The following is part of a series of short interviews with academic bloggers. (The ‘hub’ for the discussion is the initial post on Starting an Academic Blog where the discussion and links to interviews are kept up-to-date).
I’m happy to share an interview with Dr. James McGrath (Ph.D. University of Durham), Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. A list of selected works by Dr. McGrath is kept up to date by the Butler Library. His (very active!) blog is called Exploring Our Matrix.
1. When and why did you start blogging?
I started blogging on November 11th, 2003, on a blog hosted on my own personal academic web space:
The blog was a relatively new format at that stage. I created the blog in order to have a space to reflect on some of my academic and personal side interests, in particular the intersection of religion and science fiction. The film The Matrix Revolutions had come out not long before, and so that was what my first few posts were about – hence the name. But it wasn’t too long before I began talking about and sharing links to other things, and found the blog particularly useful as a place to make some first steps in talking publicly in a way that I would not in the classroom, reflecting my own personal religious convictions as well as my insights as an academic.
2. What are a few of the benefits you see in blogging?
There are a lot of benefits to blogging. Here are a few that I consider particularly important:
- It involves the practice of daily writing. Many of us have kept journals or notebooks for jotting down ideas. This is essentially doing the same thing, but in public, although one can also be more formal if one wishes.
- It is a place for public scholarship. It used to be that a small number of academics would have the opportunity to contribute op-eds to newspapers and share their academic insights with a general audience on a regular basis, and through a venue which did not have the same delay time as when one writes a book. Now anyone can do so, and blogs connected with news outlets like the Huffington Post are essentially online op-ed columns.
- It allows for the formation of academic community and friendships. This is particular valuable for individuals teaching in small programs, where one is the only person in Biblical studies, or in whatever other area. You can share ideas in much the same way that one can at a larger research university, and arguably the blog opportunities are better, since you have the chance to interact not only with other colleagues who are in closely related but non-overlapping areas, but with people working in your area. It also provides a place to obtain feedback on ideas at a range of stages, and at whatever length a commenter is willing to provide, which complements what can be achieved at an academic conference, for instance.
3. Should more academics be blogging?
Yes! The more academics who are blogging, the better the online academic community, and the greater the number of scholarly voices on the web. Leaving the main place people in our time turn for information to be dominated by non-specialists is a bad idea.
4. What advice would you give an academic who is thinking about starting?
It may seem daunting to start a blog for any number of reasons. Maybe you are not a tenured professor and you are concerned about what others might make of your statements. Maybe you are not sure that you can afford the time commitment. On the last point, with RSS feed subscriptions that is much less of a concern. If someone blogs once a year, it can still be useful and noticed – although it is obviously preferable to do it more often. As for concerns about saying things that could harm one’s career, there is a place for such concerns, but a blog is just like any other public forum. Write only what you consider it appropriate to say publicly. That too is a skill that it is important to learn – not only to be a public academic voice, but to be one that is measured, fair, and polite.
Starting a blog is easy, and I certainly have found it worthwhile, as have others. Each year at SBL for the past several years, we have had a bibliobloggers’ gathering. At one such event, several people attended who also apologized for the fact that they had not been keeping up with blogging – I guess they felt that they should be blogging regularly if they want to attend an event for bibliobloggers! My own feeling was to be impressed. There are people who have not kept up with blogging, but nonetheless in the time when they did so, they managed to create friendships and to interact with others in ways that were so personally and professionally meaningful, that even though they have let their own blogging dwindle, they still wanted to meet with other bibliobloggers. That says something powerful, I think, about the impact that blogging has on those who write blogs, read them, and interact on them.