Google Maps Scholarship

From an article published by The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Imagine a Google Maps of scholarship, a set of tools sophisticated enough to help researchers locate hot research, spot hidden connections to other fields, and even identify new disciplines as they emerge in the sprawling terrain of scholarly communication. Creating new ways to identify and analyze patterns in millions of journal citations, a team led by two biologists, Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin D. West, and a physicist, Martin Rosvall, has set out to build just such a guidance system.

This will be an extremely helpful tool, especially to locate research that is currently on the fringes of institutional and traditional venues for scholarship, such as mine.

As a prime example, when I got published in February of this year and achieved some media attention, I was contacted by several scholars working directly on my topic of expertise, Satanism. They would most likely never have heard of my work otherwise. While their approach was perhaps wider and focusing on different groups (such as the varying theistic Satanic religions), as soon as I published I am automatically in dialogue with other scholars on my topic. Every conclusion I draw or analysis I present is then, in a sense, a response to their conclusions and analysis. Even when we disagree entirely, it is our duty as academics to fully understand what we oppose, then offer another view.

I bring this up because if those scholars had not contacted me, I would still be ignorant of their work as most of it does not appear in databases. As an emerging field (a field that, perhaps, could be labeled as “occult”) that is already a subset of a lesser field (New Religious Movements), there is some lingering reluctance to consider it legitimate scholarships, as it does not fit neatly into the longstanding and recognized studies on world religions; that is, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and (that somewhat reductionist umbrella term) Eastern Religions.

Trapped in disciplinary valleys, surrounded by dense forests of information, researchers have a hard time seeing a lot of scholarship that might be relevant to their work, especially if it’s not published in the places they already know to look. The work of Mr. Bergstrom and his colleagues is a response, they say, to the problem of how to work with an overwhelming and ever-growing amount of information.

The Google map of scholarship is terribly exciting stuff to someone like me, who essentially becomes the expert on my topic; my supervisors and professors know only what I present, not necessarily the overreaching area from which it stems. That means that when I come across an issue, I explain it to my supervisor, and then tell them how I side. Although their knowledge is considerable and valued, their commentaries come from an external base of knowledge. The scholarship map could potentially link my research with content editors specifically catered to my topic. Even if they disagree with my findings, they can provide an extensive and critical rebuttal. Such things are absolutely necessary to move academia forward with new ideas.

Scholar nerds know what’s up. This is meta.

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