[Milton-L] Book Reviewer sought: _Is Milton Better thanShakespeare_?

Hannibal Hamlin hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com
Sat Dec 13 15:50:49 EST 2008

Dear Salwa,

We live in a democratic country, but this means our political system is
democratic, not our way of life.  Indeed, I think democracy has very little
to do with scholarship, where the majority can be and often is wrong or
misguided and should therefore generally be disregarded.  One particularly
annoying misconception about democracy produces the student mindset that
everyone is entitled to their opinion and that one opinion is as good as
another.  This is of course nonsense.  I often tell students that they are
entitled to an opinion, but that this doesn't entitle them to protection
from criticism.  Some opinions are uninformed and foolish.  Turning back to
reviewing, I would have thought the entire basis of this practice was
anti-democratic, at least in so far as it involves scholarship being vetted
by relevant experts.  This is why I think it is important that reviewers
have the best credentials possible (i.e., be published experts in the field)
and also be relatively senior.  I am interested, for instance, in Tony
Grafton's assessment of recent publications in Renaissance History; I am far
less interested in what a graduate student thinks of Grafton (not to say
that the graduate student can't write an astute review, or Grafton a bad
book, but the general point stands).

Your point about the "inner circle" is excellent, though, and one I've often
thought about.  I don't see a way out, however.  As scholarship becomes more
specialized and sophisticated, it is inevitable that the reviewer of a
certain book will be another expert in the field -- as it should be.
Indeed, I'm usually irritated by the increasing tendency of periodicals like
the New York Review of Books or the New Yorker to ask reviewers outside of
the relevant fields.  There are many literary critics whose work I admire,
but while I might enjoy chatting with them about politics over cocktails,
I'm not especially interested in reading their opinions about the
presidential race or the best economic theories to be applied to the current
financial crisis.  Nor am I much interested in Lawrence Summers' opinions on
Milton (though again, over cocktails . . .).  I think the best we can aim
for is a tentative balance between objectivity and expertise.  Scholars in
the same fields, especially small ones, are bound to know each other, but
this will not likely be a problem if the relationship is not close.
Spouses, partners, frequent co-authors, and members of the same department
are best avoided.


On 12/13/08, Salwa Khoddam <skhoddam at cox.net> wrote:
> Dear Scholars,
> On my part I have to thank Scott Howard's open invitation to review the
> book because it is based on our democratic way of life:  Let the best
> reviewer win.  There's no question that the reviewer should have the
> credentials and the expertise--and possess some objectivity ( as much as
> possible) by sticking to the questions that James Rovira suggested. But
> those cases of reviewers "savaging" an author, or authors jumping from tall
> buildings, or reviewers being crestfallen because their reviews are not
> accepted do nothing except to derail the argument.  It is hard to think that
> even scholarship can be politicized so much.  I think Professor Howard's
> open invitation would allow scholars who have not had much opportunity to
> publish much to get into the stream of Milton scholarship.  Of course, we
> all know that it would be up to the editor to make the choice of what's to
> be published.  What is the alternative?  Scholars and selected reviewers
> writing and editing to each other endlessly, creating some kind of an "inner
> ring" (C.S. Lewis' term)??
> Best,
> Salwa Khoddam
> Oklahoma City University
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Scott Howard" <showard at du.edu>
> To: <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> Sent: Thursday, December 11, 2008 1:16 PM
> Subject: [Milton-L] Book Reviewer sought: _Is Milton Better
> thanShakespeare_?
>> Dear Colleagues,
>> We are looking for someone to review Nigel Smith's _Is Milton Better than
>> Shakespeare?_ for Volume Two of APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early
>> Modern Literature & Culture, which will be published in May, 2009.
>> If you are interested, please be in touch soon.
>> Appositions is an electronic, peer-reviewed, international journal for
>> studies in Renaissance/early modern literature and culture.  ISSN
>> forthcoming.
>> Yours,
>> Scott Howard
>> ///
>> W. Scott Howard
>> Associate Professor
>> Director of Graduate Studies
>> Department of English
>> University of Denver
>> http://mysite.du.edu/~showard/
>> ///
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Hannibal Hamlin
Associate Professor of English
The Ohio State University
Burkhardt Fellow,
The Folger Shakespeare Library
201 East Capitol Street SE
Washington, DC 20003
hamlin.22 at osu.edu/
hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com
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