Saturday, January 8, 2011

Statement of Purpose; or, Why I Decided to Put My Unformed and Half-baked Douglass Ramblings in Public

If anyone is reading, welcome to my blog on Frederick Douglass and women.

At the  moment, I have a handful of reasons for creating this forum in which to write about Frederick Douglass, women, and my manuscript about Frederick Douglass and women. The first reason had to do with a desire to explore the possibility of using social media such as a blog to publicize my book. Obviously, this is putting the horse at least three years before the cart, since the manuscript is currently a jumble of notes and papers and is not due until 2013. Since using such media as Facebook or Twitter or whatever else might appear in the next few days of the social media world, requires actually having something to promote since they aren't conducive to much beyond short bursts of information.

Meanwhile, I have been noticing that interaction with other scholars has become an ever more important part of my work. For a variety of reasons, I have not developed a community of such scholars with whom I can discuss ideas and exchange suggestions. Seeing the way communities have developed on other blogs, I thought that this format might be a good way to foster such an environment -- provided, of course, that people read it!

This leads to my third motive for creating a blog. I have a practice of "free writing," much like keeping a journal, on my ideas and research on Douglass. I "free write" just as much for the discipline and practice of writing as for anything else. My teaching load, however, is 5/5 plus service that often involves a 1 - 2 hour commute, half of which is in rush hour traffic, means that anything that doesn't HAVE to be done NOW tends to fall by the wayside by mid-term. I hate when that happens, and end up bouncing between resentment of whatever keeps me from writing and hating myself for not having the discipline to make myself, despite the demanding schedule. Knowing that I would have an audience -- or potential audience -- might help alleviate some of that stress and enforce that disciple for, at the very least, longer into the semester than the mid-term.

The fourth incentive for creating this blog came from several directions and has to do with the parts of research that don't end up in the final product. From one direction came the awareness that publishers, to varying degrees, tend to be less enamoured of the type of historiographical and explanatory notes than the author. I find this rather frustrating as a reader and even more as a reviewer. After all, you don't want to say something about a writer's lack of grounding in the historiography, or lack of understanding of the debates, when the author had such footnotes removed from their manuscript due to length. That happened to me on my Tourist Book because the nature of the book, the scope of the subject, and the limit of the word count left little work for transparency on research. In other words, it has no endnotes and only a limited bibliography. I always wished I had a place to put those notes and bibliography, and a blog might be the perfect place.

From another direction came that awareness that writers very often cut out fascinating information from the manuscript simply because that information serves no function in the overall scheme of the work.  The author may not know when or if they can develop that information into anything, but -- dammit! -- it's such a good story or interesting fact. Sometimes they are footnotes to footnotes. Sometimes they are simply asides or dead ends. How lovely to have a place to put these items so that the work that went into them doesn't go to waste!

From yet another direction came my own desire to inflict upon others my adventures in research or items in popular culture that relate to Frederick Douglass that must be shared. A blog might be the perfect place with which to entertain an interested public -- or at least attempt to do so.

That's the general purpose of the blog, then: to have a publicity platform in place when the time arrives, to build a community that could help my work, to help discipline my writing, and to provide a forum for the various odds and ends of research.

Here goes.

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