Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The trade-off

Pro: Unlike many of my colleagues, my research (while the specific work I do is not entirely "cool") falls within a field that is exciting to a broad, non-specialist audience. When I gave a guest lecture recently, I had to leave quite a bit of time for questions because my students were so excited to find out more. I get strangers in coffee shops overhearing my conversations about my research and asking me to tell them more about my field.

Con: I research in a field where not only do people care about the history, but where everyone has a strong opinion. Or a conspiracy theory. And where there are acres and acres of films, documentaries, books and websites, many of which perpetuate dangerous misconceptions. This morning I was getting up to leave a coffee shop with a friend of mine -- who is a Canadian historian -- when the men at the next table asked me questions about a.) whether Hitler was attempting to assassinate the Pope, and b.) whether Hitler was trying to re-write the Bible. They then informed me, in a matter-of-fact manner, that Hitler's erratic behaviour in his last several years was because of syphilis.

Pro: I work in a field that gives me so many teachable moments, with general people on the street.

1 comment:

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I love the fact that everyone thinks they are philosophers...

The quesiton I always get is 'if there is no right answer, how can you teach or evaluate philosophy?'.

Then I have to educate the random guy in the sauna about the way arguments work -- and hope I can do so before I get too warm.