Confessions of a Blogger Historian

I’ve been blogging nearly every day for five years. I find it seductive. Each day I experiment with trying to tell a tale in staccato style. Punctuation, backstory, and truth are less important than the story of the moment. Hyperlinks and parentheticals flesh out some detail. At times the writing is purposefully obtuse as a nod to my in-group of readers.

licking thoreau

Getting a taste of history

Then there’s the seduction of constant navel-gazing. My readers seem to find me (and my self-absorbed stories) fascinating enough to return regularly (read: HUGE ego-boost). In meatspace I’m a fairly straightlaced and nondescript Mom living in the suburbs of the OC. On the blog I’m crass, cranky and quirky.

Yet what I find the most seductive about blogging is the continued experimentation. It’s a challenge to find something new to say every day and to find new ways of saying it (especially when my life is just a mundane mix of grad school, parenting, and spiritual seeking–it’s hard to imagine more boring story fodder). So I have to think about how best to ‘hook’ my readers, how to provoke a response, and how to write with such skill that my posts are linked by larger blogs.

Now that I’m addicted to blogging, I wonder how it will affect my professional life. Though I’m a few years from facing the job market, I can’t help my think that search committees might be put-off by my flower photos and rambling observations. Often I vow to stop blogging and focus my time on more legitimate academic pursuits (just think, people, of all the book reviews I could be writing instead of blogging!).

But then I consider this: Blogging lubricates my writing muscles. Pounding out a two paragraph post during my morning latte primes me for a day of historical inquiry. I’ve also learned plenty about the technical back-end of digital humanities that I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered. Creating a website? Easy. Putting together a podcast? Not too hard. Adopting new technologies for research? Not much of a learning curve.

the fam

Additionally, as a historian with interests in disability studies and radical feminism, blogging offers a groundbreaking platform for grassroots political activism and community-creation. On both of these fronts, I am convinced that we are making history with each blogpost.

Right now job-market uncertainties seem too far away to sweat about whether to continue sharing my shameful confessions. Yet for many months now I’ve kept my writing here on MHP fairly professional and dispassionate (read: dry). I’ve decided that it’s time to have a bit more fun so I can keep my continued interest in the podcast and blog. I hope you’ll come along for the ride and take the risk to jump in and leave a few comments, or even volunteer to join in the fray by contributing a guest post or a podcast interview.

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3 Responses to Confessions of a Blogger Historian

  1. Penny says:

    I don’t think blogging makes my writing more artful, but it certainly makes it easier for me to get SOMETHING down in sentences and paragraphs. I’m a way faster utility writer than I used to be, and I credit blogging and other frequent online writing.

    Maybe it’s really the magic of Sitemeter, knowing there’s an audience that might actually (gasp) talk back? So much academic writing in print, you know maybe a handful of people will definitely read it, a few more might skim through, and the rest, who knows? Online, you know what your traffic is…and where they are, and how long they stay, etc.

  2. Elaine says:

    I wouldn’t let worries that blogging might seem incompatible with a career in academia stop you from blogging in your own unique style, Jana.

    First of all, I hate the attitude that some academics I’ve come in contact with have, that in order to consider oneself an academic, everything one does, thinks, and says must be Serious. Because that is just ridiculous. People who take that attitude are just boring. And you are not boring, Jana.

    Your flower photos and “rambling observations”, which I often don’t find rambling at all by the way, show that you are a whole person, and that you are not just focused solely on one narrow aspect of life.

    I’ve also got to add that I deplore the idea that academic writing must be dry to be acceptable. In that connection, I’m just beginning to reread “Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth,” by Richard Fortey, a paleontologist. He writes, on page 25, in explaining his approach to his book:

    “And where my own experiences with people or places will serve to bring the process of investigation alive then I shall make diversions, the better to illuminate the way forward. Scientists are supposed to eliminate their personal voice, which no doubt works admirably for technical journals, but such spurious objectivity jettisons an awareness of much of what makes the process of discovery exciting, interesting, and informed with the whole inventory of our frailties and virtues.”

    How much more applicable this is, I think, to your work in history, which in some senses really amounts to a cataloging of “our frailties and virtues.”

    Well, I don’t know how much relevance my musings on this are, considering that I’ve only earned a BA and haven’t (yet) been in a position to go on to grad school. But I offer my thoughts for whatever they are worth.

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