We’re gonna blog it like it’s 1399! Or, what academic blogging can and can’t do for you.

Anachronistic image of Chaucer from the 17th century

Go read Dr. Cleveland on the uses of academic blogging, and how in many respects it is like Geoffrey Chaucer’s poetry (only with more profanity, lulz, and kitty-cat videos.  Warning:  he says some nice things about this blog, so file this one under “blogrolling in our time!”  Next thing you know, we’ll be blurbing each other’s books!)

You can’t blog your way to a tenure-track professorship.You simply can’t. Even a gig at IHE or The Chronicle for Higher Education is not enough. That doesn’t mean blogging is not professionally useful to you. It means you need to be clear about what it’s useful for.

Blogging and other social media serve academics by bringing you to other people’s attention and building your professional network. It works largely as publicity for your other work, and it widens your potential audience while strengthening your connections.

.       .       .       .       .

What blogging never does is substitute for other academic writing. It doesn’t get counted as scholarship. It does not serve as an employment credential. (If you wish to argue that it should, I can’t help you. I’m interested in describing what is, not what ought to be. If you wish to argue that someday your blog will be recognized as cutting-edge scholarship, I would point out that “someday” will be too late.)

.       .       .       .       .

Blogging functions for today’s academics much the way that poetry functioned for poets like Chaucer or Spenser, which is to say that you can’t actually make a living at it but it can help you make connections for other jobs. Chaucer’s poetry only served him economically or professionally by building his reputation at court while he looked for various civil-service gigs. Writing The Canterbury Tales was a good way to get a customs or weights-and-measures gig. Spenser’s Shepherd’s Calendar led him to a career as personal secretary to important noblemen. Making a living off the books themselves was out of the question for both men. Poetry might have been their true vocation, but it wasn’t their actual career. It was simply grease for their career. If you are an academic blogger, the same is true of your blog. You write it for personal satisfaction and to express various interests and for the pure joy of making something. The exposure it brings might also help your career. But it won’t be the main driver of your career. The exposure only helps if you have other credentials to bring to the table.

I left a couple of comments over on his post that seem to have gotten stuck in his SPAM filter (why?  I used no swears, I promise!) that endorse entirely Dr. Cleveland’s analysis of what blogging can and can’t do for an academic career.  I also thought that his post was a nice addition to the conversation over at the AHA’s website about the professional ethics of history blogging that I was invited to join this week.

What do you think?  What are your experiences?

20 thoughts on “We’re gonna blog it like it’s 1399! Or, what academic blogging can and can’t do for you.

  1. I don’t think too many writers actually made their livings at writing until a few “damned scribbling women” in the 19th Century. Most canon writers we know of were elites with inheritances, or civil servants (like Chaucer, I suppose) with day jobs that paid their bills. Even in the 19th C, most writers still had to have either inheritances, day jobs, or both. (Nathaniel Hawthorne lived off of his wife’s Peabody money as well as took on the occasional Dem party sinecure (thanks to his Bowdoin pal Franklin Pierce). He worked in the Boston custom house as a younger man, and later was named the customs inspector in Salem, Mass. Melville also served as a customs inspector in New York, and I’m sure also lived off of his wife’s inheritance.

    Shakespeare was an actor–he’s one of the rare writers I know of whose job was in the arts, rather than government work. I joke about my “day job,” but now that I think about it, it’s only a very few writers in world history who made a living on their writing alone.


  2. Even though I blog pseudonymously (and make less and less effort to conceal my identity), I’ve gotten a publication opportunity and also being named as a consultant on a grant because of my blog. Blogging has helped my syllabus design tremendously, and I’ve shared ideas and materials both on the blog and through private communication. I’ve also had some personal satisfactions in terms of my professional career, even if they don’t translate into a CV. My favorite one: I wrote a post about a class I was teaching the following semester, and said that I was including article X by Dr. Very Important Name in the field. I later got an email by Dr. Very Important Name, asking me how did the students receive his article, whether it was useful, how did the class go, what were the students’ reactions, etc. He was genuinely interested in the reception of his article by my students, and thanked me for including it in the syllabus, thus widening ( even if only briefly) the audience of his scholarly work.


  3. He and Hawthorne were particularly aggrieved about the fact that women like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa May Alcott, and Susan Warner figured out how to make bank.

    N.B. I am more confident about my understanding of Hawthorne’s finances and day-jobs than I am of Melville’s. Maybe there’s a Mellville scholar out there in the know who can correct me or improve on my interpretation here.


  4. Spanish Prof: well done! Those are great examples of how blogging can up your Q ratings, so to speak. But clearly, you wouldn’t have been offered the grant work or publication opportunity if you didn’t have the scholarly chops. Also, Professor Very Important wouldn’t likely have contacted you if he thought you were a total schmuck.


  5. Yeah, well, the d00ds had the last laugh when they were credited by literature scholars for inventing American literary fiction, whereas the women were dismissed by Am. Lit. scholars as mere “popular writers.”

    This is an interesting development that parallels the dismissal of women writers of history by a group of men deeming themselves the “professional historians,” right around the same time (late 19th/early 20th C).


  6. I’ve been struggling with how to comment here, just because while I am an academic, and I blog, and while I’ve made some great professional friendships and expanded my professional network through blogging, and I do often talk about my *job* on my blog, I *never wanted* my blog to be a vehicle for professional advancement – either connected to my scholarship or to my identity as a “public intellectual” or something. Which seemed normal, I guess, for when I started – lo, 9 YEARS AGO in July, as an assistant professor. As Michael Berube described my first ever blog, it was a “raw” blog rather than a “cooked” one. And although my blog is slightly more “cooked” now, three iterations in, it’s still, on its best days, more like a salad with some bacon crumbled in it and a fancy dressing than it is a main course. I’ve always been more interested in writing about my academic *life* than about academic *issues* (although of course those sometimes blur together).

    In this way, blogging has felt at least somewhat like an extension of the camaraderie of graduate school. The blogosphere has been a place for me, much like graduate school, where one can have enriching and satisfying conversations (and sometimes dramatic kerfuffles), “meet” great people who might become part of one’s professional network, and it gives a perspective that can be useful in one’s “real” career. But just as a Ph.D. alone doesn’t a career make, nor does a high-profile blog. Ultimately, all writing a blog that gets a lot of traffic does for you get a lot of people who don’t compensate you for what you write to read your writing, which I suppose can be an ego boost, but it doesn’t put dinner on the table.


  7. And although my blog is slightly more “cooked” now, three iterations in, it’s still, on its best days, more like a salad with some bacon crumbled in it and a fancy dressing than it is a main course.

    Your blogge is ham, egg, and cheese on a roll.


  8. Totes. But the really good kind with fresh eggs, good ham, and a great roll, not junky drunk food.

    It’s interesting that you say this, as I think Dr. Cleveland was & is in approximately the same situation, except that he’s in a group blog that features a lot of political writing. You are similar in that you’re both fully pseudonymous (although he thinks he’s less so than ever), and you don’t *at all* expect any kind of “credit” or utility for advancement for your work.

    I don’t either, which may surprise some, as my blog is more attached to my RL identity and professional position. I’ve been invited to talk about evaluating blogs as scholarship at the 2014 Organization of American Historians next spring in Atlanta on this very subject, and I made it clear to the panel organizer that I’m not someone calling for (let alone expecting) “credit” for blogging.


  9. Well, as a blog reader, I gravitate toward academic blogs that are not anywhere near my own area of scholarship. They are vehicles for my broader interests and directional guides. If the writer of an anthropology blog I like recommends an article or a book, chances are that it will say something intersting, useful or challenging, for me. I learn by reading conversations among people who know more than I know on topics in other fields.

    FWIW, I do this at conferences too. At big meetings I pick a few times to attend sessions on topics remote from my own. So blogs offer this in disciplines where I would never get to attend a professional meeting.


  10. This is an even more interesting discussion than usual. I can never decide if the greatest service of academic blogs like this one and Dr Cleveland’s is that they give their makers and readers good and undervalued things like room for play and pleasure, or if it’s all the first-hand and unexpected information they provide about everything from scholarship to teaching tips. In any event: thanks, guys, you’re amazing.

    One small historical note: before the age of useful things like copyright and royalties, many authors–female as well as male–were supported by patrons: sometimes they provided day jobs, often just money. I wonder if they were the premodern counterpart of the NEH. Certainly their letters of thanks were the ultimate origin of our acknowledgments . . .


  11. On the topic of authors making a living at it, in England few did until the 19th century. Some, like Anthony Trollope, had day jobs (the postal service). Most wrote all kinds of things, from advertising copy (kept secret almost a closely as writing pornography), journalism, plays, and novels. As in America, those damn scribbling women were well ahead of the game when it came to making a living primarily from novel writing.

    I blog under a pseudonym at the moment, mostly about things related to my research, but I have been considering branching out into a more academia oriented direction, maybe under my own name or only close to it…thanks for the great discussion here and at Perspectives.


  12. Of course–patronage! What I love are those Renaissance books in which a book is dedicated or patron is thanked in advance for the patronage the author *hopes* will come his way from said (hoped for, future) patron.

    April, thanks for the Elizabethan poached pear and Progressive-era tomato jelly recipes on your blog–very cool. I love food history details like that.


  13. Thanks so much for the link and for the comments, Historiann! I apologize for the spam filter at Dagblog; I have no idea why it hassles you.

    Dr. Crazy, I thought of name-checking you in the original post, as someone who has a very successful blog that’s kept entirely separate from your academic writing. But I do think the camaraderie you build up, and the connections your blog helps you keep and maintain, bring you some around-the-margins benefits. You have more peeps! That’s the benefit my own blog brings me.

    On the question of patronage and which writer was first to do without a day job. Standard literary histories will tell you that Alexander Pope was the first English writer to make a living off his writing, early int he 18th century. (Pope, as a Catholic, was legally barred from civil service gigs and so patronage was no use to him.)

    But literary histories will also occasionally admit, sometimes, that the first WOMAN writer to live by her pen alone was Aphra Behn, in the late 17th century. So the “first” in this case comes after the “first woman.”


  14. As usual, I am too late.

    But, since it was H-Ann who encouraged me at first, it might be worth mentioning that I don’t even talk about my blog around the water cooler, nor do I include it in annual reviews. I hate promoting it, and so I generally do a piss poor job. Indeed, few of my colleagues know that I have one. It is cryptically titled, and most of the posts come from a pseudonym that dates back to grad school. And I use it – exclusively – to work out things in a smaller site, a site that I curate alone, you know? And that has no gatekeeper? In any case, I’d like of it as a workshop, or a sandbox, where rough cuts get made and speculative ideas get articulated.


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