Philologastry

The doings of American philologasters are, in truth, a curious study.

Suitable Means of Verification

To paraphrase Prince Feisal in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, “young men start blogs, and the virtues of new blogs  are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then they become bloggers, and the vices of blogging are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution. It must be so.” In his The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain makes the following observation about journals, which could just as easily be applied to blogs:

Alas! that journals so voluminously begun should come to so lame and impotent a conclusion as most of them did!

Why must it be so? Obviously, to keep a journal or a blog, one must possess not only observations to make, but also the discipline to keep making these observations on a regular basis. In all honesty, I’ve never had either in abundance, which makes for a major challenge.  Twain continues,

If you wish to inflict a heartless and malignant punishment upon a young person, pledge him to keep a journal a year.

Over the past decade, I’ve tried my hand at blogging several times.  It never took. I always felt frustrated at my failure to populate my blogs with posts, and resented the challenge that they implicitly represented to my discipline.  Why try again, considering what a pain it is?  I’ve never really had the motive or the impetus to keep a blog, as I’ve always felt that what I say in print spoke sufficiently for me.

That all changed with the award of a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholarly Editions and Translations grant in 2010, which was recently renewed for 2012-14.  In the process of putting the 2010-12 grant to bed, I found myself confronting a seemingly intractable problem: how do I document my effort?  Both the federal government and my employer require me to report and certify the effort that I’ve expended on my grant. Were I paid by the hour, and employed weekdays from 9am-5pm, with a 40 hour work week, this would be a fairly simple problem to solve, but I am not, and the number of hours that I put into my work, including the research sponsored by the grant, vary from week to week. As far as my employer and the government are concerned, this is my problem to solve, not theirs.

Both my employer and the federal government require that I produce “suitable means of verification” for the effort that I’ve reported, in the event that an audit (either internal or external) occurs. In addition to the traditional time sheets, suitable means of verification can include calendars, memos, emails, travel reports, presentations, as well as meeting agenda, notes, and minutes, so long as the means are written.  It occurred to me that a blog detailing the work that I had expended would not only protect me in the event of an audit, but also give me a way to gauge my efforts for my own purposes.  Thus I have a very real (legal and financial) impetus, motivated by mistrust and caution, the vices of suitably old philologasters such as myself, to maintain this blog.

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