Monday, June 28, 2010

Assigning monographs

I found Cathy Davidson's recent post (reprinted from ADE Bulletin 149 (2010): 53-60), "Research Is Teaching," perceptive and enlightening. Davidson explores discrepancies in our profession between stated and practiced values, e.g. for hiring and tenure.

One of the arguments she makes is that there is a bewildering discrepancy between how we say we value the academic monograph (foundation of our profession! gold standard for tenure!) and how we actually value them (won't buy them unless they're remaindered for $6 at Moe's, won't assign them). Cathy asks why this is:
We require a monograph for a scholars entry into the profession but do not respect the form enough to teach it in our classes. This imbalance is field-specific and almost singular. We are monographic fundamentalists in our theology but monographic agnostics in our religious observance. No wonder young professionals in our field are confused about the relation between teaching and research. Other fields teach what they prescribe. Historians teach the best new books in history in their undergraduate and graduate classrooms. They take as the subject of their courses not only the content about a given historical field but also the practice of writing professional history. So do anthropologists. Where do English students learn about the finest practices of writing professional, book-length literary criticism? Articles are not equivalent in form to a scholarly monograph. Or maybe they are. Consider the misalignment in the reverse direction. If course packs of articles constitute the gold standard of what we want to communicate to our students about the best practices of the profession of English, then why are we pretending there is something special about the monograph as a form so special that tenure and promotion depend on its production?

Good point. Cathy suggests making a conscious effort to assign monographs, which made sense to me up until I thought about my syllabus for this spring. "Oh no," I thought, "I can't assign a monograph. I teach undergrads!"

This is of course patently ridiculous. I read a number of academic monographs as an undergrad at a school that was culturally different from but certainly no better than the one at which I now teach. But somehow I'd gotten it into my head that I couldn't expect advanced English majors to read a whole book that wasn't a novel.

So now I'm wondering what made me think that, and whether others have the same feeling about whether they're allowed to assign monographs--whether it would be considered a prudent decision.

I mean, really, why the hell not, right?

1 comment:

ntsang said...

In my upper division history courses, my professors and GSIs have actually taken the time to walk us through the process of breaking down a monograph and deriving the argument through the structure of the introduction and table of contents.
Though, I've read a few monographs in English, the teaching approach (and perhaps the writing approach) is different.