Last week, I had the privilege and honor to deliver the University of Iowa's annual presentation on the state of research and scholarship: Mapping Terra Incognita. The video and associated slides are now available on YouTube. (I apologize for the audio quality at the beginning – the wireless microphone slipped off my necktie and I did not realize it. The audio is much better after the first minute or two.)
Although parts of the presentation were unique to the University of Iowa, much of what I discussed concerns the broader state of higher education in the United States. These topics span the often implicit – but very real – renegotiation of the higher education compact that defines societal expectations and university responses, the financial exigencies of research and scholarship, and the importance of communicating research and scholarship in language and context for broader understanding and uptake. I have touched on many of these topics before, including communicating ideas (See Research, Politics, and Policy), the econometrics of research investment (See Quantifying Innovation and Investment) and the joy and passion of creativity and discovery (See Eudora, You Got the Love?).
I began the speech by reemphasizing why we are scholars, researchers, and creative artists. All too often, I fear we fail to celebrate the reasons why discovery and creativity matter so much to our civilization and to us as individuals. In that spirit, here are my opening remarks, as prepared.
The brief, bright arc of sentience burns so briefly against the great darkness.
It drives each of us to declare, I am here! I mattered! Remember me!
This great yearning is common to all cultures and all times.
It defines us as humans; it defines our humanity
From the Lascaux cave paintings through Egyptian music, Chinese culture, Indian medicine (the Atharvaveda), Mayan science and a hundred other cultures, the themes are the same – expression, knowledge, and meaning.
Consider the great two inventions – agriculture and writing – that defined civilization …
The first allowed us to gather in stable groups across seasons and years.
As for the second, it is no exaggeration to say that writing created history.
For the first time, knowledge could be passed from generation to generation by more than oral tradition.
As scholars and researchers, each of us is connected by a chain of discovery and creativity that is older than history.
In that moment of discovery, of creativity, one can live a lifetime, but a thousand lifetimes would not be enough.
On this, William Blake was both poetic and prophetic – to hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.
It is something secular, but deeply holy.
Discovery and creativity -- they define us as humans and as scholars.
They represent all that we venerate and cherish.
I invite you to listen to the rest of the speech on YouTube.