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Monday, September 30, 2013

September 30, 2013: NEASA Conference Follow Ups: The Blog

[This past weekend, the New England American Studies Association held its annual conference. This week, I’ll follow up some of the most inspiring aspects of the conference and some of the many great talks I heard there. If you were part of it, or if you have your own thoughts on any of these topics, please chime in!]
On the limitations, possibilities, and future of our pre-conference blog.
This year’s conference marked the third in a row for which we’ve created a NEASA Pre-Conference blog, a space where presenters can share some of their ideas and work and start the conference conversations early (as well as extend them to folks who can’t be at the conference itself). The prior two years’ blogs are still online, here and here, which makes for particularly easy comparisons across the three years of blogging. On one level, unfortunately, those comparisons are a bit discouraging: the number of posts has gone down each year, as have the number of comments on those posts. There could be lots of practical and unavoidable reasons for that decline (from busier schedules and worries about job security/tenure [for which such blogging doesn’t generally count] to the need to do more teaching or research work in the summer), and it’s too small of a sample from which to draw any conclusions in any case; but still, of course I’d rather see the conversations gaining steam, ideally even building from year to year but at least feeling broadly communal in their own right.
On the other hand, the internet in general tends to focus far too narrowly on quantity, on things like hits and pageviews, which while the most calculable part of blogging and web usage are not necessarily a measure of anything substantive (and I write that as a blogger who checks his own stats more than is probably healthy). Certainly I hope, and believe, that the folks who have contributed to each year’s pre-conference blog have gotten something out of the experience; speaking for those of us who have followed the posts, I can say unequivocally that we’ve gotten a great deal out of reading these thoughts, more than we could just by attending the conference panels (and of course there are always more panels and talks at a conference than any one person could attend and hear). Moreover, I think there’s significant practical and symbolic value to treating a conference as a conversation, and an ongoing and multi-layered one at that—a conversation that exists before and after the conference’s few days, that includes both those at the conference and many interested folks not there, and that, quite simply, is worth sharing.
So as long as I’m part of the NEASA Council (and I hope to be until they pry AmericanStudies from my cold dead hands, or thereabouts), I can promise that I’ll do my part to keep the pre-conference blog going. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t evolve or change, can’t be done differently, can’t indeed improve in ways that might well facilitate more contributions or conversations. So for those reading this who’ve been part of NEASA and/or the blog over the last few years, and for those reading this interested in scholarly blogging—which, hey, is pretty much everybody reading this!—I’d love to hear your thoughts on how this kind of pre-conference blog could work, what it could be or do, how we could get more folks involved (from inside and outside the conference community), and so on. What say you?
Next follow up tomorrow,
PS. So what do you think?

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