As I previously noted, “digital humanities” was the topic du jour at this year’s Modern Language Association conference, but no one seems to be quite sure what precisely is meant by that moniker.
Stanley Fish took a stab at the digital part of the equation in his NY Times column on Monday, promising to come back again next time to explore burning questions such as: “Does the digital humanities offer new and better ways to realize traditional humanities goals? Or does the digital humanities completely change our understanding of what a humanities goal (and work in the humanities) might be?”
Professor Fish, being someone from the “great white north” (ie, a white male of a certain age–I only wish I could claim to have invented this pithy expression), is cautious in his official embrace of digitality, though he does take the leap of reluctantly admitting, in paragraph one, that he is technically writing a blog post, rather than a column.
Should this matter?
Well, in my profession, it does. In fact, a column is only very slightly more palatable, officially, than a blog post, since both are classified as so-called “public scholarship,” as opposed to “real scholarship.”
Although nobody puts it quite that baldly, that’s what they mean. In other words, as one academic put it recently, blogging is never going to get you tenure, even if thousands more people read your work on a blog than will ever read that monograph you finally published with an academic press.
All I can tell you is that it’s been a long time since I’ve felt as intellectually engaged as I do now that I’ve started blogging again.
Blogging–and publicizing my posts via Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other social media outlets–has allowed me to connect with people I never would have been able to reach in any other way.
I’ve tried the more traditional other route, publishing academic books and articles, and for the most part it was like sending my ideas out into the ozone. I got very little back, either in the way of praise or disparagement.
In contrast, with my blog I get virtually instant feedback, almost every time I post. It may not be more than a thumbs-up, but I can tell by looking at my blog stats whether or not people are intrigued by what I’m writing; and if they are interested enough to post a comment in response, I glow with the warmth of human connection, however mediated it might be by keyboard and screen.
Blogging suits my current lifestyle, which is hurried and harried to an extreme. I am doing much more than I reasonably should be, stirring all kinds of pots and responsible for sustaining all kinds of programs, from classes, to festivals, to summer programming, to various and sundry committees–not to mention serving on boards, parenting my two children, writing piles of letters of recommendation, applying for grants, sending in conference proposals, etc etc etc. It’s endless!
How, given my life at the moment, could I ever steal away the focused, quiet, concentrated time necessary to produce “long-form scholarship”? Maybe my colleagues at prestigious research institutions can manage it, but they don’t have the teaching, advising and service load I do, not to mention a life.
For me, the hit-and-run blog post is just the right form: short, sweet and to the point, allowing me to express my ideas on a range of topics without having to be weighed down by footnotes and exhaustive surveys of existing scholarship. In blogging, I can be light-footed and fleet, rather than plodding and thorough.
I do cherish the hope that eventually I will be able to find the time to gather my swiftly penned thoughts into a more sustained discourse that could be published in a book–though an e-book might be just fine.
But in the meantime, I wouldn’t give up my free-wheeling blogging lifestyle for anything.
Sure, a blog post may be to a book like a hook-up is to a marriage. But you know what? Having tried nearly a quarter-century of marriage, I’m ready for something new.