Reflections on Blogging

It’s now been over a year since I started history-ing and over a month since my last post, so I thought I’d ease back into writing by reflecting on a year in the blogosphere.

1. Intellectual stimulation

One of the most jarring changes going from a college lifestyle to the workforce was the lack of academic stimulation on a daily basis. and problem-solving transitioned from a classroom to the office. Having a blog gave me an impetus to really think about issues. It forced me to write (semi) regularly, to think about issues, to engage in at least a limited conversation on intellectual topics I cared about. Instead of being a passive consumer of ideas, posts, articles, essays, and books, I became an active one.

The knowledge that my writing would be open and available for anyone to read and judge made me think even harder to develop my own ideas and opinions. If you write a shitty paper in a college seminar, the professor gives you a shitty grade and you file it away. If you write a shitty post, it’s out there for anyone to read. Employers, colleagues, professors, admissions people - all of them now have a growing body of my writing to read, disagree with, and critique if they’re so inclined. For an unestablished scholar like myself, this provides some major motivation to really think and work at what I write.

2. Joining a community

Blogging also let me jump into a vibrant online community of digital historians and humanists. Instead of being something of a sideline observer, I laced up and joined the fray. Doing so not only exposed me to a wide range of new ideas and possibilities, but also introduced me to a number of fascinating and inspiring people - many of whom I met in person at the AAHC and THATCamp conferences. Especially for a younger scholar like myself, having a blog gave me confidence in my credentials and allowed me to participate in a wider dialogue.

Moving forward, the connections I’ve made through blogging (and on a noisier level, Twitter) will serve me for a long time to come. I’ve been lucky in that before I’ve even stepped foot inside a graduate classroom, I’ve have had the opportunity to interact with so many people who I (hope) will be my future colleagues and collaborators. In the insular world of traditional academics, this is a relative rarity.

3. Feedback

I’m a firm believer that there’s no point in writing into a void. While much of my blogging was “for myself,” in that I wrote about what interested me, the most rewarding part by far is the response I’ve received. There is certainly an egotistical and superficial element to checking  site-visit stats. But there is some validity to the point that my writing has already reached a larger audience in a year than all of my undergraduate writing put together. By a long shot. For example, my most popular post, by almost a 2:1 factor, is a rudimentary text analysis of Venture Smith’s narrative. As of today, it had been viewed over a thousand times. This metric might be a tiny drop in the blogosphere bucket, but it will certainly eclipse any audience I’ll have for my traditional academic research, at least in the near future.

One of the more rewarding episodes occurred recently, when a local Connecticut writer contacted me through my blog because she was interested in  Venture Smith. She had stumbled across my posts talking about my undergraduate research on Venture Smith, and had been inspired to do some truly remarkable research on her own. We met yesterday, and I was thrilled to find that not only had she uncovered a fascinating new development, but that it directly related to work I had done. I was humbled to hear that my blog had been an impetus for her to get involved in the Venture Smith community. It served as a great reminder of how blogs can increase transparency and lower barriers between academics and the wider public.

I’m not sure what the future will hold for history-ing. There are bad as well as good aspects of maintaining a blog, and it remains to be seen whether it will survive the time-drain of graduate school. Regardless, blogging at history-ing has been, and I hope will continue to be, an enriching experience.