From 2004 to 2006, while I was in graduate school, I wrote a blog called Mode for Caleb. Since this blog will be quite different from that one, I want to begin Offprints by being very clear about its purposes and scope.
Unlike Mode for Caleb, Offprints will be a blog exclusively about my scholarly work. And because most of my work time as an academic historian is devoted to writing for print publication and teaching here at Rice, that means Offprints will be updated much less regularly than Mode for Caleb. Offprints is intended solely to serve three purposes.
First, it will provide a place to publish scholarly work that, for one reason or another, is not well suited for formal publication in print. Following Dan Cohen’s lead, I view this blog less as a personal journal than as a publishing platform. Here I hope to publish small reviews of books and articles, as well as original research, ideas, arguments, and pedagogical reflections that I do not presently intend to develop into larger print publications like a journal article or a book. On the theory that “waste not” is good advice for a scholarly life as well as life in general, I intend to use this blog to catch scraps of work that would otherwise simply remain on my computer or in my brain. Because one advantage of this platform is its accessibility, I will also occasionally use it to publish historical work that addresses audiences outside of academia. This is a place to publish work that works better “off print.”
Second, this blog will provide a place to solicit feedback about works that I am preparing for “in print” publication, like the book manuscript that I am currently writing based on my dissertation. Last year I benefited a great deal from several insights in Robert Boice’s book, Professors as Writers. Among them was Boice’s mantra to “write before you are ready.” But related to that advice was Boice’s encouragement to share writing with others before you are ready. Sharing ideas about or snippets of work in progress is a necessary part of a healthy writing life. I’m hoping that by occasionally sharing parts of what I am working on, or writing dilemmas that I am working through, my publications “on print” will get to print faster than they otherwise would.
I have never been persuaded that it is a bad idea for historians to share what they are working on. Putting ideas into the public domain more clearly identifies their origins, which answers the objection that revealing work in progress might risk some kind of intellectual theft. Moreover, to me one of the greatest attractions of academic life has always been the ideal of free and open discussion about ideas, and I believe that blogging technology promises to make this kind of discussion easier than ever before. So here I agree wholeheartedly with one of the rationales that Eric Rauchway gave when starting his group blog, Edge of the American West: “be the academic discourse you want to see in the world.”
Finally, over the last few years I have grown increasingly interested in the field of digital humanities or digital history, one of whose leading lights–Lisa Spiro–is right here at Rice. I’m intrigued by all the things that the folks over at the Center for History and New Media are constantly cooking up. So from time to time, I may post about the implications of digital technology and new media for scholarship. As I try to sort through what it means that some aspects of academic work are moving “off print” and “on line,” it makes sense to do that kind of thinking on a blog.
Offprints by Caleb McDaniel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.