It’s our 100th post!!! (And we’re excited about it, in case you couldn’t tell.) Today’s post is a Q&A about the blog’s beginnings, challenges, successes, and future. We’re reviving our ‘Five questions‘ format, but we’ve expanded it to ten (there are two of us, after all!).
Did we answer your questions about the blog? If not, leave a comment and we’ll answer below. And we’ll be back with a new tutorial next week.
- How did you decide on the idea for the blog?
J: I had read a lot of academic blogs, and I was impressed by their quality. I knew that I wanted to have a more public face. But I didn’t have a good sense of how to effectively stand out from all the other bloggers.
M: I had taken more than one research methods class in my career as a graduate student and I found the ones that were most effective to be those that gave you an insider’s view on how to approach what had previously been an unknown subject. Since not everyone has access to quality research methods [courses], I wanted a blog that would be inspired by the best of what research methods courses had to offer. An ultimate database that would give students of different levels the confidence to use all of the tools available for the study of antiquity, not just the ones that they were already familiar with.
J: As soon as Mary mentioned this to me, I thought it was brilliant. In my methods classes, we covered a lot of theory, but there wasn’t a lot of hands-on work. And when I asked questions like “which version of the Roman historical fragments should I be using?”, I’d get different answers without really understanding why. So we try to be transparent about our choices.
- What do you see as the core mission of the blog?
M: To give students the confidence to try new tools and to use new types of sources in their work.
J: We provide advice and tutorials. In that sense, our mission is primarily pedagogical.
- Has that mission changed over the past two years?
J: It’s become more focused. If you look back at our very first posts, a lot of them are all over the place and trying to be everything to everyone. That’s not productive. There are other people who can do some things better.
M: I think we’ve really honed in on the skills that students of antiquity are looking for. They aren’t always the hard-to-use or previously-unknown databases of ancient sources. Sometimes they are as simple as what is expected in class, how to successfully attend your first conference, or how to apply for graduate school.
- What has been most surprising?
J: I think the response. You always hope that other people like your great idea, but that doesn’t mean that they do!
M: The response of course, but also the sheer number of things the blog has taught me (not just about resources for antiquity).
- What have been the biggest challenges?
J: Finding guest contributors (hint hint!).
M: Keeping up with a posting schedule. When we try to post about resources that we aren’t experts at, we first have to learn how to use the resources ourselves. Sometimes this results in great posts (like our recent one on the New TLG) but they are very time-consuming.
- What lessons have you learned?
J: It’s a lot of work! I spend several hours a week doing blog maintenance. We also have planning meetings about content about once a month. My most valuable learning experience was that I can’t try to learn a tool just for the sake of posting it. Our strength lies in actually knowing how to use what we feature.
M: It’s better to stay focused than to post on lots of unrelated topics. Our blog has done best within the framework of our tagline Tips and Tricks. The more we stick to those types of posts, the more valuable a resource our blog becomes.
- Are there any things that you would do differently? Do you have any advice for aspiring academic bloggers?
J: I’m not sure about doing things differently, because I do believe in failure as a learning tool. My advice to academic bloggers would be to not be in a bubble. We get a lot of new followers from Twitter and from Facebook, and we work hard to cultivate those accounts.
M: I would agree with Jackie. I think that we could have starting use the many tools at our disposal for promotion much earlier and in a more organized way than we did.
- Were there any particularly exciting moments in the blog’s history that you’re proud of?
J: I found out from our analytics page that several college LMSs use our content, which is amazing: that’s exactly the sort of audience we were hoping to reach. And the Classics Librarians’ Forum also features us!
M: I have to admit, the first time the blog was written up on AWOL, I felt like a celebrity. But a friend of mine is a librarian in Nashville, and he sent me an email recently to tell me that he found the blog to be an important resource for students of antiquity. That was certainly my proudest moment: to have someone who was not a part of the project tell me that they thought the blog was doing good work and to thank me for doing it.
J: Another exciting aspect for me has been the impact I’ve seen on my students. Over several years, I’ve spent hours going over research tools like JStor, Perseus, etc. in class, and yet students would still be lost. Now I send students to my own content before in-person meetings, and we can start from a much more advanced level. I think that students come out of my courses more confident in their ability to use these tools now.
- What has been the most valuable aspect of working on the blog for you personally?
M: I have learned so many things in working on the blog. Not only have I had the opportunity to share expertise about resources in an informal setting and to learn from guest bloggers about other resources, but I have learned valuable skills about promoting websites online and using analytics to see how well the blog is performing. Plus great technical skills like how to take and edit screenshots!
J: I enjoy having an outlet for non-academic academic writing. It’s a relaxing way to share expertise.
- Where would you like the blog to go in the future?
J: More guest posts! (Sorry, I know I already said that.) But seriously: I know where my strengths are. I also know that there are a lot of tools and sites we don’t cover (mapping tools, epigraphy, numismatics). We would like to be comprehensive!
M: I would like move from the free version of WordPress (that has served us very well) to a more robust platform that will allow us to keep the blog feature, but organize the posts into a powerful searchable database for resources for the study of antiquity.