29th 2013
AHA Roundtable: Historians’ Perspectives on Web Ethics

Posted under: American history, jobs, publication

Howdy, friends–today’s post is an invitation for you to click on over to the American Historical Association’s Roundtable, “Historians’ Perspectives on Web Ethics,” a free-range discussion of the ethical and moral responsibilities historians have with respect to our online presence, either as web page hosts, bloggers, commenters, Tweeters, etc.  Many thanks to Vanessa Varin, an Assistant Editor of Web and Social Media for Perspectives, the newsmagazine of the AHAI made a contribution to the discussion, as did Benjamin Alpers of Oklahoma University and the U.S. Intellectual History blog, John Fea of Messiah College and the blog The Way of Improvement Leads Home, and Claire Potter of the New School for Public Engagement, a.k.a. our old pal, Tenured Radical.

I was interested to see that three of us wrote about the necessity of developing online professional standards and aggressively curating online discussions, whereas Alpers was the only one of us who wrote about a vision of the web as an “open, public scholarly space.”  (This may have something to do with the fact that he has an intellectual history blog, which probably attracts fewer than its share of trolls compared to queer-radfem-political-cowgirl-religion bloggers like Fea, TR, and myself.)  Alpers continues:

Historians will need to engage in more explicit discussions of online behavioral norms than we are accustomed to. And these discussions ought to be in the context of a larger consideration of how online activities can enhance the production and dissemination of historical knowledge. New digital technologies can be enhanced by old, scholarly technologies like peer review. Online genres, such as the blog, are loose and capacious. Rather than merely considering how to defend ourselves from their potential abuses, we should actively adapt them to our own purposes.

One major drawback of the AHA format is that only AHA members are permitted to comment–which, as you can see, has pretty much inhibited any comments!  (Not all historians are AHA members, and of course, very few people online, even among academic bloggers, are historians, and thank Dog for that, right?)  In any case, I think the AHA should open up its comments section so that it models the kind of “open, public scholarly space” Alpers calls for.  Dig?  Now, I’m off to read what one of Ben’s colleagues, Andrew Hartman, has to say about Camille Paglia. . .


18 Responses to “AHA Roundtable: Historians’ Perspectives on Web Ethics”

  1. Matt_L on 29 May 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Wow, the comments section at the AHA is dead…

    I liked your contribution Historiann. Even though I tend not comment, I follow your blog regularly. I think you have one of the best run outfits on the web. I think it is because you have great posts as well as a well run comments section with an excellent audience.

    The other contributions have given me more to think about. I also liked the Radical’s but it was disheartening. Are there really that many jerks in academia?

  2. Kathleen on 29 May 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    No! There aren’t. But the jerks think everyone else is a jerk (to make a feminist point out of it, it’s like the studies that show the tiny minority of men who *are* rapists think most men behave as they do, or at least want to).

    Tenured Radical’s discussion of the anonymous critics on her blog who felt sure she would ruin! them! if she knew who they were — I’ve run into this at my institution, that has an in-house blog run by a fellow prof to talk about issues at our university. Most commenters post anonymously, while I don’t, because I think hey — that’s what tenure is for. I’ve gotten *incredible* pile-ons when people disagree with me, in which I’ve been assured I’m a fool to use my own name because EVERYONE ON THE INTERNET will realize I am terrible, and since they have my name, they will stop inviting me to conferences, to collaborate, they won’t fund my grant applications and they will demolish my article submissions.

    I realized at a certain point that these people are describing their *own* behaviours, not the behaviours of normal academics at large. I mean, you do get a few vindictive loonies in academia (as anywhere), and the vindictive loonies are paranoid, because they think everyone behaves the way they do.

  3. Historiann on 29 May 2013 at 6:23 pm #

    “I realized at a certain point that these people are describing their *own* behaviours, not the behaviours of normal academics at large. I mean, you do get a few vindictive loonies in academia (as anywhere), and the vindictive loonies are paranoid, because they think everyone behaves the way they do.”

    You know, this is a terrific insight not just w/r/t online life, but life in the meat world in general. (I think you meant it that way, Kathleen.) TR has told me that in spite (or perhaps because?) of the flack she has drawn, she has never felt that blogging under her own name has been a disadvantage, and in fact, she believes it was a real advantage in her job search a few years ago.

    I haven’t been on the market for years, but I too have only found it to be a benefit to have a lightly pseudonymous blog. I hear about important people reading my blog, and it puts me on the professional map in ways that my scholarship and tenured position at a non-selective state uni never would.

    Bottom line: fearful is no way to go through life online or off, but some people can’t overcome it and are resentful or vengeful towards those who do. (Besides, blogging under my own name, like signing peer reviews, keeps me honest and focused on being a productive citizen, IMHO.)

  4. Maureen Ogle on 29 May 2013 at 7:00 pm #

    Oh, boy! Can’t wait to read all this (which I can’t do just now because am too busy being a professional historian who doesn’t belong to the AHA). And not being even slightly snarky. I’m VERY much looking forward to reading. Thanks for this.

  5. Tenured Radical on 30 May 2013 at 4:22 am #

    Agreed with you Historiann: being out makes so much more sense if you care about continuing conversations off the blog and integrating blog writing into your other forms of creative/scholarly work. The other dynamic is “We’ll you can write/say/do these things TR because of your great privilege, but this has nothing to do with me!” I find this hugely dismissive and unproductive, in part because the assumptions about me and the writter’s own assumptions about herself are so ill-defined — or defined around a preexisting antagonism that is unproven and perhaps irrelevant.

  6. Matt_L on 30 May 2013 at 4:28 am #

    Thanks Kathleen. That is a reassuring point! I didn’t think that there were that many jerks! Btu you are right, they make themselves known… An I hope I live my life in a way that is not fearful…

    (Besides, blogging under my own name, like signing peer reviews, keeps me honest and focused on being a productive citizen, IMHO.)

    I like the idea of signing your peer reviews. I have only peer reviewed one article so far in my career. But I think this is a good policy. I’ve been the recipient of nine peer reviews for one (as yet pending) article. A couple reviewers practically signed their peer reviews, because they vigorously promoted their own work or the work of their students in their critique of my historiography… ;)

    saying who you are is probably the way to go in most situaions.

  7. Historiann on 30 May 2013 at 8:19 am #

    Maureen–you can read the short articles by me & the other 3 historians at the links above. You just can’t see (let alone contribute to) the comments. Meh!

  8. Feminist Avatar on 30 May 2013 at 11:26 am #

    Sorry to derail the thread, but I saw this and thought of you Historiann:

    I found it particularly droll in light of the current work being done on men’s legs in 18thC Britain (and how important it was for men to show a sexy stockinged leg in their portraits or everyday life).

  9. Western Dave on 30 May 2013 at 7:22 pm #

    Trolls or no trolls, I’ve used blog posts by you and other historians in my classes of late. They tend to be shorter, more easily digestible slices of history that my students (Upper School age) can handle. They all loved (maybe not the best word) the post on Listerine as douche and that’s now part of my regular teaching cycle. Compare that to one section of one chapter of Manliness and Civilization is a full class affair where we read a paragraph, check in on what it means and continue. Painful stuff.

  10. Historiann on 30 May 2013 at 7:56 pm #

    psst, Dave: it’s worse than that! That douching post was about LYSOL, not Listerine! (Hell, Listerine was designed for internal use in another mucous membrane; Lysol–not so much!)

    Glad to know that my work is useful for more than just a laugh, and I hope you don’t get too many parental complaints about the use of “douchebag” in that post. Looking for that post was fun; I had no idea that so many of my posts reference the word “douche.” That was one of the few that refer specifically to the use of an actual douchebag!

  11. Contingent Cassandra on 31 May 2013 at 9:27 am #

    Nice conversation among the participants; too bad, indeed, that there isn’t more activity in the comments section. Perspectives has some good stuff, but as a non-historian who already maintains more professional memberships than she can really afford, I’m not going to join just to be able to comment. If they’re worried about dealing with exactly some of the problems the thread is about, maybe they could consider some sort of reciprocal policy with other scholarly associations, especially those whose members have some common interests and teaching challenges (MLA, ASA, etc.).

    In the meantime, I’ll say here that I especially like this sentence: “You no more owe anyone entry to your comments section than you owe random passers-by entry to your home or apartment, let alone passers-by who want to pee on your carpet and crap in the sink. ” Probably not an image that has frequently been invoked in AHA discussions, but it works very well as an analogy.

  12. Historiann on 31 May 2013 at 10:40 am #

    Thanks! Yes, I think the AHA should at least make the comments visible to non-members. (But really, opening up conversations to non-members might be a good way to turn some of us into members, no?)

  13. Matt_L on 31 May 2013 at 9:22 pm #

    yes. They should absolutely open the comments to non-members. If they want to gate keep, fine, let people sign up with their real name and an institutional affiliation. Any institution will do. Bedlam for instance.

  14. Historiann on 01 Jun 2013 at 7:25 am #


  15. We’re gonna blog it like it’s 1399! Or, what academic blogging can and can’t do for you. : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 01 Jun 2013 at 8:09 am #

    [...] I left a couple of comments over on his post that seem to have gotten stuck in his SPAM filter (why?  I used no swears, I promise!) that endorse entirely Dr. Cleveland’s analysis of what blogging can and can’t do for an academic career.  I also thought that his post was a nice addition to the conversation over at the AHA’s website about the professional ethics of history blogging that I was invited to join this week. [...]

  16. Publick Occurrences 2.0 » Historians and Ethics on the Web on 03 Jun 2013 at 10:42 am #

    [...] anonymous (for more on that, see the comment thread about “jerks in academia” in Historiann’s post on her own blog). Yes, not everyone is comfortable writing for blogs (I don’t discuss my [...]

  17. Western Dave on 03 Jun 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    Doof! Of course it was Lysol. I blame it on the fact that I just finished writing my final.

  18. And speaking of poor judgment on the world wide non peer-reviewed internets. . . : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 03 Jun 2013 at 4:26 pm #

    [...] thought this deleted (but not deleted fast enough!) tweet was a useful follow-up to the conversation some of us have been having this week about ethics for academics using Web 2.0.  Joe Adelman added some thoughts of his own in a blog post at Common-Place, and you don’t [...]

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