On Friday afternoon I subjected myself to ninety minutes of critical scrutiny by a group of professional historians. And it ended up being a damn good time.
My article, “The American Left and the Problems of History in Philip Roth’s ‘American Trilogy,'” was the subject of this month’s Friday Colloquy, sponsored by UT’s Center for the Study of War and Society. Unlike most academic conferences — wherein, in my experience at least, you read a paper to a small and largely disinterested audience who then ask one or two questions while staring at their watches — the colloquy provides participants with copies of the article weeks in advance. The monthly meetings, then, become sites of informed discussion and constructive criticism. Who knew such a thing could still be found in academia?
After spending the last three weeks writing and deleting and rewriting and deleting again the opening twelve pages of my first chapter, my confidence was shaky at best. Sitting face-to-face with a group of critical readers was, surprisingly, exactly what I needed. The best compliment I received was that my writing was “refreshingly free of jargon,” and more than one member of UT’s history faculty told me that when my dissertation is published it will be a welcomed addition to the required readings of many undergraduate American history courses.
Someone might actually read this thing after all. Go figure.