Summer Research and Semester Writing: Lessons from Dr. Gerald Horne

Summer Research and Semester Writing: Lessons from Dr. Gerald Horne

In an earlier post I wrote about the work ethic of Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois as one of the most prolific scholars of the 20th century.

But as I'm now in the middle of the summer semester, I wondered how prolific scholars today vary in their work ethic from those of the past. How do they keep motivated and how do they balance teaching and research? Thus I turned to Dr. Gerald Horne.

As the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston, Horne has written 15 monographs over the course of his career and publishes regularly in academic and public journals. In 2009 alone he published four books. He's also the first academic I've known to give a book talk on two separate books at the same time.

His work covers topics related to international affairs, Marxism, racism and labor politics - just to name a few. What follows is Gerald Horne's work ethic:

Ula Taylor has alluded to the travel involved in research, which is all too accurate. When I am in research mode, I visit the archives two to three days per week during the academic year and five days per week during the summer. I only write during the academic year, and thus will do so about three to four days per week. (I usually travel with two laptops—in case one malfunctions; I also use an oldfashioned Moleskine notebook and daily calendar.) I also carry a Blackberry, which facilitates my subscriptions to various email lists, including those focused on Cuba, Zimbabwe, Russia, African American Studies, Caribbean Studies, Southern African Studies, U.S. labor, the U.S. left, U.S. diplomatic history, United Nations news services and various services targeting African America such as “Sons of Africa,” “Seeing Black,” “The Blacklist,” and “BRC-Reparations.” Like a professional basketball player, in this business you have to be able to prevail on the road, which means plenty of rest, plenty of walking, plenty of water, eating sparingly—and going to great lengths to avoid even the slightest hint of personal stress. (Turkish foreign policy is premised on the notion of “zero problems with neighbors,” which is a good principle for life itself, if at all possible.) On the road—and at times in the archive via earphones—I spend quite a bit of time listening to the radio and to music. As for television—a vast wasteland—I rarely venture beyond C-SPAN and ESPN. Nevertheless, because I see history as a reflection of the present and feel that one cannot understand the past without comprehending the present, I spend a good deal of time studying the latter. This involves daily scrutinizing of newspapers in hard copy (a remnant of childhood when I sold newspapers) and online, not to mention a number of news aggregators. I use the African American press extensively in my historical research, and in daily life. Indian Country Today is a decent weekly that reflects some of the contradictions of this community and the same could be said about the Forward, which covers the Jewish community. Magazines—in hard copy—remain relevant, and I rely on them heavily; the same holds true for periodicals. Scholarly historical journals such as The Journal of African American History are indispensable (I would add to this list—despite their debilities—The American Historical Review and The Journal of American History). I make a habit of dropping into university libraries periodically in order to survey the scores of scholarly journals that are being produced; my opinion is that the university libraries of Stanford, University of California, Berkeley, Columbia, and Duke have the widest array of journals; these can be an invaluable source for new ideas—and new books. Documentaries and feature films are also worthy in this regard, and thus I watch about three or four per week via Netflix and Facets, based in Chicago. In this vein, film festivals are indispensable and I favor the Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles (every February), the Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival in Manhattan (November) and the Toronto Film Festival (August/September—yet another way to thank Canada for sheltering so many antebellum African refugees).

Gerald Horne. “ONE HISTORIAN’S JOURNEY”. The Journal of African American History 96.2 (2011): 248–254.

With such a regimented publishing record, it's no surprise that he also published a biography of W.E.B. Du Bois.

Shout out to Dr. Josh Myers for directing me to this source.

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