Earlier today I was at an OAH roundtable on blogging as scholarship. There were a number of distinguished bloggers there (Anne Little; Kenneth Owen; Benjamin Alpers; John Fea), all of whom blog in very different styles. The audience was great.
I thought I’d post some of my argument about why blogging is valuable as scholarship: it boils down to the fact that our notion of scholarship and “historical work” is deranged. Not just in the fact that we have, preposterously, only three real forms, the conference paper, the article, and the book: it’s also that the the style of academic discourse is grotesquely psychologically conflicted.
I’ve argued before that the way we’re taught to read bears no relation to the way we are taught to write. We are taught to write as if our audience was a learned man of leisure, with servants, and we’re taught to read like sou-chefs gutting a fish: quickly, ruthlessly, under time pressure. We are asked to construct a form of self punishment–we write for the person we wish we could be, and in reading destroy that person we imagined.
Don’t take my word for it. You can clearly see this conflicted self in the contrast, growing wider every year, between the text of any academic history and the acknowledgments. Open any book of footnoted academic history published in the last two decades, and the text will almost never use the word “I,” almost never mention anything personal, never describe intellectual struggle or uncertainty. The text will aim to erase the author altogether, so the argument emerges full grown like Athena from the head of Zeus. But the acknowledgements! The acknowledgments are a virtual carnival of the self, full of confessions of doubt, descriptions of struggle, metaphors of journey and passage and transformation; yearnings and regrets and intimacies: salutes to comrades professional and personal, the fallen and the still standing. The acknowledgements are colorful, personal and self indulgent: the text is personless and self banishing.
Something’s not right here! I mean, mentally not right. The division between the text and the acknowledgements is as wide or wider than the division between the way we are taught to write and the way we are taught to read. It is a sign of repressed desires and wishes. Really, from a distance it look like a mental illness.
Blogging maybe has the potential to reintegrate the fragmented academic personality. It makes the personal visible. It allows for struggle; it is the journey towards meaning. It allows for an authorial voice that speaks through itself, instead of through some disembodied imagined person. It’s embedded in community. And it doesn’t involve the violent forms of self-erasure that the acknowledgments keep proving we want to escape