Slow Scholarship Manifesto

“More and more with less and less…”
(R. Buckminster Fuller, Nine Chains to the Moon [1973], 252)


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, and try to focus on what you would copy down by hand should its survival 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. Aspire to thick descriptions and perspicuous representations
  13. Revere the noble art of the footnote
  14. Do not paste — Cut
  15. Do not publish if not strictly necessary
  16. Nulla dies sine linea — but there may well be weeks
  17. Remember that humility is the mother of giants: one can see great things from the valley, only small things from the peak
  18. It is not upon you to finish the work, but you are not free to desist from it either

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 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 16 is taken from Walter Benjamin, “Post No Bills: The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Rules” (“Ankleben verboten! 13 Thesen über die Technik des Schriftstellers,” in Einbahnstrasse, 1928), Engl. transl. by E. Jephcott, in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978). Rule 17 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 18 is a famous sentence attributed to Rabbi Tarfon (m. ʾAbot 2:16). Last updated: May 18, 2019.