The End of H-Net? (5)

For those of you following the discussion here about H-Net, listservs and blogs, and the future of scholarly conversations in a digital environment, here are a couple of additional links for you. The discussion of these issues that is going on on the H-German list has included two more posts. Here is a clip from Nathanael D. Robinson of Brandeis University who concludes:

The success of a blog that would, in Paul Steege’s words, become “a collaboration in German history”, would depend on the enthusiasm and character of its participants. /Frog in a Well /and /Chapati Mystery/ do a great job setting the tone for blogging in their respective fields of study. Konrad Lawson, Alan Baumler and Manan Ahmed combine rigorous scholarship with far-sighted concern for technology and irreverence. The anonymously-written /Another Damned Medievalist/ provides insights into the working of the academy. The list of fine blogs is long. However, they all engage in discussions across the blogosphere rather than concentrate on only their own blogs. I’d recommend that Germanists become more involved before taking the next step. [I added the links here, since one can’t do that in an H-Net posting.]

And here’s an excerpt from a longer post by Erik C. Maiershofer of Hope International University, who wrote:

What if we didn’t cede the blogosphere to everyone else? What if our unfinished thoughts (and the rebuttals and contestations) were available for the world to see? Rather than undermining the authority of us professional academics, might such a strategy expand our relevance? Might it invite more and different participants into the kind of discourse we so often wish for in public?”

Both of these contributions to the discussion raise a very important issue that I did not when I first brought the issue up two weeks ago. What are the consequences for academics of ceding the public discussion of issues we care about to others? I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve heard a colleague complain that so-and-so in the news media, or this person he spoke to at a cocktail party just didn’t understand the historical dimensions of this, that, or the other issue. As long as we keep or professional conversations locked behind the walls of email listservs and annual meetings attended only by us and our graduate students, is it a wonder that others don’t know as much about history as we’d wish?

Finally, for those of you who are German speakers, here’s another blog that has taken up the thread.

4 thoughts on “The End of H-Net? (5)

  1. Larry Cebula

    I just posted this in the earlier thread but perhaps it belongs here:

    This topic is also being discussed at the AHA blog–among other places.

    I am a huge fan of H-Net, it has kept me in the game after I took a 4/4 teaching job at a school with no support for research. But I think we all have to admit that H-Net has never been what we hoped, a sort of senior seminar and coffee shop where great scholars exchange big thoughts. Instead it is an electronic bulletin board and bibliography exchange.

    Part of the problem is not just that they are mailing lists but the fact that the H-Net software is pretty awful. I got about halfway through the H-Net editor training before I gave up (sorry Kelly!). It is 1980s software dependent on memorizing various commands and following odd protocols. It is primitive from the user side as well. Want to add a file or picture to your message? A sound clip? You lose sucker!

    Blogs are only a partial replacement for H-Net, blogs do something different. Could we combine the two? A few H-Net lists could, as an trial run, establish group blogs with blanket permission for any list member to post on them. Weekly roundups of the action on the blogs could be posted to the list. I could see some of these blogs developing lively conversations and expanding the H-Net audience. I would certainly post to the H-West or H-Indian blogs.

  2. tkelly7 Post author

    Hi Larry:

    Thanks for the comment. I do think we’ll end up with some sort of hybrid of the push (email) and the pull (blogs), if only because so many people are still so comfortable with email. Having said that, my blog reading is all “push”, because I have subscribed to the RSS feeds of a dozen or so blogs and each day my feed reader informs me (a) when something new has appeared on the blog and (b) gives me a brief summary of that post. I can also easily share that post with friends, print it (although I never do), or highlight it as a favorite. So, for me, blog reading is just as convenient as email reading and it comes with a few extra features.


  3. Colleen

    “What are the consequences for academics of ceding the public discussion of issues we care about to others?”

    I get the sense that people fear speaking out publically – meaning, in a blog – more so than in a mediated listserv. It would seem to me that conversations on list-servs are mediated from above, from editors and the like? If this is the case, list-servs definitely undermine the ability for the opinions and viewpoints of professionals and peers to circulate out in the open.

    I use the word “fear” to justify why people may be hesitant to speak out in a public blog for one main reason: people may fear offending or coming to blows with peers, colleagues, the public, etc. (I might be wrong about this, because I do not belong to the listservs you mentioned above, so I am not exactly sure to the extent this kind argument goes on). So, my question is: are keeping “professional conversations locked behind the walls of email listservs” a way to avoid confrontation? If so, it certainly says something about people’s willingness to accept and discuss alternate views besides their own…

  4. tkelly7 Post author

    Hi Colleen:

    You have hit on a very interesting paradox.

    For academic work to be considered scholarship it must be public. Otherwise, it is just the private work of individuals. Some would argue that posting some sort of scholarly commentary to an email listserv makes that commentary “public.” But that is only “public” in a very limited sense. Only those who subscribe to the listserv have access to it, especially because, in the case of H-Net, those listserv comments are not being crawled by the major search engines and thus don’t show up in search results.

    Others argue that “public” only means “peer reviewed” and that the material posted to these listservs is reviewed by peers because the subscribers are peers and are, one assumes, reading a certain amount of the material that shows up in their email inbox.

    And now for your final question…I think that the sort of fear you describe is certainly there for many academics. In a coffee shop, around the dinner table, or just walking across campus, we are pretty fearless–discussing ideas, criticizing work we think is substandard, or praising new scholarship that impresses us. We tend to have pretty strong views. But those strong views almost never make it into print, except in the case of book reviews. Sometimes–not as often as should be the case–book reviewers actually say that a book just isn’t very good for reasons x, y, and z. Most of the time, we hedge our criticisms so that they don’t seem so confrontational. I think, by the way, that this is much more of an American trait. My colleagues in Eastern Europe have no difficulty saying, in public, “Oh, that book/article/conference paper really wasn’t very good.”

    And I think you are right that this does say something about people’s willingness to discuss views that differ from their own–or to be categorized as having one view or another.

    Thanks for the comment!

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