“Sorry this isn’t plagiarism, it’s common knowledge within my field!”

            Throughout many academic fields there are terms and information that is considered common knowledge that the writer does not have to cite, but what is considered common knowledge when fields overlap? Common knowledge is defined as information that appears across many sources without a clear origin; some examples of this would be the definition of common knowledge along with famous historical dates. Information that is not considered common knowledge among all fields of work is the inclusion of data and statistics in your work, this needs to be cited. Everett explores this idea of common knowledge in his book of poems, re: f(gesture); playing with this idea of common knowledge as he plays with the concept of structure in a similar way. I don’t believe he is trying to teach his readers that credit should not be given but to explore new fields in their writing as well as following their interest even if their life is dedicated to another field.

            There is a process in which a writer must follow to identify if the piece of information they are using is considered common knowledge. First, the writer must identify their audience, are they writing to a field expert or a general audience. If they are writing to a field expert there is a level of shared information so citations may not be needed. The second identifier is if the reader finds a statement interesting can they dispute it; if the statement is a foundational fact within the field then it is most likely going to be considered common knowledge within the field. The last identifier is to make sure that the specific piece of information can be found or verified over a large base of networks. These steps ensure that the writer is attributing credit to things discovered by others and not wasting their time citing common knowledge.

            Within every discipline, there is a group of information that is considered common knowledge that to an outsider may be surprising. The Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning talks about the mirror test and calling James Joyce a modernist, these things do not need to be cited but, when you begin to cite information about the results of the mirror test and what it means for the model of consciousness then you must cite your source. Common knowledge is true for all the disciplines, but it is important to recognize your audience and if you do not know if what you are saying is common knowledge then fact check with your professor. Identifying common knowledge becomes harder when you are writing across fields which are seen in the book of poems by Everett. 

            Everett plays with this idea of common knowledge in re: f(gesture) and in the section titles “Zulus” and “Body”. Percival Everett is a renowned author of many works in literature, he is a distinguished English professor at the University of Southern California, and he has his Masters in fiction from Brown University. Everett’s field of work is English, so diving into the human body and historical figures in his poem book without citation to other authors, scholars, or journals implies that he used common knowledge from within specific fields. If we consider the section of the book titled “Zulus” it can be determined that this section is a set of poems dedicated to the alphabet, but each poem references people or events from history or the bible. At the end of the book, there isn’t a bibliography or reference page meaning that in another field these names, descriptions, and references are considered common knowledge, even if the reader does not know each specific reference. For example, on page 16 the poem dedicated to the letter “B” references The Battle of Blood River, the Boston Massacre, the Lord Byron who was a revolutionary in the Greek War of Independence, and Bonaparte. In this poem, Everett makes many references to protests against imperialism and to wars that would lead the independence to a country or a countries attempt to gain independence from another group of people. All of this information is considered common knowledge because a description of war, battle, or general can be searched on the internet and multiple sources will come up to explain the event, which is what I did while reading this section. In playing with common knowledge Everett continues to strengthen this belief of exploring new fields in his writing as well as potentially following his own interest even if his lives work in the English field.

            Another example of Everett playing with common knowledge in this book is in the section titled “Body”. In this section, he attributes a poem to specific body parts that both men and woman share and then he begins to narrow his terms to bodily features only woman carries. Throughout this section, he uses the medical terms for these body parts rather than the common terms used on an everyday basis. Some examples of these medical terms are the “The Hyoid Bone”, “Sternum”, and “The Astragalus”; the hyoid bone is called the tongue bone, the sternum is the breastbone, and the astragalus is the ankle bone. These medical terms are considered common knowledge within the field of medicine and if looked up on the internet the definitions of these words are displayed among many sources. Again, in this set of poems, Everett steps out of his field and into another, exploring common knowledge among different fields.

            Although common knowledge poses its uneasiness when working among different disciplines is does invoke a sense of creativity in the writing of others. Everett probes this idea of common knowledge to show the beautiful pieces of work that can derive from it as well as exploring other fields based on and author’s curiosity. Common knowledge may not always be common knowledge to some, but it is important for the author to know their audience and to seek help if they are unsure if the fact they are writing is considered common knowledge.

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