Relatively Undisciplined

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The world works in funny ways.

I sent out a number of e-mails to friends in the past week, letting them know of the birth of the book, and have subsequently received dozens of lovely notes that remind me of why they’re my friends. But none among them was more surprising than the terrific note I got this morning from Simon Cook.

Simon, among his many other attributes, is a boundless repository of Soviet jokes. To wit, three men in the Gulag:

Comrade, what are you in for?

I was ten minutes late to work. They accuse me of not supporting collective goals. What are you in for?

I was ten minutes early to work. They accuse me of ambition. What are you in for?

I was on time for work. They accuse me of owning foreign watch.

Simon and I spent many, many hours out on the deck between the “portables” (trailers) that constituted the one-time home of the Duke University Writing Program, keeping one another sane in a crazy time. He let me know this morning of his life in Israel, his wife and three sons, his work as a professional academic editor. And he let me know of his project Rounded Globe.

Rounded Globe is what a library was meant to be. A library without boundaries.

We publish high quality accessible scholarly essays.

Accessibility means a work can be freely shared. It also means that it is intelligible to a reader outside the discipline. We believe accessibility is the basic condition for the survival of the humanities in the digital age.

All our ebooks are published under a creative commons license that allows them to be freely shared.

I love that broader definition of “accessibility,” going beyond the economic arguments of open access to the moral arguments of which communities we converse with. I once made the case in another publication that ethnography, as traditionally practiced, is another form of colonization, taking resources from a community for our own use while leaving nothing of benefit behind. If we’re going to talk about people, at least let’s not talk about them behind their backs.

Simon himself has shifted his intellectual focus from the history of 19th Century political economics to a cultural/historical analysis of The Lord of the Rings as a form of English cultural history (J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lost English Mythology). He was only able to do that because, as an independent scholar who makes his living through supporting the work of others, he was not beholden to remain on a set of tracks through a known landscape. His discipline holds no power over him, a blessed form of freedom.

Comrade, what are you in for?

I publish paper cited three times. They accuse me of insufficient impact. What are you in for?

I publish article in New York Times. They accuse me of popularization. What are you in for?

I publish book outside my discipline. They accuse me of curiosity.