Dr Marjan Groot is an art historian for Design and Decorative Art. She is a senior lecturer at the Leiden University Arts and Culture programs and is also a member of the Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society. Her research is focused on design as a cultural expression in society with gender being an important element in this expression. Her interest in gender studies is reflected in her position as a member of the editorial board for the Yearbook of Women's History as well. Last year, Dr Groot started her Tumblr art-design-science-ethics on which she shares longer posts and not just images as you might expect from an art historian. As such I was interested to ask her why she chose Tumblr as a platform and about her experiences using it.
Why do you use Tumblr?
I use Tumblr because I wanted a blog which would be easy to manage when working with texts in combination with images of design and artworks, in this case Bio-Design and Bio-art. This is contemporary Design and Art which reflects on the impact of the life sciences and biotechnologies on our society. The University assistant whom I consulted before starting my blog, advised me to use Tumblr (the alternative was WordPress). I intended to write both short notes and long web-articles on my blog, and as an art and design historian images always are important in my texts. The images are not necessarily professional photos; I also use my own snapshots taken with a simple digital camera, sometimes with bad lighting. And I find that all images come out alright. And of course you can edit the images when you integrate them with the written text.
What value does it add for you, professionally?
A lot. The most important thing for me is that I can communicate content on the topic art-design-science-ethics in any form I like without having to worry about particular ideas of editors or peers. These people are there when I write papers for conferences. With my blog, I can operate on another level as well. The content relates to research I do, articles I write, exhibitions I visit, workshops I follow in the field, and even courses I give in the Master Arts and Culture. Working on the blog, preparing texts, certainly is not easier than other specialist scholarly activities; it may even be more difficult because the medium may address potentially anyone who likes to read it. It is a much less closed-off environment than some professional scholarly fields. I find it a responsibility to structure the blog along particular intentions – which is what I decided to do after my first try-out blog posts. That is why my later blogs took some time before I published them and why I work on the blog with long intermezzo’s and not weekly. I also don’t want the blog to be composed of abstracts of earlier published texts in a scholarly publication; what I write on my blog must be a new text in itself.
Working on the blog actually makes me a writer-editor and can go as far as to see my blog evolve as a book with chapters. But it will be a book with much freedom in design and layout. I like this way of creatively thinking about my scholarly activities, output and communication. It also shapes my thinking on the topic art-design-science-ethics, which is very much a thing of today, cutting-edge. I find it a very important topic to communicate and it can be very complicated if you are a humanities scholar trying to grasp the ins and outs of the life sciences; this I want to demonstrate with my blog. I also chose to write the blog in English. This means – apart from the first couple of try-out posts – that I have my larger web-articles edited by a native speaker. But for me it is doable in terms of costs. I may in the near future also put MA seminar-output on the blog, for example the poster that we ask our students to present in a 5 minutes pitch. Students come up with great ideas and designs for their poster!
How does Tumblr work for you?
Fine. You can design your own weblog style by choosing typefaces, colours, and so on. There are many design-formats, easy to install and easy to change. I intend to have another overall look at the design of my blog when I have posted a few more texts and notes on which I currently work.
Would you choose Tumblr over any other social network, and if so why?
I cannot compare because I just chose Tumblr when I wanted to try how a weblog would work for me. When I had designed my blog with Tumblr and knew my way around a bit, I was quite satisfied so stuck with it. It takes too much time to first compare different systems and then decide which one to take. I need my time to work on texts. Also, I am not that much of a social user when it comes to web-networks. This applies to my weblog too: so far, I decided not to discuss any reactions on my blog because I just have no time for that. First I want to build more content. I do know that I do not want to use Twitter and Facebook; these networks do not appeal to me.
Do you have any tips for people considering starting a Tumblr account?
Do ask someone from the University assistance team to briefly explain the tumblr program before you start your blog. They show you the program on the computer and discuss the basics. It only takes about 30 minutes. It is what I did because I was a ‘blog-dummy’ with only a few ideas as to how I wanted my weblog to become.
Any tricks to reveal?