Is This Blog Post About Blogging Scholarship?

This past weekend a panel discussion was held at the annual meeting of the OAH on whether blogging ought to be considered scholarship. I didn’t travel to the OAH this year and even if I did I likely would not have attended this particular session since I don’t work in academia and the question and broader topic is largely irrelevant to me. Still, I do interact on occasion with academics and once in a while I have to deal with their skepticism about blogging.

For what it’s worth, I largely agree with Joseph Adelman’s assessment of this issue:

I wish we could stop having these existential conversations and just talk about what we can do with blogging. Instead of a panel framed around the question, “Is Blogging Scholarship?” that forces us to defend blogging, why not a series of panels that feature the work that bloggers do as part of the profession. Make it three parts for the legs of the “stool” on which faculty are evaluated. A panel called “Blogging as Scholarship” might highlight the work of historians who do use the blogs for scholarship of various sorts. “Blogging as Teaching” could examine how scholars integrate blog posts as reading assignments, to supplement and extend classroom discussions, and to invite students to do more public writing. (Note that I’ve written on this issue for The Junto.) The point is probably clear, but a hypothetical third panel would think about “Blogging as Service,” inviting scholars to consider ways to make blogging part of their service to their departments, universities, the profession, and local communities.

To put it more abstractly, I want to transcend the existential questions about whether blogging is scholarship, or scholarly, or service, or research-oriented, or part of a professional portfolio, and instead presume that the work does count for something so that we can talk about what we’re doing, how to improve it, and what it means as part of our spectrum of writing and engaging with publics.

The problem with the existential conversation is that no one is listening that isn’t already convinced by the role that blogging can play in a reflective life. And for those who aren’t convinced, who cares. No one that I know started blogging because they were curious about an abstract question surrounding the role of blogging as scholarship. And I would venture to assume that no one started blogging because they thought they would be rewarded for it. As the make-up of this particular panel suggests, there are different ways to utilize this particular digital tool.

It’s going to take some time for this generation of scholars brought up on social media to gain positions of influence within departments that result in non-traditional practices gaining increased value. I see Jeff McClurken in the vanguard of this evolution. In the meantime, talk to one another about best practices along the lines suggested above.

Finally, let’s not over think these things. JUST DO IT!

9 responses... add one

Thanks, Kevin, for the kind words about my post. I think I left unsaid there, but would add here, that pursuing the strategy I suggest may prove more fruitful and convincing to non-bloggers for two reasons.

First, it would show people the breadth and depth of the blogosphere and what we all do in various ways and at various times.

Second, framing the question that way with a panel of bloggers opens the critique that essentially says, “if they don’t know what it is yet, why should we give credit for it?” Which is to say that it leaves more room than necessary for skeptics to argue that not only is blogging not “scholarship,” it also looks (to them) to be not “scholarly.”

Good point, but I have my doubts. I’ve had plenty of discussions about the wide range of ways that blogs and other social media tools can be utilized in the classroom and personally, but they tend to fall of deaf ears. The catalyst for most people, including me, is a willingness to jump in and just experiment. When I started blogging back in 2005 I really had no road map or goal. I just started writing and within a short period of time I began to see various ways that my blogging could be helpful. In other words, the insight happens from the inside and not from the outside in the form of a panel discussion.

Two points:
(1) Asking whether blogging is scholarship is like asking whether writing is scholarship. The answer to both is, “It depends.” Just as there are different genres and qualities of writing, there are different genres and qualities of blogging.
(2) In a sense, scholarly blogging allows the opportunity for real-time peer review. Some of the “peers” may be fruitcakes, but these are usually discounted by readers with average common sense. It is a stuffy environment that does not allow blogging as a resource for sholarly progress.

The Nicholas Marshall article about death and the Civil War that you highlighted last week shows the potential value of blogging for cross-pollination in research. Anyone who’s taken a statistics class should recognize the article’s serious flaws, which apparently were not recognized by academic historians during the peer review process. The opportunity to air some of those ideas publicly before publication and get feedback from more technically minded readers outside the academic history community could have significantly strengthened the analysis (or allowed the thesis to be revised).

I wasn’t aware of this particular issue, having received the March, 2014 issue of the Journal of the Civil War Era only the other day. What are the “serious flaws” in the article?

This issue is not just one that simmers at the top of the pan–your colleagues in K-12 education are part of the mix as well. Since I dwell in the middle–literally!–I can say that there are not enough teachers coming into the profession that have the digital backgrounds we need. The chalkboard is dead, folks! So is the tri-fold board and the book report. If we can tap into what our students already know and are competent at, guide them toward serious work, and learn to accept different answers to one question, then by the time our students get to college . . . watch out for the explosion!
Why younger teachers are not more forthcoming I do not know, but us geezers are not going to be here forever. If this is YOU–get to it!

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