Monday, November 4, 2019
November 4, 2019: 9 Years of AmericanStudier: Origin Points
[This week marks this blog’s 9th anniversary! Nearly 2800 posts later, AmericanStudier has become my most extended & enduring life’s work, and so this week I wanted to share a handful of the reasons why I’ve kept it going for so long. Leading up a special weekend list of other scholarly blogs that we should all be reading—add your suggestions (including your own blog of course), please!]
On the most overt and a couple subtler reasons why I started AmericanStudying.
I didn’t say this explicitly in any of my first blog posts, but I remember quite clearly the most proximate and very specific cause of my starting this blog in the first week of November, 2010: that week’s historic midterm elections. The strident opposition to Barack Obama’s presidency had been building for more than a year by that time (indeed, since the first moments of that presidency), both in terms of the rise of the Tea Party and through widespread, telling phrases like “I want my country back,” but it was those midterm elections which made clear just how deep those sentiments ran. The “I want my country back” narrative, along with the power of political and cultural voices like those of Glenn Beck and his “Beck University,” exemplified for me how much those seemingly contemporary political debates were driven by particular, and to my mind mythologized and propagandistic, visions of American history, culture, and identity. I knew I wanted to space to challenge those visions and write about such topics with the nuance and thoughtfulness they deserved, and to that end decided to start my second daily and first scholarly blog (my first, Ben’s Thought for the Night, was a far more personal one in 2007-2008).
The absence of such a public scholarly space in my life prior to the creation of AmericanStudier reflects a second layer to the causes of my starting the blog, although not one of which I was consciously aware at the time. I believe I had already begun trying to place op eds here and there by that time, but entirely haphazardly and without any particular expectation that I would be able to land one (and certainly with no specific knowledge of how to do so). I was still a couple years away from finding and joining the Scholars Strategy Network (SSN), which represented a vital further step in my public scholarly career (and on which more later in this week’s series). So in most ways in late 2010 I still thought of my scholarly writing as existing within the traditional academic spaces of peer-reviewed publications (both journal articles and book projects). I knew that such spaces wouldn’t work for what I felt I needed to do in response to the elections, though (not least because it takes literally years to publish in most of those formats), and so starting a daily scholarly blog comprised an attempt to create a new, more suitable such space.
My mention of SSN also reflects one other and perhaps even less conscious factor in my creation of AmericanStudier: a need for community. I was in my 6th year in the Fitchburg State English Studies Department that fall, and I’m not suggesting for a moment that FSU didn’t offer a variety of important and meaningful professional communities; it most certainly did and still does 9 years later. But I think I did feel (again, without being able to put this into words at the time) that those wonderful communities, from the department to the classroom, the university as a whole to treasured friendships with colleagues, needed to be complemented with another type, with connection to fellow scholars interested in public engagement and public scholarship. Much of the story of my professional life over these last 9 years (as the next few posts in this series will trace) has been a continuing and deepening set of steps into such a public scholarly community, one that I have found even more supportive and sustaining and challenging and crucial than I could have imagined, and at the heart of that ongoing and evolving process has been AmericanStudier.
Next anniversary reflection tomorrow,
PS. Other scholarly blogs you’d suggest for the weekend list?