Original Research

“But are you able to continue your research?” they ask. Academics can be so hopelessly naive sometimes. I recently had a notice on academia.edu that I was in the 30-day top 5 percent of page views. So I’m feeling like the Bruce Springsteen of academics for a few seconds. Meanwhile institutions who look at my record wonder why I haven’t produced anything lately. It’s really quite simple. Take a 40-hour work week (a foreign environment to most academics), add a daily commute of 3 hours, and subtract access to an academic library. As the old computers in sci-fi movies used to say, “does not compute.” My research these days is limited to material that is actually able to keep me awake on the bus (thus excluding most academic monographs) and those that I can afford to buy on an editor’s salary. My research has slowed considerably, in other words, due to circumstances beyond my control.

thumb_IMG_2163_1024That’s why I’m sitting here perplexed. Despite it all, I have had a paper accepted for presentation at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting this year. My project is on the Bible in Sleepy Hollow (thus the recent spate of books on Washington Irving and his hometown). Still, I had to challenge the budget and purchase a couple of things. The cover of my book has me confused. Son of Man, it says. Inside, however, is the text I need—Small Screen Revelations. (If you wonder why, watch Sleepy Hollow, or, if possible, come hear my paper.) The reason for the mismatch between the cover and content of my book is the price. A tome from the appropriately named Sheffield Phoenix Press, even used the volume costs almost $100. It’s just 200 pages. I managed to find a copy misbound for the bargain price of half that. Only an academic would pay $50 for a defective book just to get at the content. Am I able to continue my research? Reach for your wallets and see.

A large part of my job is spending time on university faculty webpages. Many of those I find haven’t published nearly as much as I have, but have comfy, tenured positions. Often it is because they’re the right brand. Catholics like Catholics, Presbyterians like Presbyterians, Baptists like Baptists. State universities hate them all. And once in a while I pull my doctoral robe out of my closet, press it to my face, and weep. I don’t know what a blue collar kid might have been thinking. Earn a challenging doctorate in an obscure field overseas and hope for a modest teaching position somewhere in the land of the most abundant colleges in the world? My race and gender should’ve come to mind long before I got that far. In some ways, I too am a misbound book. Am I able to continue my research? You be the judge.

2 thoughts on “Original Research

  1. Debbie Grohman

    Congrats on having your paper selected! It’s been a long time since I went to AAR/SBL and have thought about going again. It’s just that the way my vocational interests are combining is taking me in a slightly different direction at the moment. That’s the thing about life that your blog touches on. Resiliency is the key ingredient: being able to land on our feet, no matter the economic situation or career twist and continue whatever constitutes research (tinkering and inventing, following musical pursuits, writing a first novel, staying current in a field of interest, etc). That has been part of working class stories for generations, I’ll bet with your ancestors, too. It’s also been critical for generations like ours, caught in downward spirals not of our making. I’m inspired by generations past, including in my family, who never lost sight of their initial dreams while adjusting gracefully and without bitterness to realistic harsh career and economic realities. That’s resiliency, and it’s proof that continuing the research can absolutely happen.


    • Thanks, Debbie! The book that I mentioned on Monday addresses these same kinds of issues. I’m not naive enough to think the world is fair, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing it was. I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t have to struggle.


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