Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Who Taxes Who, Anyway?

Benjamin Franklin wrote this in 1758:
"Friends, says he, and neighbors, the taxes are indeed very heavy, and if those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge them; but we have many others, and much more grievous to some of us. We are taxed twice as much by our idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our folly, and from these taxes the commissioners cannot ease or deliver us by allowing an abatement.... " 'An old man' quoted in "The Way to Wealth"
Our own idleness, pride, and folly account for the lion's share of the real taxes we pay, the real loss to our income--government a far fourth. Yet it is government only that most of us complain about.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

In the Land of Manufactured Controversey

Developments in two manufactured controversies recently--one serious and one trivial--bring me back again to that well-known feeling of helplessness at the core of twenty-first-century existence. The first was Richard Muller's mea culpa in The New York Times. After two years of study, he acknowledges that human-sparked climate change is real--something anyone with any sense has known for a generation. The second was Mitt Romney's little slips while out of the country. They are what is to be expected from him, are what he has been doing consistently for years, and they have no impact on whether or not he will be president.

What's astonishing and frustrating is how, in a time when we are surrounded by real crises, we allow ourselves to be sidetracked so easily. So what if Miller finally 'fesses up to the obvious? Climate-change deniers aren't going to simply shrug and give up because one of their numbers defects. It's not science, it's not logic that's behind them anyhow. They created this controversy not for truth or exploration but for their own convenience. They don't care that what they are arguing is patently ridiculous. They only care that the continued argument keeps them from being immediately discomfited. They don't want to be bothered so make up a controversy to make sure they aren't.

The same is true--intellectually--of creationism. The people who argue for it are simply deflecting, keeping themselves from facing real questions of the systems of their own belief. They don't really believe in creationism (the evidence is too overwhelming against them) but its implications are unpalatable. So, they push.

The whole voter-fraud controversy is manufactured not to make sure only legitimate voters vote but to keep as many who would likely vote for Democrats from voting at all. It is a controversy in response to no underlying problem, as Pennsylvania legislator Mike Turzai admits. The "schools fail" controversy does nothing to improve our education, the "reformers" acting only as point people in an attempt to pry huge public funding from public hands--with the result, as I am seeing as a college teacher, of our students entering higher education more unprepared than they were a decade ago.

None of these manufactured controversies solves anything. They all just make sure real problems are not addressed (and that real profits are made or are not threatened today, in many cases). The problem is, when they are raised with force we have no choice but to address them, turning us away from the real problems of our time--which, in many cases is the point.

Climate change denial? If you are invested in the way things are and believe you have the resources to survive even if others don't--no problem. Don't want to question your own beliefs and think the world's going to end soon anyhow, proving you are right? Just make up something in the meantime. Want to make sure growing resentments don't lead to a forcing out of manipulative and dishonest government? Make sure that those most likely to be affected negatively can't vote. See money going in huge amounts into schools that you can't touch? Make those schools seem toxic and offer an alternative that has the appearance of doing something better, an alternative whose money you control.

To hell with the rest of us. To hell with the future.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Fenimore Cooper's Literary Benefits

When writing of James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain had pedantic satire in mind. His purpose, really, had little to do with the possibilities of enjoyment through Cooper's work; his goal was amusement of his own audience. Cooper's reputation was well established and, I am sure, Mark Twain thought he would have little impact upon it. One current parallel would be all the fun that is had at the expense of Ernest Hemingway. The sale of his books has been little affected.

But literary reputations are fragile, especially when attacked by those at the top of the current literary establishment. Where, by 1895, Mark Twain surely resided.

Half a century later, Edmund Wilson lived there, too. Like Mark Twain, he was in a position for the easy breaking of a reputation and, like Mark Twain, he did so--for American scholars, at least. In a New Yorker article published on June 8, 1946, he wrote:
It has happened to me from time to time to run into some person of taste who tells me that I ought to take Somerset Maugham seriously, yet I have never been able to convince myself that he was anything but second-rate. His swelling reputation in America[...] seems to me a conspicuous sign of the general decline of our standards.[...] There are real writers, like Balzac and Dreiser, who may be said to write badly. Dreiser handles words abominably, but his prose has a compelling rhythm, which is his style and which induces the emotions that give his story its poetic meaning. But Mr. Maugham, whose use of words is banal, has no personal rhythm at all, nor can he create for us a poetic world.
That clearly echos Mark Twain on Cooper:
Cooper's word-sense was singularly dull. When a person has a poor ear for music he will flat and sharp right along without knowing it. He keeps near the tune, but is not the tune. When a person has a poor ear for words, the result is a literary flatting and sharping; you perceive what he is intending to say, but you also perceive that he does not say it. This is Cooper. He was not a word-musician. His ear was satisfied with the approximate words.
The impact, in both cases, has been long-lasting. Look at syllabi for 19th Century American Literature and for 20th Century British Literature courses in most American universities: you won't find much of either Cooper or Maugham. Yet Cooper remains well read and even loved, and Maugham is still one of the most popular writers in English, worldwide.

Both Maugham and Cooper were extremely prolific. Perhaps, following Ben Jonson's plaint about Shakespeare, it would have been better had they blotted out thousands of lines. But they remain two of the most popular writers from their times and need to be recognized as real contributors to the great tradition of English-language fiction--and not just in passing.

I have long disagreed with Wilson about Maugham. Among my favorite novels are The Razor's EdgeCakes and Ale, and The Moon and Sixpence. Maugham's short stories, I find, are always worth returning to--and I do, often.

This comes to my mind as I re-read The Pioneers, the first time I've looked into Cooper since a class with Cooper biographer Wayne Franklin thirty years ago. I have been a bit shocked by what I have found, for one rather personal reason and for another due to events of this summer. Through the combination, I am learning that I have long underestimated Cooper--basically by ignoring him--to my own loss. And I have been doing it through buying in to the commonplace attitudes toward him best exemplified by Mark Twain.

The personal reason for my surprise results from my subway reading. With two hours a day on trains and buses, I realized two years ago that I have the perfect opportunity to catch up on some of the 19th-century British fiction that I skirted in graduate school. I've been reading (and loving) things like Charles Dickens' Domby and Son, Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, George Elliot's Adam Bede and Middlemarch, Anthony Trollope's The American Senator and Doctor Thorne, and William Thackery's Pendennis and Vanity Fair--and loving them. Steeped in all of this, I returned to Cooper with a better frame for reading him than I ever before had.

What I found is a delightful, engaging, and smart writer every bit the peer of his fellow novelists on the other side of the Atlantic. His flaws are their's as well (especially in relation to class and assumptions about breeding) yet his strengths are his own. He is not the tedious novelist, master of 'over-writing' that I had imagined and even remembered.

Then there's the greater reason: As we finally begin to face the reality of the human impact on global warming through a summer of drought and forest fire, I am struck by the three stances toward European interaction with 'natural' America presented by Cooper: Natty Bumppo's 'zero footprint' approach, Marmaduke Temple's concern for sustainability, and Richard Jones's take-as-much-as-you-can attitude. These aren't so different from major attitudes today (which is why I couch them in contemporary terms), though Bumppo's has been rendered obsolete.

Furthermore, the fire at the climax of the novel is exacerbated by cutting that left the tops of trees in the forest where they dried into a kindling-like mass that allowed the fire to spread with rate and force that it never could have achieved on its own.

Cooper, to my surprise, is not only a better writer than I had thought, but he is much more relevant to problems we face today than I could ever have imagined. Not only does he lay out attitudes we still struggle to understand and, in some cases, to overcome, but he provides recognition that these are not modern creations but are things that have come down to us through generations of Americans. If we don't deal with that fact, we will never manage to build any sort of consensus allowing us to successfully address what is quickly becoming a critical problem. Using Cooper to bring our contemporary debate into context is a very good idea.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Academe

As of the first of this month, I began assuming duties as Faculty Editor of the AAUP magazine Academe. Cat Warren, whose shoes I will be trying to fill, is editing the issues finishing out this year; I will be responsible starting with the Jan./Feb. 2013 issue (fortunately, Cat has agreed to help me through that first one).

Anyone with articles or ideas relating to faculty concerns is encouraged to contact me directly or through the magazine's "Manuscript Submission Guidelines" page.

Because of my new responsibility, I won't be blogging as frequently here, but will be splitting my posts between One Flew East and the Academe blog, where I will concentrate on issues of faculty governance, academic freedom, and the role of the scholar in society.

Monday, July 16, 2012

"You Can't Quote Me!"

In the 1970s, I spent a few nice months as a reporter for a small New England daily newspaper. I loved it. Though I covered outlying school boards and town council meetings during the evenings, daytimes were devoted to feature stories. I wrote about county fairs, parks, and people. This, I thought, would be my career.

At the same time, though, I was learning things that would soon drive me away from journalism.

The business, I came to understand, was corrupt. Unless I was willing to be part of the corruption, I would have to find another career. The problem was cronyism and money, of course.

Those who didn't matter, who weren't connected to power in the community or to advertising money, could feel all the weight of the press. Those who did matter? Not only were they treated with kid gloves but they had what amounted to veto power over stories concerning them. I was informed quite bluntly, for example, that I was never to quote anyone of importance without calling them and confirming the quote with them--not even if they had been speaking in a public forum.

A couple of times, I had to change my stories when confirmation was refused--even though the quote was acknowledged as accurate.

In today's New York Times is a story telling me little has changed. Oh, I knew that: reporters are so protective of their "access" that they will bend themselves into pretzels rather than lose it.
“We don’t like the practice,” said Dean Baquet, managing editor for news at The New York Times. “We encourage our reporters to push back. Unfortunately this practice is becoming increasingly common, and maybe we have to push back harder.”
Journalists clearly know this is wrong, but they do it anyway. Their own careers are more important than professional responsibilities.

It has been that way for a long time, and isn't likely to change now.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Two Brooklyns

Or three. Or four. Whatever.

When my parents moved to Brooklyn in 1970, I was in college. My experience of the borough had come through visits to my aunt and uncle, who lived off Grand Army Plaza, first on the east side of it and later on the Park Slope side. My parents bought a brownstone in a middle-class enclave between Crown Heights and Prospect Park called Lefferts Manor, a mile or so south of my aunt and uncle. I spent a few months there the next summer, taking a couple of classes at Brooklyn College. A year later I was back, working for four summer months in Manhattan.

It wasn't until 1975 that I lived and worked in New York City on my own, taking an apartment in an Italian neighborhood called Carrol Gardens because it was cheap and close to the F train. Leaving in 1976, I returned in 1978, staying for about eight months. In 1988 I was back again for a few months before entering Peace Corps but it wasn't until 1992 that I decided to make a real commitment to Brooklyn. I bought a house across the street from my mother's (my father had died the year before) and took a job at Brooklyn Friends School for a year before a couple of partners and I opened up Shakespeare's Sister back in Carroll Gardens, which had become something of a coming, trendy neighborhood. Later, I would bounce back and forth a bit between Pennsylvania and Brooklyn, but was never away for more than a week at a time.

Today, I live in a neighborhood called Marine Park and work downtown, traversing the borough daily by bus and subway. We're here because we can have a house and yard (we have lots of pets and do love the flowers), but it is, in many ways, isolated from what has brought Brooklyn such cachet over the past decades. We can't get into Manhattan (or anywhere) easily, there is no elegant architecture around, and the trendy youth culture of Williamsburg and, yes, even Carrol Gardens hasn't even a clue that we exist.

Today, in the New York Times, an article ran titled "As Brooklyn Gentrifies, Some Neighborhoods Are Being Left Behind." Now, I might complain that one cannot be left behind when one never was expected on the express--or even wanted to be on it, but I won't. The Times, after all, sees itself as the center and the motion that everyone aspires to. There's no way I am going to convince anyone there that some of us never wanted to get on their train, so I won't even try.

Though I do like what has happened to Brooklyn over the past twenty years, it's not the only Brooklyn or even what Brooklyn should be. This is a huge, diverse borough. That the trendy Brooklyn gets the press doesn't mean that it is the best of Brooklyn. We get better bagels here than anyone will find in Park Slope and the best Italian restaurant that I know of isn't anywhere near the trendy neighborhoods, but sits in Dyker Heights (it is called Tommaso's). Plus, we are close to Coney Island and the little minor-league park where the Cylcones play... much cheaper and, frankly, as much fun as the majors.

Left behind? Nah. Just a different track.

Oh... and I completely forgot: A friend has prepared for the day when Marine Park becomes trendy. It will be known as Mapa ("Ma, pa")... well, maybe it already should be, so old fashioned is it.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Teaching... or Managing?

Again, Diane Ravitch has led me on a saddening path. She links to this post, by a young Teach for America (TFA) trainee. For me, the most disturbing part is not the post itself (which is frightening enough) but one of the comments, one made by someone called "CAT." In response to concerns about progress at the training institute, CAT writes:
Perhaps if I said to you – hey, what basic management skills have you gained this summer? – you might reply in terms of BMC, or tracking, or anything along those lines. Taking this a step further we could say – well how would you apply those skills to the last few days of class? – where I assume the obvious answer is 1. Keeping the class ordered 2. Meeting the objectives you have time to meet in an orderly fashion, and 3. Taking something away from this experience yourself to grow as a manager.
I don't know what BMC is, but "management skills"? Certainly, a teacher has to be able to "manage" a classroom, but the skills necessary for that are quite different from those of the management one finds in business. Meeting "objectives" has little to do, as anyone with any real teaching experience knows, with educating students. It removes the students from the center of the process (where they belong, and where they must be if the education is to succeed), replacing them with artifice.

It is this distinction, the one between managing and teaching, that the education "reformers" don't understand. One does not become a better teacher by becoming a better manager. The two sets of skills are distinct. Keeping the class ordered and meeting "objectives" do not lead to good teaching or to learning. "Growing" as a manager has nothing to do with growth as a teacher.

I don't know what TFA does in its training, but if this post is any indication, there's not much pretense of preparing teachers. Only of building managers.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Research Without a Hero

Recently, I wrote about the astonishing (well, it should be astonishing) story of Herbert Mayes' "biography" of Horatio Alger, Alger: A Biography Without a Hero. So enamored was I that I searched Amazon.com for a copy of the book, finding a 1978 reprint with a new Introduction by Mayes himself and an Afterword by Jack Bales, who would soon be working on The Lost Life of Horatio Alger, Jr. with Gary Scharnhorst, the book that first alerted me to the story. What's even better is that the book is signed by both Mayes and Bales (and the publisher). Of course, I bought this treasure.

In his Introduction, Mayes writes that his book, on first publication:
was not accepted for what it was: a deliberate, complete fabrication, with virtually no scintilla of basis in fact. Any word of truth in it got in unwittingly. I made it up out of nothing. Most of the few facts I uncovered were intentionally distorted. But the book was regarded then, with no known exceptions, as a genuine biography. (ii-iii)
Wow. As a result, as Bales writes in the Afterword:
The greatest obstacle to studying the life of Horatio Alger, Jr. is the fact that most of what has been published about the author since Herbert R. Mayes' work appeared in 1928 is fictitious. (242)
Not even the debunking that has occurred, starting in the early 1970s, has managed to derail the misinformation:
But writers, I am sure, will continue to perpetuate these absurd myths. In 1974 I was asked to write a short piece on the Mayes book for the Journal of Popular Culture [Jack Bales, "Herbert R. Mayes and Horatio Alger, Jr.; Or the Story of a Unique Literary Hoax," Journal of Popular Culture, 8(Fall, 1974), 317-319]. One can imagine my disgust when recently in the same journal I read an article on Alger based almost entirely on Mayes' fiction [Eric Monkkonen, "Socializing the New Urbanites: Horatio Alger Jr.s's Guidebooks," Journal of Popular Culture 11 (Summer, 1977), 77-87]. It is obvious that the fallacies which have been so repeated and accepted for five decades will be related again and again in future years. (244-245)
The elegance of the internet is that it can stop such things. The absurdity of the internet is that it perpetuates such things.

The determination of fact or fiction, then, is the responsibility of each of us. Our research tools alone won't suffice. Only care, learning, and constant attention can do that.

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Things We Rarely Notice

New York City's streets are blanketed with emergency call boxes, none (or few) of which work. We in the city pass them every day without notice. Just as a reminder, here are four of them found two blocks apart in Brooklyn's Marine Park neighborhood:

Quentin Road and Marine Parkway

Quentin Road and E. 32nd Street

Quentin Road and #. 34th Street

Quentin Road and E. 36th Street

Discussion in a Faculty Office, Part II


It has been almost five years since I’ve written about Sam Stamper, the young Assistant Professor who was taken to task by one of the most senior full professors in his department following a classroom observation. We left Stamper as he ran off to teach.

After class, he contacted his union representative and filed a grievance against Professor Fayles and asked his department chair to schedule another observation. The chair conducted it himself. When, a few months later, the grievance succeeded, the report Fayles submitted was removed from Stamper’s file, the glowing one from the chair remaining.

Though the bullying attempted by Fayles did not succeed, that was not the end of such incidents in the department. Today, with a new chair and quite a number of retirements (including Fayles), the atmosphere is quite different—though inappropriate attempts at intimidation do still happen, even to Stamper.

The college has a seven-year tenure clock and Stamper’s turn came up last fall. He decided to apply for promotion to Associate at the same time. In both cases, he was successful. Tenure and promotion will commence at the start of the fall, 2012 semester. The process was not without pitfall, however, and bullying once again interfered in what should have been a much more collegial (though rigorous) process.

Professor Anthony Scolia, whose specialty is the history of the English language, is one of the only senior members of the department with real scholarly credentials. Though he never has produced a book, his articles have appeared in respected venues and he has been an influential officer in several professional organizations. Proud and a little bitter over having spent his career far from the research institutions where he feels he belongs, Scolia has always seen himself as different from his professional colleagues at the college. He does, however, take his responsibilities to the department seriously, actually reading promotion files (for example) before voting on them.

Stamper shares an office with seven other junior faculty, a long room with an aisle down the middle with alcoves on each side separated by moveable dividers. The eight can talk together, if they want, by simply rolling their chairs a few feet towards the middle, where all eight desks can be easily seen. One day last fall, Scolia walked into the office and stopped at the center-most point in the aisle, near Stamper’s desk, which was one of the middle two on the left. Five of the occupants happened to be there at the time.

“I have a bone to pick with you.” One hand behind his back, he stared at Stamper, who looked up in surprise. “Take out a dictionary.”

“No.” Stamper had no idea what was going on, but he wasn’t going to accept such condescension. “Just tell me what your problem is.”

“What does ‘adumbrate’ mean?”

“You tell me…. I’m sorry, but I don’t understand your point.”

Scolia brought his hand forward. It had been concealing Stamper’s book, borrowed from the promotion file. “On page 13 of this book of yours, you use the word incorrectly.”

Stamper stared up at Scolia, who was now leaning over him, the book waving under Stamper’s chin. In defense, Stamper stood, finding himself nose-to-nose with Scolia.

He didn’t know what to do or what to say. Sandbagged, he wasn’t willing to argue a point of definition with a man who had made a career out of the minutia of the English language—a man who, also, would soon be sitting in judgment on him on the Peers Committee. But, with four colleagues watching, he couldn’t let this pass. So, he changed the subject, doing something he should not have done, for he knew what would hurt Scolia most, what his greatest career disappointment was.

“If you had ever written a book, you would know that errors get through, and in every single case. Now, give me that book,” he grabbed it out of Scolia’s hand, “it belongs in the chair’s office.” He stalked out of the office, leaving Scolia staring after him, speechless.

Even as he slipped the book back in its folder, still angry, Stamper knew he had done the wrong thing. In his mind, he was already composing what he knew would be a necessary apology. By the next day, he had both emailed Scolia and spoken to him personally, telling him he had reacted poorly. Scolia did nod graciously, but gave no more of a response than that.

And ‘adumbrate’? Had Stamper used it incorrectly?

He looked carefully at his book, at the passage. He had, he saw, been using two meanings, the one (‘to obscure’) carrying ironic hints of the other (‘to foreshadow’). Clearly he had failed to communicate the nuance he had intended, but… all he could imagine was that Scolia had seized on the first thing he had seen that could be used to put Stamper in his place.

Looking a little deeper into the book, Stamper winced. There was plenty in it he could be criticized for, and he knew it, remembering problems as he paged through. It was a good thing, he thought to himself, that Scolia had stopped so quickly and on such a trivial point.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Research: When Is Enough Enough?

This morning, a post from Diane Ravitch's blog appeared in my mailbox. Titled "Accused of Sexism!," it tells a story of how an assumption of provenance can lead in peculiar directions.

Ravitch had assumed from her own cursory look that the so-called "Parent Trigger" had originated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Where it came from, as she says, was pretty much irrelevant to her point:
Actually, I don’t care who came up with this obnoxious idea that 51% of the parents in a school can “seize control” of their public schools and hand it over to a private corporation.
It is a ludicrous idea, and anyone associated with it should hang their head in shame. A public school belongs to the public, not to 51% of those who use it today. It is a public trust, paid for by taxpayers, owned by the public, created for future generations, not for those who happen to be there this week or month or year.
A former California legislator named Gloria Romero took offense--not at Ravitch's depiction of the concept but at being ignored as originator of the idea. In an odd article, "Diane Ravitch, please stop distorting the origins of the parent trigger," she even throws in Mom. She makes one scratch one's head, wondering at her point:
Remember, my generation learned lessons not only from the non-violent boycott of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but also from the by-any-means-necessary view of Malcolm X. Therefore, I also believe in the urgency of now, the power of the boycott (yes, I knew Cesar Chavez too), and the courage it takes to declare that we shall overcome by any means necessary.
She goes on to make it a feminist issue:
As a university professor by training, I recognize that too often, women get left out of how history is written. We should never allow ourselves to perpetuate that silencing of women’s history and great women in historical movements.
About the only irrelevancy she misses is apple pie!

As blogs become more and more important to research, it is true that those who write them have a greater and greater responsibility to fact-check our own work. But when is enough enough? When does it matter? Any researcher should check beyond blogs, surely, just as no one should depend on Wikipedia as more than a starting point. So just how much can a blogger be expected to do for the subsequent researcher?

Ravitch's concerns over the Parent Trigger are completely divorced from its creation. She simply wants to help see that it never be put into place. If Romero wants to take credit for it, she certainly won't get an argument from Ravitch. Just the opposite:
If it started with Gloria Romero, shame on her. The “trigger” is a blatant effort to privatize more public schools. It is not in the interest of parents or children or communities, but in the interest of charter corporations.
Does she also support the idea that anyone who musters a 51% petition can privatize public parks, public housing, public transit, public libraries, and other public services? Does she also support the idea that 51% of charter school parents should have the right to convert their school back to the public sector?
When we write, we can only check so far. At some point, we have to rely on what others have written, be they bloggers or eminent scientists, and we have a subsequent obligation to point out errors. It is important that we publicly stand corrected in turn, but it gets rather silly when we are attacked (rather than simply corrected) for not checking on things trivial to our arguments.

All Romero had to do was ask Ravitch to post a correction and leave it at that.

All Ravitch or any other writer has to do is make the correction.

It should not have become the big deal Romero made of it.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Academic Blogging As a Career Move

It's a bit difficult for me, who has only been a full-time academic for eight years, to give advice without blushing. But I have sat on my department's Appointments Committee for three years, now, and I have learned a thing or two... or hope I have.

When I finally took a full-time teaching job in 2004, the relationship between the internet and academic pursuits--scholarly pursuits in particular--was not yet clear. People wondered if blogging would help or hinder one's career, if being too public would somehow demean one's standing as a scholar. An internet search uncovering a penchant for blogging could, some worried, be the death knell of a job quest.

That wasn't really the case, though many certainly believed it was. Blogging, if anything, has helped my own career--and I know it has done the same for others. Not only has it helped me improve my writing skills but it has introduced me to a wide variety of scholars (one does not blog without reading blogs), to people whose work I might never have otherwise encountered but also to first-rank academics like Michael Bérubé, who is now president of the Modern Language Association (MLA).

Blogging also introduced my work to others, and has led to inclusion of essays I have written as chapters in a number of different books--and, of course, it led to three of my own books. It has led me to learn much more about my profession, bringing me into conflict with the likes of David Horowitz, an extremely smart (though wrong-headed) man who has forced me to look more carefully at academia and to hone my own rhetorical skills. 

Through blogging, also, I have come to understand the importance of the public intellectual, the scholar who moves beyond university walls and enters into the discourse of the public sphere. This is something that had started to die out in recent years as some scholars began to feel that only discussion among specialists was fruitful. Many scholars began to fear that their work would be looked down upon, were it too "popular." The blogs, I hope, have been dispelling that, especially as more and more top scholars turn to blogging as a means of extending contact.

Recently, the MLA, one of the most august organizations within the humanities, revised its stand on copyright, in part because of the growing importance of blogging:
Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the MLA,... said, "we see that publishing needs are changing, and our members are telling us that they want to place their scholarship in repositories, and to disseminate work on blogs." Professors want to produce articles that "circulate freely," she said, and that reach as many people as possible.
Other publishers of academic journals and blogs will likely follow suit, making academic blogs an even more important part of professional life.

What sparked this post was discovery of a blog from Australia called "historypunk" through a post, "Developing your personal digital marketing strategy: A guide for academics." Jo Hawkins, the blog "owner," is a graduate student finishing her doctorate. Hawkins, assuming the value of blogging rather than defending it, provides a 5-step "digital marketing strategy" on the assumption that blogging is not only going to help with research and writing but will be a major part of any successful academic job search in the near future.

I think she's right. Already, when we are sifting through CVs, I will look online to see what interesting candidates are doing beyond the traditional categories of their applications. I can't say that doing so has influenced my votes so far, but I can imagine it doing so in the near future.

From a place with a slight smell of disrepute and a somewhat outsider status just eight years ago, blogs certainly have come a long way. We all know that. I merely point out the obvious because there is still a long path ahead before blogs (and all of the other online tools) become central to all of our explorations, be they on new topics for research and writing or for new positions within our colleges and universities. Already, they are piercing the walls between academia and the broader public and are making once rarefied discussions open to more people. Together, blogs, wikis, and 'social media' have created a new academic public sphere.

It will only get stronger over the next few years.

In fact, I can see a day when a job candidate without a blog is looked on with a bit of suspicion and when students, rather than turning to ratemyprofessor.com to decide on a class, look to their teachers' blogs.

My advice, then, to any academic or aspiring academic? Blog, of course!