WordPress.com tells me it’s just over a year since I started this blog. Time to take stock about how the project has evolved since that first post I wrote up during one of many visits back to Durham last year.
Some things became clear a very early stage, when I decided to take a long-term approach to branching out into online media. This piece, for example, underlines that establishing a presence in this (for me) new space is not something that happens overnight. Getting social is not a shortcut to fame. Like most things that are done well … unless one happens to be ‘lucky’, of course … it needs time and persistence to be successful.
I have tried, therefore, to keep up a reasonably steady flow of substantive posts. I’ve enjoyed using the blog to experiment with different ways of formulating ideas and linking them to the personal aspect that is not always welcome in more serious contexts. It’s a place to record moments when the relevance of visual spaces or migrating people became clear with a sudden immediacy. To write down, when they are fresh in the mind, first thoughts that I could return to later in articles on literary spaces after this particular project. And not least to record my ideas in a place that is not controlled by employers, funding bodies, and such like. Those familiar with the proposals on portability in the UK’s Stern review, or the preference in the Budapest Open Access Initiative for licenses that allow third parties to take the profits from researchers’ work, will know exactly why this matters.
So much for the use of the blog to me. But the point was to get out there and reach a wider audience, right? Although I am no fan of measuring everything to evaluate the Humanities, the WordPress platform is a nice example of how a quantitative approach can be helpful when used judiciously (wishful thinking, I know). The stats mean that I can demonstrate, for instance, that the format works. That it attracts traffic, that people search for and visit it. That visitors tend to view more than one page when they get here – in other words, they find it interesting. That they want to learn more, because the links from a post to an open-access article, for example, are being followed. All useful facts when it comes to making an objective case for my field…
What surprises me most, looking back, is how the stats of blogging have also shaped where my thinking is going. I have in mind here of the ability to see which parts of the world visitors have come from. Europe, north and south America, Asia, Australia, even a few from the northern part of Africa, among others … One should not oversimplify this, but it seems to me there is a starting point here for developing ideas about the Middle Ages and global/comparative literature. I am currently thinking, for instance, about how I might write material that would draw links with, and thus attract attention from, places outside of Europe that are (in a sense) underrepresented on my map of visitors – Russia, China, or much of Africa, for instance.
All very postive, then, and if you are thinking about setting up a blog up yourself, I can only recommend it. Where I am less certain is in the bigger picture,the difference that all these ‘good things’ will actually make. Put a bit differently – I could have said a year ago that I would not be writing this anniversary post on another visit to Durham, and I can’t say where or whether I’ll be writing the next one in a year’s time. Just one of many non-sequiturs in the current climate, I suppose: the money is clearly there to ‘support’ researchers in developing activities and skills like this to reach out beyond academia – but rarely to give them a future in it once they have thus acquired them.