Simon Abramowitsch

School’s out for summer
School’s out forever
School’s been blown to pieces
-Alice Cooper

The Simpsons bart simpson season 17 episode 22 writing

The question of what can be accomplished in a project of public scholarship over a summer is like asking what can be accomplished in a project of public scholarship, period.

By that I mean that the answer can be and should be: something can be accomplished. This claim is both grand and humble. School’s out forever. School’s out for summer.

It is a grand claim in that engaging in the work of public scholarship—no matter how “successful” or “unsuccessful”—will certainly change the questions that were posed before the work began, and will change the practice of this work from an idea about how it might proceed to a sense of the reality of how the work actually happens, or a sense of the things that prevent it from happening. If the difference between public scholarship and public service is our attention as public scholars to the questions we ask and to a greater understanding of the publics and problems we engage, then our work, even at a small scale, can and should manifest as improved knowledge about those questions, publics, and problems. School’s out forever—the original questions changed forever.

Certainly, accomplishing something is also be a humble claim. It cannot be not everything. It is not a project completed, question answered, problem solved, or public tucked into bed and put to sleep with the lullaby of our excitement. A short project conducted over the summer can initiate relationships that shift the questions, plans, and expectations for future work. And in many ways this reflects the cycle of what we think of as “academic scholarship”—those written and published interventions into a field of knowledge. School’s out for summer—back to the drawing board again.

In my own case, in which I will be beginning an oral history project with editors and publisher of multi-ethnic literature in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s, I aim to  research, plan, and conduct 4-5 interviews, each of which will take place over more than one day.

What do I hope to achieve? There are several questions I plan to begin to answer: what is the real scope of this project in terms of people to interview for a comprehensive community oral history? What is the value of the project for the interviewees? How much energy will their interest insert into the project? How might that interest shape the publics to which the project might be addressed? Is the project feasible in terms of interest and resources? What possibilities for presentation and distribution to the public might emerge from this work?

My project may well be one that has a longer life than this summer. If it turns out that my sense of the value and feasibility of the project is accurate, then it will certainly take me longer than the summer of 2016 to justice to the history I aim to document and historical actors whose stories I hope to record and share.