Starting Wednesday, Russian History Blog will host what hopefully will be the first in a series of blog conversations. On Wednesday, I will provide a more formal introduction to this particular blog conversation (on the new memoir Gulag Boss), but for now I wanted to talk a bit about the format and goals of these conversations.
This past summer, I worked quite hard to complete a review of several recent Gulag publications (including Gulag Boss) for the Journal of Modern History. In the midst of recovery from early summer neck surgery, I put a lot of effort into meeting the journal’s deadline. (Well, truth be told, I was a couple of days late.) Shortly after submission of the review essay, I received a polite message that informed me, “There is currently a period of about 15 months between receipt of a review and its publication.” Rarely, it seemed to me, is the distinction between journal and blog publication quite so clear.
In the midst of writing the review, I sent a message to several Gulag specialists with a question about one event described in Gulag Boss. Wilson Bell, one of these colleagues, mentioned that the memoir seemed ripe for a broader discussion. Immediately, the idea of using Russian History Blog as the forum for a conversation on the book took hold of me.
I have a few goals in mind, at least initially, in launching these blog conversations–largely in the context of providing added value to the traditional academic journal book review. First, I hope the discussion of a particularly important book (or topic) by several invited guest blogger specialists will foster a more expansive discussion and more interactive exchange of opinion among scholars. Further, I have issued a broader invitation to the Russian history field to participate via comments in hopes of broadening the conversation further. Second, I hope the blog conversation format can provide a more timely discussion of important recent books in the field. Third, I am pleased that the conversation will be open access and thus available to the general public in a way that academic journal reviews rarely are.
I have given only the most general of instructions to the participants in the conversation. Hopefully each participant will come with their own sense of what the conversation might look like, thus not only commenting on the topic at hand but also experimenting with the forms of scholarly conversation in digital format. Each participant will serve as their own editor, able to publish their thoughts immediately and without mediation.
The format is not fundamentally new, of course. Other conversations like Crooked Timber’s “seminars” and H-Diplo’s roundtables show the way, yet I am hoping here for something less formal and more fluid than those examples.
I hope you will all join the conversation through comments on the conversation’s posts starting Wednesday.