I’m in the midst of preparing a webinar on curating and maintaining an academic presence online. Early on during the presentation, I encourage the participants to Google themselves, and I show them a screenshot of when I Googled myself. Except the screenshot is currently woefully out-of-date. So, I Googled myself.
I also decided to take my own advice, advice I used to give to my students, about moving past the first page of search results. There weren’t any surprises, really; I found some blog posts that engaged with things I had written, but mostly, I just showed up the way I typically show up. Until I got more than a few pages in.
Now, I was starting to get into the less “popular” results – the academic stuff. It’s probably pretty telling that my more academic work doesn’t show up until a couple of pages deep, but that’s my career, and that’s my web presence. But, when I did get into my search on the more academic side of things, what I found really surprised me.
I am part of academic conversations.
I found positive reviews of the two books that I have edited, as well as some reviews of a couple of books where I have an essay included. Then I started finding essays that cited my work on Anne Hébert, on translation, on Nalo Hopkinson, and on Dany Laferriere. Essays in major journals for the field. Then I started finding books that cited my work, by major academic publishers, written by people who I see as being academic mentors.
In one essay, the author spills a great deal of ink critiquing the theory I put forward about the book Brown Girl in the Ring and its relationship to traditional science fiction and dystopian literature. In another, the author roundly praises that same theory, expanding it to take in new ways of looking at the field.
I’ve never been so thrilled to see myself being talked about like I wasn’t there.
That work on Hopkinson is more than ten years old. It is a part of my MA thesis that I finished in 2002. The essay appeared in 2009. The essay that picks it apart is from 2012, and I didn’t know it even existed until now.
Part of this ignorance about the conversations taking place around my academic writing (and, of course, the authors and books that I study) is my own fault. Through my own idiosyncratic approach to research (and my career), I haven’t been deeply engaged, instead moving from project to project as my interests shifted. But it was also out of necessity, as I moved from one country to another, one context to another, one career to another.
But another part is the challenge to keep up in the rapidly increasing number of platforms for scholarship to appear in. And I’m just talking about “traditional” journals. Yet another part is the slow, slow pace of many of these academic conversations, especially as they apply to more “fringe” academic interests - my authors and interests are niche, and so the conversations happen in fits and starts, in varied outlets, with voices from disparate places.
One of the things I appreciate about my blogging and tweeting and writing for various online publications is that the conversations happen much more “in real life” – in other words, I am actually getting to have a conversation with people, rather than waiting for someone’s words to reach me through a firewalled journal that first past through the filters of editors and peer-reviewers. How many conversations have never happened because of this kind of gatekeeping?
We need space and place for all kinds of academic conversations to happen, and ways to acknowledge, celebrate, and reward those conversations.
Conversely, it warmed my heart to know that the words I have published through these gatekeepers are nonetheless a part of conversations. My intellectual work, in all its forms, has a place is the discourse. And isn’t that what we all want as scholars?