14 November 2011

It's not just about reading; it's also about how you read

It's Reading Monday, and I got stuck in the old "but I haven't read any books this week"-dilemma, a frequent problem between me and this blog, I'm afraid. I have been reading, though. Just not what I'd normally want to write about in a Reading Monday post. But I guess it's time to make an exception.

Stuff about student rebellions.

It's for my job, you see. For the time being I'm a research assistant at my alma mater (I like that term. The University of Oslo really feels like family to me by now, even if "nourishing mother" may be stretching it too far...). I am - amazingly enough - doing the exact work I'm educated for. I'm pracising historianism. (Yes, it's a word. "Historianism" is what historians are doing when they contrary to what is common get a job relevant for their education. True story.) This is amazing because most of us end up doing work we're not educated for, but by default are qualified for anyway, because you also gain certains skills and mindsets through higher education, that makes you eligible for tasks a political scientist or sociologist or any number of other -ists could also do.

It's interesting, though, because even if I'm educated for this, I still feel a little lost.

It's like this. My field of expertise within "my field", is quite limited. If you ask me about "US peace initiatives in the Arab-Israeli conflict between 1956 and 1967" I'm on my home turf, and I will be able to give you a fairly detailed account. If you ask me questions about "the Middle East" or "American foreign policy", I'm still in my hometown, but I don't know my way around in every single street. If you ask me questions about "history in general", I'm not necessarily all that more knowledgable than the average person. We may still be located in my part of the world, but I'm still pretty much a tourist.

Since the topic of my current work isn't at all closely related to my own research topic, then, it feels a lot like I'm a tourist, trying to find my way in a whole new city. The only reason I don't get completely lost is that by now I have a certain idea how to explore new parts of the world. (Yes, I'm still in the same analogy...)

Through my education I've been taught to read with a critical eye. I've been trained to look for bias, to check references, and yes - I do read the footnotes. In addition there is a little "something" extra - a fingerspitzengef├╝hl for history I've developed along the way. It takes a little longer because the topic is new to me. If I read a book about the Middle East I usually know a lot about it just from looking at the title, the author, or the bibliography. With this new topic I'm working on, I usually need to also read the introduction, look at a few chapters, and google the author. It takes longer. But I'm getting there.

I used to think that my field (or if you will, "my part of the world") - history "in general" - was fairly straight forward, and that anyone could do it if they set their mind to it. Anyone - or at least most people - can do it, but you do need those skills to do it properly.

I guess I've developed a new respect for my own profession through this job. For what it has done to the way I read.

1 comment:

ViolaNut said...

Huh - I don't read a ton of nonfiction stuff, but you're right, it's a totally different style of thought and processing, reading for information and reading for entertainment...