And why do I blog under my own name?
The simple answer to that is because it didn’t occur to me not to. As I’ve probably mentioned before, this blog was set up as an offshoot of my academic website. That has always carried my name (and information about me) because as far as I’m concerned that’s crucial for the academic credentials of the site: since I would always tell students that a key issue in evaluating online resources is authorship (and that you should be slightly wary of any supposedly academic resource that doesn’t tell you something – which you can check up on elsewhere – about the people responsible for producing it), it could hardly be otherwise.
Plus, I feel that part of my ‘authority’ here on the blog when I’m writing more serious posts depends on you the readers knowing exactly who I am and how and why I’m qualified to do this. (I don’t tend to put my full name up in posts, but you only have to click on the About Me or EMR links to quickly find my surname. And as for Google, I might run but I really can’t hide.)
More than that, since I always wanted this to be a primarily academic rather than personal blog, I would find the constraints of pseudonymous/anonymous blogging completely frustrating. You can’t keep your real identity private – especially if you work in a fairly small field – while simultaneously doing any kind of serious research blogging. And that’s something I really really like doing.
And the point of blogging research?
I know that some people fear that it might lead to others ‘stealing’ your ideas. But I agree with those who point out that blogging the ideas can actually help to prevent this: by putting them out there in the public domain with a date-stamp and your name on them, you make them indisputably yours. And I really don’t mind at all if someone else picks them up and develops them (I think that’d be bloody brilliant actually!), as long as they give me a bit of credit.
Blogging research lets you develop the very first drafts of ideas. Bits and pieces that don’t yet amount to articles (or even conference papers), but they may well do some day. And something else, sometimes: last year I was having trouble thinking up any new ideas at all, but blogging old ideas, often attached to new sources, meant that I kept writing, if only a few hundred words a week, without having to worry about it being original or impressive. And now, because it’s all archived and easy to find, I can look back over some of that work and see potential themes, little seeds of ideas that are worth working on, start to make them grow.
And it means that you can get feedback and suggestions. In the last few weeks, I’ve learnt about some fantastic-sounding primary source material that I’d never even heard of before, quite apart from all the great secondary source suggestions. I love my readers. I love the fact that we can have conversations (and occasionally arguments!) and pool our different areas of expertise. (I also get a warm fuzzy glow when you say nice things about my site. Not that I’m fishing or anything.) Blogging really does foster communications and networks and communities. That alone makes it worthwhile.
Another thing: writing for a slightly different audience than in the usual academic contexts. This is an amazing opportunity to reach out. To stop just complaining about how ignorant people are about your field and do something, however small, about it. And trying to write in a way that can work for both fellow specialists, other academics and completely non-academic readers who might not know anything about my period – that’s a challenge. (I not only like writing, I like thinking about writing and how to make it work. I gather this is slightly weird.) The bonus is that the writing style can be a little bit more free and informal. That’s fun.
Now, I also know that whenever I write here (or at other blogs), I take the risk that I will – sooner or later – be read by someone who doesn’t like what they read. Someone who may disagree violently with my opinions, my style, my methods. (And very occasionally I have not been entirely, er, sweet-tempered. I admit it.) And that someone might at some later stage be on the committee reading my job application and…. well, I’m screwed, aren’t I?
But as I’ve already said, I take that risk every time I publish something. I have to be prepared to do that. If I don’t, I’ll never write anything anywhere… and then my chances of a job will truly be a big fat zero. I think I said it before, but I will say it again: If you are going to be a ‘real’ academic, you will have to take risks. Every time you open your mouth to express an opinion, no matter how carefully researched and thought out. Every time you give a conference paper. Every time you send off a precious manuscript.
Sooner or later, you will piss someone off. Most of the time you don’t even think about the risks you’re running; you’re too busy doing your best to do things right, putting in your research, crafting your arguments. One day someone will hate it, and your heart will break into a thousand pieces on the spot. You’d better get used to it, in small doses, now.
Then, of course, there’s another set of risks that you’re likely to take as an academic with a blog. This gets us to something that Tribble went on about at length, and that he has been taken to task for. Both fairly and unfairly. If you blog under your own name and you use the blog mostly to complain, rant, whine about how unfair life is, carp about colleagues, if it’s all negative, you are going to put potential employers off. Can you blame them?
But at the same time, blogging frequently blurs some key distinctions of modernity, the public and the private, the professional and personal, formal and informal, in potentially disconcerting but (I think) also positive and creative ways.
So this is a primarily academic blog, not a personal journal. But if you read it for a while, you get to know me quite well, don’t you?
There are things I don’t write about here. I don’t often discuss politics or really intimate aspects of my personal life. I could have a hunky toyboy wearing me out most nights of the week, hell, he could be licking my toes right now, and you wouldn’t know. (… I haven’t.) I edit and I self-censor. I have started and deleted quite a lot of rants since I started up here. (Though sometimes just the action of writing is enough to let off steam. Posting becomes oddly redundant.) But that still leaves quite a lot of trivia. So what? Must I be Deep and Serious and Profound all the time just because I wannabe an academic? Phooey.
(I do mostly cut out the swearing: seriously, most of you have no idea just what a common foul-mouthed blaspheming old cow I really am.)
So you do tend to get a selective picture of what I do and what I think of the world. But I suspect that I give away quite a lot about what kind of person I am. (I am a leftie! I am a feminist! I am a sarcastic bitch! Er, is any of that a surprise?) More than I’d like perhaps. And in ways that I know I can’t entirely control. That, I accept. I think it’s worth it.
I’ll very soon be job-hunting. Maybe I’ll be more careful about what I do here for a while. Mostly, I probably won’t. Although I still won’t be telling you if I get myself a toe-licking toyboy.
Key discussions elsewhere:
Mark Grimsley has written two great posts. The second is particularly compelling on the significance and validity of the ‘personal’ in an academic blog. (And if you want to see research blogging at its best, you only have to go to Mark’s blog most days of the week.)
Manan Ahmed has something to say about that lurking fear whenever you blog that this is not really ‘productive’.
The Little Professor asks why a pseudonymous writer in the (generally much derided, from what I can see) first person columns of the Chronicle of Higher Education should have any more credibility than a blogger.
(Further update) Dan at Trench Fever hits it on the head: “It would be an awful thing if Tribble’s article put off a generation of younger academics who might be tempted to dip their toes into the blogging waters.”
I think all this is important. As Mark points out, we need to be having serious conversations about academic blogging. Where is it going? How can students and young academics at the bottom of the pecking order make the most of it – have fun and make it work for them and their careers?