As I struggle to find the energy, focus, and drive to complete my summer writing deadlines, the opening lines of Thomas Paine’s The Crisis take on new meaning:
THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.For those of us “Alternative Academics,” marked by #altac hashtags on Twitter, the summer IS the season that tries our souls. Our tenure-line colleagues disappear into the archives and post to Facebook from glamorous destinations around the globe. At the same time we work full time and wonder whether or not to attempt CPR on the scholarly commitments we left flailing for breath during the academic year.
The difference appears less acute from September to June. I may advise while others teach, but the strain on scholarship seems less stark then. In the summer, when the professoriate retires from lectures, seminars, and office hours, I still Skype with fellowship applicants as registrars revise databases. In some ways the summer pressure is less. Undergraduates don’t line the halls. Thus, the summer #altac scholar thinks a flurry of productivity just might be possible.
Other hindrances crop up as well. For instance, if we stand by our scholarship as good patriots of the academic cause, no one thinks we deserve accolades and thanks. Simply put, no one cares. My annual review holds no space for academic conference presentations and publications. I can practice semantic gymnastics and squeeze mention of my scholarship into some discussion of professional development. I know full well, though, that no increase in title or pay will result. That is not what the university hired me to do. And still, I don’t think I would be capable of advising students on scholarly development if I were not an active scholar myself. I am, however, in a distinct minority.
Some of us in administration are trained in history. Many more have degrees in higher ed. The research of the latter covers the practicalities of university administration. As it happens, my scholarship sometimes involves educational institutions too. True enough, from 1550 to 1750 few people fretted about MOOCs and multicultural curricula. Still, those institutions from long ago struggled with parallel problems and offer instructive lessons for today’s educators. My research subjects speak to me from the grave. My colleagues with contemporary topics can circulate surveys among the living.
As summer progresses, I eventually find my way back into on-line archives, thankful for the treasures the digital humanities offers #altacs and independent scholars. I can log on and dive into documents from my desk while I eat lunch or from my sofa while my children play in the sun. For that, this #altac summer scholar is always thankful and sometimes productive.