Monday, August 28, 2006

Anonymous academics, history bloggers, and blogs as salons

(cross-posted at BlogHer)

Open mouth, insert foot.

That about sums up my mentioning in a post on my personal blog that I was disappointed that more women weren't writing about history on their blogs. I specifically mentioned the lack of women blogging at my favorite history blog, Cliopatria.

Almost immediately, Cliopatria blogger Ralph Luker took me to task for my ignorance of a whole slew of women bloggers. In his post, he named several women bloggers with whom I was unfamiliar, many of whom blog under their own names.

How the heck did it happen that I'd never heard of these women? I think it's because I frequent a corner of the academic blogosphere where women blog largely anonymously. And if you want to remain anonymous in academic circles, it's best not to reveal too many details about your work. In fact, some women academic bloggers even disguise their fields. (For example, Profgrrrrl claims to be a practitioner of "Complexification Studies.")

Even stranger was that my exploration of other academics' blogrolls hadn't turned up many women blogging about history. In a comment on Ralph Luker's post, Gillian Sarah Polack offered one explanation:
A blogfriend has a rather nice theory about blog society resembling 18th century salons. If someone doesn't see women historians then that person has simply not discovered which salons they attend. There are a bunch of us out there who don't often make lists for the same reason: I tend to be found on the lists made by sf/f writers, for instance, but I am an historian and I *do* post about history. I also post about food and about fiction, but that's because I have a faction of culinary history in my makeup and I publish fiction and review it etc. So I don't blog *only* history.

I use technorati to trace the visibility of bloggers in the eyes of other bloggers, and I think Sartorias (her LJ user name) is completely right about the salon effect.

Identity and race discussions also fit the salon notion. We talk with the people we know and extend from there, so there will always be people who don't know we exist or that we are saying anything of note.

Polack's comment is very insightful. I've tended to think about the academic blogosphere as being composed of overlapping neighborhoods, but the salon paradigm works well, especially when we're talking about discipline-specific blogs.

One of the reasons my sector of the academic blogosphere is such a tightly knit (yet quickly growing) community stems, perhaps ironically, from many bloggers' anonymity. Since they can't talk about specifics from their disciplines, they end up blogging about more universal concerns, like teaching, research, tenure, collegiality, and rogue students.

Still, this anonymity is a double-edged sword. When I run across the blog of a particularly thoughtful academic, I want to read his or her scholarly work. And until blogging no longer poses threats to one's academic career, it's unlikely these faculty and grad students will begin blogging under their own names.

In the meantime, I'm making a concerted effort to find academic bloghers who blog under their own names. Expect to see an update of the BlogHer Research, Academia, and Education blogroll soon. Until then, check out Luker's round-up or click around the Cliopatria blogroll to find more blogs by women historians.


~profgrrrrl~ said...

Just adding my $0.02 --> anonymity doesn't necessarily limit what one blogs, but rather may be chosen so one can blog freely on those topics. I have two blogs (well, more than two, but only two are pertinent here) and one is about my research/field and under my real name. Different blog topics, audiences, voices.

I think if I were in history or english I might feel sufficiently anonymized in my field to identify as a professor of such, but if I included my field name as part of my profgrrrrl identity I think I would rather quickly be found (add it to young, female, research U, geographic region and it's clearly me). Perhaps at one point it was a bit of paranoia driving such a decision. Now I'd say it is more a matter of (a) not wanting my students to find and readily identify me -- they may well look for blogs by profs in our field; (b) realizing that my field is irrelevant given what I choose to blog there -- we're all different, and yet all the same; (c) what's the fun in knowing what it actually is? ;)

Oh -- and I like the salon comparison.

Ianqui said...

One thing I'm always surprised to find out how big the academic blog-world is. I only really read personal blogs, since I'm not, say, an English professor and it wouldn't make much sense for me to read a blog on English literature. But even so, I think there are a lot of academic blogs out there that are more of a mix of the academic and the personal, and it makes me wonder how particular groups end up. I guess that if someone tends to write a lot about English literature, then they're not going to attract a lot of the pseudonymous bloggers whose fields are unidentifiable. We're not in it for the academics--we're in it for blowing off steam.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

Since you first brought up this whole issue, I've been thinking about it a lot. As a female historian who blogs semi-pseudonymously (anyone who reads my blog could easily find me; I just like keeping my last name off my blog), and who has discussed her research in the past, I've felt like I ought to blog about history more.

But you're really right about pseudonymous bloggers keeping their research off their blogs. It makes sense. And, as I've gotten to know bloggers IRL, it's funny how one's research area is nearly as closely a guarded secret as one's real name.

ScienceWoman said...

I've been thinking a lot lately about where I want my blog to go after I finish my PhD. I do feel constrained by my pseudonymity, especially when I see a cool journal article, etc. that I would like to blog about. But if I started blogging about my field then I'm afraid I'd have to ditch my personal posts. So maybe two blogs is the way to go for me too. And the salon analogy may explain why I haven't found many other -ology bloggers. Thanks for bringing this up.

The History Enthusiast said...

I agree with profgrrrrl's comment about not wanting my students to find my site. But, I have another reason for anonymity. I would love to be able to write more about my research on my blog, but one factor that hampers my willingness to get specific is the fact that I don't want anyone to steal my potential dissertation topic. That is one of the main reasons that I try to keep my blog fairly anonymous (although I'm sure someone could figure it out if they really wanted to). Am I just being paranoid about this, or do others agree? I guess I've had too many professors warn me about giving out copies of papers I've presented, etc...which leads me to wonder about who may be reading my blog and what their intentions might be. Obviously most of my readers have no desire to swipe my ideas, but it only takes one person. Am I just overly cynical?