Researching in Public on Tumblr

TUMBLREven though Tumblr has been around for several years, I’d never taken a serious look at it until recently. I’ve mostly used Tumblr as a perfect procrastination tool, especially at the end of the semester. There are lots of academia-themed humor tumblrs such as When in Academia, Acadecomic, Academic Tim Gunn, Academic Tyra and All My Friends Are Academics. Other sites provide anonymous spaces for sharing experiences in academia, such as the often depressing Academic Men Explain Things to Me. But Tumblr can also be used in the classroom, as Carol Holstead and Doug Ward pointed out in their recent guest post. Lynda Barry’s posts on her Unthinkable Mind class are a great example of that type of engagement–I’ve been following the class from afar all semester.

I haven’t tried Tumblr yet with my students, but I am playing with it into my own work. As a platform, Tumblr advertises itself as “microblogging” but feels to me like a culture-dedicated version of Facebook, or perhaps a short-form heir to LiveJournal. Writing a Tumblr post feels like less of a commitment than blogging: because the form is based on very viral, often short, content, it feels more like a living notebook where pages can be easily reblogged and annotated from others’ notes. The tags make it relatively easy to move through the entire network of content to find new conversations. There’s sometimes no real sense of copyright or “ownership”, only the originator of a post as it moves through the network. Because of this fluidity and flexibility, I find Tumblr makes a fascinating start as an accessible research journal.

Recently I’ve been working on a project that requires thinking about more texts than I usually try to immerse myself in at any given time. I’ve started using Tumblr to keep track of some of the images and notes for the project and to get ideas from other fans and scholars examining the many versions of Alice in Wonderland.  This can be particularly cool when there are researchers with overlapping interests to follow, like Phantomwise [Down the Rabbit-Hole] Lewis Carroll and all the conversations within.

For researching anything with a popular culture slant, Tumblr is full of discourse: just check out the incredible posts tagged under “fan studies.” There are also academics using it for public research and acts of scholarship in other fields. Adeline Koh and Roopika Risam use Tumblr for sharing and curating articles in #DHPoco: Postcolonial Digital Humanities–including their own comic strip asking provocative questions like “How many postcolonial digital humanists does it take to change a lightbulb?” (Adeline writes more about this and other projects in her Weekend Reading: Race and Global DH post).

Are you on Tumblr? Do you use it as part of your research or scholarly community? Share your experiences in the comments!

[CC BY 2.0 Image by Flickr User Jessaax]

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