Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A few years ago, a colleague in another university published a huge book, based on a vast amount of archival research, meticulously documented, beautifully written and offering a new and formidably argued reinterpretation of a major historical event. I remarked to a friend in that university that this great work would certainly help their prospects in the RAE. ‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘We can’t enter him. He needs four items and that book is all he’s got.’ ...
I contrast this with my own experience in the old, supposedly unregenerate days. The college where I became a tutor in 1957 had only 19 academic fellows. Of these, two did no research at all and their teaching was languid in the extreme. That was the price the rest of us paid for our freedom and in my view it was a price worth paying. For the other fellows were exceptionally active, impelled, not by external bribes and threats, but by their own intellectual ambition and love of their subject. In due course three became fellows of the Royal Society and seven of the British Academy. They worked at their own pace and some of them would have fared badly in the RAE, for they conformed to no deadlines and released their work only when it was ready. I became a tutor at the age of 24, but I did not publish a book until I was 38. These days, I would have been compelled to drop my larger project and concentrate on an unambitious monograph, or else face ostracism and even expulsion.

Sir Keith Thomas in the LRB, the rest here.

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