I know I’ve said a bunch of times that I don’t miss academia, and I don’t, but I figured out something tonight that I DO miss, and that’s publishing.
It’s not like I was remotely a publishing goddess. I have three real, good articles in my field. (I also have a bunch of book reviews, a co-authored thing that in the context of my field doesn’t count for much, and a few commentary-type pieces. Oh, I have a bunch of conference papers that I like, not to mention 100+ pages of book that will never see the light of day, but those don’t count, of course.) But I miss taking part in that kind of academic conversation.
Because it’s funny – when I was writing this stuff, I never really thought of it as having anything to do with OTHER people. I wrote because that was what you do, you think about things and then you write about them, and you publish because that’s the coin of the realm. But I never quite expected anyone else to READ this stuff, and was always flabbergasted to find out that anyone had done so.
The thing is, of course, that people have, because that’s also what you do. They’ve pretty much only read one of my articles, because it’s the best-placed, in a book with lots of big shots in this (not very big) subfield, published by a good press, and available in paperback. (One of the other articles is in a dense but widely-ranging collection, published in a crazy expensive hardback by a respected but very very niche European press. I don’t think ANYONE’s read that one.) But amusingly enough, people in this subfield HAVE read it, and have cited it, too. Someone’s even assigned it in a course.
(What’s especially amusing about this? I originally wrote this article in grad school. In a seminar I took in my THIRD YEAR of grad school. Or was it even my second? I know I finally finished the revisions on it in 1994. Mind you, the collection didn’t come out until 2001, when I was in a tenure-track job, which worked out well for me. But the point is, when I wrote this thing, I was pretty damn green. And it’s still a pretty good article. Not great, but good.)
(The second one is, meh, fine. I really like the third one. No one seems to have read that one yet, either. But oh well.)
What I find interesting is how much the accretion of time works to your advantage. When I first started going to conferences, I didn’t know anyone outside of my grad program and felt tiny and insignificant and out of place. By the time I left academia, I wasn’t any more significant, but I loved conferences – in part because I got to see a lot of friends, but in part because I had a niche, a professional crowd to run with. It’s not like I set out to create that or worked very hard at it; it’s more that after over 10 years of being in the field and attending the same conferences, you get to know people and they get to know you. I’m sure there are things I could have done to accelerate this process, but it happened on its own regardless. I wish that I’d REALIZED that would happen, when I was a terrified grad student; it would have made life much easier!
People citing my article is like that. The dumb thing has been out for a decade now (shoot me, I’m ancient!), and if you’re someone writing on that subject (which is a small but constant number of people) (after all, we’re talking the Middle Ages; there are only so many sources), you’re probably going to run across it. Some people are going to feel the need to reference it (almost invariably not historians. It’s not very history-y).
In fact, this basically supports my central belief about academia: that perhaps the most important quality for academic success is persistence.
All this commentary was inspired by vanity – I googled myself tonight, and found more citations to that article than existed the last time I googled myself (at least a year or more ago).
I also found a few people who had thanked me in their acknowledgments, which I hadn’t known about. That, more than the scholarly citations, made me miss my past profession.
Which also suggests that it’s not really the publishing per se that I miss – it’s the human connections that went with it. And the feeling like I knew something, and was contributing SOMETHING to my chosen profession. It’s going to be a looooong time before I can say that about law. I guess what looking at my academic career reminds me is that showing up is half the battle, and that 10 years from now
I’ll be in a totally different place.
And that really, 10 years goes by pretty damn quickly. I have to remember that most of all.