Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Few Thoughts on OAH Panel "Is Blogging Scholarship?"

I thoroughly enjoyed sitting on a panel with Jeff Pasley, Anne Little, Michael O'Malley, Ben Alpers, and Ken Owen this morning to talk about historians and blogging.  You can read Michael Hattem's storification of the tweets from the session here.

Ann Little of Historiann fame got us off to a solid start.  Since she posted her comments before the session, a a few members of the panel (myself included) used part of their brief remarks to respond to Ann.  Is blogging scholarship?  Ann answered the question in the negative.  She could not get around the idea that the things we write on blogs cannot be subjected to peer review and thus could not formally be called scholarship.  Everything else she said about blogging was extremely positive.  She encouraged scholars to try to make a case for blogging as scholarship (although she warned pre-tenured faculty from doing so) and extolled the value of blogging for professional development and the development of writing habits. In the end, Historiann was a realist.  She was just not convinced that departments will accept blogging as scholarship when it comes to tenure and promotion.  She is largely correct.

I was up next.  I began with Ernest Boyer's 1990 essay Scholarship Reconsidered.  Boyer seeks to expand the idea of scholarship to include the scholarship of discovery (traditional research in books and articles), the scholarship of integration (synthetic work), the scholarship of application (bringing historical thinking skills and knowledge to the public), and the scholarship of teaching.  I argued that all four of these types of scholarship can be accomplished on a blog, but especially the scholarship of integration, application, and teaching.  I said that schools like Messiah College and others that have adopted Boyer's categories might consider blogging as "scholarship."

Michael O'Malley said that blogging is a form of scholarship, or at least is should be.  Blogging has the potential to be a venue that integrates the glowing personal reflections of a book's "acknowledgements" page(s) with the detached scholarly analysis found in the rest of the book.  Scholars are in the business of "making meaning" and blogging is a way for historians to share their personal struggles to make meaning out of the past.

Ben Alpers has done a lot of thinking about blogging.  He challenged the panel and the audience to separate "scholarship" from considerations related to promotion and tenure.  Scholarship does not have to be connected to peer review or the demands placed upon academics at their home institutions. He offered several advantages to blogging: speed, dissemination, inter-activity, flexibility, and hypertextuality.  Blogging also has its disadvantages: speed is not always good when doing historical research, blogging demands constant content, blogging is informal (it does not feel "scholarly" and when it tries to be "scholarly" it does not feel like blogging), blog posts are short.  He also reminded us that blog posts are always "works in progress," but they are also published.

Finally, Ken Owen talked about his experience at The Junto and his attempts to get his work at the blog to count toward his tenure at a school that values the Ernest Boyer model of scholarship.  

During the Q&A session several non-academic historians pushed the panel to see blogging as a way of engaging the public outside of the academy.  Several panelists and audience members rejected the idea that there should be AHA guidelines about what constitutes good blogging.  In a discussion about how to convince history departments that blogging was a legitimate form of scholarship, Clare Potter, a.k.a. "Tenured Radical," said that bloggers need to convince their departments that "not everything on a computer is the same."  

Thanks to Rosemarie Zagarri for bringing this panel together and Jeff Pasley for chairing it.  There was so much more I could have said about blogging (it has been a part of my life for over five years now), but I encourage you to keep reading The Way of Improvement Leads Home to get a better sense of what we are doing here.

With that, I think my OAH 2014 blogging and tweeting has come to an end.  Thanks for following this weekend.  

2 comments:

Historiann said...

Hi John--it was great to meet you finally.

I'd like to make one minor correction to your otherwise fine summary of our panel: I didn't say that "the things we write on blogs cannot be subjected to peer review." Rather I said that speaking for myself as the author of a single-author blog that blogs like mine *are* not peer reviewed. I'm sure we could devise some professional standards and system for peer review (at least ex post facto) of the sort that Ben Alpers suggested if the AHA or OAH wanted to do this, but as of now it doesn't exist.

There seems to be a tension, however, between the people who want to develop these professional standards (Ben) and those like Michael O'Malley who both want blogs to count as scholarship but resist any kind of professional regulation or peer scrutiny. I don't think we can have it both ways, but that's something that people can make their own decisions about. There's nothing inherent in blogs that makes them un-peer-reviewable; it's not the medium, it's the individual choices of bloggers that determine whether or not a blog is professionally oriented or run.

John Fea said...

Thanks for the that clarification, Ann. I think you are correct about this tension. As much as I like O'Malley's take, I think that you and Ben are more realistic about things.