Scholars Without Walls: The History of the Minnesota Independent Scholars Forum (1983-2018)
The purpose of this project is to make a significant contribution to the history of independent scholarship in Minnesota. Although independent scholarship in Minnesota is presumably as old as the state, the purpose here is to focus on the history of the Minnesota Independent Scholars Forum (MISF), the part that we know best. Ideally, this project would spawn others of the same type, focused on other parts of the general history of independent scholarship in Minnesota.
The Minnesota Independent Scholars Forum (MISF) was organized in 1983 as a source of support for intellectuals and thinkers, many of whom were outside the academy and therefore lacking its perquisites. Over the past 35 years, the organization has become a feature of intellectual life in the Twin Cities, providing 1) multiple, regularly meeting study groups on a variety of scholarly topics; 2) monthly public forums featuring presentations by scholars; 3) a semi-annual journal ("The Minnesota Scholar"); 4) and opportunities for members to work on scholarly, MISF projects (e.g. Legacy Fund supported projects), or to use MISF as a fiscal agent for grants made directly to them.
A unique feature of MISF is that our membership includes scholars from many disciplines, including philosophers, poets, writers, educators, librarians, computer consultants, and published authors. Many of these scholars enthusiastically pursue interdisciplinary projects, and our interdisciplinary approach is itself a defining element of the organization. Moreover, we have a number of scientist-members, several of whose articles are quoted in the book. Although there are independent scholar organizations throughout the country (especially on the coasts), MISF is unique in having a number of scientists in its membership.
The idea of producing a history of the organization was conceived years ago by prominent MISF members, but this current initiative was largely prompted at the suggestion of David Grabitske, of the Minnesota Historical Society, as a significant part of the general history of independent scholarship in Minnesota.
To this end, we have written a 200-page (and counting) draft of the history of the Forum, "Scholars without Walls." The historical narrative is guided by numerous papers, memos, and minutes from MISF archives, but is interspersed with contextually pertinent writings of multiple scholars, from both within and without MISF. As such, these writings reflect a variety of perspectives on the history of the organization. They have been selected from the archives of the MISF journal (printed since 1989 under the titles first of "The Forum", then of “Practical Thinking,” and currently of “The Minnesota Scholar”). As might be expected, the scholars included in this book are good writers, and much of the history rests on reproducing these writings from past eras. Beyond the main narrative and the scholarly articles, the book includes descriptions and histories of grant-supported projects, compendiums of past public forums and study groups, and some interviews with past presidents. The book will be illustrated, footnoted, and indexed.
Much of the research and historical narrative has been done by the MISF members identified herein. The research is about 95% done, and the writing about 75%. Tasks in the offing are professional book design, cover design, photo enhancement, peer reviewing, and dispassionate (from outside MISF) editing. These are skills MISF needs to contract out to qualified professionals.
Ultimately, the success of the book will not be dependent on inclusion in a series of histories on independent scholarship in Minnesota. It is designed to serve equally well as part of a greater whole or as a stand-alone work. As such, it provides answers to two central questions: what has been the organizational experience of MISF in promoting independent scholarship, and to what extent has it been successful in that endeavor?