July 14, 2010
On paper, R. Carter Hailey's scholarship is exceptional. A leading expert on papermaking and early modern printing, Mr. Hailey just spent a year as a research fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library, in Washington, studying the paper stocks used in early editions of Shakespeare. He probably knows more than any other person alive about the physical aspects of the First Folio. Among other accomplishments, he has been able to settle a longstanding debate and attach a firm date, 1625, to the publication of Hamlet.
The scholarly world is supposed to be a haven for expertise that the wider world overlooks. But so far, Mr. Hailey hasn't found a permanent job in academe, relying on year-to-year appointments and fellowships to support his work. His experience raises the question of whether bibliography, which a generation or two ago was a staple of graduate work in literature, is now judged too specialized or old-fashioned to be rewarded with tenure and promotion.
At places like Texas Tech University, faculty members are keeping bibliography alive by integrating it into the day-to-day business of their classrooms. Other institutions, notably Florida State University, have redefined the discipline in a way that attempts to make it a pillar of a 21st-century literary education.