U.S. Intellectual History Blog

A Big Tent

I very much appreciate the discussion that has taken place over the last week or so about women in US Intellectual History. I am grateful to know that everyone agrees that S-USIH should be a place of welcome and openness to everyone who does intellectual history. 
Three members of the membership committee had a meeting just yesterday to discuss how to encourage more members to join our society, conference, and blog. We thought of specific, concrete strategies to grow our audience and especially active members. We will present this at the executive meeting on November 17, but I would be glad to hear further suggestions. I was encouraged to see Mary Ellen Lennon’s post, in part, because hers is a new voice adding to the dynamism of our conversation. 
I wanted to clarify something and ask a further question. Yes, my original post was about my feelings and my experiences, but it was meant as a starting point for a broader conversation, and in that way it was a success. I haven’t studied the place of gender in US Intellectual History. That was why I was so careful to explain that I was only speaking from the point of view of one woman. I’d also like to point out that many identity based analysis is grounded in individuals’ feelings. I attempted to explain what I had experienced, what I felt about it and why, and give possible interpretations that were and were not based in identity. 
I value this community and its pursuit of a newly invigorated field of US Intellectual History. I am often inspired by how much this group has accomplished in a half decade. 
Finally, I would like to try to redirect the conversation toward some of Michelle Moravec’s concrete insights and ask if others have insights or answers they would like to share. Moravec wrote
Ok so my side project last year was a book about online communities of mothers. Thinking with that knowledge of gendered online comm theory a few things stick out

1. you have to “join” the FB page, which is limiting
2. some people are “added” by others, which creates a sense of “insiderness”
3. from the quick skim it seems that discussion is tilted towards bigger thinkers, political discourse oriented intellectual history, which is fine, but as has been noted, if one is not an “expert” on those people one might not be inclined to pipe up
4. on the other hand the tone is highly civil, which I would think would encourage participation by new people

The numbers of the responses to my original post and to Mary Ellen Lennon’s response indicates that this is a topic of great importance to our community.  I’d like to use David’s concept of the Big Tent to ask, in a concrete and productive way, how we plan to create that structure and encourage the diversity within it.

13 Thoughts on this Post

  1. As secretary of S-USIH I account for membership to the society and will run the business meeting at the upcoming conference. I am also a regular blogger at this site. While I am involved in both the society and the blog they are not the same thing.

    It needs to be clear that the blog is not the S-USIH. Nor does the blog seek to speak for or even necessarily to the members of S-USIH. This might sound odd considering that this blog has a link to the S-USIH. However, the thing that most closely represents the S-USIH is the annual conference.

    As Lauren mentioned, we will run a business for the society at the annual conference. The information distributed there and the discussions and actions that flow from that meeting will not have bearing on this blog, unless, of course, the members of the society so move to create a formal connection and that action gets approved. In short, this blog could disappear tomorrow and the society, I trust, would continue.

    This blog has been an outlet for the thought and activities of a fairly discrete group of people. The S-USIH and its annual conference is different entity, let’s regard them as such.

  2. As Publications Chair of S-USIH, I (and the Publications Committee that I chair) are responsible for this blog. So far, since the Society came into existence this summer, we have done nothing to change the way this blog operates, which is essentially as the collective expression of the people who happen to write for it.

    This blog is–or at least should be–a continual work in progress. It neither can, nor should, speak for S-USIH (it’s always going to involve a small group of people relative to the Society at large). But its relationship to S-USIH is significant in at least two ways. First, and most directly, it is a platform on which the Society can post information related to its business (though this will become a little less mission critical for the Society when S-USIH gets a separate website). Second, and more generally, it is a medium through which S-USIH can help fulfill its mission to “advances the historical study of American thought among academic and non-academic scholars and provide a forum for its exploration.” In this way, the blog’s relationship to S-USIH is similar to that of a journal to its sponsoring society. It’s not the job of the JAH to “represent” the OAH. But it is important for the JAH to live up to its sponsorship by the OAH.

    All of which is to say that one of the “prices” (I’d actually say benefits) of S-USIH sponsorship of this blog is that the membership does have a say in its future. Directly that say involves the annual election of a Publications Chair. But indirectly it should (and as long as I’m chair it will) also involve the Publication Committee’s willingness to pay attention to the membership’s ideas about ways to improve the blog.

  3. Fair enough Ben. I should have recognized that the blog does fall under the responsibilities of the publications committee.

    I think, though, that because the blog preceded the creation of the society, the relationship is different than the OAH and its JAH. This blog is an informal aspect of the society. Once we begin a newsletter, then we will have a publication that depends on the society for its existence. This blog doesn’t depend on the society for its existence.

    At this point, the blog is, as you point out, one of the few ways the society distributes some information. But even on this point, the society does not use the blog as it will its own website, and for good reason, it is not an adequate representation of the society.

    Is the blog related to the society, yes; is it a representation of it; no. It can’t be–it wasn’t created to be that specific. The conference comes closer to that purpose.

    But it will continue to be a forum for investigating ideas that are related to the society and to the field of U.S. intellectual history.

  4. Is the blog related to the society, yes; is it a representation of it; no. It can’t be–it wasn’t created to be that specific. The conference comes closer to that purpose.

    I agree that the conference comes closer (and should come closer) to “representing” S-USIH. But the relevant factors are scale and formality (of conferences vs. blogs), rather than the purpose for which the blog and conference were created. After all, both the blog and the conference came into existence before S-USIH.

    In the pre-S-USIH years, this blog had a rather bizarre and very formal relationship to the conference: its membership was, in effect, the steering committee of the quasi-organization that put on the conference. This was an awkward set up and I’m sure none of us miss it.

    But while I appreciate the essential informality of the blogging medium, I don’t want to see this blog switch to having a merely notional relationship to S-USIH. Informal does not mean unserious or unscholarly. I want to think in creative ways about how this blog can and should evolve…and I really do welcome input from throughout the membership in charting that new course.

    Let me give you a concrete example of the sort of thing the PubComm has been discussing doing with the blog. From the start, the USIH blog has published book reviews. We’ve done it in a fairly ad-hoc, catch-as-catch-can way, with Tim Lacy admirably herding the cats as book review editor. Both Tim and I are interested in having S-USIH more systematically solicit and publish reviews of major new books in U.S. intellectual history. If we decide to try to put together a S-USIH journal (or e-journal), the reviews will obviously belong there. But if we don’t, the blog is the most likely place for them.

  5. The prospect of more “systematic” book reviews is something that I’m very excited to hear about. Book reviews are something that S-USIH can do to highlight work in the field and make a statement about intellectual history itself. Putting them out regularly and/or in greater volume (or whatever it is that Tim and Ben have in mind–I don’t want to speak for them) would be a great service to the wider community of U.S. intellectual historians.

  6. As for the Facebook page, I set it up a while back without thinking much of it. I had originally imagined it would be the social media presence of S-USIH and so only some society official would be posting on it. So I limited membership and privileges. Then I forgot all about it, because I am not a big Facebook fan. The page has become something different than what I thought it would be, but I never went back to change the settings. I went back and did that today. I am pretty sure that anyone who wants to join can now join without being approved or invited by anyone else.

    As far as Michelle’s first comment, that joining the fb group is limiting, I believe that one has to join every Facebook group. Otherwise, the group would be everyone on Facebook, no? I am no Facebook expert, though, so if I’m wrong, please let me know and I’ll try to change the settings.

  7. The blog is a voice of SUSIH. But it’s not the voice. I think a lot of the confusion has to do with the fact that SUSIH is only a few months old and the relationships between it and the blog haven’t been sorted out or formalized yet. Or, the confusion arises because they are being formalized, for example in the creation of SUSIH. I for one am looking forward to seeing what SUSIH does once its more formal organs are established.

    And yes, you have to join a Facebook group, either by invitation or by signing yourself up to it. That’s the whole point of having a group; it’s meant to be limited, if not exclusive.

  8. The society might want to consider the “organization” page in Facebook as opposed to “group” if FB is meant to be interface/recruitment etc for the society

  9. I agree with Ben, Raymond, Mike, and Varad that the blog and the society are two different entities. In order to promote both, different strategies should be applied. I have some ideas about the blog (I’m sorry if I will make or have already made a grammar mistake. English is my second language.)

    1. To engage others. I’m talking about both history professors and students. I think that the blog’s audience should not be restricted only to professors.
    – engaging professors: the blog should invite them to write short posts on a certain topic that is relevant to current concerns. Even if many professors refuses to do it, they will still look at the blog to check it out.
    – engaging students: the members of the society, bloggers, and people who read and like this blog should promote it in their classrooms. I’m sure that one-two-three students will be interested. In addition, students (graduate or seniors) can be engaged in writing for the blog, too. For instance, the blog can organize a competition for the best post written by a student and hold it once a month, or once in two months. I believe it will motivate more students to read the blog and be engaged in discussions.
    – engaging others. If active members of the blog post their comments somewhere else, they should mention their blog if it is appropriate, for instance, Prof. John Johnson, University of Good Luck, Contributor to USIH blog. In addition, a lot of posts are so good that it’s a pity that other people do not have an opportunity to read them. I’m sure that online magazines, newspapers, or blogs will be interested in USIH posts. For instance, once a month, a member of USIH will contribute to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Or, organizers of the blog can work out a schedule of posts for at least two weeks and send it to these online resources.

    2. To send a newsletter once a week with posts that were posted (sorry for tautology) during that week. (The blog needs to have an email subscription. When I first found this blog, I was looking for a function when I can subscribe and read new posts from my mail account).

    3. To create a twitter account (The trick is not only posting but also commenting on other posts. That’s how we can attract attention.)

    These are just some ideas that came to my mind while I was reading the post. I really want this blog to be known.

  10. small addition: the previous post was based on my experience of working in PR groups that promoted companies, web sites, blogs, etc.

  11. Maria, those are extremely practical suggestions for increasing the blog’s profile / visibility among academic audiences. And I guess encouraging readership would encourage participation via comments, etc.

    Grad students do participate here — I know I’m not the only one. And I know some of my colleagues read the blog and participate as well. Sometimes in class I mention discussion taking place here (though I never say I participate, because that would totally blow my pseudonymous cover).

    But this whole series of posts about gender, inclusivity, the feel of the blog for outsiders/newcomers, problems of sexism or gender bias within intellectual history as a discipline, the relationship between the Society and the blog, the style and tone of writing posted here, etc., — this whole discussion has broached some deeper structural issues that must be addressed.

    I am impressed with the people behind both the blog and the society, and I have no doubt that the appropriate committees of the S-USIH will be working hard over the next few weeks and months to confront these issues.

    One of the commentors or bloggers several threads back mentioned that s/he didn’t care whether or not others identified him/her as an intellectual historian. That’s something I do care about, very much.

    I am proud to identify as a U.S. intellectual historian. I care about the field, and the profession, and I value this blog, which has played a big role in helping me to step into this new and, for various reasons, somewhat fraught professional identity. So I am very interested to see not only what changes around here, but what doesn’t change. This hasn’t been a perfect place, but it has been a good place for me.

    I must say, I have been welcomed here — but that may be because I didn’t wait for a welcome or let my sense of being an outsider stand in the way of my participation. I just jumped in and started to have at it. I think that’s really the only way to go from feeling like an outsider to feeling like a (relative) insider. So I suppose it might be a good idea for the Society to come up with some less precipitous ways of encouraging broader participation.

    But the measure of success for the blog or the society shouldn’t be merely a question of how many members/participants hail from X statistically underrepresented groups. That’s just one measure of the vitality of an organization, but the quality of discourse is just as important as the identity of those carrying on.

  12. The question of the relationship of the blog to the new society, while interesting, is somewhat abstract or philosophical. What is practically important about this distinction is, quite frankly, that writing ideas on the comments section of the blog is, by itself, not likely to bring those ideas to fruition. I am very excited about the comments and suggestions that people are generating, and that so many of the people who are submitting are new S-USIH members. But I encourage those who are interested in the new organization to, as LD put it, “jump in,” and get involved with the administration of the new organization.

    Though nascent, the governing structure of the organization *is* in place. Anyone who is serious about their ideas has to integrate them into that structure: present these ideas to the appropriate executive committee member, ask about becoming a blogger, attend the executive committee meeting at the conference, petition that committee to put an item on the agenda, volunteer to help out in an area of the organization that interests you, or even consider running for office.

    Our constitution organizes the society’s governing structure on a rather unique principle: most of the power is held by the officers, but those officers hand off individual investigations, initiatives and projects to small subcommittees for specific purposes. Those subcommittees will be staffed by members of S-USIH who are appointed by the relevant officer. As the original founders had no administrative staff, this system was born of necessity. But it does have advantages: I cannot imagine any academic society that offers to scholars, particularly emerging scholars, what S-USIH does in terms of the opportunities to gain experience, shape policy, expand professional networks and, yes, pad his/her CV. Take advantage of it!

Comments are closed.