Why researchers blog

The online journal First Monday in its August edition features an article about researchers’ motivations for blogging. Since I just decided to make my return as a ‘hard bloggin’ scientist‘, I read the article with interest.The reasons for blogging mentioned by the researchers from Sweden, Denmark and The Netherlands interviewed for the study conducted by Sara Kjellberg are not very surprising. They include dissemination of content;  interaction with other researchers, expressing opinions, keeping up-to-date with work in your field, and trying out bits of your argument in small pieces of writing.

After my year-long blogging hiatus, the things I really miss about Serendipities are its function as a research support tool, its possibilities for interaction with other researchers, and the subtle pressure a blog always exercises to keep up with recent developments in your field of research. I could really identify with a comment in the Kjellberg article that while a lot of people think blogging steals time from your research, in fact it is a writing/research support tool.

What I have noticed in the past months is how often I returned to Serendipities to look things up, even if I never wrote anything new here. For example, I was writing an article on The Spanish Tragedy which discussed the soliloquy in which Hieronimo enters with a book of Seneca’s tragedies in his hand and cites bits and pieces from it, and I suddenly thought of Kevin Sharpe’s Reading Revolutions. Using the search function on the blog, I found my review of the book very quickly and remembered the ideas I had at the time – the blog entry even contained a very useful quotation from the book. This kind of function as a research journal also figures in Kjellberg’s article. One researcher calls it a “personal thinking space” in which she collects and sorts material for her research, which is then accessible from any computer linked to the internet.

For me, one of the great things of Serendipities is the people I’ve connected with just because of the blog, and whom I might otherwise not have met at all. Kjellberg’s article has something interesting to say about this kind of interaction on academic blogs. Usually, reader’s reactions and ‘crowdsourcing’ are mentioned as one of the main advantages of blogging. But only a few of the academic blogs I know (such as Mercurius Policitus or The Long Eighteenth) has a relatively large number of comments on their posts. This is also what one of the interviewed researchers remarks upon:

the interaction in blogs is exaggerated and […] blogging is more of one–way communication than a dialogue. […] [Kjellberg counters that:] the interaction does not necessarily show up in the blog. There is certainly communication taking place, where readers contact the blogger not only by using the commenting function in the blog, but also through direct e–mail messages and, in rare cases, by using the phone or through face–to–face contacts, for example when meeting at a conference. Interaction can thus happen outside the blog.

In this view, the blog is more a means to keep others up to date of your ideas and work, and let them know that you are out there. Of course, that means a normal website would do as well, so I hope to be posting things that trigger responses in the coming years!


Reviving Serendipities

This blog has been in a deep sleep a very long time. I made it move house to this free WordPress environment, unfortunately losing all its images in the process, and then shamefully neglected it for six months. The longer you neglect a blog, the harder it gets to revive it. I miss blogging, though, and since I also received a couple of kind e-mails asking me about the fate of Serendipities recently, I decided to make a fresh start in the new year.

Watch this spot, therefore, for book reviews, calls for papers and other observations on early modern culture, especially on the cultural history of emotions, as well as on academic life and teaching.

Best wishes for the new year to all who might still happen to pass by here!

Gender, history & blogging

Historiann this week features two great guest posts by Ruth Mazo Karras, one of the editors of Gender and History, in which she gives an inside view of academic publishing in journals. The first post walks the reader through the process of publishing an article (including a very useful practical timeline of the whole process), the second post answers questions from readers of the first post – also on the question whether you should publish an article on gender history in Gender and History or in a  journal that specializes in in your historical period.

I also found this Call for Papers in my mailbox, via kenau and the History of Feminism Network:

Call for Papers: Feminism, Blogging, and the Historical Profession
Journal of Women’s History

The Journal of Women’s History invites submissions for a roundtable on the emergence of blogging as a location for critical thought among women in the historical profession; historians of women, gender, and sexuality; and feminist scholars who may, or may not be, historians. Participants may wish to address one or more of the following questions in an abstract of no more than 250 words:

  • What role does self-publishing on the internet play in a profession where merit is defined by scholarly review and a rigorouseditorial process?
  • What are the intellectual benefits, and/or costs, of blogging?
  • What are the ethics and consequences of blogging under a pseudonym?
  • What kinds of electronic acknowledgement already correlate with established scholarly practices; which can be discarded; and which need to be attended to, perhaps more rigorously than in printed publications?
  • If many scholarly publications and organizations have alreadyadopted blogs as a way of spreading news and inviting conversation, is blogging itself developing rules and practices that will inevitably produce intellectual and scholarly hierarchies similar to those that blogging seeks to dismantle?
  • Does feminist blogging offer particular opportunities for enhanced conversation about race, sexuality, class, and national paradigms, or does it tend to reproduce existing scholarly paradigms and silences within feminist scholarship?
  • Finally, are new forms of colleagueship and scholarship emerging in the blogosphere?

The roundtable will consist of a short introduction, several essays of 2,000 to 3,000 words, and a concluding comment/response. Abstracts should arrive no later than July 15, 2009, and can be submitted electronically to Claire Potter at tenured[dot]radical[at]gmail[dot]com.

Final submissions are due October 1, 2009. Pseudonymous bloggers may publish under their pseudonyms, but must be willing to reveal their identities to the editor of the roundtable and the commenter. Bloggers based outside the United States are particularly encouraged to contribute.

The Shakespeare Post

Via Renaissance Lit comes the news of The Shakespeare Post, a new site on Shakespeare. It promises to bring you the latest news on all matters Shakespearean, gathered from the net and based on the editor’s own journalism. In the latter category, the site features a podcast of an interview with archeologist Jo Lyon about the discovery of the foundations of the Theatre in London. [On that subject, Will at I Love Shakespeare reposted a SHAKSPER post by Dave Kathman with a link to a Google Earth image of the site.]

The Shakespeare Post also includes news in the categories of research and scholarship, education, books,exhibitions, film, tv and radio, archeology and history as well as ‘unusual news.’ The site is edited by John D. Lawrence, an Internet producer for Fox News Chicago, who – I guess – has a thing for Shakespeare.

Noted around the web

  • More on readers: Paper Cuts, the NY Times blog on books, has a review of Norton’s reissue of André Kertész’s 1971 On Reading, a book of black-and-white photos of people in the act of reading.
  • The Guardian’s Book Blog  announces that this year’s Bulwer-Lytton prize for the worst opening sentence has been awarded . 

Digital Literary Studies

The book's cover, with Blake's <i>Newton</i>

Riddle machines, virtual codexes and algorithmic criticism – it’s all in Blackwell’s Companion to Digital Literary Studies (2007). I am slowly making my way through its 620 pages printed on good old-fashioned non-digital paper, to review it for The European English Messenger

I started, of course, with Matthew Steggle’s chapter surveying the field of early modern literature and digital literary studies. Starting from the 1971 e-text of Paradise Lost by Judy Boss, he discusses Luminarium, Renascence Editions, Literature Online, Early English Books Online, the Interactive Shakespeare Project, the SHAKSPER discussion list, and his own Early Modern Literary Studies, to finally glance at the future of the field:  

The newest area of interest in early modern studies, and one where, again, the technology remains to be proven, is the early modern blog. Three early entrants into what will doubtless be a burgeoning field might be mentioned here: Adam Smyth’s Renaissance Lit Blog, the collaborative project Blogging the Renaissance, and Sharon Howard’s Early Modern Notes. (97)

Congratulations to these three blogs for being anthologized in this monumental tome! That said, Steggle’s positioning of weblogs seems a tad tentative for a book published in 2007 (and a chapter written no earlier than February 2006, when BtR kicked off) – or perhaps I am too much of a blogger to be objective. I turned to Aimée Morrison’s contribution,  “Blogs and Blogging: Text and Practice,” to find out.  

This chapter starts with the very basics (“blog” is a contraction of “weblog”) and discusses technologies of blogging, genres of blogs, the practices of reading and writing blogs, and academic bloggers. Morrison writes that academics are drawn to blogging because of its opportunities for networking, to avoid academic isolation in an arcane speciality, to test new ideas and/or to keep abreast of colleagues and research. Referring to Ivan Tribble’s column on academic blogging in the Chronicle and the many responses it received, she comments: 

Often generating more heat than light, these writings nonetheless indicate the challenge that this particular writing genre poses to the academy, and as with other online practices before it, invigorates the debate about the values as well as the failings of our established pedagogical, research, and collegial practices. (383)

The section on “Blogging in Literary Studies” focuses mainly on academic scholarship that studies blogs, some of it by literary scholars. Its view on blogs in literary studies is confined to the statement that “many very worthwhile blogs […] offer information of use to the literary studies community, providing annotated and focused lists of resources and offering opportunities for rich interaction among blog-readers and blog-writers” (383). It’s hard to disagree with that! 

Online material from the book: 

Using a blog as teaching tool – evaluation

At the close of summer, I wrote a post on my plans to use a weblog in my MA course on gender theory in the first semester (see also this later post). I received a lot of very useful and encouraging comments, and took the plunge. The semester ended just before Christmas, student essays are trickling in now: it is time for an evaluation.

“Theories of Gender and Culture” was a 15 week MA course with twelve students who met once a week for a two-hour seminar. Because gender theory was new to most students, and because I put some difficult texts on the Syllabus, I was looking for a way to keep students engaged with the material outside class. I made a group blog on which students (and I myself) could write blog posts, and comment on each others’ posts. I posted a discussion question each week, in which I asked students to apply the theory of that week to a cultural object. (Here is an example of such a discussion question.) Students had to write responses to three discussion questions, they could pick which ones to answer. I also created the categories “queries” (for any questions that students were struggling with during the week) and “gender notes” for observations on gender in daily life, the news, commercials — anything. For more information, see also the document on the Course Blog that I put in the Blackboard module for the course. I also posted “household notes” on the blog, with information on the course, presentations schedules, etc. The sidebar was filled with a “recent comments” widget, a twitter widget with links to interesting websites or online articles that we happened to come across during the course, and link lists to personal websites of theorists, to organizations, databases, online journals and theory sites.

There were several ways in which I hoped the blog could aid the learning process:

  • to provide a space for students to tackle the material outside class
  • to enhance critical and analytical thinking
  • to foster a sense of community
  • to enhance class discussion
  • to practice writing skills

The evaluation that follows is based on my own experiences as well as an anonymous online survey (via Blackboard) among my students, submitted by 10 of the 12 students.

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