Blogs > Cliopatria > Me and Professor Tribble

Sep 5, 2005 9:32 am


Me and Professor Tribble



That's my colleague, Geoffrey Parker. I took that picture back in February during a discussion in which I introduced him to blogging. In it, he's reading The Sixty-first Minute, the famous Powerline post that ultimately cost Dan Rather his job.

You may have heard of Geoffrey. He has written, edited, or co-edited thirty-two books. His best-known work is probably The Military Revolution. Military innovation and the rise of the West, 1500-1800, first published by Cambridge University Press in 1988 and winner of two book prizes. A second, expanded edition came out in 1996, with Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese and Spanish translations. A third, revised edition appeared in 2000 (Italian translation already available, Spanish translation in preparation.)

Geoffrey doesn't blog. He doesn't need to.

But he respects the fact that I blog, and that I need to. My department shares that respect. My annual review this year included the following:

"[In the past year, you published this, taught that, and served on such and such a committee.] Finally, you maintained a very interesting and important academic military history blog, which you have used with skill to develop ideas about the field and also to advance your thinking on important scholarly issues...."

Lest that sound like the department was just humoring me, I should add that the department also humored me with a nice raise in salary.

Manan Ahmed's post Blogging Away the Job 2 alerted me to the fact that Ivan Tribble is back, and for the most part I concur with Manan's assessment that Prof. T's new article is thin. (If you want my full view, you will find it on Blog Them Out of the Stone Age).

Based on Prof. T's article I cannot tell if my blog would meet with his tepid approval or not. It is, on the one hand, professionally oriented and deals mainly with the question of how to expand the field of military history. But on the other hand it speaks candidly about aspects of my personal life, most notably the fact that I have a mood disorder called Bipolar Disorder.

I was diagnosed with the disorder at age 26, about a year before I embarked on my PhD. It did not prevent me from completing the PhD, or from writing a prize-winning first book, or from getting tenure a year early, or from winning three awards over the years for teaching excellence. But it does make my life difficult at times, and from Professor Tribble's original article I judge that if he knew of my condition--and, horrors, that I had the temerity to discuss it publicly--my application for a job in his department would swiftly find the wastebasket.

(That application is totally hypothetical, by the way. I would not be caught dead in Prof. T's department, and if I ever find out the actual name of that department, I will steer my advisees away from it as firmly as I can.)

What Professor T fails to grasp, but what my own department fortunately understands, is that most of us in academe are actual human beings. We have struggles. We have foibles. Some of us need to let off steam. Most of us need to find a sense of community. And blogging can help provide that. It can, in ways that are obvious or not so obvious, help us do our jobs.

In my own case, the depressive phases of the mood disorder produce feelings that result in distorted thoughts about the quality of my work--"This is horrible, that sucks," and so on. Blogging is the best way I have found thus far to rescue me from that. Most of my posts are, in one way or another, drafts of work in progress. The blog essentially accelerates the point at which my writing gets the intervention of actual as opposed to notional readers. It replaces my demon-like internal notional readers, who reflect that distorted thinking, with living, breathing readers who are, by and large, supportive and who therefore spur me on toward a more regular pace of production.

Prof. Tribble might nonetheless object that I could do this without actually telling people I have bipolar disorder. To that I would respond: Read the blog. The disorder isn't as divorced from my scholarly interests as one might think.

I would also respond that the illness requires constant vigilance and that the blog makes it difficult to hide those times when I am, in the psychiatric term,"decompensating;" that is, getting hypomanic or depressed. Too many posts, or lots of posts late at night, or posts that seem erratic in tone, and my readers can check in to see if I may be becoming hypomanic. A long dearth of posts and they can check to see if I've become depressed.

Put simply, the blog is an additional tool by which to manage the disorder. It works because most people are not like Profesor Tribble, at least in terms of his public persona. Prof. T comes across not just as smug but also as rather heartless.

In his more recent essay, Professor T makes the point--I would have thought, a very obvious point--that it is the content of one's blog that matters, and not simply the fact that one keeps a blog. But I don't think he really believes that. If he did, he would not marinate his views in a tone of such general condescension and distaste. Indeed, Prof. T is, in a small way, the Jack Kevorkian of the academic blogging debate. I think the academy needs such a debate, just as our society needed (and still needs) a debate on end-of-life and right-to-die issues. But Kevorkian was an unfortunate choice to spark that debate, and Prof. T is a bad choice to spark this one. I hope the Chronicle of Higher Education makes a better choice next time.

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Mark Grimsley - 9/5/2005

Someone adept at del.icio.us is accumulating a nice string of links commenting upon Ivan Tribble's second article. It's worth checking out--the quality of the responses is so much higher than anything Prof. T has given us.


Manan Ahmed - 9/5/2005

thanks for this, mark.

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