun learning it all, now that I have time!

Notorious Ph.D. said...

And @ CPP: Well, I guess first they'd have to read the bibliography. So I guess I'm safe. Whew!

Comrade PhysioProf said...

When I read a new publication in my field, the first thing I do is check the references list. Cause those motherfuckers better cite me, OR ELSE!

Susan said...

Like CPP, I always read the footnotes first:) What I remember being told was that the moment you finished your orals you were most in command of your field. From then on, it would be patchy: learning scholastic philosophy and kittens, or whatever.
So I'd echo what Squadrato said. And it's important that you think about what part of the very rich history of Blargistan you need to learn. You may not have to learn the history of inside political maneuvering in the royal court of outer Blargistan in order to write the new book; instead you might need to pay more attention to the relationship between upper and lower Blargistan now, to add to Scholastic philosophy and kittens. And then you'll figure out how kittens might have facilitated that relationship. Or whatever.

In other words, you won't know everything about the history of Blargistan now, either.

Anonymous said...

Well, I know there are Very Important Authors in my line of work of whom I'm basically ignorant, and that I'm probably not watching the current crop as closely as I should be because of knowing there are giants on whose shoulders I ought by now to have climbed, if that helps. I tend to figure I can blag it in conversation, but it certainly helps that almost no-one in the English-speaking world works on my stuff... I tend to figure that if it's a really important omission, publisher's referees will catch it. What I'm basically saying, I think, is that everyone has these gaps except for the few genuinely scary supergeniuses who somehow read everything there is in their invisible spare time. We know they're out there, but there's still room for some of the rest of us too.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this is both a garden-variety imposter syndrome and also a comment of the fragmentary nature of a mature area of research. My diss touched on a very dense topic with an enormous bibliography. I've barely touched a couple of the Big Books that Everyone used to read, largely because they don't address my research questions. (Though of course there are some Big Books that I've totally devoured and scoured inside and out again and again.) So, yeah, I feel like a fraud. But I think anyone who REALLY knows my topic area would totally understand why in my mad rush to finish the degree and start my job, I never bothered to plow through a few forty-year-old books that only related tangentially to my work.

Yet, the person in my field but not into my topic might be aghast if they knew and say "You wrote your diss about XYZ and you haven't read 'The Seminal XYZ Book'"? To which the answer is of course, it's A Seminal XYZ Book, not THE Seminal XYZ Book.

There's another wrinkle to this business of big books and the shadow they cast over us, which is the classic job interview/seminar paper question which is: "How does your work relate to the one book on your general topic that everyone outside your topic has read and thinks is authoritative?" To which the answer always is, "Oh, you mean that book that everyone working on the topic kinda hates and is trying to undermine?"

Notorious Ph.D. said...

bwahhaha!!! Oh, Anon: I know that book/author!

Andrew said...

Anonymous from above here--didn't realize I could enter a name without a Google account.

Glad I made you laugh, Notorious Ph.D.! I love your blog.

Belle said...

Fellow impostor here. I wanted to specialize/focus on my own ERC, but lacked language ability. So I did ERC from a different perspective... that of observers of ERC whose language I do have in my research arsenal. Except that now, people tend to think of me as a historian of those observers. Oops. Realizing that was a real horror for me; while I love that particular country IRL, the field is massively over-populated by people far more 'in the know' than I am. Eeps.