For whatever reason, I tend to think of blogging at the end of the calendar year. In the past, I’d publish (mostly tongue-in-cheek) an Archive of my blog which was really just a pdf of the blog posts, lightly edited, and made available for download. I believe the last one that I did was in 2015.
This week, I actually decided to look at my blogs statistics for the first time in months and, at around the same time, I started to think a bit about how I prioritized my time, how I wanted to make an impact on my field and the world, and whether maintaining a blog even matters as we come to the end of the 21st century’s second decade.
Readers of this blog know, of course, that I’ve taken on some new responsibilities over the past few years, from publishing The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota to editing North Dakota Quarterly (and, at the end of the year, the Annual of ASOR). This work is very gratifying because it allows me to work and learn from a remarkable group of authors and editors and bring their work to a wider audience. In fact, it gives me the same sense of excitement that I had in graduate school when each quarter introduced me to new books, new ideas, and new approaches to studying the past.
It also stands in distinct contrast to my work on the blog which tends to be about my own work and ideas. It’s not that sharing my views on things is bad, but it’s just not the direction that my career is going. The time I spend writing here and promoting my own view of things detracts in some ways from my ability to work with the words and ideas of others. At the same time, I do think that I’ve learned a good bit by writing my own words. I’ve wrestled ideas on this blog into articles, books, and edited volumes (and I have a couple of more of those in the pipeline) and learned about the publishing business from the perspective of an author as much as from the editor’s perch or working as a typesetter, reviewer, and marketer for my little press.
There’s also the issue of audience. Over the past two or three years, the audience for my blog has plateaued at around 80 per day. I suspect partly because there are more really great bloggers out there than in the past (although to be fair these aren’t all new bloggers!), there are more remarkable web-based projects too, and social media occupies a more central role in academic and popular communication about our field. At the same time, my blog posts have gotten longer. This year, my average post was over 700 words which is about 20% more than my average post over the past 8 years. I’m averaging about 240 posts per year, but only 230 in the past couple of years. I think I’ll manage to fall a bit short of that mark this year (this is my 203rd post for 2018), but still write about 150,000 words which is a bit more than my 145,000 word average for the past 7 years. I’ve written about 1.1 million words on the blog (and others have contributed an additional 50,000 or so). This is a lot of words that probably could be used somewhere else.
Finally, I do wonder whether blogging as a medium has entered into hoary middle age. I don’t think it has revolutionized academic communication (although it certainly has had its moments), and it doesn’t really represent a transgressive medium (if it ever did), although I suppose it has helped some voices be heard that would not have otherwise. Despite my optimism in the past for the place of blogging in an expanded and decentralized academic publishing ecosystem, I wonder whether other forms of communication, from the email newsletter to the collective web journal (like Eidolon) represent the development of web based communication (and allow for individual readers and authors to escape from the increasingly commercialized and commodified world of public internet). More than that, I wonder whether the vulnerability of individual voices on the public web has created a space that is unfriendly for solo voices and projects.
The purpose of this is post is not to propose that I end my blog or stop blogging or whatever, but to think out loud about how blogging fits into my career, what it means to blog in the changing landscape of the internet, and what triggers would make me consider cutting back, transforming, or closing up the old blog shop. In the new year, I want to think a bit more explicitly about the goals of my blog and public humanities scholarship more broadly and figure out whether being a public voice is the only way to promote humanistic (and academic) values to a wider audience.