World enough and time

In different ways, Great War Fiction, Investigations of a Dog, Break of Day in the Trenches and Victoria’s Cross have all discussed the experience, costs and value of blogging. Esther at BODITT points out that in the reflexive, insular world of blogging, a certain degree of navel gazing is inevitable. But I feel the need to participate, despite her somewhat worldweary tone (and otherwise, I’d just be commenting, and I get told off for that) Victoria’s Cross argues that: ‘So, lecturers must blog more. Blogging is the start, it provides a visible rallying point for developing communities. They must get involved in networks and communities beyond the traditional university driven avenues. It is a priority.’

I wholeheartedly agree that the academic blog is a potentially hugely valuable tool – not just for rapid intellectual exchange between the expert, but in order to break down the authority of status and replace it with the authority of expertise. But everyone saying that lecturers should blog more needs to think about how we make decisions about our time. As a rational actor, you prioritize those things that bring you reward of various sorts. If you want to keep your job and hope for promotion, you need to make sure that you:
a) produce RAE valued research,
b) teach well,
c) carry out the admin work you’re given.
If you’re fortunate enough to work in a field with some popular appeal, then you might hope that a) also gives you the chance to have a broader public voice, if you want one, and maybe even earn some money – although both of these will also mean demands on your time. But if you don’t do those three basic things, you won’t be a lecturer any more.

At the moment, blogging might assist me in these tasks, but it isn’t a task in itself. When the RAE decides to validate blogging, that might change. I might believe – hell, I do believe – that developing history online is crucial to the future of the profession. But that is not a responsibility that any one person should be asked to take on themselves alone, if the result is that they will sacrifice their career. The blogging community benefits more from having those on the inside who are in favour of it than encouraging us to give up our employment prospects for the collective good.

What should lecturers do?
a) be aware of their online presence
b) be open to the potential benefits of the loss of hierarchy and status that the internet involves, and commit to improve the way history is understood online, rather than rejecting an imperfect tool as useless.
(I have a great example here. A friend recently found his book reviewed, he felt inaccurately, in a blog. He was angry and unsure about whether he should respond. I asked him to think about how many times people read things that we write in print and misunderstand them. What is remarkable about blogging is that we have a chance to correct those misunderstandings and to work out why they happened, so our writing will improve in the future).
c) blog as frequently as they can, and if they feel that that’s not frequent enough to ensure a steady readership, then explore cooperation
d) proselytize blogging to their colleagues, students and institutions
e) keep their jobs

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6 Responses to World enough and time

  1. Dan:

    Despite the fact that the upper echelons of university life fail to see the potential of improved internet interaction, lecturers should continue to blog. This is a catch 22 – the importance of blogs will not be recognised until it has an impact on the psychical world, this will not happen until enough lecturers are blogging regularly.

    I love the idea of a collaborative blog and suspect this would go some way to solve the ‘time’ issue.

  2. […] Trench Fever Great War Fiction Investigations of a Dog Break of Day in the Trenches […]

  3. Chris Williams says:

    A lecturer writes:

    Dan’s hit the nail on the head here, especially that bit about the RAE. I’d add (f) “If you can’t (or wont’) blog, comment.

  4. […] importance of blogging as a tool for military historians. It is best summarised by Dan Todman at Trench Fever and Dr Esther MacCallum-Stewart at Break of Day in the […]

  5. Esther says:

    tsk. Consider yourself told off for not commenting *grins*

    I love comments. For a start, the good ones prompt new debate and, perhaps really importantly, make me think in new ways (or just tell me I’m wrong – that’s no bad thing either!) I just don’t like the ones that aim derisive and usually personal comments at my appearance – although I’m hoping to do a swap with George (http://www.investigations.4-lom.com/2007/05/08/six-months-is-a-long-time/#comment-4125)

  6. Dan says:

    I have in the past suffered from a tendency to write overly long comments, which has encouraged others to suggest that I should think about writing here first. Didn’t mean to suggest that _you’d_ tell me off.

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