Cliff Gardner

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Academics never die

Yesterday evening I went to library in search of some books for a paper I'm writing on the Rhetorical lives of Tiberious and Caius Gracchus. Since most of their speeches haven't survived, I was left to find the best collection that remains, a translation from the historian Plutarch. In my search, I came across a series of books that were old. Most of the books I walked out of the library with were published in 1909 in England, with frayed edges and water marks in places. The books in my backpack were around during two world wars, the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, and various natural disasters and historic events throughout the world.

In 1909, someone not unlike me got their book published, and 100 years later, a graduate student they never met, who their children and grandchildren never met, walked out of a library in Southern California with their words. I couldn't tell you who my great-grandfather was on either side of my family. That's probably a depressing commentary on me, but I don't think it's that unique, either. Relationships, even close ones, fade away as generations pass. Knowledge, though, lasts at least a little longer. There's a form of community in graduate school that I hadn't experienced before. I am a scholar, and I hope to be a master in my field. If I'm very lucky, I hope to one day write something that someone I'll never meet, who my children and grandchildren will never meet, will carry out of a library half a world away at 10:00 PM on a Tuesday night, relieved to have finally found just what they need.