In the latest edition of the Chronicle’s Digital Campus, Martin Weller makes some strong claims about the significance of blogging. Recognizing the difficulty of measuring the value of a blog in comparison to traditional modes of journalistic publication, Weller believes that blogging is ultimately in the interest of both institutions and scholarship.
Institutional reputation is largely created through the faculty’s online identity, and many institutions are now making it a priority to develop, recognize, and encourage practices such as blogging.For institutions and individuals alike, these practices are moving from specialist hobby to the mainstream. This is not without its risks, but as James Boyle, author of the book The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (Yale University Press, 2008), argues, we tend to overstate the dangers of open approaches and overlook the benefits, while the converse holds true for the closed system.
The claim that an Institutional reputation is largely created through the faculty’s online identity startled me when I first read it, an index no doubt of my deeply held and inveterate prejudice in favor of libraries. But I have been trying to pound away with the faculty how utterly important our online presence is, and the internet–in many different modes–gives us the opportunity to create windows on humanities work that are not otherwise easily achieved–at least in comparison to some of the work done by our colleagues in the arts or in the sciences. Blogging is one way of creating connection, of creating vision, and I think that with a very few exceptions like the ivies and the public ivies, it is very much the case that your online presence matters more than any other thing you can possibly do to establish your reputation in the public eye and in the eye of prospective students and their parents.
That is fairly easy to grasp. The value of the blogging to scholarship in general, or its relationship to traditional scholarship remains more thorny and difficult to parse. I’ve had conversations with my colleague John Fea over at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, and we both agree that in some sense scholars still have to have established some claim to speak through traditional modes of publication in order to give their scholarly blogging some sense of authority. People listen to John about History because he’s published books and articles. [Why people listen to me I have no idea–although I do have books and articles I have nothing like John’s reputation; it may have something to do with simply holding a position. Because I am a dean at a college I can lay claim to certain kinds of experience that are relevant to discussing the humanities].
I am not sure it will always be thus. I think the day is fast approaching when publishing books will become less and less important as the arbiter of scholarly authority. But I think for now and perhaps for a very good long time to come, blogging exist in an interesting symbiosis with other traditional forms of scholarship. Weller quotes John Naughton to this effect: “Looking back on the history,” he writes, “one clear trend stands out: Each new technology increased the complexity of the ecosystem.”
I’ve read some things lately that say blogging may be on its way out, replaced in the minds of the general public, I guess, by Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. But for now I think it remains an interesting and somewhat hybrid academic form. A forum for serious thought and reasonably good writing, but not one that claims to be writing for the ages. In some respects, I think the best blogging is more like the recovery of the eighteenth century Salon, wherein wit that demonstrated learning and acumen was highly valued, and perhaps a basis of academic life that stood unembarrassed next to the more muscular form of the book. Blogging is one clearly important addition to the scholarly ecosystem, playing off of and extending traditional scholarship rather than simply replacing it.
In my own life right now, as an administrator, I have too little time during the school year to pursue the writing of a 40 page article or a 400 page book–nor, right now, do I have the interest or inclination (however much I want to get back and finish the dang Harlem Renaissance manuscript that sits moldering in my computer). I do, however, continue to feel the need to contribute to scholarly conversation surrounding the humanities and higher education in general. Blogging is one good way to do that, and one that, like Weller, I find enjoyable, creative, and stress relieving–even when I am writing my blog at 11:00 at night to make sure I can get something posted. Ever the Protestant and his work ethic.