U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Where Credit Is Due: Citing Informal Scholarly Discourse

I want to commend and thank John Fea for modeling best practices when it comes to not only acknowledging but also citing informal academic work, including blog posts, in more formal, peer-reviewed scholarship.

A couple of weeks ago, my copy of Fea’s new book, The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society, arrived in the mail.

Before starting to read the book, I did what I usually do when I get a new monograph — I skimmed the table of contents, the index, the footnotes, etc.  It’s a good, quick way to get the lay of the land.

Well, lo and behold — right there in the endnotes, I found my own name, and a citation for one of my blog posts here at USIH.

Here’s the citation, on page 339:

footnote

The passage in Fea’s book to which this citation pertains is found on page 257, in the middle of his 23rd chapter, where he discusses the publication of the ABS’s Good News for Modern Man translation.

Here’s the passage:

good news

How delighted I am to know that my reading of the semiotics of the Good News Bible cover art proved useful to Fea — I thought I was on the mark, and I guess he thought so too, and now a bunch of readers of his book will contemplate the function of the newspaper as a cultural symbol at that particular moment in history.  But I am equally pleased (though not surprised) that he took care to acknowledge his source, even though that source was “just” a blog post.

It’s pretty scary sometimes to work as a public scholar in this post-tenure, casualized-labor world.  Blogging is intellectual labor like any other kind of writing, and it’s labor that is usually uncompensated and (even for tenure-track professors) rarely acknowledged as making a real contribution to scholarship.  Maybe people who have jobs where they get credit for things can be credited for blogging as “public engagement” or “service to the profession.”  But that’s not always the case.

A (not universal) professional attitude that blogging (or any informal academic discourse, including, say, comments made during Q&A at a conference panel or a conversation on Twitter) is not “real” scholarship (because it’s not peer-reviewed, because it’s spoken instead of being written out, because it’s informal rather than formal — whatever) probably makes it a bit easier for some people to deploy others’ formulations as their own without crediting the source of their ideas, or without acknowledging the contribution that someone else made to their project.

I guess that would be okay if everybody just sort of treated all ideas as “common property,” and if we all, following Foucault, treated the idea of “the scholar” or “the author” as an effect of discourse, rather than a source (an authoritative source!) of thought.  But that’s not how people are hired and promoted, that’s not how people are paid — and, probably most importantly (and not unrelatedly), that’s not how academic egos or the academic persona are formed.

It would be really unfair for the “haves” in this system to put the pressure for change on the shoulders of the “have nots” — to insist, for example, that newly-minted PhDs in this digital age immediately make their dissertations public because information wants to be free, open access is the only way to go, etc., rather than allowing those scholars the time and space to refine their arguments and present them in a fuller form when they are ready (as scholars in the pre-digital era were able to do).

It would be really unfair for John Fea, a full-time professor with an established career and strong scholarly bona fides and a broad public audience, to say to himself, “This idea is floating around out there now, and I didn’t come across it in a recognized peer-reviewed source, and — besides — ideas aren’t proprietary,” and therefore decide that I “shouldn’t” need or want credit for the tiny contribution that my writing made to his work.

John Fea didn’t do that.  He cited my work, such as it is — and it is, in fact, just a blog post.

I really appreciated that, and I wanted to credit him for it.

Not every scholar would do what John Fea did.  (Ask me how I know, though I probably won’t tell you.)

But every scholar should.

__________

This essay is a slightly revised version of a post published a few weeks ago at my personal blog.

4 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Bravo John Fea! And I agree, L.D., if you learn about an argument or idea from someone, whether in a blog, conference, or conversation, why wouldn’t you give credit to that person?

  2. This is an important topic and an excellent post. Beginning in 2014, we have seen The Junto cited a few times in academic journals including citations by R. B. Bernstein in Reviews in American History, Vincent Brown in the American Historical Review, and one in Transatlantic: Revue d’Études Américaines,; as well as two citations in monographs.

    As academic bloggers, it is incredibly encouraging that some scholars (at least) recognize our blogs if not as scholarship per se but certainly as contributing to scholarly discourse. I expect the trend to grow, albeit slowly, but, in the meantime, it is remarkable to reflect on the fact that a decade ago, academics were blogging under pseudonyms and CHE was publishing pieces about how blogging was detrimental to junior academics’ careers (largely because it appeared to be a highly visible sign of a lack of seriousness). The shift in thinking that has gone on since then is the product of the time, effort, and seriousness that some academics have put into blogging.

    In addition to starting a change in the perception of the form and practice, academic history blogs have helped start and further important scholarly conversations, provided forums for scholars (particularly, junior scholars) to address their fields, and brought more people into those conversations who otherwise would not have been, thereby fostering a sense of community among subfields made up of often isolated individuals separated by great distances. The point being that, yes, academic blogging is past the starting point of the long climb toward being widely understood as a scholarly pursuit, but academic blogging has also had other positive impacts on the field that are just as important to articulate because they can (and should) contribute to the perception of academic blogging as a scholarly endeavor that benefits the field generally.

      • No worries — I took the liberty of closing the tag. And thanks for the encouraging comment. You are right about the importance of blogging for junior scholars especially, and that makes it all the important that this kind of work be cited as contributing to the scholarly conversation.

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