Week in Review: Commonplace Edition

1620's Commonplace Book

What are you reading, watching, thinking about this week? As usual, here’s a few which have been on our mind. Let us know your thoughts on any/all of them. If you have items you’d like us to consider for the top five, add them in the comments or send them to Tom or Mike.

1. The Collapse of Higher Education: Seth Godin on the coming melt-down in higher education:

For 400 years, higher education in the US has been on a roll. From Harvard asking Galileo to be a guest professor in the 1600s to millions tuning in to watch a team of unpaid athletes play another team of unpaid athletes in some college sporting event, the amount of time and money and prestige in the college world has been climbing.

I’m afraid that’s about to crash and burn.

[Editor’s note: I’m not sure about the Galileo at Harvard claim, but Godin makes some very salient points in the rest of his post. ~ Mike]

2. Of the Making of Books: If you’re in literary studies, you probably love reading lists. Here’s a list of  books recommended by the Christianity & Literature listserv (HT: Mark Filiatreau). While you’re at it, check out the ESN Core Bibliography and our suggested readings for undergrads.

Teaser alert! We have in our possession a “Beginner’s Christian Bookshelf” reading list compiled by none other than the great Christian literary scholar David Lyle Jeffrey. It starts with Athanasius and ends with P. D. James. We’ll share it with you as soon as we’ve read all the books on it…

3. Millennials Seeking Meaning: From our friends at Comment magazine (subscribe! now! seriously!), an engaging conversation between a management professor and her daughter about entering the marketplace and negotiating the world of work and responsibility.

4. Do you keep a commonplace book? This is a book of quotes and other scraps, an honored tradition once taught as part of liberal education and featured prominently in Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. Wheaton professor Alan Jacobs has just posted some thoughts about this practice (in addition to an essay about the subject in First Things). Jacobs notes that, one of the frustrating aspects of using ebook software like the Kindle for Mac is that you can’t copy-and-paste text.

Which I guess is okay — after all, one of the guiding ideas of the original commonplace book was that the reader, by laboriously copying out the wisdom of some learned author, was assuming some of that author’s wisdom. Maybe we shouldn’t be copying and pasting but rather writing our quotations by hand. If it was good enough for John Milton. . . .

5. Beautify the Commandments: How do we justify the arts (or the humanities, or obscure academic pursuits, etc.) in a world with so many more urgent needs? Andy Crouch draws out a quote from Lauren Winner’s essay in the new book For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts:

Judaism taught me the principle of hiddur mitzvah. This is the idea that one does not just do the commandments, one “beautifies” them. The roots of this commandment may be found in Exodus 15:2, which may be translated something like: “This is my God and I will beautify him with praises.” In a passage of the Talmud (Masechet Shabbat 133b), the rabbis muse over this verse: What exactly does it mean to “beautify” God? How does one “beautify God with praises”? The rabbis have an answer: “Adorn yourself before him by a truly elegant fulfillment of the religious duties, for example a beautiful tabernacle, a beautiful palm branch, a beautiful ram’s horn, beautiful show fringes, a beautiful scroll or the Torah, written in fine ink, with a fine reed, by a skilled penman, wrapped with beautiful silks.”


This is Mike writing: This week, Tom and I were at some staff training and meetings for InterVarsity’s Graduate and Faculty Meetings. George Fox University professor MaryKate Morse was our speaker and facilitator for a series of cross-generational conversations. I’m generally not much for “learning exercises,” but these conversations helped me understand the relationships between generations – including power dynamics related to age, gender, race, and status – in the context of our ministry in the university. As a result, Dr. Morse’s recent book, Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence (IVP link), has moved up considerably in my “To Read” list. Might I suggest this book to help you think through the (many, many, oh so many) power dynamics at play in the academy? (And you can use your ESN member discount to buy it from IVP for 30% off!)

Photo: A commonplace book from Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library – http://www.flickr.com/photos/brbl/ / CC BY 2.0

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Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

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