Finding answers

I’ve usually not welcomed the question “what do you do?”, for it inevitably leads to “, what are you?”. That is, to having to define the discipline I am in. However, I think from now on I will give the answer suggested by a friend recently:

I am an Early Modernist.

What has made answering difficult – what still makes it difficult, really – is the fact that there is no one simple answer for me; I can’t say I’m a linguist, for instance, or a historian. Despite being a member of a research unit of historical corpus linguists, I am not a linguist myself – although I do do a bit of linguistic research. I can’t call myself a historian either, not having the training, although definitely I seem to use and read more historical research than anything else. And then there’s the digital humanities aspect to my work. What does that make me?

Recently, I attended a lecture on interdisciplinarity as seen from the viewpoint of an eminent medievalist, who pointed out that medievalists have been inter- and multidisciplinary from day one. In their research, they regularly combine (historical) linguistics, history, archaeology, and a whole slew of other disciplines. I think it’s time to copy this usage. Yesterday was the first time that in conversation with someone I’d not met before, I called myself an Early Modernist. I found that it was a much easier explanation than ones I’ve given previously.

There is, however, another answer I could give – one also multidisciplinary in scope:

I am a manuscript scholar.

..but somehow I feel that “Early Modernist” sounds better than “manuscript scholar”, despite the fact that yes, the latter is also very much true. On which note, let’s have an image:

Richard Cocks to Thomas Wilson, 1607