Amber Regis :: "Looking Glasses At Odd Corners"

Life-writing, literature, popular culture.

On Academic Blogging

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?

Become a Famous Blogger by Dave Walker
Source: We Blog Cartoons

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:

1. Paul Dobraszczyk, a Leverhulme Early-Career Research Fellow at the University of Manchester, an historian with interests in art, architecture and material culture. Paul blogs at Rag Picking History and he provides a strikingly visual account of his travels and research into Victorian ironworks and unusual spaces (such as a recent post on the Williamson Tunnels in Liverpool).

2. 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.

3. 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, 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…

12 comments on “On Academic Blogging

  1. Catherine Bates
    February 5, 2012

    I don't blog but I am considering it. I was thinking of having one about rubbish to try and have a place where i collect all the material about rubbish, but also collect my own ideas, like a big academic dump. Since I also write about the autobiographical I have been put off; it has made me a bit self-conscious. I am unsure how to present myself, what voice and tone to take on. But you are an inspiration – I am not sure I could be so eloquent as you but I might give it a go. I really like your blog-writing- it treads the line between academic and conversational writing so well and I think is a good demonstration to other non-academic people of how humanities researchers, are always, in some sense, researching….anyway, I will let you know if I do start blogging and I am looking forward to your article and finding out what the other bloggers have to say for themselves. Coolio!


  2. Ariel Szuch
    February 7, 2012

    I'm an undergraduate student in the United States, and I originally started blogging because it was part of a class I was taking. Eventually blogging became not just a way to meet class requirements, but to document my learning process, synthesize ideas, and facilitate interaction with other people. I, like you, firmly believe that the process, not just the final product, has value. I find myself running into the same concerns that Catherine has–how do I present myself and present what I'm learning in ways that are easy to understand for people other than my classmates? How do you deal with this problem? I just came across your blog via Twitter, and I'm very interested to read what more you have to say on this subject.


  3. crazybookwhore
    February 7, 2012

    I've only just started blogging, but it's something that was on the dreaded 'to do list' for a while. I think mostly, I wanted to be able to talk about books in both an academic and non-academic medium. It's always fascinated me to see what others have made of a novel. Theoretically there is no one interpretation of a piece of literature, so before you start throwing all the various schools of theory at it, there is always a discussion point.


  4. crazybookwhore
    February 7, 2012

    I like the idea of discussing books with others, in both academic and non academic ways. There are multiple interpretations of Literature, and as dear Barthes says, it's what you bring an individual to the text that forms your opinion. What I make of something is different to someone else, and it's that which interests me before you start to throw all the various schools of theory at something.


  5. AmberRegis
    February 7, 2012

    Thanks for your comment, Catherine! I would love to read a blog about your research into waste, and I think the idea for an 'academic dump' is fantastic. I know we share an interest in the autobiographical and you're certainly right that it makes one a little self-conscious, but I also think this is no bad thing — you'll be a self-reflective blogger with a critical eye turned towards the medium you're using and the narratives you construct! Get blogging!And thanks for your kind words about 'Looking Glasses At Odd Corners' — I really enjoy writing posts, and I hope people enjoy reading them!


  6. AmberRegis
    February 7, 2012

    Thanks for your comment Ariel! I'm so pleased you found my blog — I've found using Twitter and blogging in combination to be a powerful way to reach new and different audiences. I don't feel like I've yet found the perfect blog 'voice' — looking back through some of my posts, I sometimes spot academic jargon creeping in unnecessarily. I try to counter this by writing on topics I find genuinely interesting, and which I would also like to read. I think it might be this 'fun' in the voice that's the key to a well-read blog. Any thoughts?


  7. AmberRegis
    February 7, 2012

    Thanks for visiting and reading the blog! Your idea that blogging suits multiple viewpoints and encourages multiple readings is a really intriguing one. Whereas academic print — whether on paper or online — is a fixed medium, blogging allows for ideas to change and develop across successive posts. Different posts can also address the same idea from different angles. I've written linked series of posts on 'objects/material culture' and 'celebrity memoirs', and I've written in response to other bloggers (see my second post on 'objects/material culture'). This flexibility, and these dialogues, are difficult to accomplish in more formal, academic mediums.One other thing intrigues me, however. Your reference to the dreaded 'to do list' makes blogging seems like business rather than pleasure — what were your motives for starting a blog?


  8. Charlotte Mathieson
    February 7, 2012

    I was thinking about your opening comments re: identity and blogging, in particular the idea of "the multiple performances that comprise professional identity". Something I like about my research blog is that, whilst it pulls together some of those multiple strands of professional identity (e.g. conferences, researching), it also provides an outlet which is all *me* as a researcher: not a teacher, or my role as ECR officer, just the researcher. When I think about it, it's the only "space" that I have in which to section off, and devote time to, that part of myself- something which, on a day-to-day basis of teaching and working, I don't get much time to do. I guess my blog is own little space of academic indulgence where I shut out everything else (my room of one's own, as it were!). I wonder if this is partly because my online identity is quite clearly divided into 3 separate strands though, as I have a blog for ECR work and 2 for my teaching; sometimes maintaining 4 blogs is quite a handful, but at the same time it keeps those parts of me more distinct than in other aspects of my life.


  9. AmberRegis
    February 8, 2012

    Thanks for your comment Charlotte! I think the autonomy that blogging offers is one of its many attractions. The control you have over the regularity, length, subject matter and appearance of posts is something we don't enjoy in other areas of professional life. But I'm intrigued by your description of your own blog as an 'academic indulgence' — does this mean you see it as something that's in addition to your responsibilities as a researcher/lecturer? Something you do on your own time, not on work's time (unless it's your 'work blogs' for ECRs and students)? Even though your own blog is hosted by your institution?I suppose the question I'm posing is this… Is academic blogging an unpaid extra?


  10. Charlotte
    February 8, 2012

    yes- I'm not funded to research, as I'm on a variety of part-time contracts for teaching and ECR work. Those jobs add up to more than a full-time week, so my "free" time is the only time I get for research, hence anything like blogging is done purely on my own time. Unfortunately a lot of things are an unpaid extra! (it would even be stretching it to say the teaching blog is covered by my fixed hourly rate).I suppose the obvious argument is, then why blog? wouldn't the "research" time be better spent on research, papers etc? Of course sometimes it is, and if I have a whole chunk of time free then the book or a paper is my top priority; but often the free time I do have is "dead" time in terms of research – the end of a long day when I'm tired from teaching, a couple of hours mid-day when my head is cluttered, or at 7am when I'm doing emails over breakfast… I know that I tend to find it hard to productively use much of that time for "proper" research, but writing a blog isn't so demanding and can be picked up and put down more easily. In a busy schedule, it's a way of easily keeping in there with the research on a day-to-day basis which I know I otherwise struggle to do.


  11. Ariel Szuch
    February 9, 2012

    I definitely think the "fun" aspect is important. I know I've written something well if I want to go back and read it over and over again. (Vain? Perhaps. But hey–if you don't like to read your own writing, why would anyone else?) People may start reading blogs solely for subject matter, but they stay reading blogs because of the voice of the person writing it. I agree that interesting topics are also a must. The realization came to me much later than it should've that if you actually CARE about what you're writing, your writing is much more engaging (novel idea, isn't it?). I think the direction I would like to go on my blog is toward a more general, educated audience. I don't think you can explain all the background information for the topic of every post, but posts should be understandable to someone not in your area of specialty. It has been a struggle for me. But I think having to explain some of the concepts I'm learning about to an educated lay audience will force me to learn the content better. I also struggle to post regularly–how do you integrate blogging into what you're already doing?


  12. crazybookwhore
    February 17, 2012

    I'll concede, maybe 'dreaded to do list' was the wrong phrasing. More that list of things you want to, yet never seem to have time for. I think my main motivation was to discuss books in a more wider forum, and maybe without the academic side that comes with studying novels at University. As a recent post on my blog has highlighted, an author that drives me to absolute madness, is one that someone else loves. Which at times makes me wonder, what did I miss ? But then again, we all see something different when we read something.


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This entry was posted on February 5, 2012 by in academic, blogging, early-career, Victorian.

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Except where otherwise stated, "Looking Glasses at Odd Corners" is © Amber Regis and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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