Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Blogging the Middle Ages: Humanities Researcher

by Stephanie Trigg

[for background on this archival project, read the posts here and here]

It sounds odd now, but I began to blog as a way of saving time. I was the “shepherd” for grant applications in my department, and found I was repeating my experiences and exhortations over and over to colleagues with less experience. It’s a long drawn-out and difficult process, applying for research grants in our national system, and I thought it would be useful to build an archive of the process from beginning to end as I developed my own new application from scratch. I was also involved, at the time, at the edges of some other research projects that were looking at the way humanities researchers, especially in Australia, could make their findings and discoveries more accessible to a broader audience, and this was a secondary motivation: to experiment with the blog format to see if there might be a broader audience for the discussion of medieval studies and medievalism. On the other hand, I had no idea about how to reach an audience that would be broader than my students and colleagues.

Three months after I began the blog, I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. Like many people facing serious illness, I found writing was therapeutic, a way of making sense of what was happening, putting a shape and a narrative around it. It wasn’t hard to decide to keep blogging. The blog was also a way of letting people know how treatment was progressing. I knew many women were very scared of breast cancer, but I was hardly ever mortally afraid, and wanted to show, day by day, that it was ok to be sick.

This meant the blog very quickly transformed from a pretty straight professional blog to one that sought to articulate the relationship between public work and private work. During the pointy end of my treatment, in 2006-7, I was also fascinated by the way the medical professionals I encountered conducted themselves.

I try as hard as I can to respect other folks’ privacy, so there are many, many times when I deliberately don’t blog about people and events that aren’t already in the public sphere. I’ll admit to enjoying moments when I test the limits of my own privacy, though, in blogging about a diseased body, and the side-effects of cancer treatment. For the record, I’ve just completed three years of hormone therapy, with another two to go: there is no sign of any recurrence.

The blog’s readers are, I think, my colleagues, postgraduate and undergraduate students, former students, family members, friends, breast cancer patients, and medievalists, as well as other bloggers in a relatively small, charmed circle. I link, and am linked most often to In the Medieval Middle, and Still Life with Cat the blog of a former colleague, Australian literature expert, and now freelance reviewer and essayist in Adelaide, Kerryn Goldsworthy.

Returning to work after illness — both mentally, in the act of walking back into the building; and intellectually, trying to finish a book — have been immensely difficult. The blog was — is — a safe space of mediation between my study at home and the world of public interaction. Since I began the five-year program of medication, I think I’ve become a less efficient worker. Some would blame blogging, as a form of time-wasting, but I think blogging has helped me loosen up my academic writing, and develop a stronger sense of the audience for our work as medievalists.

I’ve published a couple of things about the blog: a newspaper feature and an article, “I’ve written my talk: blogging, writing and temporality,” Heat 15 n.s. (2007): 115-26.

And an article by Anthony McCosker discusses my blog, along with some other blogs about illness: “Blogging Illness: Recovering in Public,” M/C Journal, 11, no. 6 (2008).


Steve Muhlberger said...

I was seriously ill during my first year of blogging. It was the one arena where I was not sick!

Stephanie Trigg said...

That's interesting. I know a woman academic blogger in Sydney who has the same disease as me, who similarly kept her blog free of all mention of cancer, for exactly the same reason.