I have written and spoken before about my philosophy of blogging. Here is a session I was part of at the 2014 meting of the Organization of American Historians. Some of you have seen this. Some of you were there:
I think it is fair to say that my blog is quite different from most blogs written by other American historians. I appreciate Joe Adelman’s remarks about The Way of Improvement Leads Home:
Other blogs don’t aim for “scholarship” in the narrowest sense (John Fea had interesting thoughts on how to construe the term) but do wonderful service to the profession by highlighting books of interest, topics that deserve coverage, and connecting history to the present. And some blogs do a little bit of everything. John Fea is my best example of this. In a single day, he will post interviews with authors and book reviews, highlights of research projects, notes about teaching, and Springsteen concert clips. Go ahead over and read The Way of Improvement Leads Home and then tell me how you’d classify it. I can’t—and I like it that way.
Most scholars who blog write a post once a day and they fill that post with original material. Their blog posts are not unlike the kind of things that they might write in print. It is this approach to blogging that naturally informs the question “Is Blogging Scholarship?”
When I am in what I call “blogging mode” I can write five to ten posts a day. My philosophy, which I learned from reading Andrew Sullivan’s now deceased blog “The Dish,” is less about “scholarship” and more about “curating.” Since I am not a full-time blogger, I cannot post every twenty minutes like Sullivan did, but I do try to curate a steady stream of material for my readers. Unless I am on vacation, I post something every day, although I occasionally take Saturday off.
Curating has also allowed me to build an audience. My hope is that people will come to The Way of Improvement Leads Home much in the same way that people used to read the newspaper every morning. So when I do have something original to say, or want to express an opinion about something, I have an audience ready to engage with what I have written.
Curators do important work. Alan Jacobs doesn’t like the term, but he is willing to admit that there is a place for it in the blogosphere. Here is how he describes the internet “curator.”
There are some. Not many, but some. The true online curator tends to have a clear and strict focus: he or she doesn’t post just anything that seems cool, but instead is striving to illuminate some particular area of interest. The true curator also finds things that other people can’t find, or can’t easily find, which means either (a) having access to stuff that is not fully public or (b) actually putting stuff online for the first time or (c) having a unique take on public material so that images and ideas get put together that the rest of us would never think to put together.
It may sound pretentious, but I think the Way of Improvement Home offers readers interested in certain issues–American history, religion, academic life, politics–a place to go that helps them bring order and relevance to material on the web. I seldom post something without at least a sentence of commentary that situates the particular link or web article in a context or conversation. But even if I don’t comment, I think the very act of posting something on a blog is an act of interpretation. The link and the excerpt (or “taste”) would not be on the blog if I did not think it was important.
For a history blog like The Way of Improvement Leads Home, the idea of the “blogger as curator” has special relevance. Public historians take objects and other historical materials from the past and give them meaning by calling attention to them, displaying them, interpreting them and, through metadata, placing them in context. This is what I try to do with the links that I post.
What is your philosophy of blogging?
And here is some news for those of you have read all the way through to the end of this post.
We are seriously contemplating a new design for The Way of Improvement Leads Home and will probably be moving to Word Press in the near future. Stay tuned.