- Reflections on Feminism, Blogging, and the Historical Profession
It is a testament to the timeliness of this roundtable that the entire enterprise—from conception and administration to publication—took place online. Ten years into the twenty-first century, the historical profession is coming to terms with the ways in which the internet is irrevocably changing what we do and how we do it. Still senior and not-so-senior scholars, raised on an irreproachable diet of index cards, paper catalogues, and fields of book stacks, gaze askance at Google books, e-journals, and digitized archives. Others balk at the very idea of a blog—these rough repositories where what ought to be private is made unconscionably public, where not every word or idea has been refereed or thrashed out with the lucid finality of an edited journal article. In blogs, academic thinking seems to be caught in the act of undressing: half-formed ideas whip round and gasp, clutching at awkward sentences to cover their nakedness. This quality of blogs makes them, as Ann M. Little puts it, "liminal spaces"—the shades of grey between the darkness of the academic's own mind and the white lights of the conference table or seminar room. A blog is an always unfinished, always provisional place.
For surely blogs are places: they are modern equivalents of the eighteenth-century salon. Whether they are living rooms for receiving learned guests, conference halls for the like-minded, or just a lonely room of one's own, these modern salons occupy as yet undefined positions in scholarship and traditional academia. This is what makes blogging such a fascinating development. In their ventures online, these academic women bloggers are, as much as their male counterparts, pioneers of the profession. To the extent that this is a roundtable concerned with 1) academic, 2) historical and 3) feminist blogging, the papers seem to me equally rich and suggestive in their reflections on all three of these aspects.
Blogging and the Academy
As these papers show, perhaps more than anything else, the blogosphere offers new opportunities for fulfilling one of the more elusive standards of academic productivity: successful engagement with the public. Insofar as academics (feminist or otherwise) enter the blogosphere as academics, they operate in full awareness of their role and position in the public sphere. These four bloggers are no exception. [End Page 235]
Blogging is an inherently public activity, always undertaken with an audience in mind. Journal articles and blog posts alike have readers. But unlike journal articles, in the case of blog posts, conversation with that audience is almost inevitable, and one's interlocutors are by no means always academics. In her contribution, Jennifer Ho sees blogging as a means of accountability: as a way of engaging with and being held responsible to "a wider public beyond the ivory towers of academia." As her exchanges with Tami show, conversations can occur in the blogosphere between academics and nonacademics where none could exist before. These exchanges can broaden horizons of intellectual enquiry and inspire fresh approaches. For Ho, it has helped advance her understanding of how women outside academia experience, and think about, racism and sexism. She also recounts a dispute with her audience over her use of the label "queer," in which some commenters pointed out that outside academic circles, the word had not been reclaimed as a term of liberation and self-empowerment, but rather remained a thoroughly pejorative word for homosexuals. This exchange provoked further thoughts on "the ways in which jargon can be misunderstood and mistranslated in nonacademic arenas," and her sensitivity to "the potential myopia of academics" increased as a result.
On the other hand, as Ho also reminds us, blogging yields benefits within academia that are not always recognized by a profession still largely focused on conventional forms of publication. Because of the immediate nature of blog publishing and commenting, academic exchanges can be carried out at rates impossible in traditional outlets of scholarship, where the logistics of publishing make delays of months or years unavoidable. In their papers, all four contributors clearly show that their scholarship has been enriched by those communities, academic or otherwise, which they...