Thursday, July 23, 2009

More research blogging.

Okay. Illiterate scholar can have his introduction. In the course of wrestling with his over the last three days, I've been able to articulate much more forcefully what my own project concerns. I think I'm over my envy of his brief survey of our small corner of theological history, because my project might not require that same kind of survey. Because I'm doing something else. But I sometimes think that the general educated reader would be happy to have a quick course in theology. I really have no sense of how much of the stuff that I think about every day is just common knowledge for folks who work in Renaissance studies.

What about you, reader? Are you someone who likes to have the historical situation established at the outset of a book? Or do you get impatient reading the same set-up at the beginning of every text in your field?


dkm said...

I’m not Renaissance Guy by any stretch of the imagination, and so I would appreciate that sort of overview. And even when I’m reading books in my area of expertise, I generally like having that sort of overview available. Writing it means a lot more work for you, of course, but it also gives your reader more options. After all, it’s considerably easier to skip an unnecessary introductory section than to read one that’s not there when you need it.

Lisa B. said...

I do appreciate the overview, especially if it is beautifully written and incisive, as I know (KNOW) yours would be.

However, I did smile at this sentence:

>> But I sometimes think that the general educated reader would be happy to have a quick course in theology.

I think this *all the time*! And I am 98% sure that it isn't true.

Flavia said...

I like the set-up. It sometimes seems like overkill when it's a historical or biographical survey (depending, of course--but it's always skippable), but for theology, theory, philosophy, etc., I always appreciate it even when it IS a recap.

And I've been having much the same experience with a bad book that overlaps with my own area--it was surprisingly helpful in allowing me to realize that I'm NOT doing what she does, and neither do I wish to be doing what she does.

Victory in our time.

Ink said...

It depends on what kind of set-up is involved. I do like to read a brief critical history of the specific main issue/s or questions to be explored in the rest of the book (showing what work other scholars have done on the matter to date and how this book will revise or extend) but *not* a history or overview of the general topic, per se. In other words, it's helpful for me to see upfront exactly how the author envisions her/his argument as fitting into (or breaking out of) the existing discussion.

Polvo said...

I'm struggling with this myself at the moment. I suspect you'll need the basic survey - I'm a final year PhD student in Renaissance Literature (or is it Baroque??), so one wing of your intended readership, I guess. My knowledge of theology is getting better, but would still be hard to underestimate. And anyway, different writers tend to emphasize very different strains, so I'd say go for the basic survey. If necessary, make it very brief with lots of helpful footnotes telling me where to go for a more detailed introduction to the subject (but ideally still something brief enough that I might actually read it in order to read you).

The danger in starting with the general survey is that it makes one's book or thesis or article or whatever sound exactly like a hundred others, and simply not much fun to read (and I think academic reading SHOULD be fun! At least whenever possible...) What I seem to end up doing (and there's a risk that this approach too becomes overly formulaic) is starting off with something that throws the reader straight into the particularities of the subject, ideally leaving them a little off-balance, too: start off with a close reading of a text, or some peculiar story or comparison, something that grabs the reader. Ideally this then sets things up nicely so that the reader is then really hungry for that explanation of basic Renaissance theology, or neo-Stoicism, or late medieval Florentine economics, or whatever it is that you need to introduce them to. I do generally like the historical situation to be set up for me at the start of a study, but find it helps me engage with it if I have a concrete example of its relevance put under my nose beforehand. If it comes off well, you can then go back to the particular point or text you started off with and give some clues as to how the thesis you are about to present will help us all make so much more sense of it all.

All that said, I still haven't found a decent way of opening my current chapter. Let us know what you go for!

Blue Cheese said...

Is there a middle ground?

(BTW: the code I had to type in was "sermin," which, given the topic under conversation, I thought was pretty cool.)

unentdeckt said...

I spend a lot of time with cultural history as it relates to theology, and my experience is that even specialists usually need an introduction that covers some of the finer points. People tend to know general things, but the specific issues that are often in play in sixteenth-century works are foreign to most of us.