The aesthetics of scholarship

“I know archaeology is not always exciting, but does it have to get that boring?”, I often ask myself when reading through another archaeological article. The language is stilted, the sentences dry, the concepts uninspiring. Yes, I do understand that you want to avoid all sensationalism. Yes, you do want to be scholarly, maybe even scientific. But does scholarship have to be ugly to be counted as such? It seems that many scholars regard complicated, dense language as more learned. In part, no doubt, that is in an effort to sound more scientific, to move away from any language that may appear to be emotional.

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In some disciplines dense language may be appropriate. It may be more concise, may convey the most important thoughts without embellishments. But often ugly articles are not concise, rather they put the few simple thoughts in complicated language that few people can follow, but that sounds more impressive. And while the concepts may sound more sophisticated, they move further away from any reality to which they are connected.

I believe that how we write matters, that aesthetics is part of good scholarship. We have to write beautifully. We have to write clearly. We can use rhetoric and emotional speech. Of course, we need to be restrained, should not make the art of writing more important than the subject itself. But if we cannot convey our enthusiasm, if we cannot convey that our research is worthwhile, aren’t we wasting our time and the time of our readers?

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This entry was posted in Archaeology, Discussion, History, Scholarly articles and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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