A Brief History of Blogging as Experienced by Yours Truly

I began blogging in 2002. At that moment blogging was a relatively new technology; it had been around for a few years but suddenly picked up in popularity. There were many platforms: Blogger (my initial host), Moveable Type, and LiveJournal for example. Most of my initial entries were short: they were quick meditations on primary sources, contemporary politics, and cats. There were always plenty of cat pictures (once Blogger started supporting them). Conversations were slow on blogs–initially most blogging software did not support commenting and you would have to wait to see if someone else commented on my posts in a post on their own blog. By 2005, though, I was plugged into a growing and supportive community of graduate students and junior faculty bloggers. We commented on one another’s work, posted syllabi, and exchanged cat pictures.

Also in 2005: The Chronicle of Higher Education published a pseudonymous column condemning academic blogging and claiming that it would badly damage students who were just entering the job market.It’s pretty fair to say all hell broke loose. Harvard’s placement people began holding meetings about how to remove ourselves from the internet (!!) and under no circumstances were we to ever, ever blog pictures of our cats. (I didn’t have a cat at the time, but sometimes Stella Chaplin-Armitage appeared, anonymously of course.)

I think that particular panic passed. By 2007 no one was talking about how terrible blogging was; instead we saw graduate student blogger after graduate student blogger get jobs and prosper. Clearly Tribble’s histrionics were just that–histrionics. By then, there were serious discussions about listing blogging as a scholarly activity during performance reviews and including posts in packets for promotion and tenure. In 2011 my friend Manan Ahmed of the blog Chapati Mystery published a dead-tree anthology of his blog posts on Pakistan.

But even as that was happening, my cohort of bloggers was beginning to blog a little less, and the nature of what blogs looked like was changing. There are a couple of reasons for this, I think. First of all, new social media platforms were changing how bloggers talked to one another. I joined Facebook in 2007 at the behest of my students, where I found they had started a facebook group for my class and were busily exchanging information about their draft transcriptions and research papers there. I soon found other academic friends on facebook, and I began sharing a lot of my short research queries and cat pictures there. In 2010 I joined Twitter, a microblogging platform that allows a user to post in short, 140-character bursts. Katrina Gulliver had already created the hashtag #twitterstorians to create a twitter community of historians. I found that I had less time to write the longer think pieces I had been posting on my blog and instead I tweet links, short commentaries, and enter into helpful and vibrant conversations on Twitter instead.

The academic blogging world, I think, has become less freewheeling and more formal, I think. The blogs I visit regularly are generally topic-specific groups blogs, The Junto, the U.S. Religious History Blog, or the US Intellectual History blog. These blogs tend to function more like journals, publishing book reviews, interviews with new authors, and I think, generally longer pieces. Professional associations and presses now have their own blogs, which increase visibility and aid marketing as well as facilitate communication. Shorter, punchier conversations take place in social media. My own blogging has followed this pattern: I write blog posts that are almost exclusively long form now (the most recent was a meditation on empire, Islamophobia, and American Sniper, which was published on Chapati Mystery).I don’t know if that’s what Joe Adelman means by “maturing” 🙂 but I think that’s how I see the trajectory.