Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Blogging the Middle Ages: Blogenspiel

by Another Damned Medievalist (ADM)

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

I started Blogenspiel at the urging of The Cranky Professor who I met the day I arrived for grad school and have been friends with ever since. We’d sort of fallen out of touch after I went to Germany on a DAAD research grant and ended up staying there for three years, during which time my academic career sort of took second place to family things. Cranky had lured me into the then-fun project that is the Wikipedia (oh, you do NOT think I’m linking to it, do you?), and then, as we started to be less willing to put up with the garbage that academic contributors were beginning to have to deal with at the time, he started a blog. With a little nudging, I started my own, but looking back on the first couple of years, I really wasn’t focused much on anything. Mostly, the blog was something that allowed me enough of an internet presence to read and comment at Crooked Timber, Easily Distracted, Bitch, Ph.D., the late Invisible Adjunct, Dr. Crazy, Profgrrrrl, and several other academic blogs (you people know who you are… especially the medieval and early modern folk). The connections I made to other academics in several fields helped to re-integrate me into a conversation that I’d really been missing for several years.

It wasn’t till I returned to teaching full-time in a visiting position that I really started to blog more regularly, and the blog began to take shape. Posts covered a lot of bases, from politics in my state of residence to lots of quizzes and memes – the last is an aspect that I think has been lost as many of us have joined Facebook, LiveJournal, and other social networking sites where such things seem to fit better. Mostly, though, I began to post about teaching and rediscovering my footing as an academic. Those posts fell into a couple of categories (other than the big one, which was, “What the hell am I doing? I don’t belong here! They’re going to find me out!!”): teaching, navigating the corridors of academe, and looking for a permanent job. Looking back, there is a lot there that I never realized, and many of the things I thought were there are missing. I hadn’t thought I’d posted so much about teaching and academic politics, nor about professional issues that really revealed who I was under the pseudonym. I had thought I’d posted more hints about my private life. Taken as a whole, though, Blogenspiel serves as sort of a memorial to who I was, and I think shows who I am and am becoming as an academic and as a medievalist, rather than what I thought it was at the time, which was a place to connect with other academics, test out my ideas, and really to feel as if I were a member of an academic community when I was so desperately unsure of my right to be there. Yes folks… it was about the validation.

It still is, but now more in the way that all academic conversation is about validation and peer review. As I have found my feet, not to mention a ‘permanent’ position, I’ve blogged about teaching with more authority. The more I have written and delivered papers, the more I have written about writing papers. The more conferences I attend, the more I blog about conferences and sometimes critique what I’ve heard at them. And the more I’ve connected with other medievalists through the blog, the more I’ve blogged about my own research. In one sense, the blog still has one stable purpose, and that is to continue to connect with a community I respect and appreciate. But over time, and as the posts have had more to do with teaching and with being a working medievalist, the community has also changed. Part of that is probably due to the fact that there are so many more blogging medievalists now than there were in 2004 or 2005. As I picked up more medievalist blogfriends, I started to lose touch with people on non-medieval blogs. There’s just too much to read, and after a couple of blogger meet-ups, it seemed a priority to read the blogs of the people I actually knew. I think that the change in the makeup of my reading list and my readership also helped to change the sorts of things I wrote about. I wonder sometimes whether my blog posts are now more or less accessible to non-medievalists. The non-medievalist/non-pre-modernist readers I recognize are all people I know in real life, most of whom I met in that first phase of blogging when I was looking for a job and commenting a lot at other people’s blogs. I’ve also moved a lot of the personal stuff to Live Journal, where I can lock it down. That may change the tone a bit. Finally, as more and more people have learnt who I am, I feel less comfortable talking about my private life. It was one thing when people could sort of put two and two together and figure out that I was seeing someone. It was even fine when some of those same people saw me at conferences with the person I was seeing and knew we were ‘an item’ as one colleague put it. But it seems odd to write about the relationship in public when it means talking about someone else who is fairly private. There is a liminal area between the blog and the blogger’s life, just as there is between my colleagues who may be friends and whom I might confide in as friends, and my colleagues in a group in a professional setting. The limes is broad, and like the one following the Rhine and Danube, there is a lot of negotiation and interaction that occurs along it. But that, too, is part of the blog’s development, and perhaps reflects the sort of negotiation between our public and private selves that all academics do.

In the meantime, the community and ties that have come from the blog have given me support, friendship, and opportunities to give papers and appear on panels as a medievalist and a blogger. The blog has allowed me to develop my voice as an academic and as a person, and that voice has been one that others have chosen as a colleague, with very real benefits to me professionally. No, I didn’t get my job through blogging, but it has connected me very tangibly to at least one professional position and to colleagues who are influential in fields in which I now work – in part because of them and their invitations to join them.

As to where the blog is going? I think it’s going to keep going with me. In that sense, even as I might add more posts that respond to the challenges of colleagues like Matt Gabriele, Scott Nokes, and the lovely people at In the Middle to make the Middle Ages more accessible, or that of Jonathan Jarrett and Magistra to post really thoughtful scholarly posts (not that there isn’t a crossover!), I would say that Blogenspiel will keep to its core. That is, it will continue to reflect my own development as my life and career change and grow. In other words, it’s my blog, and as much as I hate to say it, it’s all about meeee!


Anonymous said...

Blogenspiel always seems like such an 'honest' blog. I love and really admire that. If I blogged I would want it to be in that style.

My blog reading habits though are strange. I always check ITM for being so different (from me), occasionally check 10th for content I will find familiar and interesting - and a Don's Life for political provocation (don't know why but it frequently annoys me). That is about the limits (the rhine and the danube) of my blog reading and I must confess that I only penetrate the further shores of Blogenspiel et al once in a rare while. I *ought* to travel and there more often. It's kind of like going to the gym - you need to cultivate a habit of which blogs you habituate.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

*blushes* thanks. I like that description, and hope it's why people I've met through blogging don't seem too surprised at the RL me. :-)