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We Are Not Alone: Gossip, Advice-giving, Dissent and Virtual Colleagueship

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 1 In this draft portion of chapter 1, “Virtually a Historian,” I focus primarily on blogging (it is the next portion of the chapter I blogged a few days ago in this post: thanks to those of you who have already commented!) I begin to address the ways in which historians can feel isolated, as graduate students or faculty, even when surrounded by a bricks and mortar department. This isolation intensifies under certain conditions: going into the dissertation phase of graduate school, becoming a contingent or itinerant full time laborer, moving away from friends and family to take a job, or representing a minority position on a faculty. One response to this is to become a “virtual historian” who seeks colleagueship across space and institutions. 

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0  

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 8 How does an individual scholar, who might be in a department of five or fifty, know what is going on in other history departments? If she is a contingent or per course employee, or an assistant professor, she may have partial or no knowledge of what I going in in her own department. How do we know whether the condition of our labor, our experience of collegiality, or our concerns about our progress through the ranks is normal or aberrant? Are our worries real? What do we do to be successful — and how do we pick ourselves up when we fail?
Research is a task that defines what it means to be a historian. But as bell hooks has noted, research is also a fundamental social skill that helps to protect us against danger, pass unnoticed when we wish to, and know when it is safe to reveal ourselves in a community where we feel less than powerful.[1] The observations and much of the informal knowledge seeking that constitutes the face to face lives of historians is also research. Receiving mentoring is a form of research, talking to friends is a form of research, and exchanging gossip — an activity that increasingly occurs on social media, wikis and blogs — is research.
But information gathering is not research. Like our work in the archives, the information we gather as historians requires context, critical thought and experience to distill itself into a professional narrative that allows us to make decision. In fact, even when information has become research, that research needs to be read critically and situated in order to see our lives in it. Those of us who belong to organizations like the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the American Historical Association (AHA) have access to aggregated research about what is grandly called “The State of the Profession” that helps to answer certain kinds of questions, for example: Am I being paid enough? Yet, those of us who read these need to infer an answer in relation to other factors. Am I being paid enough for my gender? My institution? My city? My region?
The internet makes certain kinds of hard information aggregated by the various committees and staff whose job it is to keep us informed historians. It also makes available another kind of research that academics have thrived on for over a century, rumor and gossip. Information, good and bad, is not just available in greater quantities, however. Virtual community makes information subject to ongoing conversation and examination in a way that was never possible prior to the rise of blogs. Discussing our work — whether the conditions of our labor, our research, our climb up the ranks or our frustrations with the state of contemporary academic work — has itself become a kind of work that historians do. Because of this, blogs are an archive and virtual arena for action that counter the practices of a historical profession that grows less transparent the further down the ranks one lives.
One of the ways that blogging breaks the rules of the historical profession is that many virtual historians participate anonymously. While many of the gatekeeping processes we engage in are anonymous, the role that scholarship is supposed to play in the life of the professional historian is to make us hyper-visible, a role that group blogs like United States Intellectual History Blog, Legal History Blog, and Notches: A history of Sexuality Blog can also play. Yet when bloggers choose dissent, they tend to be anonymous. Anonymity has a long tradition in the history of dissent, and the legal right to dissent; and it has a particularly prominent place in internet culture. While abuse of anonymity is an ongoing problem on the internet, as legal scholar Harry Lewis points out, it is a particularly effective method for making arguments that represent a minority view, a method for enacting free speech rights while knowing that one’s words will be noxious to those in power. “Protecting the right to express unpopular views outweighs any right to identify the speaker,” Lewis writes. Furthermore, at its best, Anonymity is a particularly effective ”appeal to human reason….the words themselves making their case, not the speaker.”[2]
This suggests that both powerful historians and the least powerful among us would benefit from anonymity, but I doubt the latter group would agree. As historian bloggers were becoming visible on the new, easy to use blog platforms that were characteristic of Web 2.0, many seemed to see their new anonymous friends as a horizontal community that offered shelter from work insecurity. Oso Raro, a tenure-track historian living in “Cold City” wrote on the website Slaves of Academe in May2006, a blog called The Invisible Adjunct (2003–2006) might have been one of the first locations where academics on the margins of power began to share their stories with each other and with those in authority, like myself, who often do not see or hear them. The Invisible Adjunct, Oso wrote, “made visible to me the very possibility of online community, the communitas so many of us find lacking in our actual ‘Real Time’ institutional lives. Her site communicated to us, the avid readers, that in fact we were not alone, that there were other like-minded souls with critical positions and utterances that had no place in the department meeting, the faculty dining room, the professional conferences filled with anxiety and  depression.”[3]
On blogs, virtual historians express their views about what it means to live in a professional present shaped by scarcity economics, one where virtue is often not rewarded and a fall from grace can be final. Here, they publish intellectual work that might otherwise be hidden from view for months or years, as it made its way through traditional refereeing processes.  They publish under pseudonyms, or their real names; express the gallows humor of hope, humiliation, and rejection; offer encouragement and praise to each other; and post pictures of the cats who offer the unqualified love and support every young historian might otherwise hope to receive from graduate mentors and senior colleagues.[4] My own blog, Tenured Radical developed much of its readership among younger historians when I became the virtual mentor: by 2007, I began to publish guides to attending and dressing for conferences, preparing for an interview, and functioning in a department. While what I was doing did not create more jobs, for some it made the act of applying and interviewing for jobs more transparent. [QUOTE FROM TENURED RADICAL HERE.]

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 1 But blogging also made me hyper-aware that good intentions and good politics did not absolve senior historians from the populist rage that thrives on the internet. If, in my own department, I felt less than powerful, on the web, I was the 1%, dispensing clueless advice from La-La Land from a position of privilege. “[Senior colleagues] cannot be trusted and they are always lying,”  wrote the pseudonymous Anastasia, a contingently employed and mother of three whose blog profile listed her own home as “On a Trash  Heap,” in response to one of my blog posts. Clarissa, a tenure-track scholar in Romance Languages, agreed. “I really hope that I will never get so out of touch and full of myself that I will start dispensing condescending advice to adjuncts,lecturers, and instructors,” she wrote. “No one  wants to admit  that here, for the grace of Lady Luck, go we all. It’s easier to convince yourself that somebody as brilliant, productive, smart,  and unique as you could never have ended up in a crappy adjuncting position.”[5]

[1] Find bell hooks quote about research.
[2] Harry Lewis, “Anonymity and Reason,” Mark Rotenberg, Julia Horwitz and Jeramie Scott, Ed., Privacy in the Modern Age: the Search for Solutions (New York: the New Press, 2016), 105-6. FOOTNOTE RALPH YOUNG HERE.
[3] Oso Raro, “The Invisible Adjunct: An Appreciation,” Slaves of Academe, 17 May 2006, http://slavesofacademe.blogspot.com/2006/05/invisible-adjunct-appre ciation.html.
[4] See, for example, moria in excelsis, http://moriainexcelsis.blogspot.com.
[5] “Anastasia, “Advice for Adjuncts,” Anastasia: She Who Rises, (18 April 2011), http://insaeculasaeculorum.blogspot.com/2011/04/advice-for-adjuncts.html; Clarissa, “I really hope…” Clarissa’s Blog, 20 April 2011, http://clarissasblog.com/2011/04/20/i-really-hope/.

Source: http://digitalulab.org/2016/06/27/we-are-not-alone-gossip-advice-giving-dissent-and-virtual-colleagueship/