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Bringing Scholars Together

“I’ve learned not to be afraid,” said Bonnie Morris, a professor of Women’s Studies at GW, about her prolific career writing on lesbian history and culture. A panelist in our ongoing series Strategies for Interdisciplinary Publishing Success (SIPS), Professor Morris was joined by GW faculty from the English Department, the Psychology Department, and the School of Nursing for a wide-ranging discussion of writing, teaching and publishing in LGBT studies. A topic verboten in the academy only a few decades ago, LGBT studies has become an important and flourishing interdisciplinary field, with scholarship running the gamut from literary and cultural analysis, to nationwide studies funded by the National Institutes of Health. As told by these panelists, the history of their field is a story of the success that can happen to those unafraid to follow their passions. It is also a story that attests to the importance to scholarship of ethics, creativity, and risk.

Exploring the present and future of impassioned, ethical, and risk-taking research and writing is a role in which GW Libraries proudly takes the lead. This fall, in addition to our panel on LGBT studies, we hosted panel discussions on academic freedom and on research funding, as well as a symposium for researchers studying HIV/AIDS. In each case, library staff worked closely with faculty and students to create events that foster the kinds of open, practical, yet reflective conversation on which university life depends. A collaboration with the Department of American Studies, the panel “Academic Freedom, Social Media, and the Neoliberal University” was a timely intervention in the national controversy over an incident at the University of Illinois, in which that university rescinded a job offer to a prominent academic on account of the latter’s Twitter feed. Panelists discussed the importance of free and at times “uncivil” speech to the history of American social movements, as well as the implications of such speech in today’s academic climate.

With GW professor Ryan Watkins, the Libraries brought together experts to address the problems plaguing the current model of scientific funding, and to propose solutions that will foster more innovation and support younger scholars. Dr. Ben McNeil, an oceanographer studying climate change, discussed the challenges that led him to start Thinkable.org, a platform for crowd-sourcing scholarly research. His fellow panelists presented a mathematical model for how to distribute funding more equitably, discussed opportunities for working with private foundations, and addressed GW's support for scholars seeking grants and other types of funding.

The Libraries’ Global Resources Center hosted a panel discussion entitled “Scholarly Research, Writing, and Publishing 25 Years after the Collapse of Communism.” Tom Blanton, Executive Director of the National Security Archive, moderated the panel comprised of Cold War historians and media scholars as they explored how growing access to documents and archives in the region has fundamentally transformed our knowledge of the Cold War period.  Until the late 1980’s, there was almost no access to the rich documentation locked within closed archives.   As communism began its collapse throughout Eastern Europe, the chaotic transition unleashed a bounty of information that has continued to enrich and rejuvenate the entire field of Cold War related studies. Deeper access to this content has led to fresh, new understandings of the Soviet Union and the internal processes that shaped Soviet policies and led to its eventual collapse. However, challenges still remain, and scholars interested in exploring the region need a diverse set of linguistic and cultural skills to navigate the endlessly complex reality of countries in transition.  The panelists also emphasized the importance of daring and creativity, and regaled the crowd with their adventures, including procuring records directly from Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Debate was lively, and the event was well attended by students and researchers in the field. 

A good track record of scholarly publication is crucial to securing grants. But more important, publication is a responsibility: by contributing to the available public knowledge of important issues, researchers repay those who have made their research possible, including, for research involving human subjects, the research subjects themselves. Such was the perspective presented at our last SIPS event of the semester, a panel and writing workshop devoted to the study of HIV/AIDS. A collaboration between the GW Libraries, the Milken Institute School of Public Health, and the DC Developmental Center for AIDS Research (DC-DCFAR), this event brought full circle our publishing series, which started as a conversation over lunch between a librarian and a professor of public health about the challenges of writing for publication. Thanks to a donor's generous gift, we were able to take our series to the next level, providing both a public forum and a more intimate setting for researchers to connect with mentors and seek practical advice on their own projects. The event conveyed a crucial message: writing and research are difficult and daunting tasks, but also vital ones -- tasks that communities support and on which communities depend.

The success of these events also reminds us that an academic library is more than a warehouse for books. It is a laboratory for words and ideas, where the terms of the future are born in the crucible of dialog and debate. A place where, to quote another of our panelists, we in the academic community "share our failures as an opportunity for someone else to build a success. That’s how we all learn, and that’s how fields advance.” We in the GW Libraries are committed to advancing all fields of study, bringing together today’s and tomorrow’s scholars to share their failures and successes, and to build the future from the free collision of ideas.

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