Slow Scholarship Manifesto

« A me pareva, andando, fare oltraggio,
veggendo altrui, non essendo veduto:
per ch’io mi volsi al mio consiglio saggio… »
(Dante, Purg. XIII, 73–75)


A Modest Proposal for Preventing Poor Scholars from Being a Burden to Their Relatives or Countries, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Academia:

  1. Be slow, go to your favorite library on foot
  2. Exercise memory ― Learn by heart
  3. Keep record of all your readings
  4. After finishing a book, always prepare a short abstract of it
  5. Be selective in reading: focus on what you would copy down by hand if its survival should depend on you
  6. Always read the entire chapter of a book in which a reference you are looking for occurs, then read at least the first and last chapters
  7. Always skim the entire volume of a scholarly journal in which you are seeking an article, then read the tables of contents for the entire run of the journal
  8. After locating a particular volume on the shelves, always skim five volumes to the left and to the right of it
  9. Always trace citations in a footnote back to their original sources
  10. Do not discuss an author unless you have read the total corpus of their work as available to you
  11. Be loyal to the maxim, “What is general? The individual case. What is specific? Millions of cases”
  12. Remember that humility is the mother of giants: one sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak
  13. Aspire to thick descriptions and perspicuous representations
  14. Respect the glorious art of exegetical footnotes
  15. Don’t paste ― Cut
  16. Don’t publish if not strictly necessary
  17. It is not for you to finish the work, but you are not free to desist from it either
  18. Thou shall express thyself in the simplest of fashions

NOTE. The English of this page has not been edited by a mother tongue reader: please slowly report any error to the author. Rule 1 is based on Werner Herzog’s memorable dictum, “Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue” (from Minnesota Declaration: Truth and Fact in Documentary Cinema, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis – April 30, 1999). Rules 6–10 are taken from Jonathan Z. Smith, “When the Chips Are Down,” in Relating Religion: Essays in the Study of Religion (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007, 1–60), p. 37, note 27. Rule 11 derives from Johann W. Goethe, Maximen und Reflexionen (SchrGG 21; ed. M.F. Hecker; Weimar: Goethe-Gesellschaft, 1907), § 558. Rule 12 contains a quote from Gilbert K. Chesterton, “The Hammer of God” (1911), in The Annotated Innocence of Father Brown (ed. M. Gardner; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 179–196: 194. Rule 13 alludes to Clifford Geertz, “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” in The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1973), pp. 3–30; and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough (ed. R. Rhees; Doncaster: Brynmill Press, 1979), 8e–9c. Rule 17 is a famous sentence attributed to Rabbi Tarfon (m. ʾAbot 2:16). Rule 18 derives from Umberto Eco’s rules for writing “well” (English version here). Last updated: Oct. 15, 2018.