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Tinderbox and the craft of scholarship (Read 7784 times)
Jean Goodwin
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Tinderbox and the craft of scholarship
Mar 31st, 2010, 2:53pm
 
I came across an old article in Inside Higher Ed (http://www.insidehighered.com/views/mclemee/mclemee205) from a link this morning.  It's discussing renowned sociologist C. Wright Mills' essay "On Intellectual Craftsmanship."  "Craft"--that's a word I like.  Here are some Tinderboxy bits:

Quote:
For Mills, there is a kind of bench where all of this crafting takes place. He calls it "the file."...

For one thing, [the file] includes reading notes and other such documents generated in the course of your research. But the file is also something like a journal. It's where you hammer out the coherence between the different projects that absorb you, and brainstorm new lines of inquiry. "In such a file," Mills writes, "there is joined personal experience and professional activities, studies under way and studies planned." It is where you hash out the complications in any given work-in-progress, and take notes on stray possibilities that might be worth exploring down the line.

One benefit of this is that it can help subdue, or at least reduce, anxiety over writing. (Mills suggests adding something to the file at least once a week.) And it "encourages you to capture 'fringe-thoughts': various ideas which may be by-products of everyday life, snatches of conversation overheard in the street, or, for that matter, dreams. Once noted, these may lead to more systematic thinking, as well as intellectual relevance to more directed experience."...

"You will have to acquire the habit of taking a large volume of notes from any worthwhile book you read," writes Mills, "although, I have to say, you may get better work out of yourself when you read really bad books."

Apart from taking notes and drafting memoranda-to-yourself, Mills suggests that your files ought to include charts and diagrams. As a sociologist, he was used to presenting some of his findings in that format. But Mills's point is that the intellectual craftsman shouldn't wait until writing for publication to experiment with visual display. Tables, charts, and diagrams "are not only ways to display work already done," he writes; "they are very often genuine tools of production."
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Jean Goodwin
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Re: Tinderbox and the craft of scholarship
Reply #1 - Apr 2nd, 2010, 8:09pm
 
I got a hold of Mills' full essay, which turns out to have further resonances with the Tinderbox way.  For example:

Quote:
But how is this file-which so far must seem to you more like a curious sort of `literary' journal-used in intellectual production? The maintenance of such a file is intellectual production. It is a continually growing store of facts and ideas, from the most vague to the most finished....All projects with me begin and end with [the files], and books are simply organized releases from the continuous work that goes into them.


On emergent organization:

Quote:
Under various topics in your file there are ideas, personal notes, excerpts from books, bibliographical items and outlines of projects. It is, I suppose, a matter of arbitrary habit, but I think you will find it well to sort all these items into a master file of `projects,' with many subdivisions. The topics, of course, change, sometimes quite frequently. For instance, as a student working toward the preliminary examination, writing a thesis, and, at the same time, doing term papers, your files will be arranged in those three areas of endeavor: But after a year or so of graduate work, you will begin to re-organize the whole file in relation to the main project of your thesis. Then as you pursue your work you will notice that no one project ever dominates it, or sets the master categories in which it is arranged. In fact, the use of the file encourages expansion of the categories which you use in your thinking. And the way in which these categories change, some being dropped and others being added-is an index of your intellectual progress and breadth. Eventually, the files will come to be arranged according to several large projects, having many sub-projects that change from year to year....

As you re-arrange a filing system, you often find that you are, as it were, loosening your imagination. Apparently this occurs by means of your attempt to combine various ideas and notes on different topics. It is a sort of logic of combination, and `chance' sometimes plays a curiously large part in it. In a relaxed way, you try to engage your intellectual resources, as exemplified in the file, with the new themes....

... How often and how extensively you re-arrange the files will of course vary with different problems and with how well they are developing. But the mechanics of it are as simple as that. Of course, you will have in mind the several problems on which you are actively working, but you will also try to be passively receptive to unforeseen and unplanned linkages.


That is reassuring, since I have yet again dumped my overall organization and am reconstructing a more workable order.
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Greg Korgeski
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Re: Tinderbox and the craft of scholarship
Reply #2 - Apr 4th, 2010, 3:19pm
 
Thanks for that!  It's a great essay.  Very timely as I wrassle with how to organize the Big Tinderbox Document.

Greg
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Stacey Mason
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Re: Tinderbox and the craft of scholarship
Reply #3 - Apr 6th, 2010, 1:10pm
 
Here is a link to the original Mills essay.  Very interesting stuff, and as others have pointed out, it's definitely well-suited to the Tinderbox Way!

http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~psargent/Mills_Intell_Craft.pdf

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Michael Sauer
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Re: Tinderbox and the craft of scholarship
Reply #4 - Apr 14th, 2010, 7:41pm
 
This really is a great article and I can see how Tinderbox would fit into this type of a "file."  Does anyone have any examples of how they have used Tinderbox for this purpose that they would be willing to post?
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linn
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Re: Tinderbox and the craft of scholarship
Reply #5 - Dec 23rd, 2010, 10:13pm
 
Jean's description of "the file" of C. Wright Mills made me shudder--until I realized that Mills meant "manilla" file,  not "electronic!"  
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