Classically Inclined

January 2, 2013

Is this thing on? And what is it for, exactly?

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 9:08 am

Neville Morley has recently written about the demise of the classical blog Antike und Abendland; his thoughts have been taken up by David Meadows of Rogue Classicism. Central to both of these posts is the question of what blogging is actually for – why do we academics, classicists in particular, do it? Neville suggests that A&A demonstrated a seriousness of engagement that its British equivalents don’t pull off, while David again raises the flag for blogs as a serious work-in-progress platform, for sharing the sort of thing that you might find in a Classical Quarterly Note. This all raised some fairly heated debate on Twitter; it seemed that reflecting on what I think this blog is for would be as good a way as any to mark the transition into the New Year.

To begin with, I had best point out that I am a highly selective Luddite. I do not own a touch screen anything, nor even a Kindle. This Christmas marked the first time I have bought anything from an Apple store, and even then it was a gift card for my parents to use with their Christmas iPad. I am the only member of my family not to have a smartphone or Blackberry – mine is sufficiently primitive that while it can make calls and cope with text messages, anything else is out of the question, and that’s the way I like it. So when I choose to adopt new tech, I do so after thinking about why I should bother with it in the first place. The very first post I made on this blog addressed some of those questions. I had identified three key things I wanted this blog to do – talk about my transition back to the UK from the US; talk about my research; and reflect on my teaching.

The transition part of that is now more or less done with; the reflective teaching still goes on; and I’m starting to get better at talking about my research (see, for instance, Defining the Family or Seneca and Writing for Multiple Audiences). But that original post may have been a little bit disingenous, because it doesn’t reflect the amount of time I spent thinking before starting this blog. I’d been on Twitter for a year, and had worked out that there were things to say and share about my work that could not be said in 140 characters; I even did some reading on social media and brands to work out whether this was in fact a sensible move (and conclusions from that research delayed me starting to blog for that year while I experimented with Twitter). I came to the conclusion that I was not going to get the kind of engagement that Neville and David both want to see – the sort of deep, sustained, detailed feedback that I expect from my writing group – from the blog platform.

I have no problem with that. The purpose of the blog, for me, is ultimately about raising my profile – letting people know who I am, what work I’m doing, what I think about it, and (more recently) trying to explain some of the key concepts and problems that I’m grappling with in my research. Part of that profile raising is because of doing the PhD in the States, and needing to make myself visible to the UK academic community one way or another. But another part of it is involved with making contacts with people so I know where to go in order to start more sustained conversations. It’s also worth noting that I get a lot more feedback for blog posts over Twitter than I do over the blog itself – that is where the conversation about Neville’s blog post got going, not in his comments!

On some levels, I do want this blog to showcase the ‘serious’ research that I’m doing, as well as the ‘classics out and about’ material. (There’s obviously some overlap here as my research does look at classical reception, but I digress.) I’m still working out the best way to showcase that research, partly in terms of finding an accessible way to write about it, and partly in identifying blog-sized ‘chunks’. But I’m also aware that this is never going to be the central venue for sharing my work, and that what gets put here is inevitably going to be partial. I’m not so sure I mind. Apparently the average life cycle of an academic-ish blog is about two years. I’m just over the year and a half mark, but I get enough pleasure out of doing this that I’m intending to stick with it – just because the comments don’t tally up at the bottom of the page doesn’t mean people aren’t reading. I’m as guilty as anybody of that – I read plenty of interesting posts, nod my head sagely, and then don’t comment because I have nothing to contribute beyond *nods sagely*, and that’s hardly contributing to a high standard of academic debate.

But perhaps I’ll close this post by sharing the conclusions I came to with Diana Spencer over Twitter about this topic. Twitter works well as an environment for those of us academics who are time-poor – we can share thoughts without feeling as if we’re somehow lacking or not participating in the Grand Debate because of that handy 140 character limit, even if an original blog post is much more substantial. I know that I now rely on Twitter to point out to me things that are worth reading rather than subscribing to individual blogs, simply because it’s a more effective use of my time (in that vein, see this post on using Twitter to curate academic content in a more thoughtful and deliberate way than I do). It’s probably not a surprise that as it is in the nature of Twitter to take off the pressure to scintillate, more debate and discussion happens there. There’s a complicated interplay of various platforms going on here – I suspect part of the challenge of the next few years will be working out how, as a discipline, we make use of those intersections to our collective benefit.


  1. I’m now very sorry to have missed the debate on Twitter; for some reason I didn’t get an alert when my name was mentioned by David or you, and so the rest of it passed me by completely. I’m still getting to grips with Twitter as a medium for genuinely useful academic interaction rather than just chitchat. I must also admit that, as a naturally prolix writer, I find the 140-character limits restrictive and sometimes annoying, and spend more time trying to formulate what I want to say than I would if I could write proper sentences – and I’ve seen enough Twitterstorms started by the simply fact that someone expressed themselves too loosely or obliquely in this format to feel nervous about causing unnecessary offence.

    I know exactly what you mean about the lack of comments and discussion, which would certainly be a disincentive to most academics to share their work (as if most of them need one…). There is certainly a chicken and egg situation: if a blog post already has some discussion about it, and if the blog is noted for interesting debate, then people are more likely to come along and join in. It is also about style of post, and hence what sort of comments it seems to invite, and the nature of the blog as a whole. It is indeed difficult to maintain a single-author blog for any length of time (my first effort lasted about six months, as I recall), and also the audience will be limited to those who like the personality and/or approach of the author – so, Mary Beard gets a decent number of comments, the rest of us not so much. Here Twitter may indeed be a boon, so that people can click through to a blog topic that looks interesting when it turns up, even if it’s the first post on that blog for a year, whereas in the olden days (18 months ago, say) the golden rule was to make sure your blog had at least one new post a week or people wouldn’t bother to visit. However, I’m increasingly of the view that, at least for a serious academic blog, multiple authors must be the future. Interesting to note that the following piece, from some social scientists who are seriously successful bloggers, reached the same conclusion:

    Comment by Abahachi — January 2, 2013 @ 12:28 pm | Reply

    • On the Twitter front, you will normally only get notification through the ‘connect’ tab of the website rather than over e-mail (or else things get spam-tastic); another alternative is to use a platform like TweetDeck to keep track of mentions in a dedicated pane. But I digress. I think using Twitter for conversations is something one gets better at – I documented a particularly interesting example of this here.

      I have to say that I don’t recognise the attitude you describe here of academics not wishing to share their work – but this is possibly a generational/self-selecting sample thing, in that the sort of people I hang around with electronically are almost by default in favour of More Of This Sort Of Thing.

      In terms of comment and debate – as I’ve mused on this, I’ve been thinking about the reaction to my first pper-reviewed published article… which has been, essentially, the chirp of crickets, rather akin to the silence of blog post comments. Is there a wider issue of responding to others’ scholarly work that needs addressing here? (Cf. also the question of livetweeting conferences and the response given to speakers.)

      I would love to have more debate going on here – but at the same time, I’m aware that I occupy a rather lonely purple area on the classics map, which makes me a bit sceptical about how I would go about putting together a sustainable group blog in my current rather precarious position. However, one of the good things about the blog and Twitter combined is that I make good contacts with academics in other fields – which is also something that needs more thought in the future.

      Comment by lizgloyn — January 2, 2013 @ 1:36 pm | Reply

      • Thanks to following various of your links, I have now discovered TweetDeck, and can already see how this is going to make a significant difference.

        Query on a different but related topic. I started blogging on music sites years before I started doing it on anything ancient, so adopted the Abahachi pseudonym (virtually no one used real names in those days). When I then moved on to subject-related blogs, it seemed easier to stick with the same identity rather than trying to persuade WordPress and the like to give me another one, but increasingly I feel that this may be problematic – hence the adoption of @NevilleMorley rather than @Abahachi on Twitter. Does it confuse and/or annoy the hell out of people that my blog posts appear under an alias?

        Comment by Abahachi — January 3, 2013 @ 10:35 am | Reply

        • That wasn’t actually a genuine ‘testing, testing’ message posted in error (which I assume is why you deleted it), but simply notification that I have now adopted a new, more recognisable online identity for professional purposes…

          Comment by NevilleMorley — January 3, 2013 @ 1:21 pm | Reply

          • Oh, the comment wasn’t deleted, it was screened – my WordPress settings screen everything that comes from a new commenter, so your new identity needed approval, whereas the comment you posted below went straight through!

            Although I see responding to the ‘bugging the hell out of people’ question is a bit moot – I think it irritates people when the alias isn’t easily connected to your ‘real’ identity. One of the reasons I went with the ‘real name’ straight away was because there was no ‘real’ identity to connect to a pseudonym, so this seemed the best way to establish a footprint.

            Comment by lizgloyn — January 3, 2013 @ 4:58 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks for this — the twitter conversation (or at least the part of it I was aware of) made me resolve,to comment more, although I recognize the “nod sagely” as my usual reaction. (Sometimes then sage nodding is accompanied by a bookmark so I can share something later with students or colleagues.)

    I think that the impediments to scholarly exchange you mention, and the analog with lack of real exchange in scholarly venues as well, are about right. But to the other reasons for blogging that you mention I would add just getting interesting aspects of Classics out there for the general public. That’s something we all need to be doing more than we do.

    I had started a group blog a couple off years back; this whole exchange is inspiring me to revive it as well. Thanks!

    Comment by Clara Hardy — January 2, 2013 @ 2:18 pm | Reply

    • My sage nodding is normally accompanied by retweeting, which is a different sort of appreciation, I suppose – and indeed one that I find particularly reassuring in that someone wishes to share what I’ve written with a wider audience.

      Getting interesting bits of classics up to the surface for public view is certainly something I try to do, and indeed in a way that goes beyond identifying classics in popular culture (although, as I say, I do that too) – hence my comments on trying to make this material accessible. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk, but then I also feel that scholarly prose could do with aiming for lucidity a bit more often than it does, so it’s probably a useful exercise in and of itself.

      I shall watch out for the group blog’s reappearance!

      Comment by lizgloyn — January 2, 2013 @ 2:39 pm | Reply

  3. Well, in lieu of doing one of these posts on my own blog …

    Having had a blog since 2005 (which, I think, is longer than Mary Beard), my view is that with a blog one has to be clear about what one wants to achieve, and realistic about what can be achieved. Expecting quickly to get a lot of comments will inevitably lead to disappointment, and one should set one’s targets lower. That doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t use a blog to show case work-in-progress – indeed, Alun Salt long ago advocated the blog as a means of planting a flag that shows what one is working on. But if one is desperate for feedback, a blog is probably not your first or best choice. Raising one’s profile is a different matter – Pop Classics has done a lot of good for Juliette Harrisson, and if not for blogging, would Bristol’s Professor of Ancient History have much of an idea who you were, let alone engage in discussions with you. I can’t imagine that in a pre-blogging world your paths would have crossed very much. But comments may still not come (which, as you note, also parallels the lack of response that one’s articles get – there are some things I’ve written which ought to change how some aspects of Greek history are viewed, but they’ve barely had a citation over fifteen years).

    For the first year or so of posting on Memorabilia Antonina, it felt as if I was posting out into a vacuum. What changed was not a sudden appearance of comments, but finding out that other people were talking about my posts in other parts of the Internet. Which leads to my next point – feedback often takes place outside the comments field of the blog entries, and an entry with few comments is not necessarily an entry that no-one is paying attention to. I’ve had a lot of verbal feedback on my post on reception theory, which remains on the first page of Google hits for ‘classical reception theory’ – but there is only one actual comment on that post. And here, of course, we are commenting on Neville’s post, but not in the comments section for Neville’s post. There is an interconnecting network with other online presences, and that needs to be taken into account. (I do find it a bit odd that David Meadows was put off publicizing posts on Facebook by non-Classcists complaining. I’d ignore that, just as I’d ignore people not interesting in trains complaining about me posting ab out steam engines – my FB, so it represents me.)

    I would also say that A Don’s Life is not a good benchmark for classical bloggers. This is not saying anything against Mary or the blog, as I approve very much of both. But A Don’s Life is sui generis, and taking it as a model is not necessarily helpful. For a start, it’s a job of paid journalism, where most bloggers are blogging for nothing, in their own time (which is why the blog is often the first thing to go when the demands of the day job come in). And whilst Mary gets a lot of comments, many of her commentators are part of a very individual community that exists around A Don’s Life, and they rarely comment elsewhere (or at least, not in other Classics blogs). (And also, as the number of one’s comments go up, inevitably there is a parallel increase in the number of nutters leaving comments, especially if one engages with controversial subjects such as Atlantis or Macedon.)

    I think that group blogs will be an important part of the future of academic blogging. But I don’t think they are the whole future – I think individual blogs will continue (and Neville’s experience shows that group blogs can become individual blogs if only one person posts!). And whilst a lot of blogs may run out of steam after two years, few are ever dead forever. No matter what people think of mine!

    Comment by tonykeen46 — January 2, 2013 @ 10:09 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Tony – and I agree with Alun Salt about the flag-planting aspect of blogging (I’ve never really had the fear of having ideas stolen that seems to worry so many people).

      I should point out that the pingback system of comments means that there is a comment on Neville’s original post pointing him (and other readers) to the fact that I’ve linked to his post, but I have no idea how universal that system is or indeed how much attention people pay to that sort of thing.

      One of the things my research phase did was point out the truth of the comments you make about A Don’s Life – and I adjusted my expectations accordingly. Mind you, that also freed me from feeling that I needed to post as regularly as Mary does, or on the same sorts of topics… which strikes me as an important thing in and of itself if a blog is to develop its own character rather than try to replicate other things that are already out there. I started a blog because I had things I wanted to say, not because I wanted to repeat things other people had said – which is, in turn, one of those central points about scholarship in general.

      Comment by lizgloyn — January 3, 2013 @ 10:30 am | Reply

      • Are people genuinely terrified of getting their ideas stolen if they post them on blogs? I see it in diametrically opposite terms: if I have something that looks like a good idea, the sooner I can put it into the public domain and so lay claim to it the better. The alternative is the nagging fear that haunted my PhD years, that someone else might be working on the same topic and so could wreck my own research if they published something before I finished…

        Comment by Abahachi — January 3, 2013 @ 10:39 am | Reply

        • One of the big questions that comes up in #phdchat and #ecrchat on Twitter around the question of how to use social media and blogging is always the ‘how not to get ideas stolen’ question. It does seem to be a particularly scary fear for a lot of PhD and ECR folks – it’s not one I share, but it’s out there and it shapes how a lot of researchers engage with social media.

          Comment by lizgloyn — January 3, 2013 @ 5:00 pm | Reply

  4. […] blogosphere – see for example David Meadows’ Rogue Classicism and Liz Gloyn’s Classically Inclined. One upshot of this is that I’m going to have to find some time over the next few […]

    Pingback by New Year, New Me « Sphinx — January 3, 2013 @ 12:25 pm | Reply

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