Blogging the Humanities?

There seem to be no shortage of digital marketing conferences and symposiums, or tweet ups/blog meets, for all sorts of social reasons, so it was great to get an invitation to a focused symposium looking at how blogging can/can’t be integrated into academic life and learning.  Held in the rather lovely Provst Stables (beautifully renovated by O’Donnell Tuomey Architects” for the Trinity Irish Art Research Centre)   Blogging the Humanities aimed to examine the use of blogging in the arts and humanities spheres, and focused largely on how blogging fits within the acedemic world. It was really well organised by the people behind Pue’s Occurances and you can read a round up of who was there on their blog.

t was a small, but great gathering of people who either blog on academic, social history, literature or arts issues.  I was flying the flag for the (professional) arts and talking about our experiences with The Model blog, particularly during our closure years, and how it impacts on audience development.  For us The Model blog was begun ( over on wordpress initially) to create a “virtual front desk” while we were closed to the public so that we could continue to talk informally to our audience – albeit online.  We learned how to communicate in a less curatorial voice, and had an opportunity to talk about things that maybe inspired, or influenced the programme, but weren’t core components of it. We learned a lot, and felt like we gathered a community of people closer to us. At it’s busiest time the blog had 4,000 views a month, and increased the views of the main site along with it, which are modest figures by some blog standards, but a great great start for us.

It was really interesting to hear from other bloggers in the history and social history side of things, and I got a lot from Donal Ó Fallúin’s (of Come Here to Me! ) observations on reaching his audience. Run by a group of social history enthusiasts (and students) the blog charts goings on, and cultural history, in Dublin. They get a lot of their information from older people who are mostly not online themselves, or if they are they see the internet as an informational tool, not a recreational one.

All of the speakers were really interesting, and the schedule of the symposium left plenty of breathing room for discussion, which with a small group was just ideal. I was really interesting to consider the challenges to blogging that exist in the academic sphere; with its traditions of control it faces similar challenges as other old industries that face a need to embrace a more open, transparent, dynamic communication style than they are used to.  In the Digital Age we expect dialogue and interactive learning, not the broadcast style learning of old. Footnotes have been replaced with hyperlinks, and a brief, but well informed opinion, has often led the charge over in depth lengthy articles.  In academia, as in the arts, there is a resistence to changing the status quo, to a ceding of control to the crowd and a transparent approach to idea sharing.

With a great emphasis on (print) publishing in the academic world it was eye opening to learn that you can wait a year or more to have an optioned article printed physically- so what do you do in the interim?  As disussed by John Cunningham from  History Compass Exchanges , if your bread and butter as a young academic  is derived from your research ideas you might naturally shy away for sharing those ideas online. But should you, and should there be more emphasis on digital publishing as part of career building in that area? Greg from Some Blind Alleys found that many literary writers are happier to be published in a printed journal and read by 5 people than published online and read by 500. These are all similar challenges that face all industries based on intellectual and creative property (music, literature, film) of course.

There was a lot of discussion about sustainability and/or archiving which was interesting, and not something I would have even considered in any depth in many respects. I still see blogs as transitory, immediate things but of course if much of what is blogged about has a historical value, not least of all in building up archives like the Left Archive ,or on gathering a social history of a time- which all blogs are essentially contributing to. So how do you archive that information? Do you endlessly store it?  There’s an online project to “capture the internet (archiving it since 1996!) as part of the Wayback Machine seems a crazy thought. There was even some talk of printing out posts and storing them on paper which in an anathema to me, a reflection of my newly digitalised mind I think!

There’s a great round up from Ireland after Namasummarising the main issue raised, and watch the Pue’s Occurances page for more updates as a second symposium is planned for sometime in late 2010. Embracing the digital age is still only beginning in most arts orgs so it would be great to have more  arts folk brought into the conversation; especially those of national importance like The Abbey , or engaged bloggers like Performance Corporation , or online journals like Irish Theatre Magazine – any others?