Kate Drabinski is a lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies and director of the WILL Program at UMBC.
One of my biggest frustrations as a student was writing papers that would be read only by the professor and then stuck in a trash can somewhere, never to be seen again. I wanted to have bigger conversations with more people, to practice engaging in the conversations I knew were happening outside the classroom.
I often have the same frustration as a faculty member, working for long periods of time on articles that will be read by a diminishing audience of specialists who have access to increasingly expensive publications. I mean, what’s the point? I want the same conversations now that I wanted as a student, and it turns out they don’t just happen. And then I discovered blogging.
I started my blog, What I Saw Riding My Bike Around Today, on a whim. I had just started biking regularly in New Orleans as a form of transportation, and every day I saw something that made me think about issues related to my scholarly work: the historical marker at the corner of Press and Royal concretized my thinking about race and public memory; the blighted house in Central City just blocks from the mansions on St. Charles made real my interest in uneven redevelopment. Moving to Baltimore to teach at UMBC has meant all new rides as I got to know a new place by tracing the streets, one by one, by bicycle.
Blogging has forced me to put these connections into words and has infused my scholarship with a different reality. My research now springs from my daily life, enriched by a public forum where I can immediately write out my thoughts and get feedback from others who have become my daily interlocutors. I am currently working on a book project about Baltimore museums that raises questions about how cities represent themselves to themselves and how public memory becomes a form of urban redevelopment. The daily practice of riding and writing has helped me connect to my communities and do research that is relevant to those same places, places where I make my life and home.
Blogging has also forced me to write in ways that are accessible to larger audiences than I was used to as an academic and given me the opportunity to engage with communities I never would have found if I’d stayed in the classroom. Blogging is also a great resource for students, and I have made blogs and other forms of online public writing central to many of my courses at UMBC. Students are still writing papers just for me, learning the ropes of writing academic arguments in a safe context, but I also want students to get into public conversations sooner, to engage other communities and to be engaged by them. This is another important kind of “breaking ground”—building online infrastructures for conversations that bridge the false divide between classroom and community, because at UMBC, all of us make our homes in both.
Contact the author, Kate Drabinski, at firstname.lastname@example.org.