Dr. Crazy suggests that what separates blogging from academic writing is, in part, the reader's desire:
Because there is that immediate response, and you know that the response has nothing to do with academic hierarchies but rather with the fact that people are interested enough to read, not because they must read your blog for work but because they feel like reading it - whether because it makes them laugh, makes them think, or makes them feel whatever.
Academic bloggers certainly attract a readership well outside their field of study; after all, I find that economists, physicists, sociologists, computer scientists, and biologists wander over here, even though I rarely (never?) say anything applicable to any of those fields. If I had simply stuck to writing thrilling and chilling prose about novelist X from the Religious Tract Society, my existence would have remained a blank to most (all?) of my readers. People might even believe that I'm an English professor, not a historian. In any event, it's true that blogging generates a different kind of public "footprint" than one's academic prose, sometimes with bizarre (startling?) results. Presumably, my most recently published article will appeal to that segment of the academic population deeply fascinated by Victorian women writers who specialized in religious fiction--or, more charitably, Victorian women writers who wrote religious fiction, or Victorian writers of religious fiction, or (at a stretch?) maybe Victorian women writers. But I wonder how many of those readers overlap with this blog's audience.*
My own reading habits, though, don't quite answer to Dr. Crazy's plaint:
When was the last time any of you had time to pick up a journal article or a book with an unfamiliar author just because it seemed interesting? When was the last time any of you checked something scholarly out of the library when you didn't need to look at it for your own research?When was the last time you read a book that you were using for your own work cover-to-cover?
This week, as it happens--not only is The Antichrist's Lewd Hat not immediately relevant to my research, except insofar as it relates to Reformation and post-Reformation issues (and even so, my interest in the Reformation really only extends to what nineteenth-century writers thought about it), but also I read all 715 pages of it.** I think, though, that my definition of "work" may be a little broader. When I read scholarly books, I ask myself at least three questions: Does this help me understand problem X in project Y? Does this help me pose useful new questions about problem X more generally? Does this help me clarify my own approach to scholarly writing? A lot of immediately "irrelevant" scholarship actually speaks to question #3. A writer may teach me something about method, suggest a new way of working with evidence, address problems with archival research, and the like. Of course, I don't always "learn" what I'm intended to learn--the year I spent working for an academic journal taught me that excessively jargonified prose is just really, really dull, which is why my book doesn't quite*** read like my thesis. But I try to operate on the assumption that the field of "relevance" might be far wider than it looks. Who knew that reading books on the history of textual editing might teach you something about changing attitudes to historical research? That being said, I think my reading habits speak to the speed at which I read, and not to my skills as a researcher, although the Jewish guilt thing may also play a part. ("I started this book--I must finish it. Think how badly the author would feel if s/he knew I was stopping halfway!")
It's true that American academics tend to be more formal (stuffier?) than their current British counterparts, all stereotypes aside, although the current trend in British academic prose--rapid shifts from the formal to the informal register, occasional slanginess, offhanded walloping of other scholars--may be its own "form" instead of something truly "personal." I've been known to make tart comments about a writer under discussion--"What we notice here, apart from that really dreadful last line..."****--which a very few people have interpreted as being "dismissive." I prefer "honest"; I write about people who are genuinely interesting for historical reasons, and see no reason to pretend that they are somehow aesthetically equivalent to Dickens or Eliot.
*--Of course, determining my actual readership is well-nigh impossible, since I only know a) who comments and b) who links, aside from c) those who have told me in other venues, "I read your blog." Maybe the Shadow knows. I suspect that questions of audience are slightly different in my case than for an anonymous blogger.
**--And let me tell you: lugging that book on my daily walks around the village was seriously hard on the shoulders. Not quite as dangerous to life and limb as the various Norton anthologies, but still.
***--I don't think that I managed to de-dissertate my style entirely, and to my eye there's a difference between the chapters left somewhat as-is and the massively revised chapters, but at least I managed to eliminate "gynohistoriographical" from the introduction. ("That's an...interesting term," one of my former undergraduate instructors gently observed.)
****--"No clarion save the lark, no sanguine flood,/Save verdant veins of vegetable blood" (Eaton Stannard Barrett, Woman ). "Vegetable blood"?! Huh? What? I'd like to report that Barrett, who also wrote satires on contemporary fiction, was trying to be funny, but, alas, there's no evidence to support that claim.
Collection of fifteen lectures and sermons on Catholic Emancipation, published in 1828 and 1829. The owner collected these pamphlets and then, at some point, had them bound together--creating a personalized anthology, as it were.
Thomas N. Burke, Lectures and Sermons Delivered by the Very Rev. Thomas N. Burke, O.P., Since His Departure from America..., ed. the Very Rev. J. A. Rochford, O.P., 3rd ed. (P. J. Kennedy, 1884). A combination of sermons and popular addresses by an Irish priest, about whom more here.
Morris Joseph, The Ideal in Judaism and Other Sermons by the Rev. Morris Joseph, Preached During 1890-91-92 (Nutt, 1893). Joseph, a well-known figure in the history of Reform Judaism, headed the West London Synagogue of British Jews; there's some discussion of his thought in an article by Jonathan Romain.
To celebrate my impending thirty-fourth birthday, a colleague and I are going book-hunting. Not that I ever buy books. Ever. I mean, this is a rare thing. Seriously--how often do I mention buying books on this blog?
Every week? Really?
Anyway. We're driving from Rochester to Albany; from there, we plan to make a brief expedition into Massachusetts (e.g., not to Amherst or Boston). While we've got Plans, as they say, does anyone out there have any favorite stores in this region?
The self-enhancing tendency helps explain why professors believe that grade inflation exists but their grades do not contribute to it, why student pressure and student evaluations influence others’ grading but not their own, and why grades in their classes should be higher but grades at the university level (and other universities) should be lower.
In other words, grades viewed in the rear-view mirror may be less tough than they appear.
One respondent in the CT discussion noted that humanities courses appear to have lost some of their oomph over the past couple of decades. I wonder how our students' work habits--by which I mean employment, not studying--have altered the academic landscape. When Mom the Retired School Administrator and Dad the Emeritus Historian of Graeco-Roman Egypt were at UCLA, "working your way through college" was done during the summer or part-time; undergraduates rarely worked full-time during the school year. But many of my students have jobs, and (because our demographic runs towards the non-traditional) many of them have children. Unless they somehow manage to unearth a time machine, most of my students cannot handle the kind of reading load my parents expected in college. It's not that they're unwilling; it's that there is, quite literally, no time. And so, the surveys have to survey rather less than they did forty or fifty years ago.
Speaking as an admitted young fogey when it comes to modern art, I couldn't help chuckling at this story. Twentieth-century art history would have looked very different if someone had decided to put this to its original use.
One of the things I'm enjoying about The Antichrist's Lewd Hat is the authors' ability to delineate both loose, overarching communities of belief (Catholics, Puritans, anti-Puritans...) and the hot-blooded sniping that often went on within those communities (Jesuit vs. anti-Jesuit Catholics, various brands of Puritan...). Lake and Questier want us to remember, in other words, that patterns of broad-flung agreement coexisted with patterns of internecine warfare--"different styles of divinity, differently constructed and prioritised ideological syntheses constructed from much the same ideological materials, contending for the moral highground and the political initiative in a more or less unified rhetorical and ideological field" (313). In other words, a binary opposition like "Protestant vs. Catholic" may sound adequate at first, but fails to address the multiple theological, political, and social divisions within what seem like close-knit groups. (To bring this into the Victorian period, think of John Henry Newman's post-conversion difficulties with his new co-religionists.) As Ophelia Benson likes to ask: what do we mean when we say "community"?
I'd like to bring this sense of historical energy to my next book project, which I'm ever so slowly but surely trying to refine to a manageable length. One can, of course, talk about "Christian" Victorian fiction (historical or otherwise), but that's a remarkably useless adjective--not least because many Victorian Protestants, whether Anglican or Dissenting, did not think that Roman Catholics were Christians.* In Britain, most nineteenth-century religious/didactic fiction is Protestant, occasional Catholic and Jewish cases aside. But, then, what kind of Protestant? Anglican or Dissenter? If Anglican, High, Broad, or Low? If High, the self-identified Protestant variety or the post-Tractarian, Anglo-Catholic variety (pretty tart about denying the "Protestant" label)? If Dissenting, Methodist, Congregationalist, Baptist, Presbyterian...?
The Dissenters pose some interesting problems for my project, because they aren't well-represented at all in the nineteenth-century British religious fiction market. Certainly, there were some Dissenting novelists roaming about the Victorian literary landscape, whether high or low culture (even the occasional Unitarian, like Elizabeth Gaskell), but most didactic novelists belonged to the Established Churches. Nevertheless, the Dissenters were responsible for quite a bit of popular ecclesiastical history and biography, and their theological politics created all sorts of potential historical haywire for their Anglican readers (of whatever stripe). Robert Vaughan, for example, turned Wycliffe into a proto-Congregationalist--which is not shocking, given that Vaughan was himself a Congregationalist. But Vaughan's enthusiasm hints at the potential landmines awaiting Anglicans who wanted to appropriate Wycliffe for their own ecclesiastical projects. As a general rule, the higher the churchmanship, the lower the opinion of Wycliffe. And if, like John Lingard, you're Catholic, then your opinion of Wycliffe is so low as to be buried six feet under. Speaking of Lingard, his own history's popularity meant that he was influential in circles where some thought he ought not to be influential; check out Agnes Strickland's biography of Queen Mary I for an example of Lingard at work.
I've joked before about my tendency to write great galumphing things--articles that run on for thirty-five pages and have eighty footnotes. What I'm trying to do is reconstruct how nineteenth-century religious historical fiction contributed to a very lively popular conversation--make that an extremely heated popular conversation--about the religious, national, and social histories that shaped Victorian culture. Like op-ed writers today, nineteenth-century novelists regularly bemoaned their readers' lack of historical and theological awareness. (Has there ever been a time when anybody has known anything about their history? One begins to wonder.) Hence the justification for writing novels, especially among those who felt that novels, as a general class, were morally suspect. Many of these novelists were trying to hit the historical and doctrinal high notes: this, in other words, is what an evangelical ought to think about St. Augustine of Canterbury, or justification by faith alone, or whatever. But how did writers from one denominational tradition handle significant historical works from outside that tradition? What to do, for example, with someone who seemed as "rationalist" as Henry Hart Milman? This issue runs alongside a question I've mentioned here before: the role played by imported religious texts (mostly from America, but also from the Continent), which came accompanied by their own national concerns and rhetorics.
*--Of course, there's a substantial set of twenty-first century Protestants who don't class Roman Catholics with the Christians, either. This really shouldn't have been such a shock...
Have the bibliographers and textual editors among us said anything about the blog-as-edition? We have Stoker blogging, Pepys blogging, Isaac D'Israeli blogging--and, I've just discovered, Thoreau blogging. When the blog has comments enabled, the text becomes an interactive edition...a semi-wiki, if such a thing is possible. Both "professional" and "amateur" readers can drop in, discuss the text, supply annotations, and so forth. This informal approach to constructing an edition is much different than that employed by, say, Sheila Spector in her edition of Alroy--not least, from an academic reader's perspective, because bloggers appear to be reprinting editions in the public domain instead of collating multiple editions, going back to the original MSS, and the like. I hasten to add that I'm not at all criticizing the informal method; it's producing its own collaborative reading and writing experience. In a sense, this kind of blog project becomes a public reading group, with the readers producing the text as they discuss it. But it does add a new wrinkle to the concept of an "edition."
D'Israeli aside, the texts that so far seem most attractive for blog editions are, not surprisingly, journals and epistolary novels. Someone out there must be planning the Clarissa blog, the Sir Charles Grandison blog, or perhaps the Dorothy Wordsworth blog. (Please spare us all the My Secret Life blog.) As someone who regularly teaches novels originally published in serial format, I'm interested in whether or not the posting schedule of these blogs affects how readers approach these texts. Is the prospect of reading Pepys less nerve-wracking when approached day-by-day? Does reading Dracula entry-by-entry accentuate the novel's gothic elements? Inquiring minds want to know. Or have any minds inquired already?
While I'm sure that some of us have, on occasion, written grumpy comments in the margins or on the endpapers of our books, I suspect that we normally don't do so in verse. I've just acquired a bound collection of fifteen pamphlets on the Catholic Emancipation Act, which includes the following lines, written on an otherwise blank sheet:
Ah! truth thou'rt a nominal thing
Thy footsteps on earth are unknown
Thy semblance has nought but a sling
Thy light unto darkness is grown
The logic contain'd in this book
Is such as in Bedlam we find
T'is faulty wherever we look
And shows a distempered mind
It's not clear which pamphlet aroused the writer's ire. The pamphlet immediately following this insert, by the Rev. James Mitchell, is annotated, but in a different hand; since the annotations are proofreader's corrections, the hand in question may well be Mitchell's.