RiAH @ 10: Public Scholarship & Liberation

Today's guest post comes from former Blogmeister Kelly Baker. Soon after Paul began the Religion in American History blog, Kelly became co-editor alongside him. As she describes below, her posts were varied in their topics, but each helped to expand and solidify an American Religion digital community. You can read her past posts under the tag Baker's posts and you can follow her writing career through her website or Tiny Letter.  Thanks, Kelly, for these reflections and all of your hard work in establishing this community of scholars!

Kelly J. Baker

In the summer of 2007, I decided to start my own blog on American religious history. I was sort of shocked that no one had started one yet because blogs were a thing that even academics knew existed. To make sure that no American religions blog existed, I did one quick Google search. Paul Harvey had beat me to the punch. He had just started a blog called Religion in American History, and he outranked me. He was a full professor with groundbreaking books, and I was upstart graduate student trying valiantly to do other types of writing to procrastinate on working on my dissertation about the 1920s Klan. In a brave moment, I decided to email Paul to ask if I could write for him. I refreshed my email until he responded with an offer to write for him. I, of course, took Paul up on his kind offer. My first post for RiAH was about religion and romance novels.

What I didn’t realize then is that writing for RiAH would allow me to write about about American religions for a broader audience than my scholarship allowed and that I would end up with Paul as a valuable mentor and champion for my work. Having Paul in my corner made me a better scholar and a better writer. Becoming colleagues and friends with other contributors at RiAH was crucial for me as I finished my dissertation and moved onto various lecturer positions. I ended up with fabulous conversation partners like Ed Blum, Emily Clark, Darren Grem, and Mike Altman.

As I wrote for RiAH as a contributor, then as assistant editor, and then, as an editor in my own right, I gained confidence about not only my research, but also my ability to write. Writing short posts for the blog about everything from the Klan to bad movie remakes of John Grisham novels to Sarah Palin to documentaries and popular culture was fun, but it also forced me to consider what an audience might want to learn and what they might gain from reading posts that I wrote.  Taking my training as a religious studies scholar and applying it to topics beyond what I happened to research made me realize that I had more to offer than scholarly articles, monographs, and books reviews. I had things to say beyond what I was expected to write for my peers.

It was liberating to realize that I could write beyond the topic of my dissertation and later book on the Klan. Writing for RiAH was the first step in realizing that I had career options beyond the academic path that I trained for. I learned to write beyond disciplinary conventions to engage readers who weren’t American religious historians. I learned how to do public scholarship before I knew that was what I was doing.

Writing for RiAH allowed me to become the writer and editor that I am now. When I decided to transition out of academia, I started writing about my transition publicly because I was already comfortable writing for a public audience. I did what I often did when I faced a research problem I couldn’t figure out; I wrote through it. And writing through it led to job opportunities that I couldn’t imagine until someone offered them to me. My training as a researcher and analyst allowed me to shift to other areas of expertise, which I wouldn’t have done without writing for Paul and RiAH first.

More than that, all the blog posts I wrote convinced me that my expertise in American religious history was important and necessary to larger public discussions about nationalism, white supremacy, and politics. What I learned through my research mattered. RiAH taught me that, and I’m so glad that the blog that was such a lifeline for me is celebrating it’s tenth year.

Happy birthday, RiAH! And thank you, Paul, for taking a chance on me. I’ll never forget it.


esclark said…
And we appreciate all of Kelly's good posts and blogmeistering work over the years. Gender and American Religious Historian remains my favorite blog series!

http://usreligion.blogspot.com/2011/03/gender-and-american-religious-historian.html http://usreligion.blogspot.com/2011/03/gender-and-american-religious-historian_18.html http://usreligion.blogspot.com/2011/03/gender-and-american-religious-historian_26.html

(I frequently consider adding one more post to this series. One of these days, I will.)