Academic Blogging, a Possible Genre of Digital Humanities?

vspaeth's picture

Academic Blogging, a Possible Genre of Digital Humanities?

Tumblr is a blogging website that allows users to post pictures, videos, links, and written pieces to a blog of their own design.  The interface is very user friendly (I can even navigate it), and it offers a variety of layouts, both free and for a price, that can help personalize each individual blog.

Along with ways of personalizing ones blog, Tumblr also has a variety of options that fosters a sense of collaborations.  For example, if you find a blog you like you are able to “follow” it and then posts from that blog appear on your homepage or “dashboard.”   Another method of collaboration is the action of “reblogging.”  If you see a post, picture, or video on a blog that you like you have the option to “reblog” it.  When you “reblog” a post it appears on your own blog with a list of who has posted or “reblogged” it beforehand; when a post is “reblogged” there is also the option to comment on or add to the post.  The comments or additions are separated from the original post which allows it to remain cited. 

Can this blogging website be an interface for academic writing?  When we think about traditional academic writing we imagine a written or typed paper: coherent and linear.  We imagine that it has a beginning and an end.  A blog is written in different posts that may or may not follow a coherent pattern, and has the potential to extend indefinitely.  Any attempt to use Tumblr as an academic space would be a break from the traditional.  It would take the formal institution of academic writing and put it into a free flowing, informal, source. 

If we look at a few different blogs we can look at the ways that they are similar and also different from traditional academic writing.  The first blog is one that I came across on Youtube.  It is called SciShow  and it posts and links about various science-related topics.  Most of the posts are actually in video form, made by the writer of the blog, but there are also written posts, pictures, and links to other articles.  Overall it is an informative and academic based blog, but it breaks from a traditional work of academic writing.  There is no thesis or central idea besides “science,” which, even as a non-science major, I know is a large topic.  However, between the Youtube videos, the Tumblr, and other social media sites, this open discussion of science is highly collaborative and accessible. 

Looking at this blog that is unrelated to any school or classroom it is still possible to see the different ways in which an interface like Tumblr could be useful in a learning environment.  We can look at this post on SciShow that was posted a week ago (from the due date of this web event) and we can see that in that short time there were 43 cases of “reblogging” and people “liking” (similar to making a favorite on the internet).  In other words, the space is easily accessible by a large amount of people who can all connect to an individual post.  This could be a very new way to work in peer review in academic writing, if a student posts a paper other students can reblog it and add their comments, or it can be a place of discussion and sharing. 

We see something a little similar to this in the Tumblr we looked at for class.  Four Bryn Mawr students, ckosarek, ewashburn, katlittrell, and rachelr worked collaboratively to create a Tumblr as their final project for a class.  In a similar fashion to the SciShow blog their project was not written as one cohesive linear paper, but it instead was a collaborative work that explored many angles of the topics.  The students were able to pull from other blogs by reblogging various posts.  They wrote long posts about different related topics; making them more interesting by adding pictures and other links.  The style of writing was informative, as in academic writing, information was transferred from writer to reader, however, Tumblr allows for a more personalize and informal way of writing as well.  The most recent post on the blog is not only philosophical but also very reflective and personal.  It is an element of academic writing on Tumblr that is absent from the traditional. 

Tumblr as a space or kind of academic writing becomes a little tricky when we add in the option of tagging posts.  Serendip also has this option.  When someone creates a post they can add tags so that other people can find the post.  The option of tagging allows for a blog on Tumblr to be incredibly varied because someone can post something academic, and tag it as such and yet the rest of their blog can be filled with random pictures of cats.

In other words you can have a blog like this one where the topic is focused on reviewing books.  However you can also come across a post like this one that is very scientific and specific, meanwhile the blog itself is not solely focused on science or the moon.

Tumblr breaks from academic writing again because it has the freedom to not be completely focused on a particular topic.  A single post on Tumblr can be academic but a blog may not be.  Tumblr as a genre, especially as a genre of academic writing, would have to be broken down and categorized in different ways.  You could have an academic post, or an academic blog.  Then you would have to look if the post was written, a picture, or a video.  Then the question would arise of whether or not links in a post or a reblog of an academic post would add or take away from an academic blog.  As we can see the difficulties of categorizing Tumblr as a genre of academic writing can be very complicated.

As far as Tumblr ever being respected in the same way as academic writing, the issues of plagiarism would become a serious road block.  The layout of a “reblogged” post are very similar to that of works cited page, but they only go as far as the first post onto Tumblr.  Any sources used by the original blogger would have to be cited separately, which does not necessarily happen.  For Tumblr to every fully enter the world of academia it would either have t require citations for post, or the idea of a works cited page would have to be broken from academic writing.

Tumblr is an interface that, if used for academics, would constitute a break from the traditional.  It is an informal, easily accessible, space where users can share thoughts not only in words but images and videos as well.  The potentials of a new genre of academic blogging are possible, and, as shown in the examples, have already started.    

 

 

Works Cited

http://14-billion-years-later.tumblr.com/

http://14-billion-years-later.tumblr.com/post/16993374663/why-do-we-only-see-one-side-of-the-moon-every

http://readers-thoughts.tumblr.com/

http://roleoffictioninscience.tumblr.com/

http://roleoffictioninscience.tumblr.com/post/5202294065/in-the-blink-of-an-eye-the-time-that-remains

http://scishow.tumblr.com/

http://scishow.tumblr.com/post/16478534407/scientists-are-trying-to-read-your-mind-freals

Comments

Serendip Visitor's picture

thank you

thank you

Anne Dalke's picture

Non-overlapping magisteria?

vspaeth--

My first question here has to do with your own experience on the site you describe: was this the first time you tried to navigate Tumblr, or it is a site you are familiar with? How wide, and how deep, in other words, is your exploration?

My second question has to do with your sense of Tumblr's usefulness as a means of renovating academic work. Your report is very even-handed: "as an academic space," you say, Tumblr "would be a break from the traditional.  It would take the formal institution of academic writing and put it into a free flowing, informal, source," allowing for a "more personalized way of writing." But do you think that is a good thing, or a problematic one? A "break" that offers "possible potentials," or mostly deleterious?

I appreciate your observation that, "as a genre, especially as a genre of academic writing," Tumblr "would have to be broken down and categorized in different ways"--it's really a platform that offers multiple uses, so "categorizing Tumblr as a genre of academic writing can be very complicated." And I think I see one moment of possibility, when you speak of Tumblr as modeling "a very new way to work in peer review in academic writing": "if a student posts a paper other students can reblog it and add their comments."

But otherwise, I get the sense that you are not sold on any sort of melding of the two forms, for you offer a number of caveats: although Tumblr offers "the freedom to not be completely focused on a particular topic," this "becomes a little tricky when we add in the option of tagging posts"; "the issues of plagiarism would become a serious road block." "For Tumblr to ever fully enter the world of academia," you say, some changes would have to be necessary. For instance,  "it would either have to require citations for post, or the idea of a works cited page would have to be broken from academic writing."

I'd be interested in hearing a little more about which direction you'd chose here…are you interested in the possibilities that social media like Tumblr open up for academic writing? More inclined to see some of the conventions of academic writing find their way onto Tumblr? Or rather keep them as "non-overlapping magisteria"  (as Stephen Jay Gould once described science and religion: each attending to its own sphere)?

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