XIX Fulbright International Summer School in the Humanities
Public Scholarship: A New Discourse Model for History, Philosophy, and Philology
Lomonosov Moscow State University
National Research University «Higher School of Economics»
June 27–July 1, 2016
What is “public scholarship”? Can scholarship that aims at relevancy and subjects itself to review by members of the community outside the academy claim to be “scholarly”? The traditional answer to this question is unequivocal: “no, public scholarship cannot and should not exist.” To popularize knowledge is to simplify, and simplification risks the loss of nuance and complexity, the very essence of scholarly knowledge. Moreover, the production of scholarly knowledge requires a special meta-language, acquired over decades of study and, for that reason, accessible only to a narrow circle of specialists. The public sphere can know but a distorted version of scholarly knowledge.
Traditional objections not withstanding, with the invention and dissemination of new media in the twentieth century, not only journalists, but members of the academy themselves have come to recognize the link between the democratization of knowledge and the possibility of overcoming traditional barriers to its propagation—barriers based in class, geography, and even basic physical access for people with disabilities. What is at issue is not “predigesting” or trivializing knowledge or what Niklas Luhmann called “disseminat[ing] ignorance in the form of facts.” Rather, the aim is for the academy to draw a broad audience with various degrees of competency into the exciting process of solving relevant scholarly issues and at the same time instilling in that audience the desire to acquire ever new knowledge.
The raison d’être of the present digital age anticipates the minimalization (if not total eradication) of boundaries between senders and receivers of communications, between specialists and the public. Indeed, the culture of big data veritably necessitates the public’s participation in humanistic field studies, which in turn elevates issues surrounding public scholarship to yet a new level, that of practical solutions.
How do we create historical archives without broad altruistically motivated crowdsourcing? Is it possible to study transformations in contemporary literary discourse, that is, the historicity of literature as such, without analyzing mass practices of reader participation in literary processes? How can one speak authoritatively about society without referencing the micro-sociological study of communities? In these and a multiplicity of other regards the process of producing knowledge becomes impossible without the participation of large numbers of people involved in networks of communication, even if these same people are simultaneously the “objects of study.”
Scholarship, from this vantage, becomes the work of thousands of hands—without, by the way, absolving researchers of their responsibilities—and the public evolved from some abstract “mass” addressed from afar by the authoritative voice of the specialist into a partner in discourse, competent in various ways, demanding and eager to participate in dialogue.
Do humanists today already possess such discourse partners or are those partners still only evolving? Or, perhaps, is the humanist’s potential discourse partner already devolving? How, in relation to evolutions in their potential partners in public dialogue is the traditional profile of scholar-humanists, their social and cultural functions, pedagogical practices, and interactions with the extra-academic community metamorphosing? What are the prospects for developing digital humanities in the world and in Russia specifically? And, finally, how in relation to the humanities’ overall public profile is the network of global scholarly contacts evolving?
The Fulbright Humanities Summer School’s work is structured as a series of discussions and thematic round tables conducted by leading specialists from the USA and the Russian Federation. Our working languages are Russian and English.
University-level faculty and graduate students who endeavor to apply for selection to participate in the XIX Fulbright Humanities Summer School are invited to submit their applications to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com (with Summer School-2016 in the subject line) before April 25, 2016. Application forms can be accessed on the site of the Department of Discourse and Communication Studies of the Philological Faculty at Moscow State University.