In a comment on one of the subsequent posts I wrote in the on-going H-Net thread here on edwired, Matthew Gilmore, one of the H-Net Vice Presidents, suggested that I take a look at the discussion of my post that was taking place on H-Scholar. Herewith is a detailed look at what I found:
After one of the list editors pointed network members to my original blog posting, several responded. These responses are, I think, very interesting and instructive, largely because they go to the core of one of the most important critiques of academic blogs, namely, that because bloggers can post what they want when they want without the intermediary of an editor, they often stand accused of being somehow “unacademic” in tone or content. H-Net defenders, by contrast, point out that because H-Net lists are edited and moderated, they maintain that higher tone and quality control that we in the academy insist upon. Why we insist on speaking to one another in more rarefied tones and why we fear letting the hoi polloi is, I think, a topic for an entirely different discussion.
For now, however, let’s take a careful look at what the members of H-Scholar wrote in response to my original post.
List member bcbell (no name provided, so I guess it’s okay to be anonymous on an H-Net list, but not in a blog) wrote: “There’s a lively discussion going on at H-Editor right now about the “death of H-Net”, a term put forward by an apparently renegade blogger [italics added] who once edited H-Hapsburg. Although all of the posts could be read to apply to any of the lists individually, such as H-Scholar, one point in particular seemed relevant, which is that the public is leaning away from generalist media these days, and looking for niche media. Well, H-Scholar is a generalist publication with respect to the bulk of H-Net members (everyone’s a scholar), and a niche publication with respect to the people we suspect are our actual members (the small band of independents). I’m not sure where that leaves us, but I find it interesting to think about H-Scholar in those terms.”
The first thing to note, it seems to me, is the alteration of the original source. The title of my post is “The End of H-Net?” not “Death of H-Net” as bcbell changed it to read. Small potatoes you say? But don’t we, as scholars, have certain rules about how to cite sources? And isn’t giving the source a title that the author didn’t use a violation of one of those rules? Also, I’d be curious to know who is being more unacademic–the blogger (moi) who raised a reasonable point about an important means of scholarly communication, or the email list contributor who decided to characterize another scholar (moi again) as a “renegade”? Since when did H-Net list editors start allowing their members to characterize other scholars with such adjectives? Is it because I’m a blogger that it’s okay to start with the name-calling?
The next response to this thread, by Edward Smith of the University of Guelph, was: “Traffic on H-Net lists – and on many email lists – has dropped in recent years, but is still far more scholarly than blogs. Blogs are almost always the opinions of single individuals and only rarely have a scholarly tone. I scanned through some of the blogs I thought might be interesting recently and found quirky personal opinion, seemingly random downloads of Youtube sites, lists of events, but nothing to seriously engage a scholar.”
To which edlk (again no name, just an email address) of Mount Holyoke College begins his or her post with: “Ffft, say I…”
I suppose that’s what Professor Smith means by a “scholarly tone.”
By contrast to the incorrect citation, interesting adjective, and scholarly tone of the H-Scholar discussion of my post about H-Net, read the very detailed discussion between Katja Herring and Maarja Krusten that has been going on in the comments to a subsequent post. I’ll take their scholarly tone over the one I found on H-Scholar any day.
Does this mean that blogs are better than listserv communications? Of course not. Plenty of blogs are silly, inconsequential, and worse than a waste of time. But every week more serious blogs written by serious scholars grappling with serious issues appear on the web. As a form of academic communication, blogs have only been going for a couple of years now. Listservs have been functioning as venues for academic exchange for more than a decade. I for one am more than willing to wait a few more years to see what shakes out.
And that was the thrust of my original post–that email is increasingly a bothersome form of communication and is being used less and less by the young people on our campuses who will be our colleagues before much longer, while blogs, wikis, and other forms of social networking are slowly but surely coming into their own as viable alternatives to the listserv.