Scholarship on the participatory web – a quick take on the OAH

I don’t know that I have anything really insightful to say about this example of scholarship on the read/write web, but when I clicked over to HNN’s Highlights from the 2008 OAH Convention this morning I didn’t have high expectations.

(For non-historians, OAH = Organization of American Historians. This is one of the two main US-based scholarly associations in history. The OAH is for any scholar who studies American History. The other one, the American Historical Association, is for any American historian, no matter what they study. Both organizations have made some great uses of the emerging web to promote scholarly communication.).

I like the idea of following conferences I can’t attend via blogs, but in practice I rarely find that it works for me. Liveblogs of conference sessions are usually similar to class-notes type writing, more reporting than analysis and idiosyncratic reporting at that. And I definitely get why – no one has time to write an account of what was said and an analysis of what it means at the same time. And at best, liveblogged analysis can’t go past gut, immediate reactions — ideas that might develop and change with time for reflection. But the analytical, more personalized “what I thought was good, bad and important” writing — that takes time. I know that even when I want to write up a conference later, I don’t get to it before the next conference comes along.

Which is why I enjoyed this coverage so much. Rick Shenkman, HNN editor, reported on the sessions he saw, placed the arguments in context, and told us what he thought of the sessions, the speakers, the reactions/discussions and the papers. It reads like one person’s account, but that’s one of the things I liked best about it – it didn’t have that blandness of objectivity. Best of all, almost every session and talk discussed is supplemented with a YouTube video from the session itself. So one guy’s analysis, and the opportunity to see for yourself.

Here’s Manning Marable:

Which is why this is the kind of coverage I think could be really useful for students new to the discipline to really get a sense of what goes on in a discipline, in a scholarly community. The videos alone, even if the quality was better than YouTube, wouldn’t do that — non-experts need the context and the analysis. The context and analysis wouldn’t be enough either — too much one person’s view. If there was a better discussion in the comments, that’d be ideal, but that doesn’t seem to be happening yet. Maybe next year.

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