Academics and blogging

by Henry on March 16, 2004

I’ve always been curious about why some academics blog and some don’t. Indeed, I’ve been thinking of finding out more from CT readers ever since John Holbo’s first guest post, which talks at length about his start in the blogosphere. So, in a completely unscientific survey, I’d like to turn the mike over. If you’re an academic who blogs, what prompted you to start blogging? And what keeps you going? What do you try to do in your blog? Does your blog have any relationship to your scholarship? If you’re an academic who just reads blogs, do you intend to start your own blog sometime? If yes, what are the reasons that you haven’t done so at this point in time? If no, why not? Either way, what do you get from reading blogs? Answers to any or all of these questions (or other related questions that you think are more interesting) would be appreciated. Anonymity/pseudonymity is fine. Anecdotes are positively encouraged – as I say this is a completely unscientific inquiry.

{ 43 comments }

1

Timothy Burke 03.16.04 at 6:19 pm

1)What prompted you to start blogging? And what keeps you going?

A: I started a webpage not long after I got here and created some static content areas for it, partly inspired by a student of mine named Justin Hall who had a justly famed home page. Part of what I was interested in doing was exploring online spaces as a Habermasian public sphere, partly as a place to pursue alternative circulations of knowledge, and partly as a chance to shoot my mouth off about anything I felt like pontificating about. The static content turned out to be hard to sustain, so I moved towards blogging over time.

2) What do you try to do in your blog? Does your blog have any relationship to your scholarship?

I try to do several things, not all of which are related to my scholarship. One, just be a “public intellectual”, e.g., someone interested in many things, willing to write about them in a communicative manner, and knowing that most of what I have to say is relatively ephemeral and unpublishable. Two, I do try to do some things that involve publishing scholarly material of various kinds; I’m about to try and start a new format of book commentaries, for example.

3) Either way, what do you get from reading blogs?

I wish there were more scholarly blogs, either those that moved in and out of scholarly modes or those that were wholly connected to scholarship, and that some of those were kept by people who otherwise aspire to be “public intellectuals”. I can think of relatively few blogs by scholars who have independently established themselves as public thinkers–Michael Berube is one of the few that come to mind. I also wish there were more scholarly blogs that had longer formal or semi-formal commentaries: I get less out of the blogs by scholars that are just about links to a wide range of news stories (that function seems to me to be dealt with very well by non-scholar bloggers). Crooked Timber and Invisible Adjunct seem to me to hit a perfect balance between links to interesting material and commentaries of varying lengths.

2

Timothy Burke 03.16.04 at 6:21 pm

I was wondering if I could add a question to Henry’s, by the way:

Q: Do you intend to separately publish any of the work you have done for your blog?

I ask because two colleagues of mine here have recently asked me if I’m going to publish my blog work. I hadn’t ever thought of doing so–I don’t know if any of it would make any sense outside the confines of the blog. But I’m curious if others have faced the same question and what their response has been.

3

harry 03.16.04 at 6:47 pm

I blog because Chris Bertram asked me to join up with CT. Then I was embarrassed about my relative silence and felt I ought to do something to justify my name on the roster… That is, as soon as I had said anything I realised that the only reason anyone read it was because the heavy hitters on CT were attracting traffic to me, so I felt a responsibility not merely to free-ride, given that I wanted to blog a bit.

I find other people’s blogging much more interesting than my own. Brian’s series of posts on cloning were what really got me going, and since then I have used it a) to sound off about irritations, b) to test out ideas and c) to find out information (like you are doing now). I’ve learned a lot — in some ways it is like having a daily conversation with a group of colleagues with whom I share common interests.

In answer to Timothy’s question — I have occasionally blogged things I’ve already published, and certainly anticipate writing in a scholarly fashion about things I have blogged about — or conversed about on other people’s blogs. But that is because what I find interesting is affected by what happens in the blogs.

4

Chris 03.16.04 at 6:48 pm

If you’re an academic who just reads blogs, do you intend to start your own blog sometime?

-Perhaps. It would probably be a group effort because it’s easy to get sucked into this sort of thing and lose sight of my work.

If yes, what are the reasons that you haven’t done so at this point in time?

-I’m a busy first-year econ grad student so I don’t have much free time. I have bigger priorities for now like passing my exams.

Either way, what do you get from reading blogs?

-It depends. On some blogs I get to see what other people have been working on or reading; sometimes this can even provoke me with research topics. On other blogs I can find impressively insightful or insanely ignorant comments; this forces me to figure out how to explain things so that people can understand. It’s a common problem in my field.

-For these reasons I tend to stick to academic blogs in spite of my rightish politics; if everyone agreed with me things would get boring pretty quickly. In my profession most laypeople of all political persuasions say the dumbest things. It’s useful to know what I’ll have to teach against.

5

Brian Weatherson 03.16.04 at 6:51 pm

I’m not sure if I’m one of the target members of the survey, but here goes anyway.

Like Tim I started with some fairly static spaces. In my case it was less because I was particularly motivated by some positive ideal, but more because I was in a writing rut and thought trying to write up 1000-1500 word notes on things I’d been reading might be a good way to get started writing again.

And it worked fairly well. On Tim’s question, I’ve now had 6 papers accepted for publication in various places that started life as blogposts. And other stuff I’ve been doing has been assisted by feedback through the blog.

For me, the scholarly part of blogging has three benefits.

First, having to get my thoughts into a state where it’s not embarrassing to have other people read them is a real spur to clarify what I’m doing and sort out bugs.

Second, when I go to write the paper, I’ve got first drafts of some of the trickier sections already written, so I can cut-and-paste them in and start editing.

Third, whenever I have an idea that isn’t going to go anywhere, my readers tell me about it fairly quickly. That can save a *lot* of time, because there’s nothing so bad for work output as spending lots of resources on a dead-end project. I’ve been saved from a few disasters this way.

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the aardvark 03.16.04 at 7:05 pm

Abu Aardvark is directly related to my scholarship… it better be, or it would be hard to justify the time I spend on it! It’s nice to have a public voice to comment on events in real time, even if its a pseudonymous one.

The blog isn’t really scholarship, of course, more what I think of as “pre-scholarship.” On that front, I generally use the blog in two ways. First, I use it to work out arguments and ideas which often turn up in more refined form elsewhere. It’s particularly helpful for the more public side of the job – when journalists call my non-aardvarkian self, I’ve already figured out what I want to say. And I do see direct results here – I’ve given quite a few public talks that have drawn closely on things originally posted on the blog.

Second, I use it as almost an on-line filing system to keep track of articles and ideas that would otherwise disappear into large piles in my office.

I agree with Tim Burke in preferring academic blogs with longer, substantive posts rather than just quick links. Ideally, academic blogs can offer real expertise in an area or else some depth of knowledge which can be missing elsewhere. I spend a lot of time at Abu Aardvark translating and discussing things in the Arab media which non Arabic speakers just can’t access. Juan Cole is an obvious example of someone who does this well.

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Chris Bertram 03.16.04 at 7:35 pm

I started blogging just over two years ago. Initially I had two purposes: first to comment on current events from a left/Rawlsian perspective in an attempt to overcome the gap between academic political philosophy and the wider political world; second, I thought the habit of blogging might help me to write with greater facility.

I’ve only had one real crossover from blogging to academic publication and that was a piece I wrote on just war theory and Afghanistan.

What do I get from reading blogs and blogging? Eye-strain, RSI… I’ve read a lot of things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise, I’ve argued with people whom I wouldn’t normally encounter, I’ve been to places I’d never have visited. All enriching things.

8

SloLernr 03.16.04 at 8:10 pm

“If you’re an academic who just reads blogs, do you intend to start your own blog sometime? If yes, what are the reasons that you haven’t done so at this point in time? If no, why not?”

I’ve thought about it repeatedly and I keep coming up with the answer ‘I’d like to, but no.’ I (very) occasionally contribute to a big blog. It’s lots of fun. But the press of time — specifically w/r/t tenure and promotion schedules — makes it impossible to commit that amount of time every day. I would join a group blog if I thought the association would make sense.

“Either way, what do you get from reading blogs?”

If you pick the right ones and consult them regularly but sparingly, they’re a most agreeable news-aggregator. Occasionally I find something of real academic use. And, they can provide good substitute for conversation if you’re having lunch at your desk.

Timothy Burke asks, “Do you intend to separately publish any of the work you have done for your blog?”

Yes, I’ve done it once or twice — tried something out on a blog and then later published it. That’s probably what academic blogs should be good for — working out ideas in a forum more formal than chat but less formal than print.

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Another Damned Medievalist 03.16.04 at 8:19 pm

Let’s see — I started blogging because my friend the Cranky Professor had a blog and said (as he did with the wikipedia before professional historians became less welcome there), “hey, look at this fun new thing to do!” I got semi-hooked at just the wrong time — right as I got a full-time contingent job at a public institution where blogging during time on campus could be considered a violation of the state ethics code.

Sometimes it’s academic — I really wanted to talk more about the AHA, but this quarter’s been a bear. I anticipate more about pedagogy, evaluations, and Blackboard, not to mention adjuncting and the job search (10 apps, 1 AHA interview, solid rejection all round this year, BTW, but my dean says he sees no reason why my appointment will not be continued to next year, so please cross fingers and/or “drueck Daumen”). Seeing as this is an election year AND the Gunners are at the top of the table and playing evil Chelski in the Champs league, you’ll probably see political rants and football as well.

It’s semi-anonymous, btw, since I’m on the market, but I would like it to reflect more things medieval, and I’ll probably be posting some entries on the Medieval Academy meeting for those interested.

As for what I get, it makes me feel connected to colleagues, which is especially necessary in adjunct hell. I like the virtual community aspect of the blogosphere, plus the continual reinforcement of the feeling that there are some really interesting and good people out there.

10

honorable mouse 03.16.04 at 9:16 pm

I started blogging in 2001 partly to try this new-fangled thing everyone was talking about and partly as a way to vent my spleen over the political situation.

The blog has evolved, but has nothing to do with my career – a neuroscientist. It isn’t too difficult to figure out who I am, however I blog under an alias in order to keep a distance between my professional and private lives.

However, I intend to keep the blog going indefinitely. More people need to stand up for humanism and the liberal arts. In my own way that’s what I try to do at my cyber-home.

Hope that helps. Best.

11

Ghost of a blog 03.16.04 at 9:24 pm

I started blogging in response to Canada’s state media near-monopoly. I think it is also nice to write in such a way as to show not all academics are humourless, sexless, ublog wannabes.

A question I have posed before might be of interest here: if you are an academic writing under a pseudonym, why do you do so? I am curious to learn how many of our colleagues would rather their academic personae (and careers) were not connected to their blogging. Is blogging an onanistic shame? Or are academics worried their politics, taste, television viewing habits and so forth could adversely influence a tenure committee?

12

Matt Weiner 03.16.04 at 9:58 pm

I started reading blogs for news and to fill the downtime while I’m pondering the next sentence to write (what used to be filled with Minesweeper and other logic-based games). I found out about them mostly through Eric Alterman. Also, since my topic is the epistemology of testimony, I was unscientifically interested to see how a lot of completely unknown people built reputations and spread information.

I started commenting because I like to argue and I don’t like to see errors of fact spread if I can do anything about it (which I don’t do much anymore). And, at Brian’s other blog, because I like to talk philosophy.

I started my own blog for several reasons:
(1) Brian bugged me to
(2) I think it’s a good way to talk philosophy–a lot of thinking gets done in informal conversations, and blogging is much like that
(3) it might be a good way to help get my name out in the profession, and I think every little bit helps in the job search.

Because of (3) my blog is almost all academics and little politics; I want it to be something that I might show to people who are thinking of hiring me. (Sometimes I worry about posting relatively half-baked thoughts for that reason, but we’ll see.)

I’ve found a lot of interesting and helpful literature through the philosophy and linguistics blogs.

Like aardvark, I think of the blog posts as pre-scholarship–I’d like to rework a lot of the ideas for publication sometime, and the blog posts are first drafts. I haven’t been blogging enough for any of the posts to develop all the way into submissible papers–maybe this summer.

13

John Quiggin 03.16.04 at 10:18 pm

I think I always wanted to blog. I’ve had a newspaper column since 1994 and a webpage since 1997, and I always wanted something like a combination of the two. I’m just surprised that it took me so long to catch on to blogs (I started in mid-2002). I’d been visiting Brad de Long’s site, and thinking “I should do something like that”, but I didn’t realise that there was specific software that made it easy.

I often work blog posts up into newspaper columns and blogging helps me keep up with the economic policy debate, but most of my academic work is too technical and mathematical for blogs, though I can use the blog to publicise my results, for example on public investments.

Because there’s not much direct academic payoff from the blog, the time I spend on it is something of a problem. Fortunately, I gave up TV not long after I started blogging (I used to watch “The Bill”, of all things, before it turned into a soap).

14

Heather 03.17.04 at 12:03 am

I was prompted by my spouse, who’s been blogging for several years. The idea was to practice writing, developing ideas, and just producing–in effect, to start thinking publicly. Most of the things I cover in my blog are at least tangentially related to my research; while I’m not necessarily trying out ideas that will make it into the dissertation, it’s certainly all connected. What starts as a short comment on a news story (of the type Tim mentions above) often becomes a longer post involving cross-references and some analysis that might draw from something I’m currently working on.

It’s all very flowy, and to answer Tim’s supplemental question, I don’t ever think of the things I write as potentially publishable because they are all working drafts and fragments. I find some kind of joy in the fragmented state of my posts–the blog is one place in which the fragment is ok on its own and need never be made into Something Bigger (or at least, I don’t necessarily have to articulate what that big thing is).

As an academic who reads blogs (chiefly CT and Invisible Adjunct), I find I’m drawn to readings that are primarily removed from my own work. What I read at these sites provokes a kind of reality check: not everything relates to what I do, but what can I learn from it? It’s a glimpse into what the rest of academia is doing. It’s inspiring (or, in the case of IA, occasionally anxiety-producing). I guess I’d just second what ADM has said above.

15

Frolic 03.17.04 at 12:37 am

My blog began as I was writing the final pages of my dissertation. Partially it was a diversion, but it soon became a way to purge my prose of academic habits and explore topics outside my speciality. After six years of graduate school, my interests felt tightly contained in a very small sphere.

In the end, I left the academy, and I think blogging help me ease my way out. It reassured me that I could engage in intellectual discussion from outside and connected me to a world of smart non-academics.

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Wacky Hermit 03.17.04 at 12:40 am

I guess I qualify as an academic; I lecture in math at a state university. I’m only a part-time academic, though; when the kids get older I’ll maybe go back to full-time.

I just started a blog last week, mostly because nobody ever listens to me and I just got sick of it. My viewpoint is not so unique or interesting that everyone would want to read it, but I want to say what I have to say anyway, because if I don’t, I’m not being true to myself. My blog is not about math, although I do intend to post occasionally on how my class or my research is doing. It’s mostly a self-centered thing, just letting everyone know what I think about stuff. Everyone’s entitled to my opinion!

What I like most about blogging is that I get to write as a whole person: as a math-loving mother-of-almost-three semi-green military-supporting conservative whatever-I-am-today. On the blog I don’t have to compartmentalize my life: only math here, only parenting there, etc. I’m so sick of compartmentalizing my life into special interest categories and marketing each one to a different group of people so that I can get some sort of social acceptance. I’ve done it all my life because people have always been either not interested in other aspects of my life, or intimidated by my well-roundedness. I am jack of all trades, but master of none, and when I market my various faces, I know in my heart I am never being accepted for my whole self, and I am never really good enough at any of them to compete. So anyone who likes my blog will have to like me, warts and all.

I don’t know a lot of people out in the blogosphere, and I’m not in it to make friends, although it would be nice. But I’m not going to put my e-mail address up on the blog anytime soon. Maybe after the end of the school year, when I’ll have more time to deal with trolls and spammers. Not that anyone would troll on such an insignificant, poorly written blog as mine…

I like to read blogs, but I can’t write worth beans. I was a math major, not an English major, and my gift is for taking stuff in, not putting stuff out. If I am trying to say something, there’s inevitably a professional writer/blogger out there who has already said it faster and better than I ever could.

One more thing: I don’t have any links whatsoever between my blog and my course website. First, I don’t want my students to know what I think about them sometimes (but I want everyone else to know). Second, I don’t want trolls to be able to track me down. Until I’m more convinced of the safety of the blogosphere, I’ll be keeping myself to myself. Also, the course website is hosted on our home server, and just in case my blog does become the hot new blogosphere sensation, I don’t want any bandwidth problems. That’s the reason I haven’t put pictures of the World’s Cutest Kids up on my blog. My worst nightmare would be that some pervert would see a pic of my beautiful daughter on the internet and stalk her; my second worst is that we suddenly get so many hits that our internet access goes down while my Favorite Computer Guy is out of town.

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mjones 03.17.04 at 12:53 am

Why did I start to blog?

I am susceptible to enthusiasms.

Some of them lead somewhere. This one has: to a huge, fascinating conversation. I like what Heather writes, about the appeal of reading things apart from one’s own work. Though I am always delighted when I stumble across something more closely related to what I do.

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Just Another Contract Sociologist 03.17.04 at 1:50 am

what prompted you to start blogging? And what keeps you going?
I only just started. I wasn’t sure that I would actually stick to it, so it’s taken me awhile to make the commitment. I’m enjoying it, and that’s what is keeping me going.

What do you try to do in your blog? Does your blog have any relationship to your scholarship?
A number of things, I guess. It gives me a place to whinge about my work. ;-) It’s a way of keeping my family up-to-date with my life, so I talk about my kids and what I am up to. I also think that it’s important to practice writing regularly if you are going to be a successful scholar. The more you write, the better you get at it. Also, I have recently switched from typing with my fingers to using voice activated software (due to sore wrists). My writing process has always involved the thoughts/ideas going from my head directly through my fingers to the page. I need as much practice as possible to change that process to one where my thoughts can go directly to my mouth and onto the computer screen. It is much harder than I had anticipated! The blog gives me a place to practice.

On the scholarship question, thus far it has not related to my scholarship, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t in the future.

what do you get from reading blogs?
I read a variety of blogs, and I get different things from different ones. Academic blogs make me feel like I’m not alone in this enterprise. I also just find it interesting to read the other people are thinking about. I don’t usually comment, though.

19

Just Another Contract Sociologist 03.17.04 at 1:51 am

what prompted you to start blogging? And what keeps you going?
I only just started. I wasn’t sure that I would actually stick to it, so it’s taken me awhile to make the commitment. I’m enjoying it, and that’s what is keeping me going.

What do you try to do in your blog? Does your blog have any relationship to your scholarship?
A number of things, I guess. It gives me a place to whinge about my work. ;-) It’s a way of keeping my family up-to-date with my life, so I talk about my kids and what I am up to. I also think that it’s important to practice writing regularly if you are going to be a successful scholar. The more you write, the better you get at it. Also, I have recently switched from typing with my fingers to using voice activated software (due to sore wrists). My writing process has always involved the thoughts/ideas going from my head directly through my fingers to the page. I need as much practice as possible to change that process to one where my thoughts can go directly to my mouth and onto the computer screen. It is much harder than I had anticipated! The blog gives me a place to practice.

On the scholarship question, thus far it has not related to my scholarship, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t in the future.

what do you get from reading blogs?
I read a variety of blogs, and I get different things from different ones. Academic blogs make me feel like I’m not alone in this enterprise. I also just find it interesting to read the other people are thinking about. I don’t usually comment, though.

20

Laura 03.17.04 at 2:14 am

1)What prompted you to start blogging? And what keeps you going?

I had a lot of extra ideas kicking around and I needed to purge them. I never expected anybody to read it. It was mostly just to entertain a couple of close friends. Nine months later, I am still at it, because I have stumbled into a virtual community, and it’s good conversation. I’ve gotten good feedback. Actually, I’m a bit obsessed. I find myself writing my posts in my head during the day, and later running to the computer to dump the brain.

2) What do you try to do in your blog? Does your blog have any relationship to your scholarship?

Trying to do? Nothing. My blog is about nothing. No purpose. No political agenda. Just fooling around. Okay, that’s how it started out. Like others, it developed into a place to rough draft ideas. However, I edit down the academic stuff, since I like to write for a broader audience on the blog.

3) Either way, what do you get from reading blogs?
A connection with like minded folks. Ideas. Occasionally, a laugh.

4) Do you intend to separately publish any of the work you have done for your blog?
Yes. With major revisions. I just have to stop blogging in order to get the time to revise the old entries.

21

Anon 03.17.04 at 2:32 am

I think some academics don’t blog because they have work to do.

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Ralph Luker 03.17.04 at 2:57 am

First, as to Tim Burke’s additional question, yes of course he should consider publishing from among his many fine essays posted at Easily Distracted and, now, at Cliopatria. If I could write as thoughtfully and thought-provokingly as Tim Burke seems to do so readily, I might just cut out the net-middle and go straight to print. Most of the rest of us probably need to mull things over a bit longer.
As to the questions raised initially by Henry, I was hesitant to enter the discussion because my starting to blog is so idiosyncratic — largely a function of being near the end of a highly insecure and turbulent “career.”
My more technically adept daughter gave me a website which she kindly maintains for me and I might have done a blog from it, but I became interested in the problems related to the practice of history which caused such embarrassment about two years ago and began writing about them in articles at History News Network. At the time, I also engaged in remarkably extended exchanges with the public (most notably, Michael Bellesiles’s gun-loving critics) on the, then more turbulent, HNN comment boards. At HNN, I began reading a blog briefly maintained by Ken Heineman there and began looking around the net for other attractive blogs. Soon, Critical Mass, Crooked Timber, Easily Distracted, Invisible Adjunct, the Volokh Conspiracy and others became part of my daily routine.
When Heineman stopped doing his blog at HNN, I attempted one in its place and did it for about six months. The combination of a turbulent professional “career,” a sense that my discipline was in some sort of crisis, and finding some congenial strong voices led to the idea of “Cliopatria.” Quite specifically, it emerged from my joining Erin O’Connor in helping KC Johnson save his position from department thugs at Brooklyn College (boy, could I identify with that!); and from Tim’s engaging me with very thoughtful criticism of my critique of another historians’ work. Joining Tim, KC, Ken, and others at Cliopatria was a very exciting prospect.
Unlike some group blogs, we speak as nothing like a single voice, but as strong individual voices. I find that very much to my liking. Having found a group of other historians, who are capable of strongly representing a point of view and respecting that of others in the group, I find that Cliopatria is, for me, the virtual history department home which I never found in my “career.” These are the kind of people and working historians with whom I would dearly have loved to have spent a much less turbulent professional life.

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honoria 03.17.04 at 3:22 am

I started blogging after reading how to write your dissertation in 15 minutes a day to keep track of dissertation research and personal brainstorms. I got into the blog habit. Now I blog my job-seeking progress and my artistic output. Livejournal has a nice memories feature that lets me organize my visual art produced, art sent and art received.

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Stephen Karlson 03.17.04 at 4:34 am

If you’re an academic who blogs, what prompted you to start blogging?

Got started for the heck of it.

And what keeps you going?

No shortage of interesting problems,even steering clear of the war and elections. The content of Cold Spring Shops has changed considerably since when I started it.

What do you try to do in your blog?

Write about stuff that interests me. If others find it interesting and link to it, that’s great. If others find something to criticize and they’re nice about it, that’s even better.

Does your blog have any relationship to your scholarship?

Absolutely. If topics such as immigration amnesties, or fringe benefits and reluctance to hire, or technical change in the steel industry or electricity pricing enter the national conversation, there are professional writings of mine that touch on these things.

The commentary on transportation follies, particularly high-speed rail with schedules slower than steam-era schedules, is for fun.

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Henry 03.17.04 at 5:15 am

I suppose I should answer my own questions at some point. I started reading blogs in mid-late 2002, and started my own at the beginnning of 2003. Like John Q., I’d always wanted to blog without knowing it – that is, I’d wanted to write in a format which was shorter than the longish essays that you’d write for _Dissent_ or whoever, and that touched on academics, without having the genteel whiff of dull respectability that you get with most peer reviewed publication. Also, I wanted somewhere that I could play around with ideas about subjects that fascinated me, but that had nothing to do with political science – my favourite works of fiction, for example. I still think that I’d not have started blogging if it hadn’t been for the inspiration provided by Kieran (who I didn’t know personally, but who sounded as if he’d had a similar class of a trajectory), and knowing Dan Drezner slightly before he began his blog. I suspect this may be true for other people too – it’s much easier to begin blogging if you know someone else who’s blogging, or at least have some sort of a model of blogging that you can identify with yourself. This may also help explain the disciplinary ‘clumpiness’ of blogging – why there are an awful lot of blogging philosophers, and not very many anthropologists or physicists. If you’re a young philosophy Ph.D., and there’s a prominent philosopher out there who already has a blog, it probably becomes a bit easier to take the jump. I know that this was true for me. The hardest stage, I think, is when you’re trying to establish your voice while persuading yourself that you’re not yodelling into a complete vacuum. Encouragement helps – and kind words from Kieran, Chris and Patrick Nielsen Hayden were pretty important to me when I was starting off.

There isn’t much connection between my academic work and blogging. I occasionally riff off general themes in IR theory or EU studies, but don’t usually put out ideas for examination. Like John Q., most of the stuff that I work on is too technical and dense for the average blogreader. That may change, as I start a new project which looks at Internet governance, and which I hope will have some policy spin-offs.

Like Ralph, I imagine that some of Timothy Burke’s essays are close to publishable in a non-blog format – they’re rather more polished and developed than is usual for the genre. But that can have its charms as well. I loved Heather’s comment that

bq. I find some kind of joy in the fragmented state of my posts—the blog is one place in which the fragment is ok on its own and need never be made into Something Bigger (or at least, I don’t necessarily have to articulate what that big thing is).

The fragmentary has its own delights – if Walter Benjamin were alive today, he’d surely have a blog.

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Matt Weiner 03.17.04 at 6:44 am

This may also help explain the disciplinary ‘clumpiness’ of blogging – why there are an awful lot of blogging philosophers, and not very many anthropologists or physicists.

I think it may also be that philosophy is uniquely suited to blogging. Philosophy tends to have perspicuous arguments–that is, you can evaluate them just by reading them and thinking, they tend not to rely on data as much as other fields might–and to progress by objections and responses. So a comment thread on a blog isn’t so different from the way actual ideas develop. I say this not knowing so much about other disciplines–I’m armchair philosophizing–but in a way perhaps that proves my point.

(Note that the philosopher comes up with an aprioristic explanation while the sociologist comes up with a sociological one.)

Of course it helps to have a prominent example–I would never have thought of starting an analytic philosophy blog if I hadn’t read Brian’s.

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lago 03.17.04 at 8:00 am

I was blogging before I was an academic. I started while I was traveling 150 times a year as a corporate love slave, without the love. I keep going because it’s cheaper than treating my hypergraphia with untested pharmaceuticals. In my blog I usually try to explain a train of thought that doesn’t seem to have occurred to people in whatever online material I’m reading. On the rare occasion that technologists aren’t trying to be sociologists and don’t need my smackdown, I also try to connect ideas that probably shouldn’t be connected in an attempt to seem profound. What I read in my academic life often has consequences for my thinking on other issues, though I never blog on the same topics that I’m researching. What I get from reading other blogs changes on a regular basis, which is why I have Schrödinger links. For the benefit of the person who cares about online identity, I blog pseudonymously because I’m much better known (in limited circles) by my pseudonym, which has been around longer than my academic identity. I didn’t change my last name when I got married, either. Of course, many husbands don’t, so maybe it was just social pressure.

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ksbrorson 03.17.04 at 11:07 am

As a graduate student I do not feel I am a proper academic blogger, but there is one thing that I would like to mention. Blogs are fascinating because of their specialization. Academic blogs are constructive because you can write (and read) about your own specialized field of interest and there will always be someone in the blogosphere who share your interest.

I started writing a blog because I read books and was interested in theory that few in my department were interested in discussing. Already in my first weeks of blogging I was in discussion with other bloggers on topic that interested me and I suppose that is what has made me continue. My blog has now become a mix of daily ramblings and theoretical discussion, but I see that good theoretical blog-post is what creates most traffic.

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Kikuchiyo 03.17.04 at 11:25 am

What prompted you to start blogging? And what
keeps you going?

I started because I thought that the blogs that I could read were intelligent and informative, but sometimes a bit too serious. And so I started writing satirical “translations” of news conferences and articles in the preamble to the war.

What do you try to do in your blog? Does your blog have any relationship to your scholarship?

Sometimes there are musings related to economics, primarily the blog is where I an various acquaintances of mine blow off steam and poke fun at the surrealisms of media and academia.

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Norm 03.17.04 at 12:38 pm

If you’re an academic who blogs, what prompted you to start blogging?

Wanting to ‘join the conversation’, particularly as a member of the left with views out of harmony with much (most?) of the rest of the left. And wanting to try it out, just out of curiosity.

And what keeps you going?

Wanting to remain part of the blog conversation. The fact that I (mostly) enjoy it. Some amorphous sense – which would once, probably, have been described as ‘reified’, and may still be by some for all I know – of obligation to what I perceive as the demands of my blog.

What do you try to do in your blog?

Discuss poilitical issues that I think are important or worth noting. Link to items that have come to my attention and which I find of interest. Try to cover a range of other things beyond politics in any narrow sense. Have fun.

Does your blog have any relationship to your scholarship?

Some. I ran a series on the concept of crimes against humanity, which is what I’ve been working on lately, and have posted a few other things directly relevant to my past or present work. There’s also a looser general relationship between the political issues I discuss on my blog and my academic concerns.

[W]hat do you get from reading blogs?

A lot of interest. And tired.

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cs 03.17.04 at 3:15 pm

Henry, I hope your going to synthesis all this into a nice blogbite for busy (at least at the moment) academics.

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PZ Myers 03.17.04 at 6:56 pm

what prompted you to start blogging?
I’ve maintained a lab web page since about 1993, so when I saw this simple technology that lets you easily dump stuff onto the web, I jumped at it. And when I saw that people were using it for more than just deadly dull dry academic material, and were expressing their personality and having fun while trying to be entertaining as well as informative, I thought it could be liberating and creative, too.

And what keeps you going?
Coffee.

What do you try to do in your blog?
Play. Vent. Crusade a bit for causes I care about. Educate people about my obscure little corner of the scientific world, now and then.

Does your blog have any relationship to your scholarship?
Once upon a time, I tossed some of my preliminary results on the web, only to see my protocols, right down to the arbitrary concentrations of some teratogens I used, published in a journal with no acknowledgement at all. So no, I don’t put any of my current research there.

Some of it is material that I know will end up in my teaching, though. Sometimes it’s good to have an excuse to track down some little story in the biology literature right now and scribble it down on the weblog, so a few months from now I can delve back into my website and find that interesting little idea again and use it in a lecture.

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Edward Cohn 03.17.04 at 8:09 pm

If you’re an academic who blogs, what prompted you to start blogging? And what keeps you going?

I blog for several different reasons. I worked as a writer at a political magazine for a year after graduating from college, and always planned to do some free-lance writing in graduate school; unfortunately, I just haven’t had time for that, and blogging seems like a good way to keep up my writing. I always tend to spend more time than I should reading different blogs, newspapers, and magazines online, and it somehow seems like a better use of my time to post links to some of what I find interesting than just to read it myself. (The previous incarnation of my blog was made up almost entirely of links, along with some commentary on my archival research and travel to Russia; I did this writing as much for myself as for other readers.) These days I try to do more writing at length (though it’s sometimes hard to find the time), and I’m mainly motivated by a desire to play with ideas and to put some of my thoughts into words. (Like Timothy Burke, I also like the idea of the blogger as a “public intellectual,” though at this stage of my academic career it would be presumptuous for me to describe myself in those terms.) I also like the idea of interdisciplinary blog commentary: my current blog is a group endeavor with a high-energy physicist and a cancer biologist.

Does your blog have any relationship to your scholarship?

Not really. I try to avoid discussing my research in any detail, since I’m a graduate student and would prefer to wait and publish it later on; moreover, I have plenty of opportunities to discuss my work with my professors and with other graduate students, so I don’t feel a strong need to write about my academic work. I do sometimes discuss my field (Soviet history), but I rarely write about the specific issues covered in my dissertation (and I mostly confine my comments on my field to reactions to articles I’ve read online); at the same time, I enjoy writing about issues of historical interpretation more generally.

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Elle 03.18.04 at 1:08 am

Like honorable mouse, I started blogging in 2001 “partly to try this new-fangled thing everyone was talking about and partly as a way to vent my spleen over the political situation.” I blogged under a pseudonym, even though I am tenured, because I liked being able to write about my opinions in a way that was NOT tied to my professional identity and my academic writing. Also like honorable mouse, I intend to keep the blog going indefinitely.

The newest twist for me is that I’ve begun to incorporate blogging into my pedagogy, and have students keeping weblogs. In discussions with students about why so many (at least on our campus) are so uncomfortable with blogging and resistant, we had some provocative conversations about accountability – not everyone wants their words published online where anyone can see and you are held accountable for what you say.

After that, I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and allowed the interactive editor at our local newspaper to link my blog, with my real name, on his page of “local bloggers.”

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John c. halasz 03.18.04 at 3:43 am

“If Walter Benjamin were alive today, he’d surely have a blog.”

No, he would just collect blog quotes and rearrange them.

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Naomi Chana 03.18.04 at 3:47 am

If you’re an academic who blogs, what prompted you to start blogging?

Peer pressure from (non-academic) friends, plus a healthy dose of isolation, as I’d just moved to a new town for a residential dissertation-writing fellowship.

And what keeps you going?

Readers’ comments, the fun of lecturing about something I don’t actually get to teach, and the odd moment when I think I’ve learned or taught something.

What do you try to do in your blog?

Entertain and educate. Also, I try to have fun writing it.

Does your blog have any relationship to your scholarship?

See, it wasn’t supposed to. I started a blog so I could talk about Buffy — but then I wrote an academic article on Buffy (I wanted to deduct my cable bill as a business expense) and it went downhill from there. Now I mostly post about a handful of secondary specializations of mine, simply because my primary specialization would make it too easy for people to track me down.

This brings us to the pseudonymity thing. I was starting a job search at the same time I started my blog; the last thing I wanted to show up on Google was my deathless reflections on how many applications I’d FedExed after an all-nighter. Now I find pseudonymity more than a little annoying — I tend to drop it in email conversations, and it keeps me from making some very cogent points about academia — but I’m still nervous about my students and/or senior colleagues Googling to find my blog. Lately I’ve been thinking I’ll wait till I get tenure and then quietly post a link to my university website.

Either way, what do you get from reading blogs?

Ideas. Inspiration. (Not, sadly, always academic inspiration, but inspiration.) Less free time.

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Another Damned Medievalist 03.18.04 at 8:29 pm

I think Naomi’s blog is one of the best, and I’d love to have her as a colleague. But the anonymity question is a good one. I’m not all that anonymous, if you know where to look. I do worry, though, because I am on the market. Now I’d like to ask those of you who already have tenure and may be on hiring committees — what happens if you know a candidate from the blogosphere? Should people on the market blog (Ms Mentor says to be careful)? If the blog is not academic, is it relevant to the search (although I can’t imaging that it wouldn’t have some influence on whether a candidate is a ‘good fit’? Inquiring minds want to know!

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Rana 03.18.04 at 10:08 pm

What a great set of questions, and interesting answers, too. Thanks for the topic!

Because I’m lame and can’t figure out how to do trackbacks, here’s my permalink for my post responding to those questions: link.

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Rana 03.18.04 at 10:14 pm

And here’s my responses:

If you’re an academic who blogs, what prompted you to start blogging?

As I recall, it was a combination of needing an outlet for a welter of confusion, frustration, etc. about being tossed out of the ivory tower and guilt about hogging the comment threads at sites like Invisible Adjunct’s. It seemed a less-introspective form of journaling — the comments and awareness of an audience discourage excessive navel-gazing — and getting my thoughts out in tidy print helped calm the whirling in my brain.

And what keeps you going?

Partly habit. Or addiction? In any case, I like having a space in which I can lay out my thoughts and activities, get feedback on them, and thus maintain a record of my ups and downs. Lacking many offline outlets of this sort, I suspect that the blog plays a large role in keeping my head from exploding!

What do you try to do in your blog?

I don’t know that there is much of a larger purpose here, beyond furthering the development of online communities. I try to be honest and open about my life to the extent I can without compromising my offline privacy and that of my family and friends. Occasionally I’ll share things I’ve found elsewhere that I think are interesting or funny or useful, and sometimes I’ll speak about a cause I care about. I will freely admit that much of the blog is about pleasing myself.

Does your blog have any relationship to your scholarship?

Not really. Occasionally, I get feedback on larger contextual issues related to my work, but there is no direct relationship beyond both being by the same author. (Attempting to maintain a degree of anonymity makes sharing tricky!) Plus I rarely have the time or mental energy to do the kind of careful thinking my scholarship requires; the spontaneity of blogging is part of the appeal.

What do you get from reading blogs?

I love the encounters with other people and the windows their blogs offer on their lives, their thoughts, their hobbies and loves and fears… at least regarding personal blogs. Those that are directed toward more external purposes, like politics, or television, or craft techniques, I read as I read the paper and how-to-books and cheap magazines. In other words, for entertainment and information. I admit a particular weakness for forum-heavy formats, both because I like watching other people kick an idea or topic around and because I am a person who just can’t shut up about things I’m interested in.

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Vanderbank 03.19.04 at 4:16 pm

What prompted you to start blogging? I started reading blogs like Invisible Adjunct and Frogs and Ravens. I decided I wanted to be able to express myself too.
And what keeps you going? I like having a place where I can sound off. I’m writing my thesis in a small university town and sometimes it’s good to talk to the world at large.
What do you try to do in your blog? I would like to write clever things but I usually end up talking about my latest diet or something silly I’ve done.
Does your blog have any relationship to your scholarship? I would like it to. Unfortunately that would stop me writing personal things on it as I wouldn’t want potential employers to read them. what do you get from reading blogs? I learn that other people are just as human as me.

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Dennis G. Jerz 03.20.04 at 10:20 am

Goodness… ask bloggers to write about their blogging, and what do you get? I noted this request on Crooked Timber, saw a handful of interesting replies, and made a mental note to blog the answers. For the two or three people who have not only scrolled all the way down here, but are hungry enough to want to read what yet another academic has to say, I’ve posted a long-ish response at my own site.

http://jerz.setonhill.edu/weblog/permalink.jsp?id=2279

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John Lovas 03.21.04 at 8:28 am

I started blogging to document my work as a writing teacher in a community college. As part of the CCCC leadership, I had participated in several efforts to make the work of college compositionists more visible. While those efforts had some impact, I was frustrated with the ponderousness of organizational response. I wanted to see if the blog would be an effective means of reaching a wider public.

At the same time, realizing I’m near the end of my full-time teaching career, I wanted to capture my practice, and my rationales for that practice. So I’ve tried to write daily–and have almost succeeded since I started May 22, 2003.

In my view, my blog IS scholarship. It does a lot of what our journals did in the 1950s and 1960s, namely describe successful classroom and program practice and argues for certain teaching practices.

At the start, I did not know how it would go, so publishing in print was not a concern. But a few months into my writing, I found a 20-year old outline for a book on the teaching of English I had totally forgotten about. I realized that a lot of the material I included in my blog fit that old outline. My current plan is to make the blog more functional this summer by organizing the year’s material in categories that might be useful to early-career composition teachers. At that point, I’ll probably look around to see if there’s anyone interested in publishing the material in some form.

And, for what it’s worth, Lynn Quitman Troyka and Doug Hesse published one of my blog pages as an illustration of a teacher’s blog in the new 7th edition of the Simon and Schuster Handbook for Writers.

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Steven D. Krause 03.23.04 at 11:50 am

Great thread here… I think I started blogging for many of the reasons folks gave here, though as a composition and rhetoric scholar who focuses primarily on issues of technology, blogging was a pretty natural and easy fit into my academic work. Specifically, I started working on an “academic/official” blog after I published an article in CCC Online called “Where do I list this on my CV?” Considering the Value of Self-Published Web Sites. In one form or another, I guess that’s been around for a couple of years.

On my academic or “official” blog, I post things about my work as an academic, which includes lots of links to things I come across from reading other blogs and other things on the ‘net and in “real life.” I do post about “job oriented” things having to do with EMU and I have also offered my thoughts on being a “Happy Academic,” but mostly, it’s about things that are for me “scholarly.” I started an “unofficial” blog about a year ago to post things that are about my life. In my own mind, that’s part of an effort to create a space where I bring some healthy separation between what I do at “work” and what I do in “life.”

I don’t think of my blog as scholarship per se– I don’t list it on my CV– but I do think of it as a useful scholarly enterprise. In composition studies, we talk about various invention exercises in writing classrooms. Blogs are for me a form of this. My academic blog is also a “notebook” of sorts where I keep track of links and things that I’ve come across that I think will be helpful in my scholarship or teaching later on.

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