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).
It is my pleasure to share an interview with Dr. Peter M. Head (Ph.D., Cantab), Sir Kirby Laing Senior Lecturer in New Testament at the University of Cambridge and a Senior Research Fellow at Tyndale House. He is an especially active text-critical scholar, and he blogs regularly at Evangelical Textual Criticism, headed up with Tommy Wasserman and enjoying a number of other contributors as well.
1. When and why did you start blogging?
I was involved with the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog from its inception (Oct 14, 2005; see my perceptive comments on the colour scheme: http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.co.uk/2005/10/what-this-blog-is-about.html). Previously I had tried an individual blog, but couldn’t keep it going on my own. So I was happy to team up with friends and colleagues on a team blog with a particular academic focus and a particular theological perspective.
2. What are a few of the benefits you see in blogging?
I think it is fair to say that our blog is a bit unusual in that we try to avoid most of the normal benefits of blogging (academic posing [only occasionally unmasked as academic insecurity], earning money by advertising Mormonism, and getting expensive books for free). I suppose we haven’t entirely avoided two of those issues. So I think the main benefit of blogging to the blogger is visibility (self-promotion), and visibility disconnected from traditional academic pathways to academic visibility. Successful bloggers get well known independent of their traditional academic merit (two or three well known bloggers have a significant academic merit, but probably only Mark Goodacre really integrates his two worlds); but there are plenty of examples of people who are well known in the blog world quite independently of traditional academic merit (i.e. qualifications, appointments, publications), either because they are PhD students wasting time on the internet or because they have a good skill set for blogging (opinionated, 2 minute attention span, provocative).
Two benefits of blogging are: education and interaction. Blogging can help bridge the gap between academics and others (this doesn’t really work if bloggers are only learning to be academics or actively masquerading as academics) and I hope our blog has a role in that. Probably Larry Hurtado is now a good example of that (although other aspects are present in his blog too) – but this requires engagement with the comments (which LH does with, mostly, considerable patience). Interaction with other people interested is a key feature in our blog (as also Mark and Jim Davila who is basically a kind of connector, he doesn’t often post pro-actively), putting ideas out there for feedback, reviewing articles (something that blogs are ideally suited for and which we try to do), interacting in comments etc.
3. Should more academics be blogging?
No. They should focus on their teaching, their research, their life, their families, their church, their community service, and getting outside in the sunshine (or the rain). Good blogs take too much time for normal academics to engage in well. The most interesting bloggers are very opinionated, spouting off about things they have opinions on, but most scholars want to take the time to consider various sides to an issue. Also (admittedly in some tension with the previous sentence) blogs need a sense of humour and not all academics get that.
4. What advice would you give an academic who is thinking about starting?
Don’t do it. Count the cost (see my previous point). If they won’t listen to reason (i.e. my previous point) then try guest blogging on someone else’s blog – they’ll be happy they won’t have to write something that day/hour/week and you’ll get to try out the skills. Or offer to take up some slack in someone else’s blog during a holiday or a heavy term. See how you get on. Or create a special focus blog (there is a good one on Hebrews, where the blog is only one part of a web-site resource that has real academic merit) or a team blog.