(Detail from London, British Library, MS Royal 13 B VIII, folio 8v – issued by the British Library under a Public Domain Mark.)
This image is of barnacled geese emerging from a tree. I’ve included it here as a representation of the weird way academic talent is nurtured and the crazy anachronism of digital networking and medieval studies. No? Ok, it’s a stretch, but I wanted to add something from the British Library’s Illuminated Manuscripts Catalogue and I couldn’t find a medieval spider in a web! (Very soon, I’ll post something on the BL’s sensible decision to put these images in the public domain.)
Our task for Thing 5 was to explore LinkedIn and Academia.edu. I wasn’t on either site so setting up my profiles was painfully time-consuming. Afterwards I found that my internet search results were improved so I suppose that’s a positive. I had a quick look at the networking capabilities on LinkedIn, but I don’t think I’ll be using them. LinkedIn has a poor reputation among my friends and colleagues in all professions. Complaints about random and useless contacts from recruiters, advertisers and strangers were common. Even my friends in marketing think it is a bit of a joke so I can’t imagine it will be much use for expanding my academic network. However, my marketing friends did insist that I have to have a LinkedIn profile, especially when job-seeking. It’s the Google-factor, apparently. So I will keep my static profile, but networking on the site does not seem a worthwhile use of my limited time.
Unsurprisingly academia.edu seems far more useful as an online CV because of the ability to add publications. It’s especially helpful to be able to add the ‘grey’ papers, e.g. conference presentations, since at this stage in my career I don’t have many ‘white?/black?/real?’ papers out yet. Initially I was also enamoured of the ‘feed’ that shows papers recently uploaded in my general research areas. But I soon realised that hardly any were truly relevant and reading them was just one more way to waste time on the internet. Potentially far more useful is the ‘follow’ function. I followed some of my peers and three more senior academics who have been very kind and encouraging over the last couple of years. I also followed one other academic who is working on two books very close to my own research interests. This last ‘connect’ makes me nervous as I’ve never met this person so it feels akin to stalking – I hope it is seen as a mark of respect and interest as I intended. It will be some time before I know whether my use of Academia.edu is constructive. As an online CV it seems useful, as an interactive tool for asking questions etc, I’m not convinced. I can contact most of my peers via other existing networks and a wider community via twitter. And the biggest limitation is that medievalists are noticeable by their absence. So rather than use Academia.edu as an interactive tool, I’m using it as a place where someone can view my CV and find links to my more interactive sites such as twitter and, eventually, this blog.
A postscript: Just when I thought I was done with online networking, a new site starts being heavily promoted: Global Academic Talent – it looks like a mixture of LinkedIn and Academia.edu with a bit of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ bling sprinkled on top. The main strength and purpose of GAT, according to its marketing emails, is to make us academics ‘visible to thousands of global news, conference and recruitment organisations who are looking for [our] expertise.’ Great …. but really? If someone wants experts, it wouldn’t take more than a couple of searches and emails to find us, would it? We’re on LinkedIn after all. I have zero-interest in filling out yet another new online profile any time soon, but I’ll keep an eye on GAT and see what happens.
Thing 4: Building a Network – or Twitter 101
I’ve had a twitter account for a wee while (@jonespalones) and have been using it as an information-gathering tool. In this respect, it has been surprisingly wonderful. I was on maternity leave when I joined twitter and during those months and months of sleepless nights and interminable feedings, my little phone with its twitter and kindle apps kept me sane. I could read and read and read and read. My favourite twitterer was John Self – I’d found his great book review blog, Asylum, years ago and wanted to keep up with his recommendations. On twitter he tweets about books of course, but he also tweets about the effects of small children and sleep-deprivation on his ability to think and write. To find such kindness and honesty while I too struggled with chronic sleep-deprivation was an unexpected gift. (Baby sleeps through the night 2 or 3 times a week now so the ‘chronic’ part can be deleted.)
I’d like to write that I also ‘kept up’ with my academic field via twitter, but that didn’t happen. I did find and follow some medievalists and I enjoyed reading their debates and blogs. It was more like keeping tangentially connected, rather than involved, which was more than I could have managed anyway. The most consistently interesting were tweets from participants on the group blog: In the Medieval Middle. Through them, for example, I could join in the outrage and read subsequent debates about periodization etc. when Stephen Greenblatt’s book, The Swerve, won the National Literary Award. The title of this post is stolen from a lovely pun on swerve/swyve in a comment proposing a book about early modern scholars’ misrepresentation of the Middle Ages. It made me laugh out loud in the dead of night. I’m sure you get the joke, but just in case further context is needed (and apologies for destroying the light wit of the original post), here it is in Chaucer: ‘yon wenche wil I swyve’ says a nasty Cambridge student in the Reeve’s Tale.
Being digital medievalists, this network also posted about the digital humanities. Through a tweet, I found an inspiring proselytizing post on the importance of tweeting and other social media by J J Cohen: “If the humanities are important enough for us to dedicate our lives to their study, then we need to share our work, our play, and our wit in proliferating contexts.” There was also a great Facebook thread on academic book reviewing. More relevant to Thing4 was an honest post about conference tweeting and politeness by Ryan Cordell. He included some guidelines for conference tweeting, which like most useful guidelines boiled down common sense and good manners in equal parts. My only addition would be not to tweet while someone is presenting. While I can see some benefits to livetweeting such as letting non-attendees participate by proxy, these benefits don’t seem to outweigh its rudeness. (Also, someone following a livetweet is probably in another session at the same conference, compounding the disrespect by not attending to their session.) To me, a tweet is different from note-taking because I’m not recording my own thoughts and reactions for future reference, I’m publicly voicing my opinions while someone else is speaking. It’s virtual interrupting and also increases the risks of breaking the other guidelines. I know, I’m a dinosaur.
Now that I’m back from maternity leave and reengaging with my work, I need to switch from stalking to participating in this community. HootSuite has been a great tool for managing my twitter feeds. I have all the medievalists in one list and find myself checking their posts more often than I did the general feed. So I’ve got the ‘keeping up’ sorted. Now for the active participation. I’m tweeting more and retweeting the best of the medieval links. I got very excited about Alex Gillespie’s new blog on medieval bookbinding. It looks great and, hooray, uses good quality images of books to illustrate her arguments. Obviously I won’t be livetweeting, but I will tweet about the next conference I’m due to attend: the Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference on Skill in April. I’m down to give a paper on humanist hagiography in late medieval England. (I’ll post about this strange phenomenon one day.) Regarding the other suggestions on the DH page, I can’t see how twitter or other social media could be a research object or method in medieval book history, but I have read about teaching courses using twitter. I wouldn’t dare try it with Part 1, Paper 1 at Cambridge, but I’d be keen to give it a go in the future. Finally, I’m not too worried about attracting a tribe of followers, but I would like to converse more with the community that I’ve been snooping around so I’m starting to use #hashtags and @mention, which I didn’t do much before.
So once again, I finish a blog post with revived enthusiasm for the digital humanities and lots of paving stones for my good intentions’ road.
THING 3: Bibliometrics
I apologise for my tardy posts. I have been participating in the margins – reading the weekly skills, other participants’ blogs and trying out the tools, but I have not yet worked out how to integrate regular blogging into my life. (Apologising for irregular blogging was one of the blogging no-nos we encountered in Week 1, and irregularity was THE cardinal sin, but this is supposed to be a collaborative way to learn and evaluate the digital humanities and I’ve failed to collaborate so ‘sorry, fellow DH23 thingers’.)
Our first task this week was to create profiles on Google Scholar and ResearcherID. I found this an easy task and, once again, wondered why I hadn’t done it before – particularly the Google Scholar entry. It is a useful contact point for anyone searching for me. Recently a senior academic, who was interested in a conference paper I had given, had to track me down via the session organisers to ask about the manuscript I had discussed. He could have given up rather than bother with this circuitous route to my in-box and then I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to share my research with him. Who knows … perhaps I’ll get a footnote mention in his new edition? (Only another junior academic might understand just how much this slim possibility thrills me!) So, again, thank you DH23 Things for making me address these issues.
The next task was to play around with Bibliometrics. I found the Citation Maps interesting, but seriously limited in their practical applications for my discipline. None of the most helpful and influential books and articles in my field made an appearance so I switched to searching for the names of the leading lights in medieval book production – hardly anything – and, then in medieval literary criticism. Again, next to nothing. If these are the results for the giants in my field, then bibliometric tools are not very relevant tools …. yet. I’m sure that hiring, funding and tenure committees will increasingly seek to make use of this sort of data and more and more of it will become available as digital publishing, reading and referencing becomes ever more sophisticated. So it pays to be aware of the basic ideas and tools.
But could I ‘game’ bibliometrics or venture into ‘Altmetrics’ in order to get more recognition? I find the idea of gaming inherently distasteful and, knowing my own technological limitations, I’m sure I’d do it badly and get caught out. After all, when Professor Helen Cooper, queen of medieval literature, has only a handful of articles referenced in Web of Knowledge and not a single citation, it would be very suspicious if my own meagre output starts generating large numbers of citations. Although I do recognise that I ‘game’ in some sense already: I’ve only ever submitted articles to journals that have the highest rankings in my field. As bibliometrics becomes more important in the humanities, I imagine I’ll make similar calculated decisions about where and when to publish my research, although I hope never who and what I reference.
I’ll finish with my thoughts on ‘Altmetrics’ (alternative metrics – using something other than the impact factor to measure the relative worth of research and researchers). I tried to follow the ‘discussion’ on the Guardian’s livechat site, but it was difficult. Between the trolls, the shameless self-promoters, and the irrelevant posts, I struggled to follow the threads of the interesting discussions. Was this really the most appropriate forum? Maybe the mad, ungovernable polyphony of the live chat was a telling reflection of the chaotic current thinking and practice surrounding Altmetrics. Or I’m just not skilled in following online discussions. If so, I’m sorry if I’ve missed salient points. But are my impressions:
- I wasn’t much more enlightened about what ‘altmetrics’ involved by the end of the chat: hits on websites, tweets, blog posts etc seemed to be covered, but so did open-access publishing and collaborative research. It was all rather vague.
- The chat was dominated, as to be expected, by science interests so once again the current relevance to the humanities seemed theoretical rather than practical.
- There were also a couple of posts from ‘think tanks’ with an interest in raising the citation and online profiles of their publications – ostensibly benign, but they did make me pause to wonder about the creep of political and business influence into research at greater levels than in the recent past.
- Finally, a positive point. Some of the most sensible and interesting posts came from Dr William Gunn, head of academic outreach at Mendeley. To paraphrase, he described Altmetrics as a way of having more kinds of data available to support more kinds of decisions – rather than an alternative way of ranking research and researchers, he sees these new kinds of data and data management as tools for allowing various communities – researchers, funders, the general public – find the people and information they’re looking for.
I like Dr Gunn’s ideas and ideals. It’s why I’m participating, albeit so tardily, in DH23Things. And it is working. I am discovering and enjoying connections to new communities because of these tools, especially Twitter, but that is Thing 4 and my next post.
Our DH task for this week was to consider our online identity. Googling my name led to no unpleasant surprises; I’m either very boring or a master of deceit. I also know that I don’t have to worry too much about mix-ups: there are few Joni Henrys in the world, and we’re a staid lot. And the pop culture associations are dated yet lovable: googling us results in “Joni Mitchell” and “Happy Days” fan sites.
But seriously, I noticed that I have two distinct online personae – one very well managed and one that needs some work. As well as a PhD student, I’m a lawyer. My legal persona is managed by my firm. All the information on its website is up to date, correct, and well presented and, therefore, so is the information on various legal search sites. My ‘academic’ persona is not so clearly defined. You could discover an article and some reviews that I’ve written, but you couldn’t work out where I was working, what my research is about, or most importantly, how to contact me. Academic-me needs to create the same definitive information that my firm provides for legal-me
How to do this? I need my information on an authoritative site for others to find and for me to link. My faculty doesn’t have a list of current PhD students online (perhaps we should ask for it), but I am a member of two Cambridge research groups which do have websites and lists of members. I’ve always avoided sending in my details for the online lists thinking that getting emails about seminars, drinks, upcoming conferences etc was all I needed. I admit I was also avoiding having to (a) write that brilliant precis of my thesis and (b) provide a photo. I’m doing both these painful tasks tonight.
As to managing my online personae – I’m surprised at how relaxed I’m feeling about it. I’ll aim to keep my private and professional personae separate, but I’m not too worried if there is some overlap. For example, I’m vigilant with my privacy settings/friend requests on Facebook and the like, but I also don’t post anything that I wouldn’t want to be made public. And I’ll remain vigilant at keeping legal-me separate from academic-me. I don’t think this should be difficult as legal-me will remain silent on-line. As a lawyer I represent my clients and my firm, not myself. But many of my clients and colleagues know that I’m working towards my PhD and some even find that interesting. I don’t imagine any would want to read a blog about medieval books, but I’d be comfortable, nay thrilled!, if they did.
And that’s the main point isn’t it? I want to attract readers and commentators who are interested in medieval literature and books. The suggestions for attracting traffic were useful. I’ll definitely be linking to websites that I admire when I’ve got a bit more content on here. It was interesting to look at the key word search terms to see what people look for – adding the word ‘handwriting’ to posts about ‘palaeography’ could attract more readers and is a useful reminder to avoid or at least supplement specialised terms. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ll be misspelling ‘medieval’ as ‘medevil’, despite my fondness for this lovely word, or gratuitously mentioning the Norton Anthology of English Literature (ahem) to attract more readers. My final thought, and apologies for being non-digital, is that traditional word-of-mouth among my medievalist friends and colleagues will be my first and best source of informed readers. And if I can keep them interested, I’ll be content.
Here are some thoughts on my hesitant foray into the blogosphere, at the prodding of DH23Things.
I’d been considering blogging for awhile, but was reluctant to set foot in the internet arena. It’s so very public, so noisy and so crowded – what would be the point? But the guides to academic blogging included in our additional readings, especially the oft-linked Professors – Start Your Blogs, stopped this generalised whining and made me wonder if academic blogging might be a useful exercise for me.
Setting up the blog was easy. I thought, mistakenly, that my only issue was the blog’s name. I’m still not sure I’m comfortable with ‘Bokspels’ (Middle English for ‘tales about books’), particularly as googling it put me into fantasy game territory in one-click, always a concern for a medievalist. But I’ll let it stand for now and see what sort of reactions (if any) it garners. And then the second issue arose. I’d posted a very rough draft of this post by accident, but wasn’t worried: who would find it anyway? But, cringe, someone did and, eek!, commented. Mortification ensued. Thankfully it was our kind leader, Helen, who was very charitable in her interpretation of my ramblings. In fact, her comments guided how I finished this post and not just this mea culpa. The best lessons are the ones that hurt and I got two lessons for one dose of embarrassment. The obvious first lesson: Don’t post drafts. And the almost paradoxical second lesson: Blog posts don’t have to be polished or definitive to attract intelligent and helpful comments. I won’t be posting a draft again, but I’ll be less worried about posting tentative, questioning, perhaps even half-baked ideas here.
As suggested, I went in search of blogs in my research area. I work on late medieval manuscripts and early printed books in England (predominantly in English, but also Latin). There are some interesting blogs on medieval literature and medieval history out there; and, unsurprisingly, the digital humanities projects, like Digipal – an on-line resource for paleography, have impressive internet sites. (And even non-medievalists might like Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog? He doth tweet too.) But there seems to be a big gap between the general focus of the literature and history blogs and the specialised, often technically difficult, focus of sites like Digipal. I suppose I want to read a blog by someone like Prof. David McKitterick, the great book historian and Librarian at Trinity College, Cambridge.
Of course, that’s not the sort of blog I’m capable of writing, but I would like this blog to be one about the study of medieval books primarily. It would be aimed at an academic audience, but I hope could be read by non-specialists as well. Perhaps as Helen suggested, a group blog on these and related issues would be the most useful and successful. Group blogs were some of the best I found, although looking at the comments, there seemed to be an insular circularity to some of them. A small focused group need not be a problem, but I’d prefer a more inviting forum if possible.
Finally, after all this enthusiasm for blogging, I must admit two fears about this blog. The first is theoretical: is there something oxymoronic about a blog on book history? Book historians are interested in the material of books, in their messy physical substance: bindings, leaves, foliation, scribes, handwriting, decoration and marginalia. Something about this materiality fits uncomfortably with digital media, where even the best digital reproductions are still only images. My current position is to ignore this fear and plunge ahead: I don’t think the immateriality of the internet is a fatal flaw, just an issue that needs careful thought and management. The second fear is practical and a much greater problem: online images can provide the next-best thing to gazing over a physical book (see for example, Parker on the Web), but – as anyone without a Cambridge log-in found when trying to look at the Parker manuscripts – access to most of these images is restricted. Discussing or asking for help with my research would be so much easier if I could put an image of a manuscript online. Without a change in copyright law or unlimited funds/time (it takes days to get permissions from libraries) – this isn’t an option. A fatal problem or are there practical solutions?