Off to OAH to answer the question: is blogging scholarship?

Rarin' to get to Atlanta!

Rarin’ to get to Atlanta!

UPDATE 4/16/2014:  The video of our panel is now online.  Thanks to Nic Champagne (@videobynic) who was the videographer & who alerted me to the video.

Sometime last winter, Rosemarie Zagarri invited me to appear on a panel at the 2014 annual conference of the Organization of American Historians on the subject “Is Blogging Scholarship?”  (Tenured Radical has written about our session, pointing out that it’s unfortunately scheduled for Sunday morning in the last sesssion the whole conference!)  I’m really looking forward to meeting (finally!) my fellow panelists Jeffrey Pasley of the University of Missouri and Common-Place; John Fea of The Way of Improvement Leads Home, Michael O’Malley of The Aporetic, and Ben Alpers of USIH Blog.

I’ll give you the big reveal now:  my answer to the question is for the most part that “no, blogging is not scholarship” and will not count as scholarship in the academy and historical profession as it currently operates.  Here’s a brief outline of my comments for the panel on Sunday morning–I’m publishing them here to use my blog for something that I think online communication works really well.  Namely, I want to float some ideas and here what you all have to say, and I’ll likely share your ideas in the ensuing roundtable in Atlanta on Sunday morning.

Ready?  Here goes:  Blogging is not scholarship because at least in the case of single-authored blogs, it is not peer reviewed.  That doesn’t mean that blogging is the opposite of scholarship, or that it can’t be scholarly.  This is my personal opinion, but it’s also grounded in my sense of what history departments, colleges, and universities today are willing to recognize as published scholarship.   In an era in which public historians can’t get credit for the numberless pages and volumes of unpublished reports they write, most of which in fact are subject to some kind of peer review, I am highly doubtful that any bloggers will succeed in getting their blogging accepted for tenure or promotion purposes as scholarship.

Other reasons why blogging is not scholarship, speaking only for myself:

  • It’s a lot easier and more fun to write for a blog than to write an article or book for publication.  A blogger can use informal language, colloquialisms, and even profanity if she chooses.  And that’s as it should be—blogging is a medium that prizes speed, access, and immediacy over precision and caution.
  • Because of the jobs crisis, the bar for joining a faculty on the tenure track is so high that worrying about the place of blogging in one’s scholarly record seems like a very first-world problem.  Scholars should focus in their early careers on earning the traditional markers of professional achievement.  After tenure, scholars are free to define their careers as they choose and even to campaign for blogging to be acknowledged as scholarship for the purposes of advancement.  But trying to change this while on the tenure clock seems to me to be pointless and even potentially self-destructive if it takes time away from amassing a tenureable record of scholarly publications.

How blogging can support and advance scholarship:

  • The more you write, the more you write.  When I write a blog post or comment, I’m usually writing in a very different voice than the voice in which I write my academic work, but they’re both my voices.  Also, I think it’s proven that the more you write, the easier it gets to write.  When writing is an established habit, it’s easier to sit back down and write a couple of pages a day on a chapter or article.
  • Being in touch with other scholars and writers about your research and teaching can be inspiring and very fruitful.  I have commented in blog posts about classes I’m planning to teach to ask others for help with the assigned readings.  I have written blog posts that comment on a particular epistemological or historiographical problem I have in my current writing and research, and I always get loads of thoughtful, supportive, and fascinating feedback.
  • Blogging can strengthen your ties to your existing network and also expand your circle of professional contacts.  This may seem especially urgent at mid-career, when a lot of academics find themselves tenured and rooted in small towns and/or parenting young children, where we may not have all that many immediate colleagues who share our interests let alone time to meet for coffees over which to nurture these contacts.  For example, I now have several European medievalist contacts whom I never would have met through the traditional professional channels who have been invaluable guides on the book I’m finishing now.  They also have become personal friends, in some cases.

What do you think?  Let me have it.  Meanwhile, I need to saddle up and get going.  See you in Atlanta!

26 thoughts on “Off to OAH to answer the question: is blogging scholarship?

  1. This is the perennial debate, isn’t it? I agree with many of your points, especially about the risk of untenured academics investing in blogging if it’s at the expense of the kinds of academic work that are more certain to count towards their professional success. I think there are some differences from field to field in terms of how much what might go on a blog resembles what’s considered “scholarship” (which is a term susceptible to a range of meanings, not all of them “peer-reviewed research,” after all). I have often puzzled over how the kind of close reading typically at the heart of works of literary scholarship fits into this terminology.

    All the benefits you list from keeping a blog are definitely familiar to me, especially making contacts outside my own immediate local circle.

    I’ve written a couple of blog posts myself that might be of some interest as you head to your panel: one specifically addresses the question whether graduate students should blog, another looks more closely into the assumption that blogging is “no substitute” for other kinds of academic writing.

    I’m sure you’ll have a good discussion! I always do when I present on this topic around here.


  2. N’joy! Wish I was on the night train down from Fluffya to catch this event, and hope it gets podcast somehow. In my view, the question of what is “scholarship” in a regulatory/tenurable sense of the word and what is scholarship in a more planetary sense of inquiry (unto) itself are different and arguably diverging things. Will be interesting to see how it turns out in real time. I heard a student in the cafeteria yesterday utter the word “scholarship” to peers and for a second I thought ze was referring to “the state of inquiry” on some question, or the satisfactory or unsatisfactory status of the entire intellectual apparatus underlying what some prof had said in lecture that morning. Then I realized ze meant a monetary grant.


  3. What Indyanna said: modern scholarship is commodified in a regulatory environment.

    Is a definition of scholarship that would exclude Ibn al Hayatham’s Al-Shukuk ala Batlamyus, Tycho Brahe’s Astronomiae Instauratae Progymnasmata, and so on, really the right one? I don’t think the point I’m after here is time dependent. That is, I don’t find “scholarly endeavors were just different in the year 1000” to be a persuasive consideration.


  4. Scholarship existed way before peer review was even imagined. (Peer review happens to highly flawed system.) Scholarship is an intellectual trait or value. It isn’t a protocol. As opposed to math, for example, where you can prove a single theorem and become a giant, I sense that other areas require enormous work to get comparable result. Still, we should be more enthusiastic about blogs that serious people write.


  5. I agree with nearly all of what you say here, Historiann, on the question of blogging as scholarship, and I suspect many on the panel will agree (with a caveat for a particular type of blogging that is self-consciously scholarship).

    The one spot I where I would disagree is about the question of when one should blog in a career, though I suspect it’s because I have a question for the panel that reframes the debate (but can’t be in Atlanta to ask it). So let me go right to that:

    Is blogging a professional activity? And if so, how can or should it “count” among one’s professional activities as part of a renewal, tenure, promotion, or other review process?

    Ten years ago, I think the answer to the first was a resounding “no,” as indicated by the anxiety around whether maintaining a blog could hurt one professionally. But now I think the answer would much more likely be yes (and of course I have self-interest in that answer). The blogs that you and the other panelists represent are all both scholarly and professionally-oriented, as are many others (including The Junto, where I hang my hat). At last year’s AHA, David Armitage described professional blogs as “service,” which at least puts it somewhere even if it carries the weight of how academics view that category. On the job market I only have my personal experience, but my participation in the blogosphere has never been portrayed to me as a negative (with the caveat that I of course might have lost out on some number of interviews for that reason and will never know it).

    I look forward to hearing about a fruitful disucssion. Enjoy Atlanta!


  6. It depends on what one is blogging about. The best posts on Boston 1775 (as one example) are pretty darn scholarly, exploring primary and secondary sources to discover new things about the past. Many history blogs are more along the lines of commentary about the profession, which is worthy and interesting but is not scholarship.

    It is not necessarily the case that public historians do not get credit for their public history work. It depends on your institution and colleagues. The Tenure and Promotion for the Engaged Historian report, endorsed by the NCPH/OAH/AHA, has been helpful for many of us in this regard. And don’t forget that peer review can be post publication, often solicited in the case of public history projects.

    I have been through the wringer twice. At my first institution I was tenured on academic journal articles and promoted with a university press book. At my current institution I was tenured for my blog (successfully arguing that my Cliopatria award constituted peer review) and am currently up for promotion to full based on a collaborative digital project, Wish me luck.


  7. Larry–your experience w/promotion via blog is singular in my experience. I know all about the NCPH/OAH/AHA guidelines–even though at least one of my colleagues has collaborated in rewriting those standards, but the T&P standards in my dept. and college remain the same (i.e. very traditional–only published scholarship counts for research, etc.) I think that’s the prevailing sentiment in our profession.

    Joe, I agree with you completely that blogging as a junior scholar is fine & even can be very productive. What I mean to emphasize in my comments tomorrow is that it should not be undertaken in lieu of traditional scholarly work. I would never encourage someone NOT to blog, but rather would strongly urge them to see the platform as part of their career & identity as a public intellectual.

    Jonathan: not historical scholarhip? MORE REFRIGERATION HISTORY, PLEASE!!!

    Anyway, thanks everyone for commenting. I will bring your thoughts into my comments (with attribution, natch!) and will write a comment here or a follow-up post after the fact. Time for me to follow Rohan’s links and do my homework. . .


  8. Oh I agree that my experience is likely singular, and I would not advise anyone to count on it as precedent. My university has a strong union and faculty governance, and we write our own plans for tenure and promotion. We have to follow certain guidelines and there is a lot of back and forth with departmental and college committees as well as deans and provosts, but one the plan is in place it has legal status. I put public history and digital projects in my plan and they were accepted. I also had a lot of post-publication peer review of my projects from prominent public history scholars (thanks, guys!).

    Having public history projects count is more common, however, though by no means universal. Faculty should negotiate such things up front and get them in writing.

    My larger point, though, is that it is not peer review than makes scholarship. Peer review recognizes scholarship. The failure of our professional organizations and our department to realize things like this is a part of their continuing and successful quest for irrelevance.


  9. I always seem to come to these discussions late, but I was at my own conference over the past few days and didn’t have time to indulge myself in this way.

    Asking if “blogging” is scholarship seems to this ancient scholar comparable to asking if “writing” is scholarship. The answer, as always, is “it depends.” I see a good bit of excellent scholarship on the Savage Minds anthropology blog, especially from “Rex,” one of its founders, but also a good bit of gossip, news, general discussion, and amusing debate, all of the things that a good group blog should be. When I sit on the committees that review the scholarship of colleagues for promotion, salary increases, whatever, I don’t regard every paper publication as “scholarship” and do regard some blog entries as “scholarship,” and I hope that we will all continue to do so.

    Most of the Arts have come to avoid essentialism in trying to answer questions such as “is ‘art’ or ‘Literature’ with a capital L, and perhaps “scholarship” needs to be thought of in similar terms — or, rather, not thought of in essentialist terms.


  10. Sorry — I seem to have given some arcane HTML command in my note, at the end, where I typed “…questions such as ‘is [fill-in-the-blank] ‘art’ or ‘Literature’….” and it came out a bit garbled, and certainly not scholarly…


  11. Barbara, I like your formulation here: “Asking if “blogging” is scholarship seems to this ancient scholar comparable to asking if “writing” is scholarship.” Pretty soon, this conversation will seem as outdated as the old “should junior scholars blog or tweet?” or the old debates about anonymous/pseudonymous blogging vs. blogging under one’s professional name.

    The conversation yesterday morning was really interesting–I really liked hearing from my fellow panelists. Oddly, I’m the most conservative blogger among us all when it comes to blogging “counting” as scholarship. In the end, Ben Alpers and I–whose answers appeared to be diametrically opposed at first–ended up agreeing on most points. He and Jon Fea argued that blogging *should* count in the way that giving conference papers and talks count. In some universities where public engagement is considered a part of a faculty member’s overall record, blogging should abs. count (Fea’s point.) Michael O’Malley was engagingly energetic in his defense of blogging as scholarship per se, but he also doesn’t want to submit to the kind of professional standards that Alpers urges the AHA and the OAH to develop. However, I think that asking stuff to “count” in an official way is perhaps quixotic if one doesn’t also agree to abide by professional standards.

    An issue that Tenured Radical raised after the panel didn’t get discussed at all: does everything need to “count” in a formal way? I see my blogging as part of my service record, I guess, but at my uni, you do all kinds of marvelous service to the university, your department, the profession, and the community at large, but it’s still only going to count for 15% of your annual evaluation. Looking for everything to “count” in an official way also seems like a terrific way to bleed the fun out of blogging, in the way that books we might pick up for fun automatically come to feel like work as soon as we put them on our syllabi and assign them to our students.

    And I didn’t get to make Larry Cebula’s points, but I believe that John Fea and Ben Alpers made an effective case that what worked for him could and should be considered elsewhere in academia.


  12. At some point in the professional development or career evolution cycle, things don’t *need* to “count” in the percentilized sense, because there are no more (or fewer) material brass rings to grab. At that point, or not, if someone uses the platform of a blog to report or broadcast careful research, cites sources, acknowledges the breadth and limitations of interpretation and ambiguities therein, and the like, the result is certainly scholarship–esp. if other practitioners read it and say “I better return to my bench and see what I possibly wasn’t seeing before I saw this.” A fair amount of important knowledge has circulated for years as revised or unrevised conference papers in samizdat form, receiving almost legendary citation status before being put into print as a kind of afterthought. The best example I can think of of this right now would be John Murrin’s “English Rights as Ethnic Aggression,” but there are surely more examples than this.

    What’s missing, of course, is a priori peer review, but the crowd sourcing of the response might be seen as a kind of peer review. Traditional peer review is critical, but perhaps not definitional. What’s far more often *not* thought of than peer review (in the arts and humanities) is the science practice of *replication*. Sam Bass Warner famously wrote _Streetcar Suburbs_ about Boston, and everybody marveled. Nobody then did the same thing (or as close as possible) for Philadelphia, Chicago, Nashville, or everywhere else they had streetcars and suburbs. Because, as nobody’s advisor had to actually say in so many words, “who’s going to hire/fund/acknowledge an act of inquiry that merely uses a slightly different set of data and locational context to test a provocative methodology or interpretation?” Drifting away from the blog analogy here, but “what is scholarship” is a philosophically interesting question…


  13. Dear Ann (and others),

    Forgive me for interrupting the stream of the conversation, but I couldn’t find a better place to contact you.

    I attended the panel (I was the one you called the “running blog guy”), and I found it to be the most thought-provoking panel of the entire conference. I especially liked your point about how “The more you write, the more you write.” I’ve long been thinking about setting up a blog as a way of working through my current book project, which examines the ways animals intersect with American culture. After attending your panel, I’m convinced that it would be a good idea (though I contacted my editor to run it by him first).

    As for the question of the panel (“Is Blogging Scholarship?”), I will add that I wrote a brief essay for the Mid-America American Studies Association (MAASA) “On Teaching” blog last year, and it was mentioned on my yearly A&D. Mind you, I doubt it will really “count” much as far as tenure is concerned, but my department chair acknowledged it as meaningful work nonetheless. Indeed, writing that blog essay seemed to get as much — or more — credit than writing a book review, so perhaps things are changing.


    John Kinder
    Department of History
    Oklahoma State University


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  15. The “counting” question does raise the question of what blogging is, or can be, for, which I’m resisting codifying too strongly. I don’t want or need my blogging to “count” as part of my job, or as something I would point to for promotion, because I’m not interested in writing about the things I’d have to write about in order for it to “count”–there are a million library blogs and I’m not interested in creating yet another one, especially given the not inconsiderable resentment librarians have for people with PhDs. I am expected to contribute informational items to my library’s public blog, and I do, but I don’t crosspost those to my personal blog because they would have nothing to do with what my blog is about.

    In a sense, my blogging is about maintaining a kind of work/life balance: it is about my scholarly work, not my for-pay work. So while I think it’s probably worthwhile for those who do need/want for blogging to “count” to have some kind of regularization via AHA/OAH/NCPH et al., I’m not behind the idea of making history blogs conform to those standards. I want to write about what I want to write about, and I don’t want to have to write to standards geared towards a career path I’m not on (and don’t get to be on).

    But again, part of this goes back to points that were made by the audience (including me): blogs are a space that those of us who are outside the academy in various ways can use to have a presence and a voice in academic discourse. I want to have a space where I can talk about my scholarly work, because my “day job” in some ways precludes that, and where I can think through ideas on my way to writing them up for publication, presentation, etc.

    To limit the conversation (I’m not saying that the conversation was this limited, I’m saying that in a more general sense) to a discussion of how can we make blogging “count” does seem to make blogging awfully instrumental, rather than fun, or interesting, or a way to simply explore ideas or to reach out to find a community. I’m thinking about my blog, but I’m also thinking about Kate Bowles’ powerful blog Music for Deckchairs, in which she is discussing her cancer treatment and the culture of overwork in academia — I think that she would have a complicated response to whether her blog should “count” for her academic career.

    I guess I think that “counting” is something that each blogger should be able to make their own decision about. If that means we develop standards for how to make blogging count towards tenure/promotion, that’s probably a good thing, but I would hate to see that become such a strong focus that someone like me would feel pressure to comply or risk not being taken “seriously” somehow because my blogging wasn’t seen as being up to scholarly snuff. That seems like yet another way to draw a line between “real” academics (people who need things to count toward tenure!) and “alt” academics who don’t, but who still want to write and publish scholarly work… in whatever form.


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  17. Thanks for all of your further reflections on this. I keep wondering if I should write another post on this subject to summarize the panel, but so many have already beat me to it–John Fea posted his summary at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, and Paul Harvey at Religion in American History also posted a notice about our panel. Michael Hattem has published a storify of the tweets about our panel, and last but not least, the OAH HNN has videorecorded the whole thing too, so I’ll post a link to that when it’s available. And of course, Ben Alpers’s and Andrew McGregor’s links to further thoughts have appeared in the comments above.


    John, thanks for introducing yourself. I’d say that your blog idea sounds fantastic, esp. because I think there’s a broader popular audience out there for information about the connections between the human and non-human animal worlds. (I know that for at least the past decade I’ve found animal studies to be an incredibly fascinating and fruitful subfield, although I don’t really have any ideas as to how to engage this as a researcher myself. But I love reading other people’s ideas and research!)

    Indyanna and Sophylou–the question that Michael O’Malley engaged (what exactly is scholarship anyway, and why are our definitions so narrow?) is indeed a fascinating one, and it’s got to vary by the consideration of audience that Sophylou raises. Lots to think about.


  18. Pingback: Is Blogging Scholarship? Reflections on the OAH Panel « The Junto

  19. Pingback: Is Blogging Scholarship? | The Not So Innocents Abroad

  20. Of course, another thing that didn’t get discussed (unless I missed it) was comment moderation, except insofar as a “you idiot” quote could count as peer review. Not sure if the comment above this one counts as peer review :S


  21. Pingback: “[A]nd the number of the counting shall be three.” | More or Less Bunk

  22. Pingback: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog « Lady Economist

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