A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Part 2. Blogging and Academia
In some ways, the academic world has been slow to take note of the burgeoning popularity of the blog as a medium of communication. On the one hand, blogging by academics provided them another method for reaching out to a public beyond the university. It may even allow for the kind of engagement characteristic of
early in the previous century when academics appeared regularly in newspapers,
on the radio, or even in the cabinets of public officials using their academic
training and distinct methods to influence debates in the public sphere. In
this regard, the medium of blogging could well offer a distinct tonic to the
waning prestige and cultural power of the academic community. Blogging
provided a way for academics to return to the public sphere without having to
contend with the cultural and market forces that influence the national media.
At the same time,
the fragmented landscape of the New Media has compelled scholars to reconsider
their audiences. When an academic writes an article for a professional or an
academic monograph, for example, he or she can assume a certain kind of reader.
With a blog, it is difficult to anticipate the audience and therefore, to
determine the appropriate tone and even content for postings. This has been
the biggest challenge for me and my blog: imagining who, exactly, would be
interested in what I have to say, and how do I communicate it effectively.
The tentative first steps of the academic community into blogging have gradually quickened over the course of the decade. Initially the best known blogs in the academic
world were those seen as subversive. Anonymous blogs like the Invisible Adjunct or Bitch Ph.D. provided insights into
some of the less idyllic and idealistic aspects of academic life. Even as late
as 2005, an article
in the Chronicle of Higher Education by the pseudonymous
Ivan Tribble wrote about the danger of blogs to young faculty who were on the
job market. There also continues to be an intellectual debate regarding the
significance of academic blogging (some salient points are voiced by Adam
Kotsko in two articles here and here
with a response from Scott Eric Kaufman here), but I
suspect that the medium is still too new and experimental to be dismissed out
In fact, the
proliferation of blogs over the last five years has led to remarkably diverse
interpretations of the media. In general, with the expansion of the
blogosphere it has become more tame and less subversive. The growing acceptance
of blogging as another facet of academic discourse is perhaps best seen in its
appearance as a topic discussion at academic conferences. Both the AHA and the MLA
have featured panels on blogging that attracted considerable attention in
the blogosphere, in academic circles, and in the traditional media as well.
panel shined light on the intellectual significance of blogs by historians
like the blog called Cliopatria at the
History News Network hosted by George
Mason University (for a brief overview and history of historians blogging see Ralph
Luker, "Were there blog enough and time." Perspectives 43.4
). For the last three years, the Cliopatria group has made awards to blogs of particular substance, such as historian Mark Grimsley's Blog Them out of the Stone Age, which chronicles, among other things, Grimsley's efforts to bring traditional
military history into dialogue with more theoretically inclined types of
historical inquiry. Bloggers from the MLA have shown an even wider range of uses for the blogosphere.
Michael Berube whose now defunct Le Blog Berube, engaged in a wide-ranging commentary on everything from politics to academic life to literary theory. Jill/txt, cited earlier, explores the interaction between literary, aesthetics, and New Media studies. Several blogging journals like The Valve or those hosted by the online trade journal, Inside Higher Ed, similarly bridge the gap between academic research, social commentary, and public life. The dominant characteristic of many of these academic blogs is that they feature intellectually substantial posts often with full academic citations, careful argumentation, and, in some cases, vigorous conversations in their comments.