Sunday, February 5, 2012

On Academic Blogging

Become a Famous Blogger by Dave Walker
Source: We Blog Cartoons
I’ve been thinking a lot about blogging recently, and about academic blogging in particular. Why do academics turn to the blogosphere? What motives lurk behind this practice, and how do academics perceive their online identity? Do they view their online presence as part of, or separate from, the multiple performances that comprise their professional identity, e.g. conference participation, print publication and teaching?

Over the last few days I’ve put together a rather crude questionnaire intended to probe academic bloggers, to get an insight into their motives, uses and the benefits of their blogging activities. Since the result of my ponderings will be distilled into an article for a Victorianist journal, I have sent this questionnaire to three bloggers working in the broad field of Victorian Studies:

  • Charlotte Mathieson, a literary scholar and Associate Fellow at the University of Warwick. Charlotte blogs on two institution-hosted sites: her own research blog dedicated to her work on mobility and travel in the nineteenth century, and she contributes to 'Researcher Life', a communal blog designed to support early-career researchers.

  • Bob Nicholson, an historian and doctoral student at the University of Manchester who has recently taken up a Lectureship at Swansea University. Bob­—or his online alter-ego—blogs at ‘The Digital Victorianist’ site, complete with his own logo. As the name suggests, one of Bob's many interests is the impact of digital and online technologies on humanities research.

If you are not familiar with these blogs, I urge you to visit and explore!

You may have noticed a further link between these three 'case study' bloggers, something other than their shared interest in all things Victorian. All are early-career researchers, much like myself (all this means is that the PhD is being worked towards, or has been awarded in recent years—eight years, for the purposes of the AHRC). I’m particularly interested in why these young, up-and-coming researchers have turned to social media, and I’m looking forward to receiving their responses to the questionnaire!

All this questioning of others, however, has made me consider more closely my own motives for starting a blog. In the first instance, I wanted to write something that people might actually read (doctoral theses tend to collect dust on University library shelves) and to do this in a style, a language that was more conversational, more open and less exclusive than the ‘academic voice’ I had used elsewhere. I also wanted to get beyond the Victorian and the early-modernist period, much as I love them. I wanted to extend my interest in life narratives beyond the boundaries I had previously set in my research, broadening my view to include contemporary events, new media, film and television. Though, if you scan through my posts, you will find a lot of Victorian-inspired delights, you’ll also find posts on biopic, documentary, Monty Python and souvenir tea-towels (yes, seriously). I wanted to make the process of research visible (in posts such as this) as well as the polished final product. And yes, I wanted to raise my profile, to engage in shameless self-promotion -- the nebulous concept of 'impact' is something I will have to tackle as I write the article.

I’ll be examining these motives more closely as I write my article over the next few weeks, and it will be an interesting challenge to adopt this reflective writing position.

But dear reader, do you blog? And why? What are the reasons and what are the benefits? Pray, do tell…