A few days ago, I picked up the next book I was going to read in the "Nature's Nation" section of my Science in America list, The Humboldt Current, by Aaron Sachs. I flipped the hardcover book open to look at the blurb and author's photo on the book jacket, as I always do. I was first struck by this author's photo. He looked young and happy and like someone I'd actually like to hang out with. This is in stark contrast with many authors' photos, in which they often look overly serious, overly ivory-tower-ish, or overly posed. So I decided to read more about this Aaron Sachs before diving into his book, and I came across a profile of him on the History News Network's Top Young Historians pages. In this profile, he describes his experience trying to publish his senior thesis and the criticism he got for using the first person singular--for daring to refer to himself in a work of history.
In reflecting on this, Sachs writes that the use of the "I" has "allowed me to maintain a sense of self in the all-too-impersonal world of academia..has made a better teacher...adds a layer of depth to my analysis...[and] allows me to tap different aspects of what I take to be my core identity." He continues, "I enjoy being a historical scholar, but I also want to be a teacher, an environmental activist, and a writer of creative non-fiction—preferably, all in the same essay, however short or long. I doubt I'll ever succeed at wearing all of those hats simultaneously, but no set of rules is going to keep me from the head-spinning joy of trying."
I couldn't agree more.
I suppose I've only sometimes reflected on how the injection of the "I" into my writing can help me wear these simultaneous hats, but I reflect unceasingly on all the ways I can go about trying to maintain these varied--but crucially connected--aspects of my intellectual life. Right now, I'm feeling entirely one-sided as I find myself being all historical scholar (or even just historical reader!) and not at all teacher, environmental activist, or writer of creative non-fiction (although I guess this blog is helping out a little with that last piece). I'm going to take Sachs as a model and am going to work in a pointed way (after these prelims are over, that is) on combining these different roles I want to embody--and perhaps I'll start by inserting that pronoun that too many historians consider a barrier to "objectivity."