When I first volunteered to work with our parent journal, ABO (which was then stillAphra Behn Online), I had a smattering of web design experience and the belief that the academy was ready to stretch beyond the paperbound paradigm that defined the best scholarship. I was lucky enough to work with two talented and passionate scholars and web designers who strongly believed in the notion that online scholarship is the future of the academy: Tonya Howe and Adrianne Wadewitz.
ABO wasn’t the first online-only academic journal but the concept was—and perhaps still is—in its infancy. Convincing scholars, both established and upcoming, that it is possible to maintain the same level of quality as traditional journals was a challenge, and I saw the dedication it took for the editors to make that happen. Part of that challenge came down to me and my fellow web designers because the website itself was the first indication of the journal’s level of professionalism.
The experience of working with Tonya and Adrianne shaped my ever-developing understanding of why scholarship, especially online scholarship, matters. It took a lot of work, a lot of meetings, and the occasional fractious debate among ourselves and between Adrianne and the journal’s editors to design a website that was functional, attractive, and in keeping with both journal’s and The Aphra Behn Society’spersona. In short, it was inspiring. In particular, Adrianne was inspiring.
Those who never had the opportunity to meet Adrianne before her tragic and untimely death this past spring missed knowing a scholar whose work had the potential to change the face of the academy. A scholar of eighteenth-century children’s literature, Adrianne was also a dedicated public scholar. She had made a name for herself as a blogger and as one of the most prominent woman editors of Wikipedia. Her work on that compendious site was regularly marked as featured articles. She held women’s edit-a-thons in an effort to increase women’s role in what is still a male-dominated project. She co-wrote an essay on how to incorporate Wikipedia into the classroom and published it not in an academic journal, but on Wikipedia itself. She served on the board of the Wikipedia Education Foundation. She took what only a decade ago was a joke amongst my friends and helped turn it into a resource that will—I have no doubt—one day be accepted as legitimate amongst her academic peers. In fact, ABOPublic will link to Wikipedia articles that we feel are relevant and which demonstrate a high level of quality. Linking to Wikipedia is both an ideological stance that acknowledges it as a public scholarship resource and a way to recognize the contributions of one of our peers.
Adrianne recognized that engaging in public discourse is one of the most powerful ways that scholars can shape the construction of knowledge. We academics like to rail against the public’s seeming lack of appreciation for the arts and humanities. We like to complain that nobody reads anymore or appreciates critical thought. At the same time, we worry constantly about how to make our work more relevant to not only the public, but to the politicians and administrators who want to cut our funding and make us disappear. If Adrianne taught me anything, it’s that one of the most effective ways to challenge the erosion of the humanities is to speak to the public where we will be heard—online.
At the same time, the public brings its own expertise and curiosity to the table. Public discourse challenges us precisely because non-academics are often unhindered by the structures of thought that lead us in particular directions. They ask questions we wouldn’t think to ask and draw conclusions that are creative and surprising. They aren’t always right—but then, neither are we academics.
When Adrianne and Tonya moved on to other projects and I stayed behind to see ABO through the transition from its original incarnation to one more closely associated with the University of South Florida, the editors asked me to think of a way to make use of our old site. My first thought was of Adrianne and her work as a public scholar. ABOPublic is the result.
My assistant editor, Leah Thomas—who is really more of a co-editor at this point—and I have worked on ABOPublic for over a year. We’ve developed it from concept to launch and it has not been an easy endeavor. If it’s difficult to convince scholars to take a chance on online publishing, then it’s nearly impossible to convince them to share their thoughts in a forum that many schools will not count as a credible form of publication. Similarly, finding public scholars who don’t already have their own forum, let alone the time to publish their work on a new and, for now, small-scale blog, presents its own challenge. And yet, we consistently hear from our peers that they are excited to see what ABOPubliccan do.
It is our hope that this launch, which is smaller than our dreams but larger than our expectations, is the beginning of a new chapter in the life of the academy and, in particular, of eighteenth-century studies. While ABOPublic isn’t the first public scholarship blog for eighteenth-century studies, we will push the boundaries of the public/professional scholar divide. We dedicate this launch to the memory of Adrianne Wadewitz and to her work as a public scholar. Although she died before we could finalize plans for her contribution to our forum, her influence on it cannot be overstated. At the same time, this blog would not exist but for the immense effort and dedication of Leah Thomas and the support and encouragement of the editors of ABO.
We hope you enjoy the contributions from Martha Bowden, Devoney Looser, Isobel Grundy, Shawn Maurer, Danielle Bobker, Stephanie Hershinow, Kristina Huang, Marilyn Holguin, Sarah Parry, and Judy Tyrer and Anabelle Smyth. We think they’re fantastic.
As you read, please comment and share your thoughts. Please also consider contributing to the blog yourself. We welcome the opportunity to feature the work of scholars and public intellectuals alike. We hope to build a community space where we can work through ideas, question and debate, and build the knowledge that informs the rigorous work that we do.
Latest posts by Alaina Pincus (see all)
- Announcing: The Catherine de Vivonne Undergraduate Essay Prize - September 29, 2015
- ABOPublic is back online! - July 27, 2015
- ABOPublic has been hacked! - July 8, 2015