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Jul 12, 2005 5:59 pm

Blogging and the Market ...

When Tom Spencer of the History Department at Northwest Missouri State University at Maryville read Ivan Tribble's"Bloggers Need Not Apply," Chronicle of Higher Education, 8 July, it struck a familiar chord. Between September 2002 and November 2003, Spencer had a blog at History News Network called Thinking It Through. His daily criticism of the Bush administration and the Republican Party, in general, wasn't my idea of what a history blog ought to be [ed: think Atrios-lite], but it found a very substantial audience – perhaps the largest regular following of any blog ever done at HNN. After putting his blog to rest, Spencer took a break from blogging altogether, but took it up again when he joined the group blog, Corrente.

When Kevin Drum at Political Animal linked to Tribble's warning of the risks of blogging to academic careers, Spencer spoke up in comments and, later, told his story at greater length at Corrente. Spencer recalls being called into his chairman's office, when he was still untenured and doing Thinking It Through. Someone had complained by letter to the University president that the young professor's criticism of Richard Perle on his blog was anti-Semitic. For the record, I think that complaint was entirely unjustified. Here is the post in question. As reaction passed down Spencer's chain of command, his dean told his chairman to make Tom stop blogging. The chairman refused to do so, but the administration insisted that Tom remove his institutional affiliation from Thinking It Through. Several months later, he was tenured and promoted. Nothing more has ever been said about it.

Still, the incident made quite an impression on a young guy who was about to come up for tenure. He attributes the fact that he's not had responses to subsequent job application letters to the fact that he blogged in his own name. That seems possible, but unlikely. Those who complain of the difficulty of the history job market at the entry level haven't seen difficult until they face the challenge of making an advantageous move after you've been tenured somewhere. But pseudonymous blogging may provide some sense of security against shooting yourself in the foot. See: Kevin Drum at Political Animal and Ogged at Unfogged.

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Sharon Howard - 7/13/2005

I think the only thing I've ever worried about with blogging is that it might look as though I spend too much time on it...

Ever since I first set up a website, I have worked on the principle that the only way to counter people in academia who say that everything on the web is rubbish, is a) to show the way to as much stuff that isn't rubbish as I can find, and b) to add a bit more stuff that isn't rubbish. Blogging lets me continue all of that, but it also gives vastly expanded potential for developing communications among ourselves *and* with non-academics. But, as several have said, that's precisely what's worrying the Tribbles of this world (to the extent that they really exist - Evan at coffee grounds isn't so sure). Telling outsiders the secrets (and gossip) of the guild? Shocking!

Scott Eric Kaufman - 7/12/2005

I don't think the are too many Tribbles around, and I say that largely because most of the older faculty barely know what a blog is. For example, for my contribution to the Theory's Empire symposium--which involves a lengthy discussion on the history of the American reception of deconstruction and post-structuralism via J. Hillis Miller--I emailed Miller (with whom I've taken two seminars) and asked him if he would like to participate. He said he would, but wondered whether I couldn't explain to him what "blog" and "group blog" really meant. He knew no more than the average American and (although this may just be a testament to Miller's genuine intellectual curiosity) once I pointed it out, he seemed to love the concept and pointed me to articles he had written in the early '90s about the potential of electronic media to vastly improve the quality of scholarship. In other words, I think what Tribble represents is garden-variety technophobia with serious whiffs of intellectual atrophy. "I can't think that fast," I can almost hear Tribble say. To which I'm inclined to respond: "Then don't recycle the same lectures year after year after year! Publish something already! One book and two articles in thirty-seven years! Show some curiosity! Put those ideas in motion! C'mon already! You can do it!"

Timothy James Burke - 7/12/2005

Against the Ivan Tribbles of the world, I suspect that content is no defense--I think it's fairly clear that the article is a quiet declaration of war not just against blogs but against publishing as an academic in any context save the old, approved, conventional ones. But in this particular sense, it's possible that there aren't altogether that many Ivan Tribbles. (One hopes.)

Ralph E. Luker - 7/12/2005

Exactly, Manan. Much of what some bloggers worry about is material that probably ought not be in the public sphere anyway and there is little that is more public than the net.

Manan Ahmed - 7/12/2005

Not at all. All the commentaries seem to hinge on the assumption that all blogs are the same and that all content is the same. That the mere fact of "blogging" is a mark of the beast. Really now, can we be a bit less melodramatic? The hiring committee will, if they prefer, at least attempt to read the blog. My blogging, whether here or at CM, has never been a "private conversation writ large" or a "rant". All discourse doesn't have to be judged by the lowest common denominator. I _am_ considering "guiding" new readers to my archives. That would be good. Other than that, I stand by what I write and if the hiring committee's policy or politics think I am unworthy - oh well.