Home > The New Media > Reflecting on Academic Blogging at 500 Posts

Reflecting on Academic Blogging at 500 Posts

I try to reflect on my own blogging every 100 posts or so.  As I made my 500th post last, I decided to think a bit more about academic blogging.  This was prompted by two things.  First, I missed a little flurry of activity across the Ancient History blogosphere at the end of May (it has been usefully aggregated here).  While the issue was framed quite broadly as “why blog?”, most of the contributors to this conversation really were asking how does blogging matter in an a tenure-track academic career.  And some even asked the more specific question: should blogging count toward research, teaching, or service responsibilities that most academic have.  (The answer to that, seems a bit obvious — it depends on the institution — but the spirit of the question was good). 

This past weekend, I read the first couple of chapters of Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything: How Blogging Began and What It’s Becoming and Why It Matters. (New York 2009).  The key thing that these chapters reminded me was how radical blogging was in the days of Justin Hall (ahhh, the mid 1990s!).  His proto-blog was intimate, compelling, and a real (or at least significantly visible) departure from previous uses of the internet. 

Academic blogs have tried to keep up a bit of a radical edge. Some bloggers write anonymously.  Others write on explicitly radical topics.  But few blogs these days embrace the radical potential of the medium.  In fact, if anything blogs have become increasingly mainstream.  Scholars who write popular books are encouraged to blog about them in order to increase their visibility and promote sales.  Academics talk seriously and consistently about the role of blogs in hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions.  There have even been efforts (albeit abortive) to archive and publish noteworthy blog posts in paper form.  Needless to say, the present generation of digital publishing both in the commercial and academic setting is built atop blogging software — particularly WordPress.  In fact, in a recent discussion with a colleague about starting a new academic journal it seemed like commonsense to begin it online (as a kind of peer-reviewed blog) before moving it to a print-on-demand format.  Only the most nostalgic of academics can imagine a future where printed, paper, bound journals continue to play a central role in the academic discourse.  As we watch the newspaper industry disintegrate around us, it may well be that we are watching the culmination of a process begun by Gutenberg.  The era of mass produced text is here.

It seems clear to me that we have witnessed the end of even academic blogging’s most radical era and are now in midst of its move into the mainstream of academic consciousness either through its lessons being absorbed, its value specifically acknowledged, or the spark of creativity dissipating as the weight of conformity draws even the most ambitious blogger into line.  This is not, of course, a particularly novel assertion. 

The interesting thing now, as I look ahead to my next 500 posts — if there will be another 500 posts — where does academic blogging go from here.  Are we as academic bloggers to be satisfied that we’ve shepherded a once marginal medium into (or at least onto the threshold of) the academic mainstream or is there more work yet to do?

This is what I value about blogging and what I strive to do as I look ahead (and yes, this is almost a fragmentary manifesto):

1) Blogging is Personal.  I admire my fellow bloggers who are able to find the intersection between their personal life and professional identity and make it clear in the blog.  I hope that my blog can increasingly come to represent this complex intersection and bring more of my personality (and channel more of my inner Justin Hall) to what I write about (after all my blog can be found at: http://mediterraneanworld.typepad.com/the_archaeology_of_the_me/).  I think my collaborative Punk Archaeology project reflects in an explicit way some of this direction in my writing.  Most importantly, the personal character of academic blogging is a key aspect of how it is different from what we do in other venues.  Conference paper, seminar papers, academic articles and books rarely capture explicitly the personality of the writer (except in the cases of senior scholars who are invited to speak in particularly reflexive ways).  As scholarship is a reflection of one’s own personality, blogging provides a venue to discuss this important context for the more public and traditional manifestations of the intellectual life.

2) Blogging is Immediate.  As an archaeologist, blogging provides an immediate venue for the results of research.  This is not to suggest that one’s immediate impressions are the definitive interpretation of a site, a dataset, or an archaeological discovery.  My blog is full of false-starts, problematic interpretations, and revisions, but these reveal and preserve (to some extent) the archaeological process in a much more transparent way than traditional print journals.

3) Blogging is Free.  Blogging provides free access to the academic debate.  While search engines are more and more likely to journals or even individual articles even in relatively broad searches, much of the content in these volumes cost some money to access.  Blogs, for the most part, are free for the reader and every bit as likely (if not more so) to appear early in a search.  (From my location, my blog appears on the top of the second page of search results produced by a Google search for “Mediterranean Archaeology” and on the front page for Google searches for “Survey Archaeology”). 

4) Blogging Provides Space for Experimentation.  Peer-review is central to the academic process of creating knowledge, but we’d be naive to think that all valuable knowledge emerges as a result of peer-review.  The experimental space provided by blogs has allowed me to air ideas that have not yet (and may never) endure the rigors of the peer-review process.  As usual, “reader beware”, but on the other hand, these ideas, even a negative response to them, could potentially contribute something to ongoing academic or intellectual discussions.  I’ve been pretty disappointed by my own unwillingness to experiment as much as the medium would allow.  I hope to do more in this direction and feel stodgy when I read things like Snarkmarket’s recent volume on The New Liberal Arts.

5) Blogging is Interactive.  Ideally.  While my blog rarely receives more than a few comments per post and has yet to generate any sustained intellectual debate, blogs have this potential.

 

It goes without saying that blogging has competition for all these things.  As journals take more seriously the potential provided through blog-like interfaces (particularly the opportunity for interactive discussions) and other media, like Twitter, offer even more immediate and potentially experimental environments in which to explore one’s intellectual life, I think that the arrival of academic blogging does provide a kind of stable, middle ground between the open seminar (or the half-baked conference paper) and the journal article.

So, thanks to all my readers and keep reading, please!  And hold me to this manifesto and I t
ry to think a bit more explicitly and productively about how the wide range of tools in a digital humanists toolbox can make a difference in the intellectual life of the community.

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Categories: The New Media
  1. July 13, 2009 at 9:25 am

    congratulations on 500!

  2. July 13, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Bill, many congratulations on reaching 500 posts. A great achievement.
    I too have reflected on the place of academic blogging:
    http://lootingmatters.blogspot.com/2009/05/does-blogging-matter.html
    Best wishes
    David

  3. August 4, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    This article actually helped me decide whether or not to blog. So, thanks!

  4. August 10, 2009 at 4:48 am

    Definitely agree that blogging appears to have become less radical. And it’s a shame that academia – which should be exploiting blogs to open up controversial debate not accessible in more traditional media such as peer reviewed journals – does seem a bit unwilling to make the leap into doing something different. Many academics (like myself) are still afraid to put their name to a blog, because of the fear that employers or other academics might not recognise that a blog post, written quickly as a work in progress, does not necessarily signify a casual approach to the demands of academic writing (incidentally, I wonder whether this is more of a problem in the UK, where I am based, whereas in the US there are fewer suspicions of the technology). As you say, even you have been surprised “by my own unwillingness to experiment as much as the medium would allow.” On the other hand, it’s easy to forget how new blogging technology is, such that there is still scope for the academic landscape to change beyond recognition 50 years hence.

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