Following Dan Cohen’s Advice

Dan Cohen, executive director of the DPLA, encouraged his fellow academics to participate in “a shameless” and “narcissistic act” in his 2006 article titled, “Professors, Start Your Blogs.” Blogging, the shameless, narcissistic endeavor, has, in the past nine years, become enriched in the same way that Cohen expected it to. Cohen assumed that “the addition of professorial blogs to the web will enrich the medium greatly,” and he was right.

Cohen was on tip-of-the-spear and his article reads as a call to action. Cohen explained that most blogs in the blogosphere are meaningless, and that this has deterred the writers of quality prose. Cohen implores these individuals to lend their talents to be a counterweight to the prolific non-sense.

Cohen exemplified his point by explaining how most books published are not up to academic standards, but that should not stop one from publishing. Cohen knew that academics contained among their cohort men and women who have dedicated their lives to becoming quality writers and that the blog format was an ideal means by which these writers and thinkers could provide “notes from the field.”

Cohen acknowledged that academics become obsessed with their topics. Blogs, Cohen explained, “are perfect outlets for obsession.” Writers can create blogs on specific topics, easily find other people interested in the topics, and create networks of experts. Their blog then becomes a valuable resource for the rest of the community to draw on their expertise.

Cohen’s call to action was needed in 2006, when we weren’t quite sure what to make of the second iteration of the web, but here, nearly a decade later, it is obvious that academics should maintain a web presence. When major newspapers, such as NY Times and Washington Post, use blogs on their opinion pages, it has become accepted that public intellectuals would write in this form.  In 2015 blogs have become indistinguishable from the periodic long form article journalism that has been standard since the inception of the magazine.

In 2006, Cohen’s article was controversial and almost prophetic, but only nine years later, his argument, like his explanation of RSS feeds, has become quaint and outdated. While I am sure that there are still some insular academics who would rather converse with the echos in their ivory tower, the rest of the world is becoming more open and reaping the benefits of doing so.


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