Academics in the Public Sphere

Though blog writing and reading is a popular pastime among many different types of people, academics, especially historians, do not all agree on the worth of keeping a history blog. Many academic concerns are mentioned in the piece “Only Typing, Informal Blogs, Writing, and the Academy.” Some worry that this piece of informal writing takes time away from more meaningful pursuits. Others believe that blogging is too unaccountable to be accurate. While these concerns are fair, there are other benefits to maintaining a historical blog. The piece “Were there Blog Enough and Time” quoted historian Tim Burke as having given five reasons for maintaining a historical blog as an academic. Among these reasons, Burke argued that blogs give him an informal space to flesh out new ideas, that blogs provide a platform for narratives that are too small to publish formally, and perhaps most importantly that blogs and other spaces of informal writing give academics a space to interact with the wider world.

These arguments are also echoed in some segments of “Only Typing,” which gives more shape to the idea of blogs as a sphere of social interaction rather than the traditional one way communication that is academic publishing. This is especially true of blogs which allow for comments and user interaction. Blogs interact with the world on a regular basis as design, and therefore allow many historians and intellectuals to interact with the world of politics, pop-culture, and public opinion in a manner which is not easily accomplished in the field of academic publishing. One reason for this is the speed with which a blog post can be written and published. The fact that all of this can be done in less than a week makes blogs inherently current, and therefore able to address issues in a meaningful and contemporary manner..

This is especially evident in the blog post addressing abortion in the 1950s New York, “A Christmas Abortion” by Gillian Frank. Frank used his platform to tell the story of a particularly gruesome botched abortion in a manner that alluded to modern issues surrounding the same subject. The conclusion that society was “equally culpable in her murder” and that “For too many Americans, Jacqueline Smith’s past is all all too present” may not find the same audience in academic publishing. While his work was likely not formally peer-reviewed before being published, it has likely been subjected to informal review by its more serious readers since its publication date. And considering that Frank’s research at Princeton University focuses on gender, sexuality, and religion, his post was likely derivative of a piece of his own scholarly research.
Through the blog “Notches,” Frank’s post can be shared via twitter, Facebook, and google+. A scholarly article or monograph of the same subject would be available to a much smaller amount of people, most of whom would likely share the same conclusions as Frank. By creating this historical perspective on the current debate over abortion, Frank contributed a reasonable, scholarly voice to a typically cacophonous political discourse.

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