Publishing Presentation on Academic Blogging

Last week, I had a chance to talk about academic blogging in relationship to academic publishing at the Professional and Scholarly Publishing pre-conference event in Washington. Here’s the basic outline of my talk here, with some additional notes.

The main thrust of my talk concerned outlining where I thought academic blogging might be useful or specifically interesting to publishers, particularly scholarly publishers. The most obvious use is promotion (in a good sense). Academic blogs are a good way to get conversation going around important or interesting books: I think symposia have been very successful at Crooked Timber, The Valve, Cliopatria and elsewhere. They’re certainly a huge improvement over the timid and almost-always obsolete publication of reviews in scholarly journals three to five years after the publication of a book.

I. The Academic Publishing Scene, from one outlier’s perspective

a. Medium-term trends
i. Good-bye to the non-digitally published narrowly specialized monograph (and good riddance).
ii. Movement of journals to digital distribution, and maybe (?) to open-access models.
iii. New digital forms, such as archives and data.

b. Prediction: academics will be largely unwilling partners in the longer-term transition (the MLA not withstanding).
i. MLA report a good way forward.
ii. A good outcome: less publishing, more attention to quality of writing and research, more openness and individuality in academic writing, more attempts to integrate and synthesize knowledge. These outcomes have significance beyond publishing, for the entire shape of academic life.
iii. A bad outcome: “circle the wagons” against generalists and popularizers, living in denial about changing circumstances, obstructionism.

II. Overview of academic blogging
a. “Academic blogs”: Language Log, The Valve, Terra Nova, Long Sunday, Cosma Shalizi, Digital History Hacks, This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. Work is somewhat “scholarly” in character, focused on disciplinary or specialized topics, authors are usually writing under their own names.

b. “Academics Who Blog”: Barely Tenured, New Kid on the Hallway, Acadeemom, Chronicles of Dr. Crazy. Mostly pseudonymous, often by women. (An issue which frequently sparks discussion.) More focused on compelling discussions of everyday life with interspersed attention to institutional issues in academia.

c. Hybrids, eponymous and otherwise: Bitch Ph.D, Easily Distracted, Michael Berube, Dan Drezner, Crooked Timber, Brad DeLong, Elizabeth Lawley, Margaret Soltan, PZ Myers, Acephalous, 11D, Cliopatria. (biggest group, wide variation in style and content).

III. Academics, Blogs and Publishers: Opportunities and Problems

a. Academic blogging is good for some things that don’t have direct relevance to publishers (syllabi construction, community building).

b. Blogs for promoting published work: the evolving models. Theory’s Empire at The Valve, Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks at Crooked Timber.
i. Symposia: big advantage over book reviews in journals both in terms of timeliness and liveliness
ii. MIT OpenCourseware and other syllabi online. A potential way to find out what are faculty actually doing with books, what do they actually want?

c. Blogs as a method for recruiting authors. If academic publishing moves closer to mainstream publishing, it may become more important to actively solicit manuscripts from authors who can write for bigger audiences.

d. Training academics to write for larger publics. Blogs help scholars to find out how their work and interests sound in a larger room, outside of the ivory tower.

e. Advocacy for transformation of publishing, tenure, etcetera. Bloggers can help push academic practices closer to what the MLA is describing.

f. Value-added, open-access method for servicing and updating textbooks (a textbook specific wiki; or the model of Rheingold’s Smart Mobs or some of Amazon’s plogs, where editors track and link to relevant news items and online materials).

g. Incubation and promotion for upcoming projects (Michael Berube’s What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts?).

h. Direct-to-publication: blogs as completed manuscripts (Language Log’s anthology, Berube’s Rhetorical Occasions).

i. Substitution of some formal publication practices that are now difficult to support (short research findings, conference papers, bibliographic guides, formal book reviews).

j. Blogs as possible platform for open-access journal publication (just-in-time publication of articles rather than monthly issues? But, problems with existing blogging software in terms of suitability for archiving and reuse of older material).

k. Bottom-feeding: bloggorhea, blogspats, energy creatures, etc. Blogging is in some cases the opposite of both scholarship and public intellectualism. Academic bloggers are easily drawn into bitter and small-minded partisan discussions, or can find themselves just echoing whatever meme is burning its way across the web. Maybe some academic blogs are more about being talkative than talented?

l. Productivity questions. Do blogs take away from publishable writing? (The thing every non-blogging academic wants to know…)


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7 Responses to Publishing Presentation on Academic Blogging

  1. duemer says:

    Thanks for this outline. I’m sending a link to my dean. There’s one other effect of at least one subset of academic blogs. Poetry bloggers are about evenly divided between academics & non-academics, fostering a useful discussion over the academic fence in at least this one area. As a teaching poet, I’m grateful for this situation. I’ve learned a lot.

  2. Alan Jacobs says:

    So: Do blogs take away from publishable writing?

  3. Timothy Burke says:

    I think sometimes, yes. But not very often. Certainly nowhere near as often as my most apprehensive colleagues believe.

  4. duemer says:

    I think my blog has diverted a portion of my creative energy away from poetry & toward blogging. I’m fortunate that the chair of my department does not laugh dismissively when I list blogging on my annual faculty activity report. Obviously, this is not the case in most departments. And I didn’t take up blogging until after I had tenure.

  5. dkane says:

    You forgot institution-centered blogs like, well, EphBlog (

  6. Timothy Burke says:

    You know, that really is a category I didn’t consider–it doesn’t fall under the headings I offered. Blogs about academic institutions.

  7. dkane says:

    Not sure if it is a category worth considering. The blog about Middlebury

    did not last long. The one from Amherst

    is nicely laid out and regularly updated, but it seems to include no discussion. It is also very nice to Amherst and is, therefore, indistinguishable from something that the public affairs department might put out.

    Are there any other examples? None that I know of.

    I have a grand vision on what an elite college-centered blog — really an on-line conversation involving technological elements from places like Daily Kos and Red State — might look like, but lack the energy to write it up.

    We should do that together! HWC would be pleased to see some Williams/Swarthmore cooperation . . .

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