Hi there. I’m George, an
assistant associate (as of 16 August 2012) professor of English. This website is mostly about language, literature, history, technology, and higher education, but I’m likely to address other things from time to time. I try to be serious without being boring, professional without being stuffy.
Not everyone believes that academic blogs have value, and some believe they are a professional liability.1 However, those who write academic blogs have written much more eloquently about their advantages than any critic has written about their disadvantages. Liz Lawley, for example, has found that “[s]tarting a blog has been the most influential professional act I’ve ever taken.” For Rebecca A. Goetz, who brought empirical depth to the conversation by conducting an online survey of academic bloggers, “the typical hierarchies of the ivory tower break down in the blogosphere so that even graduate students can be public intellectuals of a kind.” Sharon Howard points out that “[t]his is an amazing opportunity to reach out [to] a slightly different audience than in the usual academic contexts.” Matt Kirschenbaum has regularly described his blog as “a kind of public academic workbench.” Miriam Jones writes that “[a]nyone who is not at least reading online is missing a significant professional discourse.” There is much to be gained from this new form of communication and the relationships engendered by it.
Of course, no encomium to blogging would make a bit of difference if bloggers were being denied jobs and tenure because of their online activities. The evidence, however, is overwhelming that blogging has little to no negative effect upon professional careers. Only one case has come across my radar in which a blogger didn’t make tenure: Daniel Drezner announced that he was denied tenure at the University of Chicago on October 8, 2005; less than a month later, however, he had accepted a tenured position at Tufts University. In Drezner’s case, it is not at all clear that blogging was the reason for not making tenure, and it obviously did not get in the way of his being able to find a rewarding job somewhere else. Furthermore, on my reading list alone are several examples of bloggers whose careers have progressed quite nicely: Liz Lawley, Elouise Oyzon, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Miriam Burstein, and Miriam Jones have all gotten tenure while blogging; Rebecca Goetz, Caleb McDaniel, and Ryan Claycomb were all offered tenure-track jobs while blogging. Although what one says in a blog is obviously important, there is little reason to believe that the mere act of blogging has a detrimental effect upon one’s academic career.2
Many different voices are arguing that there’s a crisis in scholarly communication,3 and blogging is one of the emergent communicative forms that are being used to address that crisis. In between writing for peer-reviewed publications and writing drafts that might never see the light of day, there has to be space for writing that is shared with others in a public venue like this. WorkBook is a tool for sketching out rough (and not so rough) ideas, for asking others to provide me with feedback on my teaching and research, for pointing to interesting material online, and for responding to the thoughts of other writers who use such online tools to write. WorkBook also allows readers who might not otherwise read my material to see what I do as a professor.
I write here because it helps me think through complex issues. I write here because it helps others think through complex issues, too. I write here because this makes writing addictive and enjoyable, instead of fraught with anxiety. I write here because I believe it makes me a better writer. I’m not alone. This list at Crooked Timber is a good indication of how many people who work in higher education write in this way. If you read this, I hope you’ll join the conversations that take place here.
- An extremely unsympathetic attitude is best represented by two pseudonymous columns published in the Chronicle of Higher Education in the summer of 2005: “Bloggers Need Not Apply” and “They Shoot Messengers, Don’t They?” See also Robert S. Boynton’s “Attack of the Career-Killing Blogs.”
- Scott Jaschik’s “Too Much Information” considers the risks and rewards of academic blogging.
- See, for example, the following diverse views: John Unsworth, “Electronic Scholarship, or Scholarly Publishing and the Public” (1994); Association of Research Libraries, “FAQ: Scholarly Communication” and “Principles for Emerging Systems of Scholarly Publishing” (2000); Stephen Greenblatt, “A Letter to MLA Members” (2002); Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “On the Future of Academic Publishing, Peer Review, and Tenure Requirements” (2006).