U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Notes on the State of the Blog

As we settle into our new blogging digs and, apparently, attract somewhat livelier comment threads, now feels like a good time to review who we are and what rules govern posts and comments on this blog, both so that readers can better understand what goes on here and so that commenters can better participate.

The U.S. Intellectual History Blog currently has seven bloggers, each of whom has a day on which she or he regularly blogs: Andrew Hartman (Tuesday), Lauren Kientz Anderson (Wednesday), Tim Lacy (Thursday), Ray Haberski (Friday), L.D. Burnett (Saturday), Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn (Sunday), and me, Ben Alpers (Monday).*  I also serve as the Editor of the blog, a position that is appointed by the Publications Committee of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History (S-USIH), which currently consists of L.D. Burnett (Chair), Mary-Ellen Lennon, and myself.  The Chair of the PubComm, which is an elected position, is, in turn, a member of the Executive Committee of the Society.  More information about the bloggers can be found at the “Meet the USIH Bloggers” tab on the right. More information about S-USIH can be found at the “About Us” tab above.

Our seven regular bloggers are free to post whatever they want, so long as it does not violate S-USIH’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.  They are also free to offer guests posts by anyone they choose; neither I, as editor, nor the other bloggers need to approve regular or guest posts.  This means that material posted on the blog has been approved and edited only by the particular blogger who posts it. Posts on the blog do not represent the collective opinion of the blog, nor the opinion of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History, which is our sponsor.  Needless to say, they don’t necessarily reflect the views of any of our employers.  I think it’s also fair to say that guests posts frequently do not represent the opinion of the blogger who posts them, though each of us have our own criteria for deciding whether and when to post guest content.

Our comments are similarly unmoderated.  We try to catch and eliminate spam.** Otherwise, everything is fair game.  This policy is subject to revision if things in our comment section truly get out of hand sometime in the future (we will, for example, do whatever’s necessary to prevent sockpuppetry, if it ever rears its ugly head).  But we feel pretty committed to making our comment threads as open-ended as they can possibly be.

Those are the policies. Follow me below the fold for some more thoughts about them.

While we never entertained restricting what bloggers post on this blog in any way (beyond preserving S-USIH’s non-profit status), we did consider a comment moderation policy. The gold standard in academic blog comment moderation policies is that of Crooked Timber. CT does actively prohibit certain kinds of comments and is willing to ban repeat offenders from their comment threads.  But they do so in a way that nonetheless seems to foster a rich, and frequently contentious (in the best possible way), online conversation.  So why not join CT in having this kind of policy?  First, it just hasn’t been necessary.  Though our comment threads are not 100% troll-free, unhelpful and unpleasant comments have never been frequent enough to derail the conversation.

But, just as importantly, we’re a different kind of blog from Crooked Timber.  Here’s how CT begins its comment policy: “We welcome comments from readers on posts, but you do so as guests in our private space. Concepts of ‘censorship’ are not applicable.”  USIH is not quite the same kind of private space. While CT is owned and operated by its bloggers, USIH is hosted by a professional, scholarly society that anyone can join. I believe that makes it the responsibility of those of us who operate this blog to create a space that has the openness and public-mindedness of scholarship and academia.  While the First Amendment, strictly speaking, is not applicable, concepts of censorship most certainly are. We need to be extremely cautious about prohibiting or limiting any kind of speech that does not violate the law.  As with any regime of free speech, however, it should go without saying that one’s ability to write anything one likes in our comment threads does not protect you from the criticism or the ill-will of those who take strong exception to something you write.

Since we don’t have a comment moderation policy, I can’t really tell our commenters how to behave.  But I can describe the way I conceive of our comment threads. As I say above, the USIH Blog is academic space, not in the sense that it’s only open to academics, but rather in the sense that it resembles other academic spaces. Our posts are not quite conference papers or academic talks and our comment sections are not quite the q&a that follows such talks.  To begin with, as a blog, we’re a lot more informal.  So I sometimes think of the conversations that take place on this blog as being a little like the conversations that take place in a university’s halls, coffee shops, and lounges. As those of you who are, or were, academics know, a lot of really important, if usually informal, intellectual activity takes place in these spaces.  Such conversations can become contentious and even heated. But, usually, most participants understand that following some basic social rules makes their arguments more effective and insures a higher light-to-heat ratio.

Our conversations on this blog are more public, however, in two important ways. First, this blog’s comment threads are open to anyone with an internet connection and an interest in participating.  While public events, at least at public universities, are sometimes this open, often our scholarly conversations, especially informal ones, are effectively closed to many.  Second, comments that you publish online are, themselves, public…and sometimes disconcertingly permanent.  The occasional academic habit of saying intentionally outrageous things to get a lift out of one’s audience is probably better indulged in the coffee shop than in a blog’s comment threads, especially if you’re not commenting pseudonymously…though ultimately the choice to do so (or not) is yours.

A note on republishing material from the USIH blog:  since August 7, 2012, all text posted on this blog is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. That means that anyone can reproduce it, without asking anyone’s permission, so long as he or she credits this blog and the particular author of the text, does not use the material commercially, and licenses the republished material similarly. This also means that comments you post to this blog can be so reproduced without anyone asking your permission.  Requests to waive any or all of the requirement for republishing material from this blog should be directed to the PubComm Chair of S-USIH (such requests regarding material that one has authored oneself will tend to be honored pretty automatically).  More information about these policies–as well as a link to the legal language of our Creative Commons license–can be found in this post (a link to which is also always available in the right-hand margin of this blog).

Let me close by emphasizing some points I’ve already made: nothing you read on this blog should be taken to represent the views of the bloggers collectively or of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History.  We do collectively stand behind the kind of open-ended space we’re creating here, but even the description and defense of it that you’ve just read are mine and mine alone.  If you read something on this blog that angers you, or that you simply disagree with, please respond (I hope with the civility warranted by the circumstances) in the post’s comment thread. That’s what it’s there for.  And if you feel something warrants a more thorough response, consider writing a guest post and asking one of the bloggers to put it up. You’re not guaranteed to get a guest post. Unlike our comment threads, our posting policy is not quite an open-mic night.  But any of the bloggers can, at his or her discretion, put up guest posts. Especially if you do intellectual history (inside or outside the academy), please consider running a guest post by one of us if you have something to say that’s relevant to the mission of this blog.


* We are hoping to expand the number of regular bloggers at USIH, with an anticipated full build-out of fourteen or so. We’re particularly keen on adding bloggers who work on periods of U.S. intellectual history prior to the 20th century and increasing the diversity of our regular blogging team in other ways as well.

** As part of our spam-elimination effort, if have never previously commented on this blog, your first comment will need to be approved by one of the bloggers.  If you’re a legitimate commenter rather than a spammer, we apologize for the slight inconvenience. You’ll only have to put up with it once!

15 Thoughts on this Post

  1. You should keep in mind that the most typical comment thread moderation remodels everything into the worldview of the bloggers in question, with sufficiently differing viewpoints being trolling by definition. For instance, on the whole question of “Do Phillip K. Dick’s writings count as an object of study for U.S. intellectual history?” I thought of commenting, but didn’t see any way in which I could. There is a long history of literary criticism of PKD (see, e.g. one of Stanislaw Lem’s pieces) and of influence of his ideas into direct culture and indirectly into ideas about computerized reality-imitating spaces (including routes such as e.g. William Gibson / Neuromancer). But that’s not disciplinary history. The only way someone could say something about that here looks like 100% troll, because it points out that there are other communities of discourse around these subjects that don’t really want to be colonized by either sympathetic or unsympathetic boundary-seting within a discipline that’s coming in as if this is a blank slate.

    There’s no way around that, really. But writing things like “everything is fair game” is writing checks that can’t be cashed.

    • Thanks for the belated comment on my PKD post, Rich 😉 Not trolling, at all, IMO…though I take your point. (I should add, however, that I’ve found over the years that I tend to have a narrower definition of trolling than some others do online.)

      I don’t entirely agree with your final sentence. There are, indeed, always limits (and potential limits) on speech even beyond the ones that are explicitly acknowledged (in this case: spam and illegal speech). I do say elsewhere in this post that the rules are potentially subject to revision, and you’re 100% right that saying so would imply that, in fact, everything is not fair game.

      But I also think what you say earlier in your comment is correct: “the most typical comment thread moderation remodels everything into the worldview of the bloggers in question.” I want to resist that tendency as much as I can (though clever commenters might well say that my desire to do so is itself an example of the tendency to remodel everything into my worldview…oh well, we never really get out of our own minds).

      So, while “everything is fair game” may at some limit case be a check that I (or you) can’t cash, it at least reflects my aspirations to try to avoid limiting this space to becoming simply a reflection of my or the bloggers’ worldviews (to the extent that avoiding such limitations is even possible).

  2. This might be as good a place as any to put in a request that you turn on a full RSS feed for the new blog, rather than just the snippets. I miss being able to skim posts or read them on the subway without having to decide whether the first paragraph is attention-grabbing enough.

    • I think we’re working on that, Ben…though the “we” doesn’t involve me directly. So if “we” aren’t, I’ll try to get “us” doing so!

  3. Ben (and Ben!), I’ll pass that suggestion on to our webmaster. I won’t venture to try and fix it myself, because I could very possibly Break the Whole Internet.

    At some point, if necessary, we may be able to set up some kind of simple form to report a problem with the website and have that available via a link in the sidebar or a footer. Until then, the best thing to do is probably to email any of the regular bloggers (emails avail. in our profiles). As we all get accustomed to using the new platform, we are logging suggestions / requests for updates. But I have to hand it to our web designer, and to our web czar Ray — they are making everything look easy, which is a testament to their hard work.

    And I guess I’ll try to put more pop in my first paragraphs!

  4. I have been an avid reader of this blog for a couple of years and would like to take some time to congratulate everybody here. In general the bloggers’ contributions have been incredibly productive for helping me understand better not only US intellectual history but also the contours of the field itself. I say this as somebody coming from literary and cultural studies who imagines himself doing a heterodox intellectual history, of Cuban and Puerto Rican anticolonialism in the second half of the nineteenth-century. If there’s only one wish I have is more discussion about Latina/o and other minority voices in the US intellectual map.

  5. Wow. Khalil, you have made my day and then some, and I’m sure the same is true for my colleagues too.

    You’re right about the need for other voices and perspectives — a perfectly pragmatic argument. Shoot me an email if you would like to write a guest post.

    In fact, shoot me an email anyhow — I have a colleague in my PhD program who is working in the borderlands between [email protected] literature and intellectual history. I would be glad to introduce you to each other.

    • Oh my, that sounds excellent, thanks so much! I will write you tomorrow without question. And thanks to the words of encouragement from the others. A post on the recent appropriation of José Martí in Latino Studies as a Latino intellectual would be dandy.

  6. I say this as somebody coming from literary and cultural studies who imagines himself doing a heterodox intellectual history, of Cuban and Puerto Rican anticolonialism in the second half of the nineteenth-century. If there’s only one wish I have is more discussion about Latina/o and other minority voices in the US intellectual map.

    Exactly. Welcome to our little karass, if not granfalloon.

  7. Since it seems like others are using the comments to this post to make suggestions, I would like to see an announcements section added. It could be a place where members and nonmembers post calls for papers, upcoming conferences, new journals, area study groups, and other community events of interest to American intellectual history enthusiasts. I think an announcements section could be a community-building feature that would keep S-USIH members in contact between annual meetings.

    If labor is an issue, I would be happy to spearhead the construction of an announcements section or help others in doing so.

    • Excellent idea! I will add this to our google doc that we keep for updates to the site. And thanks very much for lending your time to this effort.

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