Friday, October 3, 2014

Christian Historians and Social Media: Part 4

Paul Putz (tall guy in the back row wearing a jacket, blue shirt, and dark tie) was part of a very distinguished group of faculty and graduate students from Baylor University who attended the CFH meeting in Malibu
Today is Paul Putz's turn to post the presentation he gave at the Christian Historians and Social Media panel at the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History.  Paul is a graduate student in history at Baylor University. I thought his presentation added a much-needed perspective on how we historians can and should use social media. Paul was MUCH more prepared for this session than I was.  While I tried to string together some random thoughts scribbled on a small piece of paper, Paul read a stirring paper that did a wonderful job of linking the practice of blogging with Christian virtues.  Somebody hire this guy!

For an introduction to the session and the series of posts that have appeared this 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.  You can also read my contribution to the roundtable here.  Chris Gehrz's contribution to the roundtable can be found at his blog, The Pietist Schoolman.

Here is a taste of Paul's post:

I’ll begin with a potential drawback to online engagement: the issue of time management. Blogging and tweeting does not a historian make. I cannot put on my CV, “Had link to a blog post retweeted by Paul Harvey.” As a graduate student, I need to be learning how to understand and engage with the scholarship of historians who have come before me. I need to be digging into archives, writing and reading as much as possible, and learning how to effectively teach undergraduates. There is no doubt that blogging, tweeting, and facebooking can take up time that should be going towards developing the skills needed to be a historian.

With that said, thinking of online activity as merely superfluous to the serious work of the graduate student misses its potential to help one develop the skills needed to be a historian. After all, I do have the option to choose what I blog about. Most of my blog posts are either condensed versions of research I have done for a paper or for a class, or they are reviews of books that I would likely read even if I wasn't going to blog about them. The blogging, then, becomes a public expression and extension of the activities that I am already doing (or should be doing) as a graduate student. With book reviews in particular, it forces me to carefully read and assess a book and think about how it fits in with relevant historiography. Since my words will be public for all to see, and since the author himself or herself might read my review, there is an added pressure for me to fairly describe the shape and argument of the book.

Of course, this awareness that anyone – and particularly, that established historians – could read what I write leads to another potential problem: the desire for affirmation. As a graduate student, I should be developing my own voice and beginning the process of stepping out with confidence in my own assessments. The unseen pressure of an imagined audience of historians waiting to pick apart a misstated phrase can hinder that process. This problem is not unique to online writing, however. Graduate students experience the same anxiety, perhaps on a smaller scale, when writing papers for their professors. Online writing, then, can become another arena in which to fight a tendency already present in the offline classroom. As for other measures of affirmation that are unique to the online experience – page views, favorites, likes, and retweets – I will have more to say later in this paper.