Academic charisma

lecture

I’ve been reading William Clark’s Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University. It’s an interesting if rather unwieldy book about how all the rituals of the university that we tend to take for granted – note-taking in lectures, seminar discussions, reading lists, graduation ceremonies, funny hats and gowns – have developed since the Middle Ages. There are some fascinating details: the Oxbridge tradition of disputatio developed, according to Clark, as a non-violent version of the medieval joust. In case you don’t want to read all of its 662 pages, the index, which I’m guessing Clark compiled himself, gives a pretty good idea of what a strange place academia is and has always been. Here are some edited highlights:

Academic persona:

babble as protean

cream puffs, handshakes, and the scholarly racket

lording over bookshelves

managed through envy

the miseries of scholars

pale versus paunchy

publication as virility

Dissertations:

a “work of the night”

Examination:

candidates swear to legitimate birth

power of handshakes at

Fame:

minted by mutual citation

Gossip:

as academic babble

as indistinguishable from reviews

Göttingen, University of:

obsesses about reputation from writings

professors “all too busy the whole day”

Lecturers:

living medievally

Lectures:

to fill the time and end on time

Libraries:

as composed of ‘monstrous’ materials

Newton, Isaac:

lectures at Cambridge to empty halls

Peer review:

as indistinguishable from gossip and rumor

Professors:

chair does not embody expertise

fined for cancelling lectures

“personae most noble and precious”

salary and a big or inflated name

Not tied to merit (directly)

should have and acquire books and instruments

as slackers at Cambridge

worked to death young

Publication:

making noise and inflating names

Students:

as note-takers

swear oaths about attendance in the Middle Ages

Writing:

for applause

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