Thursday, November 12, 2009

Blogging the Middle Ages: The Ruminate, or iSwain

by Larry Swain

[#6 in our series of blog histories]

I think in the following that my choice of a blog title will become very clear.  Back in the day as I transitioned from working stiff: unwilling computer guy to graduate level medievalist in late 1998-1999, I became aware of LiveJournal and other such sites.  I was already at that time creating web pages for both research and teaching applications, some under the auspices of the Medieval Institute at Western Michigan University and some on my own.  We had already also begun work on The Heroic Age.  Rambling around in my brain then were some thoughts of creating a medieval based web presence of some kind modeled in part on some things I had been a part of earlier, but for the web rather than lynx, telnet, gopher and the like.  So let me back up a bit.  In the early '90s, I had been a subscriber to a list of burgeoning links that were culled from the growing web and sent round usually on a weekly basis.  The subject of the list was generally Rome and the Roman Empire.  Eventually this weekly list of links became the Lacus Curtius site.  Later yet, another person interested in classics began The Explorator, a weekly email of news items related to the Ancient and Classical worlds.   But, what kept me from beginning such a site or list of my own was time, the fact that some really great online projects in the field were underway such as Netserf, ORB, Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and at WMU we had and continued to produce online content.  

Slowly, my thoughts began to solidify that what was needed wasn't really another site of texts, or a site of links (Netserf and Heroic Age were already doing that), but medieval news and announcements.  At that point, c. 2000, no one was doing that.  But I was bogged down in my own studies and efforts of becoming a medievalist; the result was that the thoughts and intent were there, but I did little to put them into action.  Along about 2002-2003 blogs were becoming more widely known.  To that point, blogs were mostly a) announcement portions of corporate sites b) personal diaries attached to web pages.  Once Google purchased Blogger though, some colleagues and friends in Biblical Studies and Classics who had been instrumental in early web sites in their fields began experimental blogs.  No one was sure how this application could be applied to academia, much less specifically to the Humanities.  It occurred to me that my desire to publish abroad news and announcements of interest in Medieval Studies generally could fit in the new blog atmosphere.  I actually started a blog as an experiment.  I quickly stopped posting my thoughts, I didn't want to do a personal diary sort of thing, and I doubted anyone but me would be interested in my musings on things medieval.  Once I had a format down, I launched The Ruminate.

In those early days of the blog, first published over Christmas break in 2003, I published simply news items.  I am disinclined to draw attention to such efforts, so since I was really the only one reading the blog, I did not update regularly...and admittedly a full load of taking classes, teaching classes, commuting, and the like left little time for it.  At the same time I was still experimenting with the format and so eventually my announcements included: news of the week, saints days, historical events commemorated during the week, medieval words showing up in the various dictionary "word of the day" features, and Medieval television.  Each topic might disappear for a week or more depending on my time to compile the material.

I posted intermittently until 2006.  My first real post was reacting to a flurry of posts first from Mike Drout on his blog, Wormtalk and Slugspeak, regarding the State of the Field in Anglo-Saxon studies.  Several other burgeoning bloggers, Eileen Joy, Scott Nokes, Tiruncula, responded.  These blog posts eventually became a feature in The Heroic Age.  But that was what I would call my first post (well, technically, I wrote about a Top Chef episode immediately before this one).  Over 2006 and 2007 I found my voice as a medieval scholar as well as a blogger.  I've reported news, discussed issues, interacted with other bloggers.  I've used the blog to begin to generate on paper some research results, to suggest books or articles, or to interact with books, articles, email discussions, and the like.  Interestingly, the majority of those who check in on me are people I've never met personally...not that my numbers are large.  But unlike many who blog, my family, spouse, friends, and longest, closest colleagues don't read the blog, and in some cases I don't think they know it exists. 

For the foreseeable future, I'll continue as I am: blogging ideas, research, reading, interacting.  I've broken off my original idea of an announcements blog to the The Heroic Age blog that posts news, announcements, CFPs and the like.  I've also joined Matthew Gabriele at Modern Medieval and post on medievalism topics there as time permits.  I've found blogging to be a positive element in my professional life and hopefully have made one or two people think along the way.  I use newer media too, FB, etc, but while these sites have many a medievalist on them, they do not seem conducive to the types of things that blogs, e-lists, and other media offer us.  That is not a negative thing, it is important I think to have many tools in the box and to be able to use them all.

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