The most recent Carnivalesque, over at Notorious Ph.D., has generously spotlighted an older post of mine on being/ trying to be a public intellectual. It even got picked up by a French history blog. Anyway, with the renewed interest (and site traffic), it seems an appropriate time to revisit some of the issues raised and see where we are.
Things like the coming blog forum on Judith Bennett's work (again, Notorious Ph.D.'s doing) give me hope. It's specialists sharing their specialized readings with a larger public. Sure, not everyone's going to read these types of posts (my own webtraffic, for instance, is rather meager) but some will, even if they stumble across the site totally by accident. But will they listen to us? Do our degrees -- by which I mean the expertise we've accumulated by studying theory and context and all that other good stuff -- matter? I said yes before and I stand by that in an objective sense but in what more realistic, inherently subjective sense do our degrees matter?
I raise this because I think this is a particular moment when academics ought be forceful in articulating their thoughts about ideas/ instances where their expertise is particularly appropriate. Despite what Stanley Fish has to say, this is what it really means to have a "free marketplace of ideas." People can think what they want, they can argue for it vigorously, but people should also know that there are good reasons that certain people think about things the way they do. Are Ph.D.'s always right? Well, I almost couldn't write that last question because it seems so laughable to me. Personally, I find teaching undergraduates extraordinarily rewarding because they approach things in fundamentally different ways than I do and force me to justify my ideas and oftentimes fundamentally rethink them. I wish there were more fora for these types of interactions, even outside the university's walls.
But I more wonder about your thoughts here -- especially the majority of you, who seem to find this site by (still) googling "medieval porn". Is there space in this country for public intellectuals? Does that (necessarily) mean graduate school? Does it mean something else?