To Blog or Not to Blog

roseList documents mentioning To Blog or Not to Blog
Courtesy of www.kaushik.net
Courtesy of www.kaushik.net
Do we want a blog? asked RA Zaqir Virani after taking on our social media responsibilities in Summer 2013. Programmer Martin Holmes, always sensitive to the last updated ISO date on any webpage, pointed out that we’d let our News page languish in the past. We’d have to commit to posting regularly. Being a reader of other projects’ blogs, I liked the idea, but worried about adding yet another responsibility to my list. After all, digital humanists already have to work twice as hard, first by doing the digital project and then by writing about it in other venues (Dunn). There are many defunct or sporadic blogs adrift in the digital seas, including my own Occasional Drama blog, which has more-than-occasionally foundered between the Scylla and Charybdis of parenting and publishing. Did I really want to take on more unrewarded labour, as Jeffrey Jerome Cohen calls blogging (1018)? Since you are reading our project blog, you already know that I said yes to the stress, but we needed first to be clear about the purpose of such a blog and its value to MoEML.
Being academics, we did some research on blogs. A quick search of the MLA International Bibliography for the search term blog with the results limited to Publication Type = website turns up fifty-one results. That result simply tells us that there was a menu item entitled Blog on the website when the MLA’s bibliographers paid a visit. It tells us nothing about the genre of the blog, its voice, or its purpose. So we made a more granular study of the project blog, looking at sites we know and like.

Various models have emerged in the last decade for the project blog. In some cases the blog IS the project (e.g., In the Middle) or the project is built on a blog-like platform such as Omeka, DH Press, or Scalar, but in most cases projects use blogs to advertise, document, and/or celebrate their work. In the UK, projects often set up a blog to report on their progress as they construct their tool, edition, or database. MoEML was a keen follower of the Locating London’s Past’s 2011 WordPress blog in the lead-up to their December project launch.
That blog, a valuable scholarly record of the decisions made by the GIS specialists who georectified the 1746 Rocque map and linked it to an OS map, became their Mapping Methodology statement. A blog can be a useful open-source marketing and news tool for subscription-based projects. The Orlando Project, for example, has a Cambridge portal to the database and a project page at the University of Alberta with an integrated blog-like news feed. The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe, an open-source database developed at Leeds and now hosted by the University of West Sydney, maintains what might be called a post-project WordPress blog to track FBTEE-related reviews, scholary outputs, and team activities.
In developing our own model, we had to address some key questions:
  1. How would a blog differ from our news items, Facebook posts, tweets, documentation, and extra-MoEML publications?
  2. Will the blog stand apart from the MoEML site or be integral to it?
  3. Will we write in the voice of the project or as individual voices, and who will write the posts?
  4. What will we write about and what value will the blog bring to our scholarly community?
  5. How often will we add a new post and how long can we sustain a blog?
How would the blog differ from our news items, Facebook posts, tweets, documentation, and extra-MoEML publications? We already use Facebook and Twitter to celebrate, inform, self-market, and provide updates. We’ve noted in our Social Media Guidelines that we use the Blog for longer news stories (longer than one usually finds in Facebook or in our News Briefs) about project developments, challenges we’ve encountered, our working practices, and reflections on our work. As an open-source, ongoing, federally funded project with a local team and contributors around the world, we have plenty of things to say about how we work, what interests and sustains us in our work, and what the scholarly landscape looks like from our point of view. Some of our more theoretical discussions will make their way into publication venues outside MoEML, while the outcomes of our technical debates end up being formalized on our Praxis page. The blog provides a virtual space where we can write about issues that arise in [our] academic work, but in a different context, a different style, with a different audience (Estes 974).
Will the blog stand apart from the MoEML site or be integral to it? We have opted not to use a blogging platform on a separate site. Our posts are XML files, encoded with the same TEI tagset as all our other born digital files. This strategy allows us to draw upon MoEML’s Personography and Bibliography, make links to pages within the project, and point to our own posts. In the teiHeader, we assign posts to the following document types: BornDigital, Paratext, and ParatextBlogPost. If the post is written by a student, we add the additional type Undergraduate or Graduate. (Click on the links to see all the documents assigned that a particular document type, or click here to read more about MoEML’s document type taxonomy.) In our eXist database, we store the XML files in a folder called Blog for our convenience, but the Blog page itself, accessible via the News menu, is generated by including, in reverse chronological order, all the files with the document type ParatextBlogPost. We have not created a comment feature, but you can always send feedback using the Send Feedback link on the left side of every page.
Courtesy of VMworld 2013 Bloggers
Courtesy of VMworld 2013 Bloggers
Will we write in the voice of the project or as individual voices, and who will write the posts? The project does have a voice, embodied in our style guide, and we strive for a consistently scholarly tone across our editions and encyclopedia entries. But, as a genre, the blog is personal. In the Middle’s Jeffrey Jerome Cohen notes that sharing some personal information is an essential part of blogging (Steel, Cohen, Hurley, and Joy 1022). Blog posts afford opportunities for individual team members and contributors to speak in their own voices. We are self-conscious team members, each with designated areas of responsibility, particular strengths, and unique ways of working. As project director, I like the range of voices at our team meetings. As time goes on, we will welcome new voices to the team … and, we hope, new voices to the blog in the form of guest posts from outside the team.
What will we write about and what value will the blog bring to our scholarly community? As we have indicated in our Social Media guidelines, Some of our blog posts will be reviews of other projects, digital tools, books, resources, or articles. Digital scholarship is still under-reviewed and under-reported. We can provide a service both to cognate projects and to our users by reviewing other resources, especially digital ones. In the coming months, we’ll be reviewing projects with cognate interests (London, digital maps, gazetteers, toponyms, early modern big books) and/or similar technologies (GIS, TEI, versioning).
Courtesy of The Folger Shakespeare Library
Courtesy of The Folger Shakespeare Library
Some posts will be personal stories about our passions, motivations, and challenges. Over the coming months, you’ll be hearing about my first experience of London (as an adult, that is), our bidding war over the 1618 Stow, and why the RAs sign their emails Stow4Life. Taking inspiration from On Rereading Poly-Olbion, Andrew McRae’s inaugural post for the forthcoming Poly-Olbion project, where he speaks candidly about the experience of reading Michael Drayton’s epic poem, we’ll be telling you what it’s like for us to read Stow’s Survey. We’ll also share with you some of the behind-the-scenes discussions, debates, and discoveries that take place at MoEML team meetings. Traditional scholarship presents research as a product. But the process – the delight of discovery, the possibilities we consider and reject, and the way we work together to make the product better, the new competencies we develop – is also worth documenting. On the one hand, sharing the questions before we have all the answers opens a space for discussion of issues across cognate projects. On the other, we’re in the processing of redefining scholarly work. At least once a week, I find myself thinking that nothing in my New Historicist graduate work on non-Shakespearean drama prepared me to build a GIS-enabled gazetteer, edit a map, encode a text, or direct a team. The blog can be a space for meta-reflection on how MoEML typifies (and, we hope, advances) new forms of scholarship.
How often will we publish a new blog post? Well, we have ten in the workflow for encoding and ideas for several dozen more, so you can expect to hear from us every few weeks ... at least until our funding runs out in 2016!

References

Last modification: 2016-06-06 15:39:18 -0700 (Mon, 06 Jun 2016) (mholmes)
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MLA citation:

Jenstad, Janelle. “To Blog or Not to Blog.” The Map of Early Modern London. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Web. 20 July 2017. <http://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/BLOG6.htm>.

Chicago citation:

Jenstad, Janelle. n.d. “To Blog or Not to Blog.” The Map of Early Modern London. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed July 20, 2017. http://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/BLOG6.htm.

APA citation:

Jenstad J. (n.d.). To Blog or Not to Blog. In J. Jenstad (Ed.), The Map of Early Modern London. Retrieved July 20, 2017, from http://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/BLOG6.htm

TEI citation:

<bibl> <author><persName><surname>Jenstad</surname>, <forename>Janelle</forename></persName></author> (<date>n.d.</date>). <title level="a">To Blog or Not to Blog</title>. In <editor><persName><forename>J.</forename> <surname>Jenstad</surname></persName></editor> (Ed.), <title level="m">The Map of Early Modern London</title>. Retrieved <date when="2017-07-20">July 20, 2017</date>, from <ref target="http://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/BLOG6.htm">http://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/BLOG6.htm</ref> </bibl>