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Why Blog?

There have been a couple interesting contributions over the last few weeks on why people blog.  One was offered by Andrew Sullivan, whose political and cultural blog the Daily Dish has made him a celebrity far beyond the blogosphere.  A group of blogging historians wrote gave papers at Berkshire Conference of Women Historians on their experiences as bloggers (including Tenured Radical, Clio Bluestocking Tales, and Knitting Clio). Last week, several friends and colleagues forwarded to me a link to a post at hughmaguire.net which provided a list of arguments for why academics should blog. 

With these scholars' encouragement, it seemed like a good time to return a bit to thinking about why I blog.  (And such a reflection is particularly useful on weeks like this when I feel completely overextended and swamped!).

1. I like to write and find the discipline of writing valuable.  Writing my blog helps structure my day around a pleasurable task.  I compose my blog as I get ready for my day and write it up as soon as I arrive in my office.  This simple routine ensures that each morning has a predictable structure and a feeling (no matter how fleeting) of accomplishment. 

2. A desire to make visible the process of writing, thinking, and revising.  Every now and then I am reminded of the brilliant line from Ghost Busters: "Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities, we didn't have to produce anything! You've never been out of college! You don't know what it's like out there! I've *worked* in the private sector. They expect results."  For better or worse, even the university expects results now!  Our production as academics is increasingly judged by publications, grants received, students taught, theses completed, and other such quantifiable "results".  Writing a daily blog serves to shine a bit of light on the other side of the examined intellectual life: the process of formulating ideas, writing, revising, rethinking, reformulating.  In short, it exposes all the time that academics spend doing things that don't necessarily always lead to directly quantifiable results.  While one can certainly argue that even the most ill-conceived and poorly executed argument does, in some small way, contribute to a larger project as academics we often try to keep these failures of thought hidden.  In an environment where our performance is increasingly driven by results hiding the failed hypotheses, the dead-end research, and the poorly articulated arguments, is counter productive.  We have a responsibility to demonstrate the vagaries, failures, and wanderings intrinsic to the creative process.  By blogging, I try to show anyone who bothers to read, how the production of scholarship actually proceeds and to generate sympathy and understanding of the kind of productive inefficiency that may someday be threatened even in the academy.

3. A feeling of social obligation to a wide range of "stake holders".  As a employee at a state institution, I feel a certain obligation to make what I do all day (see point 2) visible to the wider public.  I teach ancient history in North Dakota.  This is a not a natural fit.  I hope that I justify my position at the University and in the community in some small way by each post that I write.  And I hope that by taking the time to engage the larger community, I actually build more support for the important work done at the University.

4. Finding community.  Academics have always worked within communities whether they are the university communities of the department or college or communities of like-minded scholars at professional organizations or conferences.  My academic posts have introduced me to new communities of scholars, many of whom I would not have been likely to interact with through the tradition circuit of meetings and conferences.  While I have only been blogging for a year-and-a-half some of these new relationships have already produced significant scholarly interaction.  I will never argue that blogs represent the same kind of product as a scholarly journal, but they can nevertheless encourage high-quality academic interaction.  This potential suggests that someday (and perhaps soon), blog posts may have a place amidst the recognized genre of academic production alongside seminar papers, conference papers, academic journals, et c.

5. The Death of the Note. It was fairly common some twenty or thirty years ago for scholars to publish short academic notes on topics.  Often running to less 1000 words, these notes typically amounted to little more than well-developed footnotes on a familiar text or a short comment on a new archaeological discovery.  Notes seem to have been logistically demanding for journal editors as they required some of the same energy as full-length articles, but filled less space in journals.  So, accepting numerous short notes had the potential to put pressure on editorial correspondence as each note required some of the same attention as longer articles but with less academic significance. Today, few journals accept notes and short comments on discoveries, textual notes, and the like have quietly vanished.  Some of my posts are essentially notes.  Short observations, comments, critiques of scholarly matters.  They hardly warrant the time and energy required for proper publication, but nevertheless advance some small part of scholarly discussion.

These arguments for academic blogging are deeply interrelated and hardly meant to supercede or challenge the views advanced in the recent contributions to the topic of academic or intellectual blogging.  I do hope, however, that they shed a slightly different light on the ideas advanced by others, and if nothing else make the content of my blog more understandable.

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Categories: The New Media
  1. Kostis Kourelis
    November 3, 2008 at 9:43 am

    excellent

  2. November 4, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    so blogs have replaced academic notes? I guess they have arrived.

  3. November 12, 2008 at 11:57 am

    A little quip from my favorite canadian show…

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