[NOTE: I’ve written a lot of meta-posts over the years (so many that I decided to create a whole Label for such posts), but this is probably going to be the most meta one yet. But I think 10 years of daily AmericanStudying merits some reflection, in November 2020 more than ever.]
On where we’ve been, where we are, and where we go from here.
When I started this blog in early November of 2010, I know I had no idea what it would become, much less the countless places it would take me (which is really everywhere that my career has gone over this past decade, on which see the links to the right!). But I did know why I was starting it: the 2010 midterm elections, and my sense, through but also beyond them, that profoundly ahistorical and propagandistic voices like that of Glenn Beck and his “Beck University” were shaping our collective conversations about American history and identity. As I noted in that hyperlinked post, in April 2010 more than 50% of Tea Party folks had identified Beck as the person from whom they’d “learned the most about America,” and it felt quite clear to me that that horror was due not just to Beck’s influence and reach, but also and perhaps especially to the general abandonment of such public and public scholarly conversations by, y’know, actual scholars. There were prominent and successful individual exceptions (such as Kevin Levin, about whose blog and its influence on me I’ve written quite a bit in this space), however, and inspired by them I set about figuring out how I wanted to share my own scholarly voice, interests, ideas, and experiments in this online writing space.
As I write this post in mid-October 2020 (on the afternoon of Thursday, October 15th, to be exact; if I’m gonna get meta I might as well go all in), while so much about America and the world in this moment feels uncertain, there are a few things I know for sure, and one of them is this: public scholarship, and specifically online public scholarship, is no longer an exception—it’s the shared and stunningly successful norm. I’m not in any way taking credit for that sea-change, although I do consider myself part of a pioneering cohort within that broader community, and as I noted in this post I’ve had the chance to work extensively in the process with other such pioneers like Heather Cox Richardson who have become defining public scholarly voices in this moment. I’d say the same about public scholarly twitter, a sub-community within that overarching one which has become hugely present and influential over the last year or so—I’ve also been tweeting since November 2010 and doing more consistent and overt public scholarly work in that space since at least early 2014, so believe I’ve been able to witness and add my voice to that evolving and amplifying community as well. I’m not saying that every scholar has to be part of these efforts, nor that there isn’t still value in scholarly work aimed at more academic or specialized audiences—but when it comes to whether online writing and public scholarship are legitimate, both within and beyond academia, I think as of late 2020 the question is entirely settled.
Which makes it, again, one of the only settled questions in late 2020 America. To keep the meta-ness going, I thought about holding off on writing this post until after the election, since of course everything about the future of public scholarship, like everything about the future of everything, depends in significant measure upon what happens in early November. But then I thought about this blog’s origin point, and realized something: while I was indeed inspired by a particular election, the blog was never, not in those earliest days and certainly not ever since, about that election, or any election, or any politicians, or all politicians, or politics. Of course I’ve intersected with such topics, just as—and that’s the key, just as—I’ve intersected with pretty much every other topic that falls under the purview of AmericanStudies. So whoever is president as of January 2021, the work will continue—in this space, in my book which drops on January 15th, in my Saturday Evening Post column, on twitter, and in every other place where I add my thoughts and voice to those ever-growing ranks of online public scholars. The work will evolve as the nation and world do, influenced but not limited by such political developments (among many others). But no matter what, la lucha continua, and I’ve never been prouder to be part of it than I am at this 10th anniversary moment.
A few anniversary acknowledgments this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Public scholarly voices, sites, conversations you’d highlight?