Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Christian Historians and Social Media: Part 2

Tweeting from the platform
Today is my turn to post my presentation at the Christian Historians and Social Media panel at the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History, held last weekend in sunny Malibu, California.  For an introduction to the session and the series of posts that will appear all week, see Jonathan Den Hartog's post at Historical Conversations.  I also live-tweeted the session from the platform. You can read those tweets @johnfea1 or #cfh2014  --JF

1.  How did I begin blogging?

When my first book appeared in 2008, a publicist at the University of Pennsylvania Press suggested that I start a blog to help promote it.  I took her up on her suggestion, signed up for a Blogger account, and began blogging at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Many of my early posts were related to the book or the character of Philip Vickers Fithian (the subject of the book), but as I developed a small (very small) readership I began branching out into other topics.  I eventually decided that I would narrow my focus to American history (with an emphasis on early American history and American religious history, my fields of specialization), American religion, and the academic life.  As my readers know, I reserve the right to take excursions into politics, Bruce Springsteen, writing sheds, and music.  After all, it is my blog.

2.  Platform Blogging

The Way of Improvement Leads Home has become an important part of my professional profile.  In this sense, I have sought to forge an alternative academic/intellectual life than most academic historians.  It has become a platform.  Most of my work as a speaker, writer, and teacher, builds off of this platform. There are several series of posts that have become staples at the blog.  They are "Sunday Night Odds and Ends," "So What CAN You Do with a History Major?" "John Fea's Virtual Office Hours," and "The Author's Corner." Most recently I have been blogging my way through the writing of my forthcoming book on the American Bible Society. I have received book contracts and speaking engagements based on this platform and I have used the blog in my teaching and as part of my outreach to the larger public. This is why I spend anywhere from 1-2 hours a day blogging.

3.  My Philosophy of Blogging

Everyone blogs differently.  My model for blogging is Andrew Sullivan's The Dish.  Though I do not post as regularly as Sullivan (blogging is not my full-time job), I do try to throw up at least 2-3 posts a day.  My posts are often links to other articles or blog sites that I find interesting with a sentence or two of my own commentary. Because I post so regularly, I have developed a loyal following.  Many of my readers check in every day, so when I have something important to say (or at least what I think is important) in an original contribution I already have a built-in readership.

4. Is Blogging Scholarship?

Not in the traditional sense, because it is not peer reviewed.  But I do think that blogging is a form of public scholarship and should be considered as a form of teaching or service when professors go up for tenure and promotion.  Having said that, if scholarship is understood in a much wider way--such as the various forms of scholarship promoted by educator Ernest L. Boyer--blogging could very well be considered scholarship.  A lot of this depends on the institution.  I discussed this last Spring at a session on blogging at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians.

I blog out of a passion to reach a larger audience.  My readership at The Way of Improvement Leads Home includes academics, graduate students, history buffs, pastors, and Christian laypeople.  I think my blog bridges the gap between the study of American history and the church.