As you all know, “Historiann” is a prankish name for this blog (and for this blogger)–I’m neither anonymous nor truly pseudonymous. I made this decision for a number of reasons–mostly because I have specific training and areas of expertise, and I wanted to be clear about that. But realistically, this blog caters to a community with a fairly specific cross-section of interests: women’s history, early American history, feminism, and the academic workplace, and how many people do you know who live at this exact intersection of “rusticated” and “fabulous?” So it would only have been a matter of time (and an IP address locator) before I was unmasked in any case. (That said, I realize full well that being “out” as a blogger is a luxury of my rank and status as a tenured Associate Professor.)
I’ve renewed a lot friendships and acquaintances with people through my blog, and I’ve met a lot of new people inside and outside academia I otherwise would probably never have met. I really value your interest in my writing here and I feel like I’ve learned a lot from you because of your different professions, disciplines, and fields of expertise, and because even the academics among us teach at different kinds of institutions and have had different career trajectories. We all imagine that our corner of the blogosphere is normative to some extent, which I realize is delusional, but it still disturbs me when I see or hear about people who use blogging differently–specifically, when they use the shield of (partial) anonymity the on-line world offers to be disagreeable, to attack, or even to threaten others. (I say partial, because it’s pretty easy to track people down, especially if you know they work in academia. We all have IP addresses and pretty high internet profiles.)
This is an especially common problem on feminist blogs, which seem to attract an unusual number of male commenters who claim to be really groovy feminists, but whose comments consist solely of arguing patronizingly with feminist women commenters and bloggers, oddly enough. As I have written before, it all has to do with boundaries: one of the symptoms of unexamined male privilege is refusing to permit women to draw their own boundaries around their bodies, in their day planners, and on their blogs.
Apparently not everyone is on-line with an eye towards being part of a scholarly community in real life, or even with an eye toward their own futures, if you want to be strictly careerist. A blogger friend of mine recently told a story about a graduate student who has a Facebook account and a blog: several people in this student’s fields of professional interest “have received incredibly vituperative attacks. There’s been no differentiation between the way ze treats other people in hir circle” of on-line contacts, “faculty (tenured or otherwise), and other professionals with whom she might have dealings in future.” My friend commented on this student’s job prospects after graduate school: “I know that I’d consider hir a very bad risk as a colleague, based on hir attitudes, behavior, and some of the personal stuff ze’s posted.” I suppose most bloggers learn as they go, and I know I surely have made a lot of mistakes along the way, but creating an on-line identity that may well conflict with the goals you have for your professional life seems idiotic to me. (And for the record, although I think graduate students realistically have more to fear by behaving this way on-line, I would find this behavior objectionable coming from anyone, even Professor Bigshot.)
We all know people who are jerks and creeps in real life, too–although their creepiness isn’t googleable the way Facebook, blogs, and blog comments are. I find this kind of behavior especially puzzling in someone who’s already revealed a great deal about themselves–their secret life as a troll or blog stalker probably won’t remain such a secret–but then as GayProf has suggested in some recent e-mail exchanges, disturbed people may be driven by compulsions they don’t understand and can’t control. Running into the occasional nutjob is one of the hazards of publishing on the world wide non peer-reviewed internets!
The long and short of it is that traffic has really increased this spring since our fantastically popular, quad-blog discussion of Judith Bennett’s History Matters in March, so it may happen that we get more “drive by” nastiness in the comments here, and more hangers on who really should just go build their own treehouses and stay out of mine. If you see a comment from someone whose name you don’t recognize and you sense that ze just wants to pick a fight, to hammer away on an issue tangential to the point of a post and to the ensuing discussion, or who violates my comments policy, please just ignore that commenter. (For more on trolls, see GayProf’s humorous primer, “Of Blogs and Trolls.” TIPS FOR TOADS: if you find yourself answering “C” more often than not, then you have a problem!) These commenters want to derail a conversation and make it all about them–don’t give them what they’re looking for. I haven’t always done this, much to my regret, but talking to the people who want to have a real conversation and ignoring the rest is the best way to keep the discussions here going.