07-04 – 13/04 Ellen Muehlberger

This week @wethehumanities comes from the USA, with Michigan Biblical Studies academic Ellen taking over the account. She’s got some really thought-provoking ideas about what ‘the humanities’ means and, I must admit, I know nothing about her research area so I’m looking forward to getting to know another corner of our field.

Hi! I’m eager to start my week as the guest curator @Wethehumanities.

I teach at a large public university, and in my courses I’m always teaching two things: first, the ostensible content of the course, but second, and maybe more important, the intellectual activities that produced that content. I try to get students to see that the knowledge presented to them by textbooks and by secondary sources is the end result of a process that they, too, can perform: reading, analyzing, synthesizing, theorizing, and composing. Making the production of knowledge transparent is the most essential thing that we in the humanities can do—I’d argue it is what binds the category of “the humanities” together.

My solo Twitter account, @emuehlbe, is all about transparency, too: I started a Twitter account in part because I wanted to keep track of the representation of scholarship in a disciplinary organization I belong to, the Society of Biblical Literature (@SBLsite). SBL is the main conference I go to every year, and it publishes both a journal and a book review outlet—the Review of Biblical Literature, which is emailed to members every few weeks. Last spring, I got one of the new issues of RBL, and it struck me: though about two dozen authors, editors, and reviewers were featured, none of them were women. Now, I use Twitter to post new statistics each time the RBL comes out, to talk with other SBL members about the disconnect between the work our members are doing and the work that is reflected back to us in our official outlets of scholarship, and to encourage others to track how their scholarly outlets are faring.

As I became aware of the disparity between male and female scholars represented in the RBL, I also became aware of how few women in my field were visible online. So, I also use my solo account to tweet about the work that I am doing. My tweets are a bit boring: often, it’s just a to-do list for the day. At times posting my daily tasks makes me feel exposed—anyone with an internet connection can see, for example, precisely how long it takes me to revise a conference paper into an article, or how many days I need to translate a relatively short text. But I think making our work processes transparent to one another is as important as making them transparent to students.

So, during the next week, we’ll focus on transparency around the humanities: how do we do what we do? how do we decide what is “scholarship” and who is a “scholar”? what are the aims of the humanities, and are we reaching them? I look forward to the conversation!

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