Musicology in the Blogosphere
The following is the full text of Ryan & Drew’s recent piece in the August 2010 AMS newsletter (VOLUME XL, NUMBER 2), which appeared shortened therein due to considerations of space:
Whither the Musicological Blogosphere?
Before the rise of the academic journal, intellectuals shared their ideas through an informal network of correspondence that became known as the “invisible college.” More recently, this seventeenth-century term has been applied to the modern-day equivalent: the academic blog. Consider the parallels: the blogosphere allows for individual scholars to informally share formal ideas with colleagues beyond their home institution. At the same time, the public nature of a blog makes this community both visible and boundless. Scholars freely communicate not only with other academic types, but with the world at large. For this reason, we like to think of our blog, Amusicology.com, as an “invisible conference.”
For the past three years, we have run and been the lead contributors for amusicology.com, a general-interest musicology blog that averages 2,500 visitors per month. At the 2007 meeting of the Society for American Music, we realized that there was now the technological potential for easy scholarly exchange in a public setting all the time, not just a few times a year. Conferences serve not only the purpose of trying out new ideas prior to submission to a journal, but they also allow scholars to explore a new topic, learn more about a different one, or just sit in the hotel lobby with colleagues, throw some ideas together and see what happens. But most national conferences and professional meetings happen only once a year. It occurred to us that blogs were underutilized as a form of scholarly communication. We quickly arrived at a few ground rules for our own contributions, as well as those of our guest posters. First, all posts had to be 1,000 words or less. Secondly, we wanted our ideas to be fully formed. Despite the fact that they are touted as a form of new media, blogs often seem to lack the filter and focus necessary for prose ideas to take on their fullest coherence. So we wanted to steer clear of that kind of reportage—of the army of words marching around in search of an idea.
People tend to start blogging because they believe that they have something worth sharing with whatever community to which they imagine their words will appeal. We continue to post because we feel that we address subjects and issues that our readers find interesting. All authors like to think that readers hang on their every word, but we are fully aware that this is not the case. Sometimes a post will receive a lot of commentary, sometimes it passes almost completely unnoticed. Either way, as is the case with all musicology blogs, the medium provides an opportunity to circumvent the traditional means of scholarly distribution. Rather than present a conference paper and then publish one’s findings via an academic journal or book, a blog allows for instant dissemination to a broad community of readers.
Most of our readers are recent PhDs or graduate students. At the same time, there are also many non-academics who read our posts as a result of the public nature of our blog. This includes those who stumble upon it as a result of a Google search, meaning that we’re read by a lot of people beyond musicology and beyond academia.
At the present moment, this “open to anyone” feature of the musicological blog prevents more academic-types from sharing their work in such a venue. We’ve invited scholars from all points in their careers to submit pieces to Amusicology and so far only a handful of recent PhDs and graduate students have contributed. We understand the reluctance to contribute to (let alone run) a musicology blog. In addition to the time commitment, the thought of writing for a large anonymous public can be daunting – at least in a conference room you can see who is listening. Some of the challenges of blogging have been revealed by Jonathan Bellman, a blogger on the site “Dial M for Musicology” who retired from blogging at the end of May. Bellman felt he had simply run out of things to say, commenting that he was “keenly aware that if I’m not exactly a One-Trick Pony, readers know this pony’s very few tricks too well.”
What role does blogging play for musicology? That is just what we are trying to figure out. It seems clear that the only constant is change, and who knows what technology is incubating now that might supersede blogs. We have recently started an Amusicology presence on Twitter, although it is not always clear what kind of scholarly information can be broadcast in 140 characters or less. As we explore the various ways technology can be used to further scholarly communication, we hope to see an increasing adoption by a wider range of scholars. Blogs are an excellent way to store scholarly thinking and communicate with both musicologists and humanists at large. We would be thrilled to see that ecosystem expand.
—Ryan Bañagale and Drew Massey
 Jonathan Bellman, “Exit (Still) Writing,” <http://musicology.typepad.com/>, accessed 1 June 2010.