As this semester begins to wind down, and as my first year of doctoral studies draws toward its end, I have found a brief moment—yes, this is possible even in the midst of the busyness that is early April in Erickson Hall—to reflect on the importance of reading, and re-reading, the handbooks that mark our discipline. My reflection has not been a wholly solitary endeavor, as I have had the good fortune of engaging in a number of brief discussions with departmental colleagues along these lines. (Many thanks to Michelle Schira Hagerman for her time and counsel!)
The importance of handbook reading will not be news to anyone who is taking a portion of his or her precious few spare moments to review the latest entry on ideaplay.org. Notwithstanding, I thought it would be useful to remind all of us—even as I remind myself—that handbooks are of immeasurable value to us as developing scholars.
Here are just a few of the ways that handbooks enrich our experiences and our work as graduate students, insofar as I have been able to catalogue them to date. Our handbooks:
- Articulate the history(ies) of our discipline, demonstrating the evolution of significant ideas and scholarship over time
- Highlight various, and often conflicting perspectives about issues that are central to our field, while encouraging us to wrestle with any tension that remains
- Introduce us to new scholars, helping us learn both who the leading voices are and what those voices have to say
- Initiate us into the world of academic inquiry, or at least part of it, offering exemplary work that we can review, scrutinize, and strive to emulate
- Guide current investigation, pointing us and our fellow researchers toward unanswered questions and unresolved issues
In addition to this, mastery of the knowledge base that is established through our handbooks seems to be the “coin of the realm,” in a manner of speaking. Understanding what is there—along with what is not—is essential, I think, both to our individual successes and to the success of the scholarly work that we are privileged to carry out.
While this semester continues to grind toward its end, I am reminding myself about the value of reading our handbooks. I am also reminding myself about the benefits of taking a few minutes to stop and reflect, even amidst the busyness that this time brings. I encourage you to do the same.