One of the most enjoyable and best -attended sections I went to at the SBL this year was the panel on Biblioblogging. While as the speakers noted that blogging has been greatly expanding the past five years in the field of biblical studies (broadly conceived), it is measured not only by the number of bloggers but the number of unofficial and now official gatherings of the bloggers (many of whom know each other by their blog names rather than their real names--even when their real names are not secrets). As has been the case the past few years, there was a dinner (which I was unable to attend), a lunch organized by John Hobbins. This year, the bloggers have an official group that meets to discuss issues of blogging, online publication, and burgeoning online technologies in research and instruction.
The meeting I attended had a nice panel from a well-established scholar to a more recent dissertation defender and all in between; it included scholars on the Dead Sea Scrolls, New Testament, and Targumim who came together to discuss their perspectives on this new technology. I am speaking more precisely of Jim Davila of Paleojudaica, whose paper is available on his site, Christian Brady or Targuman, also with his paper posted online, Michael Barber of the Sacred Page, James McGrath of Exploring Our Matrix, and Robert Cargill of XKV8R, the last three who have not (yet?) posted their papers online.
[Update: Robert Cargill has posted his discussion here, Michael Barber here, and James McGrath has promised to do so.]
[Update: Finally, James McGrath has posted his talk here]
It was an atmosphere of geekdom filled with a great deal of humor, prophetic prediction (both fulfilled and to come), and free exchange (open access?) of ideas.
There were many issues raised that new online technologies raise about our discipline in terms of how blogs are viewed (that is, should and could they be used for tenure and promotion committees, and if so, how could they be evaluated?), for pedagogical purposes (using blog platforms, pod- and vod-casts for dissemination of information, using possibilities for mixed medias that blogs are flexible enough platforms to hold to change the way we conceive of course construction--as well as research outlets), and the place of conferences--if panels are often already disseminating papers ahead of time (and Jim Davila always posts his papers ahead of the conference) would it not be better to have asynchronicity in participation by having a virtual conference, which would also be cheaper for those who cannot afford the traditional conference? Or a hybrid form of videoconferencing that allows people to come to panels physically (as usual) and for monitors to be set up so that others can participate virtually?
We do need to rethink the academic conference, I think. A couple years ago, I had written here (but I am currently too lazy to look for it, but I bet you can find it under the "academic conferences" tag) that conferences are a thing of the past and that virtual conferences in which people meet at a particular platform to exchange papers on topics and then write comments at the time or even later would be the way to go. At that time, however, I considered the traditional conference's continuing validity for two primary reasons: professional networking and for job interviews.
I am rethinking some of this. I have met a lot of scholars through my blogging activities (as well as publishers and book review distributors, etc.). Moreover, due to the economic difficulties of sending job search committees to conferences, so many places are using the phone interview or videophone interview as a replacement for the initial interview stage (before the traditional on-campus interview).
So where does that leave conferences? It retains the human face. As I have noted, as bloggers have increased, so have blogger-related activities at the SBL, both official and unofficial activities. They are face-time. While many bloggers do not come to these events (since there are hundreds of bloggers and only a couple to a few dozen come to the blogger events), most bloggers are not just sitting up curled with their computer on their bed all day. They are physically networking with people they have already networked with virtually. It is a solidification of a bond. Interestingly, I have two tendencies that I think I share with others: I am more likely seek out bloggers at the SBL to get a face and a voice and a physical presence to the person, and at the same time, I am more likely to read a blog of someone I have already met in person. It is a cycle that constantly feeds back into itself.
Perhaps soon we'll transition into a hybrid conference that is both physical and virtual--those who can physically and economically come will, but those who cannot will not be excluded and have a virtual presence.
As was noted in my first SBL session I attended that reviewed Guy Williams's new book on the Spirit World in the Pauline Epistles, we may have a new inflection of being somewhere in spirit.
This is just one of the many fruitful issues that came out of that single session--a rarity in the current climate of the proliferation of sections. I am sure that many other bloggers will blog about what they saw and heard and may want digital copies of the pictures that James McGrath showed.
If anything, the blogging section at the SBL inspired me to post again, which I have been doing so little lately.