The second symposium on academic blogging organised by the collective editors of Pue’s Occurrences took place on Friday last week in Trinity College.  I was glad to attend the event, wearing so to speak the Ireland After NAMA hat for a day brim full of stimulating and diverse debates on the nature and challenges of blogging in the academic sphere.   Following on from the event last year, the symposium sought to engage in a discussion of the opportunities and opacities, potentials and pitfalls of blogging as a research, writing, and teaching practice.  The day was split broadly into three sections.

The first session looked at blogs as a tool for documenting and disseminating research.  Conor Brady offered an insightful presentation of his blog documenting an archaeological dig in Rossnaree.  Conor stated that he was new to blogs before this project, but suggested that he had found it beneficial for a range of reasons; in terms of providing a virtual tour of the site for both local populations and external audiences, fulfilling what he saw as a duty to communicate with the public archaeological work, and for engaging in discussions with other academics interested in the work.  The blog provided a diary of the dig, which was updated daily and showed the ‘behind the scenes’ evolution of the project.  While this offered a range of rewards, Conor also stressed that it was a time-consuming process that once he started he had to continue.

The second session focussed on blogging as a teaching resource and topic.  Jonathan Wright gave an interesting presentation about a module he had been involved in running in Queens University Belfast, in which history students used blogs and digital media to critically understand and evaluate a number of contested case studies.  Utilising online discussion forums as an important element of the students grades, students were encouraged to debate and discuss amongst themselves, while also informing the class discussion through contributing short online responses to questions posed by the readings.  Similarly, Orla Murphy of University College Cork gave an insightful overview of a number of modules she teaches that utilise blogs and digital media as both course inputs and outputs.  In particular, she suggests outputs like class blogs have had positive impacts in terms of sharpening students’ writing and editing skills, cross disciplinarily capacity, and engagement with each others’ work in that they break down traditional monodirectional relationships between teacher and student.

The final session of the day took the form of a roundtable discussion on blogs chaired by Myles Dungan from RTE’s The History Show.  Panellists in the session were Juliana Alderman from Pue’s Occurrences, Ciarán Swan from The Irish Left Archive, Niamh Cullen from The Little Review, and Orla Murphy.  The panellists offered an illuminating overview of their disparate and comparable experiences of blogging.  Topics covered included issues relating to anonymity, the stylistic differences between academic writing and blogging, the continued reticence of sections of the academic community to engage with blogs, their ethereality and issues pertaining to archiving blogged material, the problems of making blog writing ‘count’ in profession terms for young academics, issues of elitism, access and engagement with publics in academic writing, mediating post comments and mitigating libel.  Jim Corr even got a mention.

While this last session provided the space for a wealth of discussion that easily overflowed into the pub afterwards, with vociferous and diverse input from the floor, this component was not limited to this timeslot.  Rather discussion was the order of the day and the organisers left plenty of time for this in the programme.  Overall, the day provided evidence of the proliferation of blogs in Ireland at the moment, the diversity of perspectives, parameters, and potentials they encompass, and the burgeoning interest in the blogosphere and new social media as emergent and exciting forms of communicating academic knowledge outside of traditional platforms.  This overview only skims the surface of a very full day – indeed, for a blow-by-blow of the day check out the stream of tweets made by Lisa-Marie of Pue’s throughout the day – and it is clear that this discussion is one that pushes headlong into the future.  If this space can provide any continuation it is most welcome.

Cian O’ Callaghan

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