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 Here goes: Blogging is not scholarship because at least in the case of single-authored blogs, it is not peer reviewed.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 In an era in which public historians can’t get credit for the numberless pages and volumes of unpublished reports they write, most of which in fact are subject to some kind of peer review, I am highly doubtful that any bloggers will succeed in getting their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!