Demise of a Major Classics Blog, Alas

… and it was one which I was not aware of! Tip o’ the pileus to Neville Morley (at Classics International) for pointing us to an item at the Bristol Classics blog about the disappearance of an important German language Classics blog:

… you should read the whole thing, but three paragraphs are bang on (alas):

[...] It’s tempting, and probably not wholly inaccurate, to think of the Aufstieg und Niedergang of A&A as telling us something significant about German culture: in positive terms, its seriousness, its willingness to engage properly with big ideas, and its habit of taking its audience seriously and treating it with respect, whereas we British bloggers, even if respectable academics, have to avoid anything that might make us seem remotely elitist or intellectual (the pervasive trope of self-deprecation, the desperate references to contemporary pop culture…). One might equally argue that the Germans, or at any rate the FAZ, had completely failed to grasp the conventions of the genre of the blog, or its manifest advantages: blogs are great precisely because they’re not properly worked-through academic articles, they can be spontaneous responses to whatever’s going on, and because they allow the author to admit to having a personality rather than rigorously suppressing this beneath the conventions of academic prose and propriety. The demise of Antike und Abendland may then be seen as a belated recognition that this kind of serious, scholarly blog is not really suited to bringing in the kinds of mass audience that media groups, even German media groups, are looking for.

But of course that doesn’t mean that a serious blog can never reach a substantial audience, simply that it will not reach the sort of audience that persuades a newspaper group to pay the author to produce it. That leaves the question of whether the author would happily turn out a 500+ word essay every week if not being paid for it – but the same could be said of A Don’s Life. The majority of blogs, even academic blogs, are personal enterprises, with their authors willing to devote the time to writing entries for non-pecuniary motives of some sort – and for many of us in the UK, I suspect, it is above all the opportunity to play around with ideas and respond quickly to whatever catches our interest, temporarily free from the looming presence of the REF and its minions that otherwise constantly shadows our research activities. There is also the opportunity to advertise forthcoming conferences and other events to keep classics on the map, to publicise one’s ‘proper’ publications and so forth, but above all we do this because it’s fun and informal, and that then conditions what we write and how we write it.

Is that all there is, and all blogs are for? In the world of classics and ancient history, it does rather feel like that; granted, I haven’t devoted much time to looking, but I don’t visit Mary’s blog, or Edith’s, or Constantina’s or the Rogue Classicist’s, in the expectation of heavyweight discussion of current academic debates – their personal insights on certain matters, yes, but that’s not the same thing, and they aren’t discussed in the same way by other visitors to the sites. Essentially, there seems to be little overlap between the world of academic debate on the ancient world and the world of classical blogs, beyond the identity of some of the authors (History of the Ancient World offers links to academic articles, but since it doesn’t allow any comments or discussion it’s irrelevant, and rather puzzling). Serious debate about ancient history and classics appears – I’m very happy to be corrected on this – to take place off-line, in the traditional fora of conferences and scholarly publications.

… all this is bang on and gives me the opportunity to bring up something I’ve been pondering for the past while. Why do we not have the equivalent of an ASOR blog  or Bible and Interpretation for Classics? Both these sites regularly post papers of various length from academics and there is often much discussion that follows (often lively). For the past while, e.g., the ASOR blog has been mostly updated with brief accounts of digs that have just concluded and personally, I’d much rather get such info straight from the diggers rather than filtered through some press guy looking for a sexy angle. As far as I can tell, however, the main sticking point of this would be that it would have to be done via one of the major organizations (whether on this continent or across the pond) who has some familiarity with the scholars involved for it to be taken seriously. I’m not talking something as major as the Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics  but something more along the lines of things which one gets in the Ancient History Bulletin, but obviously covering all aspects of Classics and not being confined to scholars from a particular institution. Personally, I would LOVE if genuine scholars at academic institutions would send such things to Rogueclassicism to publish, but there seems to  be a reluctance for that, probably because Rogueclassicism isn’t ‘serious enough’, despite the massive outreach potential  (I’ve only had a couple of guest posts, as far as I recall, from genuine scholarly efforts — I have rejected probably a thousand or more requests for offers of guest posts which aren’t quite in that category).   If there are scholars out there with something they want to ‘test the waters’ with, feel free to drop me a line … if some institution would like to be the ‘filter’ and use Rogueclassicism as a platform, similiter.

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6 thoughts on “Demise of a Major Classics Blog, Alas

  1. You are so right about this. Three years ago, when I joined the APA’s Outreach Committee, I suggested that the APA start a blog or at least aggregate other Classics blogs, in the hopes of getting some activity like this rolling. At the time, Adam Blistein was extremely opposed to anything that would allow comments, as he thought that moderating would be far too time-intensive. They finally did cave in and start a blog, which is a good first step, but which at this stage is purely announcements and offers no venue for discussion.

    Perhaps the APA should sponsor you to host such a thing — would you consider working with them?

    • of course the APA now has a blog, but it is mostly announcements. Im always open for outreach and things which expose Classics in a positive way on the internet … it’s the primary reason why this blog exists ..l

  2. In fact, the APA is working on something like that. It’s one of many digital initiatives that we’ll be rolling out in the near future. But please be patient. There’s a lot of work to be done, and not many people around to do it.

  3. Just to emphasise the contrast between classicists and social scientists a bit more, I’ve recently come across this discussion from the London School of Economics: “So in research terms blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now.”

    http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2012/02/24/five-minutes-patrick-dunleavy-chris-gilson/

    Since I do spend a fair amount of time hanging around that sort of blog, as well as blogging myself, can I offer a few practical thoughts as well? Firstly, blogs that post announcements are doing something quite different from discussion blogs; in the latter, you don’t really want more than one post a day at the most, because otherwise it disappears from view too quickly for people to respond (this post is a case in point). To be quite honest, I wouldn’t consider for a moment posting one of my articles here, because it would vanish from view almost immediately. The Bristol blog is at the opposite extreme, sometimes with no posts for weeks, because I’m the only person posting stuff (which was not the original plan), and that probably has an effect on its ability to attract and keep an audience – but at least that means it’s pretty easy to keep on top of what appears there if you’re inclined to.

    Secondly, I wonder whether a general classics blog might not be too general – facing Hobson’s choice between having too many posts on too many different topics but at least giving everything decent coverage, and limiting the number of posts but losing potential audience because people’s own interests don’t get covered often enough. Again, the politics blogs I tend to frequent are either quite clearly defined in their interests or are the work of a specific author or group of authors (with occasional guest posts) with a distinctive set of ideas and interests. It’s also the difference between an official initiative – more or less what the APA is planning, I guess – which then requires admin and technical support to help lots of individual authors who may not have any experience, and a more or less self-organising system in which the blog authors are also the blog administrators, and acquire experience as they go along.

    • good point on posts disappearing, however that can be ‘gotten around’ (sorry) with a template that has a ‘featured post’ set up so it lingers while the others scroll away …

      but the biggest problem as i see it — and it has plagued classics for at least two decades — is convincing folks (not just grad students) that this form of publication is valid. As a discipline, we’re really dragging our feet on this one …

      • That I certainly agree with; I am honestly amazed at the more or less total indifference of my otherwise forward-looking colleagues to the creation of the Bristol blog. Okay, we’re all horribly busy all the time, and in the UK there’s the additional pressure of the Research Excellence Framework so that everyone feels they must concentrate on publishing high-powered material in proper journals and books. Blogging (let alone engaging in online discussion) is never going to be adequately valued in such a system (though the fact that the REF includes a section for ‘Impact’ means that I am now being asked to supply statistics on number of views etc. – they’re happy enough to mention the blog when it suits them…). But I didn’t become a historian with the aim of devoting myself to high REF scores; obviously it’s in my interest to try to get such scores, but the *reason* I became an academic was to engage in research, investigation and debate – and increasingly the place for that is the internet.

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