For history geeks like me, the 1997 Academy Award-Winning Drama, Good Will Hunting, offers hope that obscure knowledge might someday be converted into social capital. In one classic scene, the secretly brilliant blue-collar bibliophile, Will Hunting (Matt Damon), comes to the rescue by engaging in a nuanced discussion of American historiography. While hanging out at a college bar in Cambridge, one of Will’s working-class friends, Chuckie Sullivan (Ben Affleck), begins flirting with two Harvard students, claiming that he recognizes them from his history class. He is soon cornered by an arrogant graduate student, who wants to know just how much history this hard-drinking Boston “Southie” knows and asks him to reflect on his “class:”
“I was just hoping you might give some insight into the evolution of the market economy in the Southern Colonies? My contention is that, prior to the Revolutionary War, the economic modalities, especially in the Southern Colonies, could best be described as agrarian pre-capitalist.”
Seeing his friend cornered, Will swoops in and criticizes the antagonist for pulling his argument directly from a Marxian historian assigned to all first-year grad students. He then challenges his pony-tailed nemesis to engage with the work of scholars from other historiographical traditions, including James Lemon and Gordon Wood. When the grad student replies that “Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social distinctions predicated upon wealth— especially inherited wealth,” Will nails him for plagiarism, verbally citing the page of Daniel Vickers’ Famers & Fishermen: Two Centuries of Work in Essex County, Massachusetts, 1630-1850 which the student had just lifted verbatim. And asks him if he has any thoughts of his own on the matter? Exposed as a fraud, the grad student retreats in humiliation. Meanwhile, one of the Harvard girls (Minnie Driver), impressed by Will’s intellect and integrity, offers him her number.
Like any good scholar, Will demands originality from any new piece of work. This scene reminds us that engaging in a scholarly conversation requires not only an understanding of the relevant literature but also an original argument grounded in primary research. While these good scholastic practices might not make you a Casanova, they certainly are essential for any piece of academic writing.
— Ian Iverson ’18
Link to clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIdsjNGCGz4