Learning to Go Slow

Bill Caraher

In 2013, I co-edited an issue of North Dakota Quarterly with Rebecca Rozelle-Stone. The issue considered the “slow” movement which had started to expand from the rather limited perspective on cooking and foodways, primarily associated with the “slow food” movement, to a wider consideration about the seemingly relentless pace of life in the 21st century. By 2010, there were thoughts about “slow science,” “slow teaching,” and I had proposed the potential for “slow archaeology.” Our publication wrangled a bunch of these ideas into what we called “A Study in Slow.” (Unfortunately, we don’t have this issue available online yet, but it is a priority. If you want to see what I wrote for that issue, you can go here).

To be honest, I’ve never been very good at slow. In fact, most of what I do is so hurried that it almost always has the potential to be shoddy. In fact, recently I’ve confronted the need to slow down and be more thoughtful and careful in my life as an academic researcher and writer, and I have to admit that working in this register is frustrating. I did, however, find a bit of solace in Mary Lindemann’s 2021 Presidential Address to the American Historical Association published in the American Historical Review. Titled “Slow History,” it is a reminder that the process of archival work and thoughtful writing is usually slow, and there is real value in its slowness. You can read it here.

There are two things in my life that have started (slowly, as it were) to teach me how to slow down. The first is listening to music. No matter how quickly one wants to get through an album or a song, there really isn’t any way to speed it up. Music happens on its own pace and (if you can excuse the little pun), rhythm.

I’ve also found that poetry simply can’t be enjoyed quickly and have found that the ritual of reading and thinking about poetry in my capacity as editor of NDQ has forced me to slow down. I often wonder whether the every increasing pace of academic life and academic writing both requires and contributes to increasingly pace of academic reading. And as we learn to read more quickly, it becomes harder to slow down and, I might suggest, all the more important that we do.

So, maybe this weekend, despite the mid-semester bustle and the piles of untended leaves in my yard, I’ll take a couple of hours and slow down by reading poetry. If you’re looking for some new (and undoubtedly familiar) check out some poetry from NDQ here.


Bill Caraher is the editor of North Dakota Quarterly, an archaeologist, and a sometime historian. He blogs about his work here.

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