This is the conclusion of a two-part series. Part one can be found here.
by Zachary Hines
A thoughtful critique raised in discussion at the two Leeds panels rightly identified slow scholarship primarily as the privilege of those with tenured posts and/or the professional security of major research institutions. After some reflection, however, I have come to realize that although the trajectory of doctoral students in American universities is necessarily fast – we are expected to pump out dissertation chapters and articles and conference presentations in order to be competitive on a tough academic job market – we too are often fortunate enough to engage with our subject slowly. Research students in the UK, for instance, often do not have the benefit of additional coursework after the MA, and they certainly do not have five to seven or more funded years on the PhD to look deeper, wider, and more slowly.
I was fortunate to spend this summer doing exactly that. Some of it was spent in libraries and archives across the UK and the US, closely examining manuscripts and books important to my dissertation project. Much of the rest I spent reading and thinking in Humanities One at the British Library, slowly and thoughtfully working and re-working the theoretical and methodological framework for my dissertation. In addition, I was able to attend, as a spectator, the York Manuscripts Conference and the IMC at Leeds before flying off to give a paper at the New Chaucer Society congress in Reykjavik, Iceland. I sat down with a manuscript at Christ Church, Oxford for an entire day, returned to another at the British Library several times over the course of a week, and attended panels in York and Leeds with these observations at the forefront of my mind. It was this period of slow research that contributed most to my thinking as I look to plunge forward into dissertation writing and that gave me the confidence to stand alongside a panel of very respected scholars in Reykjavik and give a paper of which I could be proud.
The truth is, however, that this slow research summer would not have been possible if not for the generosity of my institution (the Graduate School, the English Department, and the Medieval Studies group) and the tremendous hospitality of some dear friends in the UK. While slow scholarship, as a practice, is as rewarding as it is important, it is critical to remember that it is in many ways a privileged sort of research and one not equally available to all academics. Not all scholars will have the opportunity to found their work on original archival research or time spent with the object of study, but they might still take a conscious moment to slowly reflect on the nature of the object itself, in addition to those digital facsimiles and searchable catalogues which can never satisfactorily reproduce the contexts and materiality of the original.
Graduate students of the Middle Ages and Renaissance would do well to negotiate a balance between the fast (the push for quick time-to-degree standards necessitated by funding cuts and the academic job market) and the slow (methodologies which are invested in the process of deep thinking and careful reading). It is important, I think, that the next generation of pre-modern scholars continues to produce scholarship which is firmly rooted in the archive; in the age of high-resolution manuscript leaves and digital libraries we must not forget the personal and tactile value of slow scholarship: to read, to feel, and to appreciate the object itself.