Developing an Online Persona: A Look at 3 Public Scholars

With the hopes of refining my own online persona, I took to the websites of three fellow public scholars to examine the ways in which they present themselves and their work to the virtual community.

The first scholar I visited was Jill Dolan, whose site is entitled The Feminist Spectator. As you click on to the site, the landing page brings you straight to her most recent blog posts. Immediately, I found myself wanting to know a bit more about who was writing these very sporadic (with the last post having been published in early-2020 and the post prior in 2018) but informative posts on pop culture and why. The first clickable page on the navigation bar reads “About”, so naturally I gravitated there to learn more. Here, I found a brief write up on the blog itself and Jill Dolan. On this page, I feel it is important to note that one small picture of Dolan was included and this is the only picture available on the entire site. We learn that The Feminist Spectator is an award-winning blog for criticism about the arts. We also learn that Jill Dolan is well established as a researcher in her respective field, as a faculty member at Princeton University in the English Department and the Lewis Center for the Arts. Dolan also notes she is the director of Princeton’s Gender and Sexuality Studies program – an important way of establishing ethos particularly on a blog that highlights the ways in which gender, sexuality, race, and other identities shape and are shaped by the arts. The latter half of the page is filled with 3 comments on the site itself. These comments prove to be a bit distracting to the reader on this particular page, but the overall impression of the site thus far is one of organized simplicity.

A similar tone of simplicity is taken throughout the rest of the site. The other clickable pages read: “Books”, “Articles”, “Lectures”, “Op’eds”, “Interviews”, and “Teaching”. On each one of these pages, there are provided links to Dolan’s work in different contexts. It seems to me that instead of providing a CV in PDF format, this entire site serves as Dolan’s CV. We find her everyday musings, her long-term research and publications, her teaching syllabi, and more. The simplistic nature of the site establishes Dolan as a person less concerned with the bells and whistles of it all and much more focused on sharing her available research with the public in an effective and organized manner. One downside to this simple structure is that it leaves something to be desired as far as maintaining a site navigators’ interest. The addition of more graphics might work to fix this issue.

I next visited Ted Underwood’s cite entitled Stone and the Shell. The landing page brings you, once again, straight to the most recent blog post – which is the most active and recently updated of all the sites I visited. One very interesting choice Underwood made on this site is the addition of tags at the top of each blog post. The reader learns about the general topics a certain post will revolve around and can easily click on these tags to navigate to similar posts if certain ideas catch your interest. This level of organization pushes the reader to want to engage more with your work – an ingenious idea I might utilize for my own blog. Similar to The Feminist Spectator, I found myself wondering what this blog is about and who is writing it. The first page on the navigation bar is “About this blog”, so I clicked there. We learn on this page that this blog is Underwood’s attempt to explain his text-mining addiction to the broader humanistic community. We also learn that Underwood teaches 18th– and 19th– century literature at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. This page does not have any graphics, and adopts a simplistic nature similar to that found on The Feminist Spectator. One fun choice Underwood did make on this page is to link at the bottom of the screen a set of seven posts with the collective title “Some of the better posts”. I instantly wanted to read more to learn why these posts were better (or more engaged with) than others, which, yet again, works to enhance user engagement.

The few other clickable pages on the navigation bar include: “Open data”, which links available data sets for the public, “Tech note” which explains the technical aspects of his work that would be redundant in individual posts, and, finally, a “Ted Underwood” tab which serves as his CV of sort, giving a bit more of an in-depth explanation about his work, publications, press, etc. On this final tag, Underwood includes a photo of himself and his book, along with a few photos of flowers (which he notes as a side interest of his). Yet again, I find myself admiring the simplistic, “get-to-the-point” nature of this site that establishes Underwood as a scholar that is seeking primarily to share his work with the public. One note I did make was that there was no specific/highly organized way to access the blog postings beyond stumbling upon them. I would have liked to have been able to scroll through his posting as a whole.

Finally, I took a look at The Bully Bloggers, which is a group comprised of Lisa Duggan (NYU), J. Jack Halberstam (Columbia University), Jose Esteban Munoz (NYU), Tavia Nyong’o (Yale University), Jose Quiroga (Emory University), Eng- Beng Lim (Dartmouth College), and Damon R. Young (UC Berkley). The landing page brings you, yet again, straight to the blog posts which was most recently updated in mid-2020. Similar to Stone and the Shell, each post comes along with tags that help the reader navigate to other content of particular interest. Once again, I was interested to learn more about the site and its writers, so I navigated to the first clickable page on the navigation bar which reads “About”. Here we get a brief blurb about the site telling us that it serves to allow its contributors to write about anything and everything queer. “We are very serious, but in a silly sort of way,” they write – a sentiment I found very endearing. We then are introduced to each of the contributors in a short paragraph or so. Other clickable pages on the navigation bar include a “Freedom to Marry Our Pets Society Page”, which (from what I can gather) is a place people can submit comical “marriage announcements” to their most beloved pets, and a “Join the Cocktail Party!” page which gives you more information about their Facebook group where you might go to further engage with people of likeminded interests.

Because this site is operated by multiple scholars, it seems fitting that particular publications and/or in-depth CVs are not provided. Instead, this site is one that (once again through its simplistic design, lack of graphics, etc.) seems to get straight to the, at times very comical, point of what they are trying to accomplish – which is forming a community around queer writing and liberal understandings, as well as establishing themselves as simultaneously serious and lighthearted researchers in the field. Similar to Underwood’s site, I do wish there was a specific page dedicated to the blog postings for most intuitive access, but otherwise this site is very successful in accomplishing its goals.

I learned so much from each of these sites, namely that sometimes less is more. Though making a site look elaborate might be appealing to the eye, it is not necessarily needed to accomplish the goal of becoming a successful public facing scholar.

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