“The Sun is the Same in a Relative Way…”

… as it was about a year ago when Points posted our first pieces of “short and insightful writing on the long and complex history” of alcohol and drugs.  And certainly, as the song says, we’re all “older and shorter of breath…closer to death.”  But if you can quit staring at the lava lamp for awhile, there are actually a few interesting things to note about Points‘ first year of life.  Yes, this is an anniversary post.

The Managing Editors Celebrate in the Points Office

My Co-Managing Editor Joe Spillane has observed some of the past year’s high points in recent posts of his own, so let me speculate a little about the future. As you know if you’ve looked recently at the Contributing Editors and Guest Bloggers pages, we’re starting our second year with a great roster of contributors: some old, some new, all certain to be interesting.  One of our chief goals this year is to break out of the 20th-century U.S. rut that it’s easy for alcohol and drugs scholarship to fall into (and the Managing Editors are allowed to call it a “rut,” as we’re both trained as 20th-century Americanists!). So look for more writing on early modern drugs and alcohol– both medicinal and recreational–as well as expanded coverage of drugs, drinking, and temperance in the 18th and 19th centuries.  With the help of our expanding roster of contributors, I do believe that in the next year Points will cover every continent except Antarctica– and we’ll try to remedy that deficit with cross-postings like this one.

Our big new gang of contributors will also make it easier for us to offer “ripped from the headlines” content like our current “Points Towards the Presidency.”  Our goal there is not to compete with the MSM (we can’t– we’re academics who run a blog on the side, let’s not forget), but to take seriously Frederic Jameson’s famous injunction “Always historicize!”  Contextualizing and re-framing “current events” through the prism of historical precedent allows us– we hope– to offer a kind of traction on the present that conventional journalism or cultural criticism is simply not equipped to provide.

William Dean Howells: American Realist, Atlantic Editor (1871-1881), Role Model

And while we’re on the subject of the MSM, here’s an exciting development that won’t affect Points readers directly– though it may increase your numbers overall.  We’ve  been invited to become a “partner site” for The Atlantic (not the stuffy flagship of the genteel tradition, but its postmodern cyber incarnation), which will re-publish selections from our site on their Health portal.  At present, we’re the only scholarly blog with which they have such a relationship aside from the Smithsonian Institution’s Collections, and we’re feeling giddy finding ourselves in such august company.

But this deal with The Atlantic, especially in combination with the inevitable navel-gazing that accompanies the start of a new year, has really pushed us to ask ourselves once again, “what are we trying to do with this blog?”  The Atlantic is not paying us for content, and we have no plan for monetizing Points.  Despite continuing calls by individual bloggers and some professional associations to do so, our university (and probably yours too) does not recognize academic blogging as a form of publication counting towards tenure and promotion. The utopian vision of an online “community” that blogs supposedly create has only been partially realized, I’d say, at Points: despite all of our great content and our strong following, our “comment” culture remains pretty torpid.  We’ve proved we can exist– and thrive.  But if we’re not making money, or advancing professionally, or creating community (that catch-all counterpoint to all things Mammon), what exactly is our purpose?

Where I Lived and What I Lived For

On a less existentially anxious, but equally important level, how is Points working to help break down the silos between hard science and historical approaches to drug and alcohol issues?  Between historians and policy makers?  A year ago, I claimed that kind of barrier-smashing (call it “transcendence” if it makes you feel better) was one of our aims.  Thus far, we’ve done a good job of acknowledging that such silos exist (see especially Joe Gabriel’s and Michelle McClellan’sposts on the topic), and that’s a step. Will this year see us take the next step and actually, you know, have some scientists and policy people talk about what they like and need from history?

I’m all for a little mindless celebration of the fact that in 365 days we’ve published 226 posts, garnered almost 55,000 views, and been recognized by folks outside the academy as smart, interesting, and good writers. But on this very happy birthday, I am wondering to what extent an academic group blog with crossover appeal is transformative– versus just “the same in a relative way.”  Or to shift from the Pink Floyd lexicon into that of Peggy Lee (another great philosopher of the same period, though of a distinctly different school): “Is that all there is– to a circus?”

And Many Happy Returns of the Day

4 thoughts on ““The Sun is the Same in a Relative Way…”

  1. This is a great set of questions for all of us who are, to one degree or another, involved in this project – including readers who don’t feel moved or interested to comment. I, for one, would like to hear from folks about what we can do better to encourage commenting. For me, its a matter of time rather than interest, as I suspect it is for most people. There are just so many people who pop up here that I’d like to start a conversation with… but don’t, because of the meeting I have to run to, or the looming deadlines I face, or other such concerns. That is clearly one of the key issues. Another, and not one you mentioned, is how do we move forward without killing off all the fun? Do we become more “professional”? Do we worry more about making mistakes in a medium that is becoming – thanks to everyone’s efforts, but especially your’s and Joe’s – at least somewhat high visibility? I’d hate to see us lose that circus atmosphere – a place where we are allowed, as Ambrose Bierce put it, to “act the fool.” Can we make this more of a carnival than it already is, and should we?

  2. Policy advocates are molding history into whatever favors their cause for the future of drug policy. (See http://reason.com/blog/2012/01/09/should-drug-reformers-give-up-on-medical, for one). It’s really refreshing to read bloggers who are primarily interested in the history itself. In terms of informing today’s policy, I think comparing the medicalization versus legalization of drugs (and transitions to and from) in various times and places throughout history would be really fascinating.

  3. One of the wonderful and unexpected perks of leaving “academia” (to teach at a community college, so “leaving” might be too strong a word) is that I no longer need to publish in order to keep my job. After refusing even to enter my study in the year following graduation, I realized that now I can research what interests me and write because I have something to say. I have to tell you, it feels great.

    For me, this blog feels great too. People write because they have something to say and i read because it interests me. Maybe blogs don’t “count” and that’s a problem for tenure, but there’s something liberating about it as well. So with full propers to TTravis’s insightful and nattily written post, I sure hope we hold on to our “carnival” atmosphere enough to remember why we wanted to read and write about drugs/alcohol/addiction in the first place.

    Or, we might institute pop quizzes?

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