Blogging on blogging – by Charlotte
I recently took part as a case study in an article on "Social Media and Early-Career Victorianists" which got me thinking about why and how I use social media in my research. I'll write another piece on Twitter soon, but initially I was thinking more about blogging and how I use blogs as an academic, something that's been the subject of some interest recently (some particularly good pieces from the LSE Impact blog here and here, and from a fellow ECR here).
I started my research blog not long after I began my PhD as I thought it would be useful to have another place in which to write about my research that wasn’t specifically academic. I often found myself coming across articles on Victorian culture, pieces of news, exhibitions, books and so on that were of interest to me as a Victorianist, but that wouldn’t find an appropriate or relevant place in my PhD writing; a blog provided the ideal venue in which to write reviews, reflections, and sometimes to think about wider conceptual questions around my research.
I can sum up the purpose of my blog into 3 main areas. Firstly, it is a venue in which to reflect on interesting but not entirely relevant pieces from my reading and research: expanding on an idea in a footnote, or writing about a painting or image at greater length. Secondly, it allows me to think about the contemporary cultural resonances of my work - the most obvious example being the Dickens 2012 celebrations, as well as things such as film or TV adaptations, exhibitions, museums: anything which takes place “beyond the academy" but on which I have a perspective informed by my research. Thirdly, it’s a space to write about academic events such as conferences and talks, without the formality of a review – I focus on what interested me or something that had a connection to my work.
From a wider perspective, I see that one of the main purposes of blogging is to communicate ideas to a non-specialist audience: readers who might be academics but aren’t necessarily Victorianists, or who have a personal/ non-academic interest in Victorian literature and culture. This means approaching writing from a different angle: thinking about what is going to engage a general reader, or a Victorianist who is reading in their leisure time. As well as a shift in language and tone, this involves stepping back from the research to think about wider connections, meanings and implications in what I’m talking about. And for me, this is where the real value of blogging becomes clear: the process of blogging assists in the development and expression of thoughts in my research. Sometimes ideas more easily take shape away from the formality of academic writing, and sometimes a small thought on the blog can unexpectedly become an important idea in my research. Of course, returning to the academic writing always involves a process of refining and further arguing those ideas, but the process of stepping into a different venue provides something of an "intellectual refreshment".
Perhaps the hardest part is getting started, and resistance to blogging often appears in the form of "but I don't have anything to write about!". It is worth thinking about the purpose and form your blog would/does take - I've done this several times during dry blogging spells- but ultimately if you don't try you'll never know. Increasingly it looks as though, like it or not, social media is the way forward for academia (one of the leading journals in my field has a "Victorians Beyond the Academy Blog" and it's telling that the journal is running a whole special issue around social media later this year) and I think it's well worth investigating sooner rather than later.