Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pre-conference discussion on medieval blogging

Many moons ago, I proposed a panel for the New Chaucer Society congress in Siena next month on blogging and the idea of community. Yes, other conferences have often featured such panels, but this would be a first for NCS.

I did have a grand plan, at one stage, to set up a pre-conference blog about blogging; and possibly arrange a kind of live, on-line session in the conference so people could twitter in reponses, etc. Especially as I know there are many bloggers who are unable to attend this conference.

But on account of reasons, as they say, it's just going to be a regular panel with four short presentations and a response.

Still, I thought it might be interesting, even at this late stage, to open up a few topics and questions for debate in the comments thread here on humanities researcher. I'd love to hear from you on these or other related questions. I realise they sound a bit like essay/exam questions. Sorry about that: it's the time of year. Oh, and you don't have to be a medievalist to buy in here: comments  on these or other topics are welcome from all.
  • what would you say were the distinctive features, if any, of blogs by medievalists?
  • does blogging build new communities?
  • does blogging affect the way we write (and read) medieval criticism and historical studies?
  • does knowing the "real" identity of the Chaucer blogger affect your sense of (a) his blog or (b) Chaucer?
  • have you read Brantley Bryant's book, Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog? Medieval Studies and New Media?*
  • has medieval blogging (whether you read and/or write blogs) changed the way you think about the nature of academic work?
  • has blogging had any affect on the kind of work you do in medieval studies? 
  • if you could ask Chaucer a question about his blog, what would it be? (no promises, here...)

Here's the lineup of our panel:
Session 60: BLOGGING, VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES, AND MEDIEVAL STUDIES
(Thread M)
Session Organizer: Stephanie Trigg (University of Melbourne, sjtrigg@unimelb.edu.au)
Jeffrey J. Cohen (George Washington University, jjcohen@gwu.edu)
"Blogging Past, Present and Askew"
Carl S. Pyrdum, III (Independent Scholar, cspyrdumiii@gmail.com)
“Blogging on the Margins: Got Medieval, Medieval Blogging, and Mainstream Readership”
Stephanie Trigg (University of Melbourne: sjtrigg@unimelb.edu.au)
“How do you find the time? Work, pleasure, time and blogging”
Jonathan Jarrett (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, jaj20@cam.ac.uk)
“An Englishman's blog is his castle: names, freedom and control in medievalist blogging”
David Lawton (Washington University, Saint Louis), Respondent


* my copy's on its way from the warrior women of the internet, as Chaucer describes them. Hope it gets here before I leave: what a great book for the plane ride!

13 comments:

York CMS Postmedieval Reading Group said...

I think this panel is a) vitally important and b) incredibly interesting, as the question of what sort of space blogging might be opening up, or perhaps negotiating within the academic community is one which should concern us all.

We started our blog (shameless plug: http://hwaettheswyve.blogspot.com) sometime last year, and were originally going to just meander through our lives as budding Medievalists at the University of York, detailing the inevitable trials and tribulations (oh, the dizzying highs and mind-numbing lows) of our MA course. However, when we came up with the idea of the Postmedieval Reading Group, we decided we'd use the 'blog as a tool in what we hoped would become an important interdisciplinary conversation within the Centre for Medieval Studies; a sort of difference engine, I guess, which might lead us to discover new and exciting points of contact between our disciplines (whichever discipline that might be) and our particular passion, critical theory.

As JJ Cohen noted in his essay in Brantley Bryant's book, Sarah Rees Jones (who teaches at York) has long been an advocate of using 'blogs as teaching aids within her classes, allowing more informal discussion to develop once the class has finished (whether for the week or, indeed, for its full 10-weerk run). We really hoped that we, having posted something like three of four posts ourselves (on everything from 'Snorri Seems to be the Hardest Word' to 'Chaucer's Cook/Chaucer's Punk'), that we would be able to hand over the writing of the 'blog to others. We have had a couple of responses - Sam Gonzalez, one of my colleagues here, wrote an interesting and thought-provoking piece on globalizing the Middle Ages, as she is currently working on a really rather exciting project involving a Spanish romance which appears in Tagalog in a single MS.

The papers on this panel intersect, actually, and unsurprisingly so, with a lot of what I had intended to say in this comment - specifically, Stephanie, your paper 'How do you find the time' since, as anyone who ever flits over to our site might have realised, we've been a little quiet of late - we were formerly in essay hell and now are well and truly in our own personal circle of satan's dominion with our dissertations.

Perhaps in the end, I'm thinking as I sit here, blogging does allow for new critical and social connections amongst a community which, save for gatherings like Siena and K'zoo, suffers (and benefits) from a great geographical distance, it allows us to initiate new conversations (how else, for example, would I be able to be so wonderfully preserved and presented in all my pretentious verbosity?). Without reading, for example, 'In the Middle' as an undergraduate, I almost certainly would not have ended up studying the MA I currently am studying, that particular 'blog put me in touch with a community of like-minded medievalists who reinvigorated me at a time when I believed my particular (peculiar?) approach would and could never be assimilated. Brantley's 'blog, meanwhile, allowed Ben and me to reconsider our opinion of medievalists in general, reminding us of the immense possibility for humour both self referential and more widely appealing, at a time when we were unable to be exposed to wonderful endeavours like the Pseudo Soc and the BABEL suite at K'zoo!

Perhaps I've written an awful lot without really saying very much. But then again, that's sort of my prerogative and blogging just wouldn't be the same without a few vain and unnecessary rambles, would it?

-- Mike

Steve Muhlberger said...

* what would you say were the distinctive features, if any, of blogs by medievalists?

They are quite various

* does blogging build new communities?

Perhaps, but they may be quite transient, given that people one thinks of as blog friends are scattered geographically. I am more certain that I have made new individual friends who might well be long-term friends, than I am convinced that the whole network will hang together.

* does blogging affect the way we write (and read) medieval criticism and historical studies?

All that time writing for a wide audience -- 1700+ entries -- has to have had an effect on my writing. Esp since I started writing for my students,and haven't forgotten them.
* does knowing the "real" identity of the Chaucer blogger affect your sense of (a) his blog or (b) Chaucer?

No.
* have you read Brantley Bryant's book, Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog? Medieval Studies and New Media?*

No.

* has medieval blogging (whether you read and/or write blogs) changed the way you think about the nature of academic work?

We talk a lot about outreach to the wider community. Blogging makes it possible, and I think my blogging is an important contribution to my professional role.

* has blogging had any affect on the kind of work you do in medieval studies?

How I do it, yes (see above); choice of subjects, no.

* if you could ask Chaucer a question about his blog, what would it be? (no promises, here...)

No questions.

Word verification = choppe. Middle English?

Mindy said...

Does blogging build new communities - most definitely. I haven't met a lot of the people I blog with, but I plan to. Even if I don't ever meet them I will still consider them friends and the support I get from them is real.

Hannah Kilpatrick said...

I wish I could be there - it sounds like fun! Sadly (or perhaps ironically), I will actually be in Australia for once.

Eileen Joy said...

I think medievalist blogging, in some respects, has had an enormous impact on community-building within certain sectors of medieval studies [especially those that favor collaborations between graduate students in medieval studies, younger scholars, and some established figures, such as yourself and Jeffrey, who have used blogs to share work-in-progress and to talk candidly about the various travails of an academic professional life, as well as the intersections [some joyful, some more anxiety-ridden] between our personal and professional lives. We can be honest and say that the interwebs rarely live up to all the hype that is ballyhooed on their behalf; at the same time, I can honestly say that I'm not sure I would have the career I have know if it were not for the connections I have made via In The Middle and other virtual medievalist spaces. I would second what Michael Pryke says here about the impediment of long geographical distances that make it difficult to be proximate to each other in ways that would sustain long-term, engaged critical conversations, intellectual exchange, and the like. For me, face-to-face encounters will always be the most pleasurable and even the most intellectually rewarding, and BABEL, especially, prizes those occasions and goes well out of its way at conferences and the like to create and sustain spaces for convivial and other types of more "serious" togetherness; however, having said that, I just don't think BABEL could have ever drawn a crowd into a room at Kalamazoo or anywhere else without In The Middle having provided me with platform from which the promote the group and its mission, projects, etc. So, for almost 2 years BABEL organized sessions at various conferences where, literally, either NO ONE or, like, 4-5 people showed up, and then, little by little, a critical mass started to take shape, and the first people in the seats, so to speak, were all, I must say, blogging friends, like Dr. Virago and the like.

I want to stick with your question about community building, if you don't mind, because I think it may be the most important question of all. Before blogging and other types of interweb sites such as live-journals, Facebook, Twitter, and the like, a medievalist's life [with some exceptions, of course] would go something like this:

*spend almost all of your time in isolated study [in libraries, college offices, home offices, museums, etc.]

*occasionally venture out to a conference or two per year to share your work and [hopefully] receive some constructive criticism

*then go back to isolated study [if you're lucky you have fellow medievalist colleagues who support you during those periods, but I, for example, have no such colleagues close to home and have to travel to be with fellow medievalists who have some empathy with the desires I have for my work; otherwise it's what now has become the dreaded email correspondence, which can be time-consuming and draining, whereas blogging is like writing one long, passionate letter to the entire world--still takes time and effort but with a wider purchase on the hope of an audience]

*spend years researching and writing a book, or article, or whatever

*wait years for that book, article, or whatever to actually be read, edited, accepted, and come out in print

*wait 1 or maybe even 2-4 years waiting to read reviews of one's work, at which point, do you even still care? Or, to put it more mildly, a lot of time has gone by and most of that time has been spent in a community, not so much of persons, but of texts and things

[to be continued]

Eileen Joy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eileen Joy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eileen Joy said...

Alas, all my efforts at trying to post some comments here ended in semi-disaster. Blogger and I were not getting along yesterday, it seems! So I have posted a response to your queries about blogging over at In The Middle here:

http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2010/07/floundering-around-together-medieval.html

Cheers, Eileen

Constantine said...

the effect of blogging on both the received and perceived understanding is a difficult issue.
I am reminded of the conundrum in quantum mechanics where the act of measuring itself distorts the result. It seems to me that one major problem of pseudonym blogging is that it gives equal billing to all and there is no discrimination allowed in the sense of alllowing recognition to a known scholar. If we all have equal time and all views are received, what then is the discrimens?

Sarah Rees Jones said...

Late to this space- because I have been away lecturing on post-grad and post-doc summer schools in Hungary - where above all I learnt how passionately interconnected the middle ages are with the future across central and eastern europe. Amazing experience - as was a week last summer on a similar summer school in northern Spain.

What have i learnt about blogging? Blogging is not global - this is partly because of language (medievalists in western Europe do not all use English), but not just for reasons of language (the new lingua franca of medievalists across central and eastern Europe is English - but they do not use the internet as much as Anglo/Australian/Americans). Leeds (and possibly Kzoo) succeed better at creating global communication among medievalists - but even their reach is skewed towards English speakers.

Also discipline - despite a corner of tenth century Europe and some wonderful archaeological websites/blogs- the literary bloggers of a postmedieval persuasion seem to outweigh most others. But perhaps my blog reading is too selective!!

Derrick said...

I'll answer the questions that I have clear answers to . . .

does blogging build new communities?

Yes, certainly, but they are as yet pretty inchoate. I've been able to encounter scholars whom I would not have encountered in, say, sessions at conferences. By reading blogs from other periods (early modern textual culture is an interest) I can encounter work which I would not necessarily encounter at all. Yet, much of this encounter remains merely absorptive--I read often without interacting (I suspect that most do, though I've not seen the data from other blogs about the ratios of hits versus comments). As a "community" there are layers which which are similar to panels at a conference--some you attend to present, some to chair, some to actively comment on, some just to listen to. (The analogy isn't perfect; virtually all work on blogs is much briefer than at conferences.) There is much more opportunity to "attend" on-line than at a conference--but I nevertheless suspect that most blog-reading is much more passive. I rarely bookmark a blog entry, or save it in Evernote, for instance, to use later.

Most *interactions* that I've seen focus not on political contexts for academe in general--say, the job market--rather than work on the period we might be producing for publication--or teaching. ITM is a bit unusual here because it has several authors who generate a wider range of commentary because of their varied interests. I would guess that blogs in the future would become more collaborative productions with more varied kinds of content, like many on-line productions by, say, the news media (see the next response . . .)

does blogging affect the way we write (and read) medieval criticism and historical studies?

I don't think that this has happened in a noticeable way as yet: most publishing still conceives of itself as hard copy, or an imitation of a hard copy (as a .pdf, for instance). The volume on the postmedieval by ITM might be cited as an exception, but I don't think so--I'd also note that this is still a print publication, by a publisher who prints virtually entirely on paper (or with that model behind it's electronic versions). As yet, virtually all people who publish in medieval studies in print are not bloggers or part of the blogging community (look at recent issue of Speculum, or the Chaucer Review, or SAC, or YLS, to pick those in my specific field of interest--how many have an active on-line presence?).

We still don't have a publication like a modern on-line version of a newspaper, or a magazine like Slate--in which there is work not just produced but also edited/vetted specifically for on-line production. The Chronicle is not focused on medieval studies; medievalists.net collates what's already out there. I'd love to see an on-line professional journal which can be the Medieval Academy on-line--which not only publishes academic work, of varying lengths, including textual editions, but also shorter editorial pieces, queries, a blog, information on libraries and access to other work, maybe even reporting--something like what PMLA has in print, but which takes advantage of what the web can offer too. This would be a big project that doesn't yet exist.

[ . . . ]

has medieval blogging (whether you read and/or write blogs) changed the way you think about the nature of academic work?

Not completely. It is still mostly a version of a slow conversation. I like that blogging stands interstitially between extended essays and conversation. I hope that it doesn't overtake either of those other two modes. The production of "academic work" won't change substantially until it moves more fully on line. It will, if only because of the cost of producing print.

Eileen Joy said...

And by the way, Stephanie, the Chaucer blog book is hy-sterical. The most perfect plane reading EVER. Inbetween the bad-yet-endearing romantic comedies screened on international flights, and with a glass of wine [or several, in my case], it is perfect!

theswain said...

I made a post out of my answer: http://theruminate.blogspot.com/2010/07/ruminations.html Hope you still find it useful!