Is Blogging Scholarship?

Is Blogging Scholarship? A provocative question for a blog title, but not the deepest, which perhaps is a characteristic weakness of the blog as a medium. Ask a foreboding question, which hints that strongly negative views may follow after the link, in order to attract clicks. Whether you answer the question (or whether the question is well formulated) is besides the point. What matters is the moment of suspense, which drives readers to read further, which perhaps is a characteristic strength of the blog as a medium. Blogs are constructed with reader interest in mind.

And I’ve really been enjoying reading all the blog posts and tweets that resulted from the OAH’s panel last Sunday on the question: Is Blogging Scholarship? I haven’t much enjoyed the OAH on the occasions that I’ve participated (to be honest), but reading about it from afar can be fun. Kudos to John FeaAnn Little, Ken Owen, Joseph Adelman, Mike O’Malley, Ben Alpers, Michael Hattem, and Caleb McDaniel for the reportage and analysis.

All the serious head-scratching has made me reflect on my own blogging practices, and even more so on my lack of seriousness about my practices. Of course as a tenured professor I have more liberty to be unserious than graduate students anticipating the job market, alt-academics working from outside the ivory tower, or untenured faculty preparing to be judged by a committee of their peers. Yada yada yada, Can we talk about something fun now?

The fun I have in mind, of course, is history blogging. I realize that fun wasn’t the subject of conversation last Sunday, as it rarely is in disciplinary discussions. And last Sunday’s panel title felt very disciplining. Is blogging scholarship? A negative answer has negative value, a positive answer has positive: i.e. yes, blogging is valuable because it’s scholarship; or no, blogging is not valuable because it’s not scholarship. In short, the phrasing of the question served to remind speakers, audience members, and spectators like myself of the significance of “scholarship” as our ultimate value. The answer to the question hardly mattered, because the question had set the hierarchy aright.

Just reading the question makes me feel guilty, and triggers a self-disciplining instinct to do better. I hadn’t thought about judging the scholarship value of my blog before, I better hop to it! It’s not the first time I’ve felt this disciplining pressure. I remember back in graduate school when I learned that fun was not a justifiable rationale for research. There had to be a purpose beyond curiosity and the desire to entertain. If you didn’t have a serious intent you were a decadent. Bad news for me who had applied to graduate school because I thought history was amusing. Luckily, I am a quick learner and soon had conceptualized a dissertation project and first book that would be little fun for anyone.

Book two is more fun to read I hope. But only recently, in launching this blog, have I really given leash to my desire to amuse myself and entertain others. I know I am succeeding on the first count. Writing narratives that incorporate suspense, description, word play, and pictures; picking lightly through the evidence instead of piling it on heavily; integrating past and present, self and subject; the non-purposive nature of the writing itself; all these aspects of my blog have made it a joy to me. And how about the thrill of pressing “publish” and sharing your thoughts in the moment when they matter most to you?

I am well enough disciplined at this point to realize that history is not all about fun. But amidst all this serious discussion I want to throw in a voice for resisting discipline. Now I am going to try and forget that I ever heard about this panel discussion in the first place, and just go on enjoying writing about things that amuse me.




Author: Rachel Hope Cleves

Professor of history at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. Author of Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America (2014), and The Reign of Terror in America (2009). My new book about the notorious writer, Norman Douglas, will be out in October 2020. Now working on a project titled "Good Food, Bad Sex."

3 thoughts

  1. I heartily agree! I didn’t even bother thinking about the question of whether my blog was “scholarship.” I did it because I enjoyed it. Maybe it’s adjacent to what might be more rigorously called my “scholarship.” But it has tremendous value nonetheless.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s