Gniggolb – is blogging from the end to the beginning

When Sebastian Giessmann asked me this morning whether I write my blog posts offline, I answered no without hesitating. It is true in 95% of the cases, but I forgot to mention the one exception, the situation in which I am now:  on the train back from a conference or a workshop, unconnected to the web (no smartphone, no 3G Card, no internet connection through my cell phone: yes, I am old fashioned that way), wanting to sort out my impressions before they have begun to fade.

The workshop “Wissenschaftliches Bloggen in Deutschland: Geschichte, Perspektiven, praktische Umsetzung“ was the first opportunity that was given to me so far to talk about my own scholarly blogging. I remember admiring Melissa Terras when she gave her keynote in Munich in March 2012. She spoke of her blog as something that contributes greatly to her digital identity, but spoke of it in a perspective that was by then out of my reach, too far away from/ahead of my own blogging practice. A year later, preparing my own talk, I sensed that the mass does it: the mass of blog posts I published, the mass of retweets that make me feel that I write to be read, the time elapsed. Only this made it possible for me to perceive the shifts that happened within the blog. The shift from technical questions to more infrastructural or theoretical ones in particular, which lead to the blog overtaking a different function: it does not accompany the project any more like the header says. It does make it move forward. Hence the title of the paper I gave in Würzburg: scholarly blogging as a kind of maieutics.

This has become natural to me after a year and a half of blogging during which I have managed to rediscover the sheer pleasure of writing – only tainted every now and then by the frustration of reaching my linguistic limits in the use of the English language. Things seemed different to the people who attended the workshop. Many of them were PhD candidates or post-docs. For some reason, I had figured that they attended the workshop with some kind of juvenile enthusiasm for an open writing form. But the dominant attitude was more reluctant than I had thought; they were interested in blogging, but not completely ready to blog themselves. One can say: it is normal that people who are not “established” worry about rights, licensing, giving away their ideas – things I never worried about, having begun to blog at a point when my publication list was a fairly thick safety net already. But one could also say, as Christof pointed it out to me, that there is a palpable pressure on the younger generation to use the new media, but they are still unsure what they should do about or with it. Incidentally, the call for participation for #dhiha5 was tweeted in the middle of the discussion this morning, asking partly the same questions.

I love writing, have always had, and mostly suffered from being prisoner of the traditional scholarly formats for years. Blogging was a liberation to me. I have the greatest difficulty to relate to the anxiety of the question: “Why should I write, what should I write about?”, but it seems to really be one of the major inhibitions that has to be overwhelmed in order to really adhere to blogging – at great inner cost  for most people, even those who consider scholarly blogging a decent activity. Communication at all price – is that the big idea of web-based scholarship? Or at large, it that what Digital Humanities are about?

Of course, Digital Humanities in Germany are standing elsewhere than they do in the US or in Great Britain, and I probably would have written this post in German if I had not promised to Sebastian and Christof to write in English in order – as usual – to make this workshop known behind the German blogo- and tweetosphere. Because the real question here is what German Humanities expect from their PhD candidates’ blogging. How does this make sense at all in the actual structure of German Humanities? If these young scholars begin to blog actively, will it be a helpful signal, strong enough to help Digital Humanities get a better recognition? And if it does, will it really help DH become something that is not only about communication tools? Do we want DH to become a recognized method for all branches of the Humanities or do we want DH to become a discipline? Are we lost for philology because we do DH?

The answer to the last question I know very well: certainly not. But it will take time – maybe ten years – to convince the majority of the community of German literary studies of that, to judge by my actual situation. At best, it is considered like something I do additionally to my real work. At worst, it is considered like it prevents me to do my real work. On the 50 to 60 hours I work per week, I am more than happy if I have 20 to do research in any form (and I really don’t teach much). Maybe it would make more sense to ask first how that comes, because it is a much more fundamental problem of the high school system than wondering about the hour and a half I spend blogging while sipping my Sunday coffee.

The answer to the other question – should DH be a transdisciplinary toolbox, or a discipline – I don’t know. Does anyone?


7 Replies to “Gniggolb – is blogging from the end to the beginning”

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  2. >> The answer to the other question – should DH be a transdisciplinary toolbox, or a discipline – I don’t know.

    I don´t see why it can´t be both at the same time. Generally speaking, I think that digital media shouldn´t be the main issue – they should be used. At the same time new media need new reflections because they change the way we do science. We need to be critical upon digital media and to grasp the consequences that go along with using them. The reason why in the end I´d give +1 for “toolset” is that I think that the “review” of digital media in science shouldn´t be a subject of it´s own but rather part of a much more general philosophical perspective on the scientific work we´re doing (thus part of the “theory & method” educational program.)

    P.S. I also enjoy the fact that I can write differently when I´m online. To me it feels much more like a dialogue vs. the monologue that we´re often faced when preparing common publications.

  3. I think the question is: Can DH be a discipline?
    As I see the flyer on the DH-course at the workshop in Würzburg, I asked myself whether it is useful to learn all these DH-methods without ‘penetrating’ a/one research subject to the full extend. – So, perhaps DH could “only” become something like the Chairs for Qualitative / Quanitative Methods in Sociology: more a toolbox than a discipline.

  4. >>should DH be a transdisciplinary toolbox, or a discipline – I don’t know. Does anyone?

    DH is transdisciplinary work and this means saying “Yes” not only to one subject but to two or three at one time. Because we are living in the digital age and things change rapidly new working methods will appear, I think. A characteristic of these new methods might be: learning how to use the transdisciplinary toolbox. Perhaps the toolbox is the new discipline. Then the two are not mutually exclusive, they are consistent with each other.

  5. Since not everybody seems to appreciate my title (some say it is “on Harry Potter level”), let me precise that I got the idea for it from the anarchical signposting to the workshop which was sticked between bus stop and workshop room on the Würzburg campus this morning.

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