Saturday, July 10, 2010


Ok, yes, a totally lame title for the post.....but there ya go. This post is actually about something else though: Stephanie Trigg's questions. Stephanie, whom I don't know personally, apparently has organized some "blogging" stuff for the New Chaucer Society meeting this year and posted questions on her blog, forwarded to ITM. For a number of reasons, I thought I'd take some time and address the questions she asks here, because for the most part they are good ones to ask. It also allows me to be more expansive than I could be in the comments section of her blog. So here goes....

1) what would you say were the distinctive features, if any, of blogs by medievalists?

I'm not sure I can class them altogether as a group. There are funny blogs, personal blogs, professional blogs, and of the latter blogs that deal in some way with everything in the field. There are blogs that post the news, assume an author long dead's voice, and so on. I'm not sure I can say anything about medieval blogs as a whole....there are some blogs out there that are distinctive by medievalists.

Medievalists are people. As such, I'm not sure I can say that medievalists as a class are sufficiently distinguishable from other kinds of bloggers other than by content of their blogs.

2. does blogging build new communities?

Oh, absolutely. Speaking for myself of course, there are a large number of people whose writing I would not read or know had I not encountered their blogs, or their comments on someone else's blog and followed the links to their blogs.

But community of any kind involves reaching out. The electronic medium of the Web makes responding to someone posting a blog post much easier and quicker than responding to a published article. But if the experience of blogging and reading blogs is passive...that is, I write, maybe some people read, but there is no follow up discussion or spawning of other blog posts...then there can really be no community in any meaningful sense. There are readers, much like say a Will Wheaton has readers the majority of whom will never leave a note or send him an email much like a traditional columnist or journalist for a newspaper or magazine. So community, even "blogging community" takes effort.

To that end, others have certainly taken this in hand with "blogger meet-ups" at major conferences, conference sessions based on blogs and blog posts, exchange of emails and so on. I myself have included various bloggers in the work of The Heroic Age as readers, authors, and editors simply because of their blogs. And many are now "friends" on Facebook so that the "blogging community" in medieval studies has now branched into email listservs, scholarly publication, social networking sites, and even into traditional print venues.

Certainly one can question how permanent the community is, and rightly so, but in my view it is no less permanent than the community one sees at a conference year after year, and the blogging community is usually more in touch with one another.

One of the advantages in this regard that blogging has over email lists and similar venues too (I've just mentioned an advantage over the yearly conference) is that one can give more free rein to one's thoughts and treat it like an essay. Or not. But even at the height of the e-list, serious exchange was limited by the attention span of the reader who typically did not want to read an entire disquisition. Such exchanges were few. On the other hand, one knows exactly what one is getting into when reading a blog post, or can simply save the post until another time: a response is not expected or required though always appreciated. So a blog holds a transitional, perhaps even liminal space between personal and professional communication, between email and article or paper, between formal and informal. It has a number of advantages in that space.

Now what was the question? Oh yes, building communities. Yes, no question about it. A different kind of community than an e-list, a different kind of community than conference colleagues even when there is overlap in those communities. But a community nonetheless for all that.

3. Does blogging affect the way we write (and read) medieval criticism and historical studies?

Now that is a good question. Two questions really, so I'll answer as two. First, I haven't noticed any affect on reading as reading. I do know that because of a blog post I have been pointed to primary and secondary literature that I would not otherwise have encountered or known about. I also know that because I read medieval blogs by bloggers who work in fields different than my own, that I have had my horizons enlarged as a result. So it affects the WHAT I read more than the HOW I read criticism and history.

It has affected the way I write in a few ways. First, I often try out fledgling ideas on my blog as a kind of first pass to see if they'll fly. Likewise, rather than just reading a book or article and putting it down for possibly consultation at a later date, I now quite often attempt to interact at least in some way with the book or article by blogging. This in turn I hope makes me a better writer, but also internalizes what I read more effectively (which I suppose ought to be said under the reading bit above). So blogging has affected my writing by adding another pre-writing layer.

4. Does knowing the "real" identity of the Chaucer blogger affect your sense of (a) his blog or (b) Chaucer?

No and No.

5. Have you read Brantley Bryant's book, Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog? Medieval Studies and New Media?

No I haven't, though I am a regular reader of the blog and have been for some time.
In my view, the book and the blog (hey, that could be a good title for something...) are better classified as Medievalism and New Media than Medieval Studies, but no sense in quibbling.

6. Has medieval blogging (whether you read and/or write blogs) changed the way you think about the nature of academic work?

Only in one sense: blogging is so far anyway not considered by the academy and tenure committees and so on as academic work even when enlisted in the aid of students, teaching, service, or even research. It should be. It must be. But I'm not holding my breath.

7. Has blogging had any affect on the kind of work you do in medieval studies?

Yes. I now have a couple papers in progress that are a direct result of someone else's post or comments on a post somewhere in the blogosphere. Further, other work in progress has been helped along by posting about it. So the short answer is yes.

I've declined to answer the last question, "if you could ask Chaucer a question about his blog, what would it be?" I don't really have any questions of either the "character" Chaucer of the blog, nor the creative mind behind it other than "when's the next post coming?"


Steve Muhlberger said...

Good comments.

Anonymous said...

Another issue is to define "medievalist".

This old world is a new world said...

Fabulous! thanks so much.

Just downloading to read properly on the train to Siena!