This week, I’ve asked students in my digital history course to read and write a response to Dan Cohen’s article, “Professors Start Your Blogs.” Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve been invited to be part of a panel on women historians who blog for the “Little Berks” in October. My co-panelists are Clio Bluestocking and Tenured Radical. So, I figure this is a good time to reflect on how this blog got started and why I continue to blog.
I first started this blog after attending a workshop at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. I must confess that I was somewhat skeptical about starting a blog — I shared many of the misgivings expressed in Cohen’s article. I also weighed the pros and cons of showing my identity on the blog. Finally, I decided that the advantages of using the blog to publicize my work outweighed the dangers of going public. Also, I share Tenured Radical’s opinion that being up front about one’s identity keeps one honest. Also, I think it’s better to reveal yourself than to be “outed” by others. Nevertheless, I respect the reasons why Clio Bluestocking and other untenured faculty and graduate students choose to keep their identities hidden.
Since I’m relatively new to blogging, I’m still trying to find a blogging style and focus. My posts are not as long or as thoughtful as Tenured Radical, but then again, I have a heavier teaching load than she does. I also tend not to post anything unless I have something I think others would like to read. For that reason, I tend to avoid whining about my personal life or writing about trivial matters such as what I had for breakfast (yogurt with granola if you’re interested). The periodic posts on my book club selections are mainly for the benefit of my mother-in-law, who likes to know what I’m reading.
I also am still trying to find my niche among the various history blogs. The blogroll at History News Network lists me under “academic lives” — I suppose this will do for now since I write about a range of topics. I tend to follow Cohen’s suggestion that the academic blog be used for “notes from the field” — which is why there are so many posts on conferences and workshops I’ve attended (and soon I’ll have a post on the one I just attended — but not until I finish getting caught up on the work that’s accumulated during my absence!)
Finally, I aim to make this blog a platform for activism on issues that matter to me — such as women’s health, gender equity, and disability rights. So far, I’m not sure if I’ve had much of an impact — the largest number of hits came on the day I posted about Britney Spears, Owen Wilson, and mental illness, and that was only about 150! Nevertheless, I persist.
Why do you say you have no niche? Yours is the go-to blog for history of university student life and for the history of sexuality and reproductive health. I think carving out a niche based on your area of specialization is the way to go–and then venture out from there, if that’s your style. You’ve done that.
There’s a new book coming out by UNC press this winter that you will be interested in: The Company He Keeps, by Nicholas Syrett. It’s a history of white fraternities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Although it’s not directly related to your work, it might work well if you teach a seminar on college life…but since Syrett is also a historian of sexuality, you might find some information there that would be of interest.
While you and I blog on totally different topics, we agree on one thing. That our blogs are a platform for issues that matter to each of us. For me, it’s being a military spouse, but also to remind women of things they seem to be forgetting!