Greetings from foggy and damp Chicago! I hope the weather is at least a little nicer wherever you are. This third blog post was meant to be a space for NEMLA members to share their thoughts on the relationship between teaching and research, a topic explored in my last blog post. However, upon checking my email inbox, I discovered that no one had sent in any responses.
Consequently, for this month I’m going to focus on two things. First, reminding NEMLA members that you have until Midnight TODAY to submit your proposals for this year’s conference in Hartford thanks to a deadline extension. Session descriptions can be found at https://www.cfplist.com/nemla/Home/cfp. Second, focusing on the role of technology in the field of American Literature.
Since I am writing a blog post, perhaps the best way to start is with that medium. Blogs aren’t really a new technology. They have been around since at least the 1990’s. I remember using a primitive version of web journal during my undergraduate years that looked a lot like a blog and allowed users to communicate within the university’s computer network (intranet) in a manner similar to today’s chat rooms or discussion boards. Yet it has only been in recent years that blogging has evolved from a niche mode of communication for the tech savvy to a form of expression that now overshadows most other genres of writing. This growth in the number of bloggers is due in no small part to the creation of blog templates such as Blogger and WordPress that eliminate the need for writers to know coding languages. Online writing tools used to require someone to create them before any writing could be done. Now an aspiring blogger simply needs to pick a service provider, choose a template, and start writing.
I came to consistent blogging fairly late in my career. After my introduction to this form of writing as an undergraduate, I didn’t write anything that might be considered a blog until 2011. At the time, my decision was based mostly on frustration. I felt that no one in my immediate circles of colleagues was interested in my area of research and I couldn’t afford to travel to the conferences most relevant to my field. Blogging allowed me to connect with other scholars that I might otherwise never meet face to face and share my research with the world. Of course, it also gave me space to play as I created both a professional blog (on which this post was written) and a current events blog that was more for fun. On that second site I wrote about topics in the news that I had strong opinions about (most local in nature). It was like my own personal editorial page.
Not long after creating these two blogs, I discovered that one of the problems of online writing is figuring out how to develop a reading audience. Even a print author grows discouraged if no one seems to be reading their works. The same is true of a blogger. If one is writing for themselves or for close acquaintances that they see everyday, the task of writing soon becomes a burden and the blog dies. My current events blog suffered just such a death. Another species of problem that can arise is gaining the wrong type of readership. Much has been written on internet “trolls” who hijack discussions on websites and bully writers of blog posts into silence. A different problem is when one gains readers but not on the subject originally intended. My professional blog was intended as a space for me to share my research on American Literature, but soon developed into a venue for debating issues related to academic labor.
Initially I fought notoriety as an advocate for adjuncts as it is not something I’ve done research on, unless you count experience as a form of research. Then I embraced it for the readership. Finally, I discovered that after my initial round of posts, I had nothing else to say. Having spoken my peace, I returned to my original topics of interests and my readership underwent a precipitous decline. Most of the traffic on my blog site today (johnacaseyjr.com) is still connected to my posts on adjunct labor and not my writings on American Literature.
What I’ve learned through my experience with blogging is that you need to create face to face networks before you can successfully establish an online readership. You also need to have a clear sense of your blog’s purpose and audience. The blog site you are reading this post on has developed into more of a website (content to read) rather than a gateway for virtual conversation. Part of me wants to accept that while part of me continues to seek audience interaction. I think the design of my site reflects this tug of war.
I’ve rambled so long this month about blogs that I don’t have much time to talk about other technologies used in the teaching and research of American Literature. Next week I’ll discuss another tool I’ve come to both love and hate–Twitter. This will lead me to a prelude of the issues I plan to discuss in my round table session in Hartford.
Until next time….