I\’m Too Sexy for My Master\’s Thesis

In Memory of Jaroslav Pelikan

Posted in history by Rae on 22 May 2006

From the New York Times: Jaroslav Pelikan, Wide-Ranging Historian of Christian Traditions, Dies at 82.

Pelikan was an esteemed and highly-regarded scholar. Everything he wrote was top notch, including his book The Idea of the University: A Reexamination (published in 1992). A few years ago when I was writing a bibliographic essay titled, "Literacy and Aurality: The 'Reading' of Hebrew Texts in the Second Temple Period," I found these portions on bibliographic essays (on pages 116-117) to be particularly helpful:

[T]he bibliographic essay, if prepared with just the right blend of thoroughness and imagination, can serve at least two major purposes simultaneously. It can be a necessary prolegomenon [preparatory work] to research, by means of which scholars are enabled to locate their new discoveries or insights in the context of the total state of the art. Thus scholarly and scientific readers can, with a minimum of slippage, see where their new research has truly done something new, and can therefore begin to assess its significance. Conversely, the new research may also have achieved its results through a dangerous oversimplification of problems that earlier scholars had recognized in their full complexity, and the well-written bibliographic essay can provide a scholar with perspective also on that issue. Beyond that function, however, the bibliographic essay is an important chapter in intellectual history, especially when it deals with an aspect of one of those seminal issues that systems of human thought and belief use over and over to identify themselves. By this means the scholar's own research points beyond itself to the continuing tradition of study and debate. Few enterprises are more fundamental for the future of university research than this.

As anyone who has ever attempted it will testify, however, preparing a bibliographic essay of that kind is not for the feint of heart. For unless one is committed to some party line, be it political or philosophical or theological or literary, such a report on the state of the art has the moral obligation to report and summarize the historical development and current status of the research with . . . objectivity.

Only if the research scholar begins to have some of the qualities of the bibliographer and if the research librarian is a philologist [a humanist specializing in classical scholarship] of sorts can research in all fields begin to acquire literature surveys of the quality it ought to have for scholarship to thrive.

May his memory be a blessing.


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