07 March 2009

How Rarefied Have I Become? A Poll and a Bleg

Over the past few months, I've been working on figuring out (1) how to craft a dissertation that is approximately readable and (2) how to devise a pitch to sell my work to folks when I hit the job market next year.

One attempted solution has been to sprinkle into the writing connections between the fairly unknown protagonists of my tale of interwar anticolonialism and some more widely-recognized figures with whom they came into contact. But recently, a couple of friends have pointed out that my sense of "more widely-known" might need some calibration.

My solution: procrastinate ask my wonderful blog readers to take a poll and tell their friends to hop over here and take this poll, so I can get a better idea of who is who and how to pitch.

Now, this isn't a shame-game. I know that most of the people and terms listed below are a little obscure. I'm just trying to get a sense of how obscure they are and which ones might work as good hooks for the reader.

Like all polls, the more people who take it, the more indicative the results will be of broader trends. I also think it would help if non-regular readers of this blog take it, assuming MTBE readers are a self-selecting group of people who either know me or are interested in things I write about.

So tell your friends, send out an email, post a link on your blog... Please, help me figure out how rarefied my work's become! (If you don't want to direct them to this post, they can also take the poll here.)

But first, before you tell everyone, take it yourself.

Tick the boxes for all the terms that are familiar to you.
Agnes Smedley
Karl Radek
George Padmore
Ghadar Party
Sun Yat-sen
Scottsboro Case
Jomo Kenyatta
Mike Gold
Isadora Duncan
Katayama Sen
Lothrop Stoddard
Vsevolod Meyerhold
Paul Robeson
George Kennan
Nazim Hikmet
Walter Rodney
Countee Cullen
Alexander Deineka
Kwame Nkrumah
pollcode.com free polls



kami said...

I'm not familiar with any of those terms. I tried to vote like that and apparently you have to choose at least one to be able to vote.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the folks at Edge of the American West and the History of Ideas blog would give you a polling group more like possible dissertation publishers? Those folks will certainly know Kennan and the Comintern and Robeson and Duncan. (One of the short, impressionistic bios in Dos Passos' USA is of Duncan; it's great.)

(And believe it or not, Peggy and I have a Valentina Tereshkova story.)

Anonymous said...

ok, about 5 were unfamiliar, and the rest (especially my beloved Nazim) have given me a raging case of curiousity about your dissertation--and a suspicion that it may have some interesting resonances with my best friend's forthcoming book.

kg said...

On behalf of the women of the world, I want to thank you for remembering our special day. You like us! You really like us! Imperfect, feeble creatures that we are :)

Buster said...

Kami, Sorry, I should have worked in a "none of the above" option. Turns out I can't change the poll once it's posted without losing current results.

Rootless, Well, I'll just wait and see whether any of those folks do me the favor. It would be nice... (Hint?)

Elizabeth, Now I'm the one who's curious about your friend's book! No clues? And as for your beloved Hikmet, I am sure I do great violence to him--only reading his stuff in Russian (and the little bit in English). Mainly I just use his memoirish novel Romantika (The Romantic?) and a few poems about his time in Moscow. I was, for awhile, thinking about trying to play with the poem "Why Banerjee Wanted to Kill Himself," but decided that (1) probably someone has already done it in Turkish and (2) reading some poem in translation is an awful approach to criticizing/discussing it, best stick to "using" it as an historical source. Although for that poem, I did have the interesting (to me) thought that during Hikmet's lifetime, probably more people knew the poem in Russian translation than in Turkish. I'll stop now, before I get into all the details about how I acquired a wonderful 1951 Russian edition of Hikmet's selected works...

KG, С праздником, леди! Не надо быть зо гаш дарн саркастик, о'кей? Спасибочко!

Sean Guillory said...

I got 8. I feel your pain, though I think your subject makes it even harder to craft for an audience. Especially since I assume you want to bridge fields and appeal to Russianists, South Asianists, African, and African-American studies. I believe this scope is enough to appeal to an academic audience, which for job purposes you want to do.

As for an audience beyond that, well that's for the book, and even then an academic audience might be the focus there too since a first book is always for tenure.

Unfortunately, the masses might have to wait for your second book.

Too often our wild eyed populism is thwarted by the reality of the job market.

Anonymous said...


if it's any comfort, there's a notable lack of names from Latin America on the list that would fit with those already there. Violeta Parra occurs to me right away...

Buster said...

Sean, What wild-eyed populism? This is marketing!

I'm not looking for a connection to the masses (according to my blog traffic, I should write more about Beyonce to do that!), just a way to make my work more accessible to the average academic reader and some educated history lovers. And not just to people who are already either (a) in my field or (b) old lefties who were raised on internationalist brews.

kami said...

OHHH Violeta Parra!!!! Just the woman to remember in our day :)
Thanks rootlesscosmo

kami said...

one think I love about academic writing in English (I'll make a generalization here) is that in general, the lexicon they use is easy to understand. There are technical terms and such, but in general it is easy to read. When you read academic articles in Chilean Spanish they are filled with difficult words. It's almost as if authors want to demonstrate their knowledge using big and pompous words.
It's sad because it sometimes becomes a barrier for the normal people to have access to the academic thinking.
Another thing, buying books here is expensive, I have saved to buy a book and then when I start reading it I find tons of obsolete words and difficult terms... it's frustrating.
My very personal opinion is that if you want to make your work "accesible to the average academic reader" and the English as a Foreign Language reader also, use simple vocabulary.
Good luck!

susanne said...

I got twelve--though I may have to look up Walter Rodney to jog my memory. Of course, my response is pretty useless since I'm in the old lefty category that you already take for granted and maybe didn't even do that well for an old lefty.

Anonymous said...

@susanne: Buster remarked that it was odd Peggy & I didn't know you; he's right. Email me

john [underscore] burke100 [at] comcast [dot] net

and we'll try to figure out who else we know in common.

Sean Guillory said...

just a way to make my work more accessible to the average academic reader and some educated history lovers.

Buster, I share your modest desire. I appreciate the fact that you're even considering audience. I really do. But let's also keep it real.

Making the text accessible is one thing but making the actual book available for readers is another. Most likely your and my first book will be on an academic press since most tenure committees look for nothing less (Would you believe that some at UCLA raise eyebrows for publishing on presses like Verso?). The average press run is what 1000 and most likely hardcover (avg. price $60-$100). Libraries will buy most of these 1000. And only when these are sold will a publisher consider paperback (the tend to just let the book go out of print). However, some presses (like Cornell which luckily seems to be the place to go with Russian history stuff) publish straight to paperback. So there is more chance of reaching an audience because the price will drop to $20-30.

Also, I don't know how long your diss will be, but I'm told more and more than presses don't want to publish books longer than 200-250 pages. The economics of academic books publishing sucks ass. It doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room for marketing.

Anonymous said...

Karl Radek was murdered... why did not you report the skinhead attack?!


Anonymous said...

re: book, see email. re: Nazim, oh, I do want to hear the story, fascinated as I am with the translation-trajectories of his work (esp into Urdu, via Faiz, but that's another story). BTW, the main English translation (Blasing/Konuk) is really very good.

And I don't know if there's much critical lit in Turkish on the poem I know as "Benerci Kendini Niçin Öldürdü?", but if you ever want someone to cross-ref your comments with the original, let me know. There's no way I'd rather be practicing my Turkish.

Buster said...

Sean, Admittedly, I am quite bad at keeping it real, but I also don't think I've shifting into demanding the impossible mode. Not quite yet. I'm just trying an old high-school-teacher trick. When introducing new material to an audience, it's best if they can "hang" new ideas and information onto already existing knowledge. I'm just trying to get a sense of what that knowledge is for some cross-section of folks. It is isn't in the hopes of reaching a wide audience, but merely of effectively reaching out some small patch of interested readers.

Based on results thus far, it looks like Robeson and the Comintern, followed by Isadora Duncan are the ways to go.

Evgeny, Radek also did some interesting work as a vostokoved [Orientalist] and edited the English-language daily newspaper, among other things, leading up to his death. As for the skinhead attack, I haven't tried to make MTBE the source for reporting on every attack. I assume you mean this one: http://xeno.sova-center.ru/45A29F2/C98FA1E

Now, consider it reported!

@verbalprivilege, I've pretty much abandoned the Hikmet/Banerjee idea. First, reading a Turkish poem in a language that I regularly slaughter seems ill-advised. Second, the historical reading I was going to do--looking at Hikmet's time in Moscow and the scene--could probably be accomplished by anyone reading my diss. and then the poem; I should probably just focus on finishing that diss. Third, I recently learned that someone may be starting a project looking at Turkish students in Moscow, so he'll be better situated to read this poem at any rate.

I dream of someday having graduate students to pawn all these ideas off on that I don't have the time/perseverance to follow up on.

It would, however, be nice if that Banerjee poem existed in English. I emailed Mutlu B. once to ask her if this was in the works, but never heard a reply. The foreword to the Hikmet bio (and the bio itself) gives some interesting perspective on his life in Moscow, but I didn't think it did a very good job at communicating the romance of his memoir and poems on this time. As always, I digress.