When I created this portfolio over a year ago, I also planned to use it as a blogging platform. Unfortunately, every time I sat down to work on a post, rather than writing down the no doubt brilliant ideas only moments from viral fame, I became overwhelmed by anxiety. Since I have finally decided to have a proper go at this, I thought the best place to start would be to discuss what exactly it is about blogging that makes me break out into a cold sweat, and why I have decided to do it anyway.
Historians have a complicated relationship with the internet. Digital media has done wonders for us; honestly, I have no idea how anyone did history before WorldCat and searchable article databases. Since I began studying history as an undergrad, the digital world has moved forward in leaps and bounds. Back in my French history days, I poured over enormous musty copies of l’Ancien moniteur, always a little overawed by it. Now it’s online. The Center for History and New Media at George Mason University pioneered digital media. In addition to the wealth of source material now online, there are also articles, essays, and encyclopedia entries. These are some of the things that make historians nervous.
This may come as a shock, but the vast majority of working historians aren’t exactly rolling in dough. I’ll pause so you can recover.
Ready? Good. I’ll save my theories on capitalism for another day, but one of the challenges facing historians is the fact that our main currency is ideas, which are difficult to protect. The internet has a fraught relationship with intellectual property and copyrights, so some of this anxiety is understandable. One of my concerns with creating this blog was that someone might use my work and beat me to the punch at a conference, or, even worse, in a publication. At the same time, I love reading other historians’ and academics’ work and ideas. They inspire me, and that by blogging, I can be a part of that conversation, rather than a lurker. I also believe that by participating in the online conversation, historians can help elevate the dialogue. It’s time for us to stop complaining about wikipedia, for example, and start editing it.*
That was a lesser concern for me to get past, though the American Historical Association’s blog post on embargoing PhD dissertations indicates that they might feel otherwise. The subsequent twitter scandal (#AHAgate) suggests that there are a multitude of opinions on the topic.
My next concern, and the one I have most frequently discussed with colleagues and friends, is the challenge of writing about an ongoing project involving living people and an active community. If you’ve looked at my portfolio, you’ve probably realized that my work relates to some sensitive issues. As my projects and research are ongoing, if I want to blog, I need to tread carefully. I think it’s important for public historians and preservationists to be willing to talk as much about the challenges and frustrations of their work as they do about their successes, but it’s one thing to discuss, say, a tense community meeting in an article for a journal that requires a subscription and quite another to do so where any community member might google the post. I’m nervous right now just suggesting that there might be things about my work that frustrate me, even though I realize that’s true of every profession.
You can see why it’s taken me so long to get started.
Negotiating these concerns will not be easy, but few worthwhile things are. I do not expect that all of my posts will relate to my work; some may deal with the vagaries of life as a graduate student, and others will almost certainly include my ramblings on popular culture. Hopefully I’ll get better at this as I go along, and maybe even learn how to properly end a blog post.
Do you blog about your work? Which academic blogs do you read? Am I destroying my chances of ever finding a paying job and undermining the foundations of the historical profession by blogging?
*I realize that this type of work is time consuming and unpaid, but wikipedia is not going to get off of our collective historical lawn, and I am as guilty as anyone of not putting forward the work to improve it.