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Will Blog for Cred


All right. I'm exhausted, but that hasn't stopped me from spending the last hour or two following out all of the threads. One in particular I want to reply to, since it's an indirect response to one of the issues I raised last night/morning. Rana has a really smart post that flips one of the assumptions behind much of this discussion, thinking instead about how those of us who post under our names might defend that practice. I defended what I called "academic blogging" under my own name for a couple of different reasons last night. Rana's reply I'll quote in full here:

Getting Credit for One's Blogging Here's another one, one that Stephen raises. I can see the general idea, but for me, this doesn't work all that well. (Again, your mileage may vary.) Let us say I choose to blog about my research, and hope to gain some scholarly cred by doing so. Well, first off, anything I post here is unlikely to be of the quality of my more formal works. It's a heck of a lot of work doing good historical work, and it takes time and space. So anything here would either be (a) incomplete, in which case I can't see it being any more beneficial to my career than sharing a rough draft with a colleague or two, or (b) good enough to publish, in which case why post it here? If it's good enough to survive a peer review process, I'd rather have it published. (Not to mention it would be 30+ pages long, plus endnotes -- not exactly blog-friendly.) In my (admittedly limited) experience, it seems to me that a journal publication would count for far more in any sort of professional assessment than something self-published on some personal site. This may change in the future, but at present, blogging about one's research and claiming it as publishing is about as effective as xeroxing a bunch of copies and passing them out at conferences and claiming that that constituted publishing.

I've got plenty to say, but first let me that I don't really disagree. I'm more interested in clarifying my remarks, and I don't think my position necessarily clashes with Rana's. Here's why:

(1)Big difference in disciplines. Like Steve, my field is rhetoric and my speciality is technology. Rana notes that the kind of painstaking work history requires doesn't really lend itself to blogging, and I understand that. But in my field, part of the work I must do (part of the work I was explicitly hired to do, in fact) is to stay abreast of communications technologies. For me, to write about blogging or to incorporate it into my courses without actually practicing it myself would be (I think) close to the equivalent of claiming to write an authoritative or definite historical work without consulting the available primary texts. Blogging does garner me credibility, perhaps not as an academic in general, but almost certainly as a member of my particular sub-field. (For a more eloquent take on the issue of the ethics of blog research, check Liz's post from a month or so ago at M2M.)

(2) I want to suggest that peer review works in more than one way. If I'm working out an idea that isn't ready for "prime time," my blog is a node in an informal peer network that may help me get it to that point. The difference here is between "anonymous" and "official" peer review, one that serves to certify a piece of writing at the end of the process, and the more informal review that can take place here. I've done this informal review with writers' groups, over email, and to a more limited extent, in the blogosphere, and each brings a set of advantages. Again, this may not be the case for historians (and others), where what counts as knowledge and evidence differs from what counts in my field.

(3) If I post the transcript of a talk, or an informal paper, here, and it gets picked up and distributed favorably (yes, wishful thinking abounds here), I can provide hard data about its value, both qualitative (comments, reviews) and quantitative (number of hits, trackbacks, etc.). On the cv that I submit for my tenure case, on the other hand, there is no difference between a conference paper delivered in front of an audience of 5 people or one that galvanizes a standing-room-only audience--for those reading the vita itself, the effects of those papers are completely invisible. I've had both kinds of experiences (the latter a result of much more famous co-presenters, to be sure), but neither shows up. If one of the assumptions behind quality scholarly work is that it makes an impact on the field, then I'd argue that this impact is at least as demonstrable in a blog as it is from being delivered at a conference. In other words, if the ideas are good ones, and I can track their effect to an extent, I think a case can be made that legitimate academic work is going on. (Again with the folk who say it better than I, and with more credibility. Mark Sargent, in this case.)

(4)Finally, one of the labor issues in my particular field is that those of us who identify as technology people are often called upon (or elect) to do work that ranges outside of the traditional boundaries policed by T&P committees. Like I said yesterday, I don't plan on substituting my blogging for those more traditional forms. Compared to published work, blogging isn't even close. But the argument I'd suggest (and again, it's one that may be more relevant to my field than to others') is that blogging doesn't aspire towards those standards. It's a different practice from publication, and no, it's not accepted as legitimate academic work. Yet. But the most telling example here is Invisible Adjunct. When we consider all of the praise and credibility she earned, from people who "knew" her solely through the practice of blogging, I don't think we can question that there are plenty of us out here who see scholarly value in an activity that doesn't show up yet in our tenure cases.

Yeah, that's all I got right now. It wouldn't surprise me to find that I end up clarifying even more tomorrow. As Rana notes at the very beginning, mileage may vary, and I hope that what I've offered is some clarification about why that's the case. My comments above are no less context-dependent than hers, and I think some of the disagreements over the past few have resulted from incomplete acknowledgement of what can be huge differences in context. I don't really know what constraints Rana operates under, and so what I'm writing here isn't meant as a direct refutation so much as it is an attempt to identify and clarify how "academic blogging" might operate for me given my constraints.

Finally: thanks, Rana, for a really thought-provoking post, one that challenged me to improve (one hopes) on my ideas from yesterday...


Colin -- thank you for this thoughtful response to my post. I agree that field difference will likely play a huge role in determining the future value of blogging as a scholarly endeavor (I will use that word -- scholarly -- since academic has proven problematic.)

At present, I can imagine three ways that blogging could work in the context of an academic historian's professional activity. (That is, the activity of a historian engaged in his or her primary work within the context of a professorship. The activity of a private sector or freelance historian would look somewhat different, and not entail the obligations related to teaching and tenure evaluations.)

First, and I think the best fit, would be pedagogy. I can envision a history professor using a blog to keep the class updated about schedule changes, provide topics of discussion related to those in class, links to relevant web sites, and so on. It might also be feasible to have students operate their own blogs, for the component of teaching that involves writing and authorship. Call this the teaching leg of the tenure stool.

Second, a blog may serve as a way to present history in a format accessible to a general, non-academic public. I've seen one blog that is addressed to a high school audience and introduces them to interesting historical topics and questions, and offers a window into the life of a professional historian. There are also blogs like Cliopatria at HNN, which offer the perspectives of historians on current events. Call this the "community service" leg.

Third would be research and publication, and it is here that I think blogging does nothing for historians, but perhaps has potential for other fields like your own. There are two aspects to this ill-fit, (a) duplication of an existing, more viable format, and (b) format incompatibility.

In regard to the first, one thing that a blog could do for a historian would be to provide a space for asking small-scale questions about sources or additional resources, or for posing general topic ideas for feedback. However, the presence of dedicated list-servs such as those at H-Net means that any historian wanting such feedback has ready access to a knowledgeable and interested audience of colleagues. Blogging could offer the benefit of access to a wider audience, but I'm not fully convinced that the corresponding loss in the size of the trained audience (because who has time to visit all those blogs when they could just go to the list, delivered daily to their mailboxes?) would be acceptable.

As regards the second aspect, even the briefest historical paper requires ten-plus pages of text, plus end- or footnotes (done, moreover, in Chicago style, not parenthetical form). To say that shoehorning this into the typical blog post would be challenging to reader and writer both is an understatement. Not to mention that the possibility of idea theft is a concern, especially given the ease of cutting and pasting electronic sources.

I hope that some folks from other fields will show up to explore the possibilities and limitations!

Thanks for the comments, Rana, both here and below. And thanks for opening up the term "academic" the way you do.

I don't really have anything to add, except to echo the hope at the end of your comment. I think it's easy to project the quirks of one's own discipline onto academia in general (I know I do it far too often), and so it seemed "obvious" to me that there would be scholarly value to it. This sub-discussion has made me re-think that assumption, as well as related ones...