Giving Voice to the Voiceless
Scholar. Intellectual. “Book man.” These have become cuss words among some Liberians. But not for me.
I have devoted my life to scholarship. I more than enjoy it. I love it. And I’m proud of what I do. Why?
Unlike many other fields, success in scholarship is based mainly on the merit of a person’s ideas. Not charisma. Not looks. Not “who you know.” Ideas don’t win because someone with a big reputation pushes them. Instead, good ideas enhance the reputation of the scholars who push them.
Weeding Out Bad Ideas
Scholarly research rests upon a system of checks and balances. Each field has its own association. Mechanical engineers are separate from historians of ancient India. At least once a year, each group sponsors a competition to find the best ideas in their field.
To ensure winners based on merit, these associations accept submissions from anyone in their field without regard to name or rank. At the heart of these competitions is a “double-blind” review process.
People who submitted ideas and those who judge their submissions are known by numbers, not their names. That way scholars who submit papers don’t know who the judges are. And judges don’t know them either. As a result, judges can’t favor their friends or punish their enemies.
But that is just the first step in a long process. Anyone whose paper is chosen must present his or her ideas at a public and open meeting. In that context, scholars will receive comments and criticism designed to improve their ideas.
After that, scholars face another blind-review process when they submit their ideas for publication. Here, too, anonymous reviewers will judge if the ideas are fit for publication in academic journals or books.
The research process is not perfect. No human system is. But it consistently weeds out bad ideas and advance good ones. For 100s of years, it has produced improvements in daily life. Electricity, crime control, early childhood education. All of these fields exist, thanks to scholarship-for-hire, available to the highest bidders.
The Ill Fruits of Liberian “Book Men”
Proud as I am to call myself a scholar, I fully understand why many Liberians today distrust and even revile “book people.Their cynicism stems from this bitter truth: Liberia’s most prominent and vocal “scholars” have borne mostly ill fruits.
For 40 years, Liberia has been held hostage by discredited ideas and policies promoted by a small group of advocates masquerading as scholars. Many have never undergone a blind review process. For them, a Ph. D. is a ticket to a political career.
These “scholars” operate as guns for hire, willing to say and write whatever pleases their political paymasters. As a result, worthless ideas never die. In the absence of blind review, they just get recycled over and over again.
Seeing Cooperation, Not Just Conflict
Hours spent with neighborhood friends fishing in Stockton Creek, hunting birds with slingshots and playing soccer led me to see Liberia as a quilt woven from many cultures. That insight would deepen during my years at St. Patrick’s High School, which drew students from all parts of Liberia and diverse economic backgrounds.
Getting to St. Patrick’s, on the opposite side of Monrovia, required taking a “holeh, holeh” bus, crowded with fellow passengers from all walks of life. My route involved stops at Point Four, Logan Town, Free Port, Clara Town, Vai Town and Waterside Market, before heading uptown to the fancy shops, government offices and cinemas on Broad Street. Those years planted the seeds that germinated into these book.
My approach to history is rooted in the view that ethnic groups and polities are dynamic, not frozen. It assumes that relationships between groups throughout history are characterized, not just by conflicts, but also by cooperation too. I also strive to present the history of Liberians in connection with the rest of Africa and larger trends in the world.
New Books Offering A New View
I have two books scheduled for publication in 2016. Both are written from an African perspective (See Research2). One is Between the Kola Forest and the Salty Sea: A History of the Liberian People Before 1820. The title is a bit poetic but the subtitle is self-explanatory. It presents the long neglected history of those who lived in the region before Liberia was created.
My other book is Black Christian Republican: The Writings of Hilary Teage, Founder of Liberia. It presents the never-before-told story of Hilary Teage, a newspaper editor, Baptist pastor, successful merchant and public servant. While each of his achievements was significant in itself, taken together, they were remarkable, especially for a man who was born a slave.
In the words of a contemporary, Teage made the single greatest personal contribution to the “framing and establishment” of the Republic of Liberia. Despite little formal education, he displayed a mastery of several genres of writing and fields of knowledge. To Liberians, who are recovering from a devastating civil war that left schools decimated, Teage offers an inspiring example of what individuals can accomplish through discipline and self-directed study.
I choose the title Between the Kola Forest and the Salty Sea because kola and sea salt were two commodities that first put the area now known as Liberia on the map, so to speak. These discoveries by some of our earliest ancestors attracted others to this region.
The title Black Christian Republicanism reflects the core thinking of Hilary Teage. Unlike many Liberian intellectuals today, he did not borrow his ideology from elsewhere; he created it. His ideas were not a hodge-podge of scraps; they were tightly integrated and coherent.
Click below to access some of my research:
- John Brown Russwurm, co-founder of America’s first black newspaper and first black governor of Maryland in Africa
- Functionalism and Cultural Studies, a literature review
- A Southern ideology in early Liberia
- Between the Kola Forest and the Salty Sea: A History of the Liberian People before 1820 (forthcoming)
- Black Christian Republicanism: The Writings of Hilary Teage, Founder of Liberia (forthcoming)
Here are some resources you can use. Find stories to share with the children in your life. Or check the Acts for people, places and organizations in the past:
What is fun to a boy is death to a frog.