Scholarly Humility

Quote of the day, this time from a Janet Staiger essay I stumbled upon:
Having studies film history for little more than five years, my first tendency, like so many youth in any field, is to presume that the older histories are wrong. Revisionist history has, I am usre, as much to do with the Oedipal complex as it has to do with changing ideological conditions which position those of us in more recent times to see facts in new ways. Of interest, to me is that the more I study US film history, the more I realize that the older histories are less wrong than I used to believe they were. ("Seeing Stars" in Stardom: Industry of Desire, ed. Gledhill 1991)
Staiger articulates (articulated, since her words are approaching two decades in vintage) a sentiment I'm increasingly feeling. Of course if I felt I had nothing to contribute to film historical or theoretical knowledge, I'd just pack it all in and call it a day, but working on 1940s Hollywood, one also has to reckon with the fact that a lot of scholarship has been written on the period, much of it quite detailed and thorough. There is a value in reinventing the wheel - if new scholars and new students don't revisit the period, then the knowledge no longer is embodied, so to speak - but I also need to stake out new arguments while maintaining a good deal of humility in face of previous work.


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