Thursday, April 20
WILLIAMSTOWN — Marc Lynch is known around the Williams College campus as an associate professor in the Political Science Department. But in the wide-open blogosphere, he is still known by his Internet pen name, "Abu Aardvark."

And as one of the leading scholarly bloggers on campus, he explained to a recent Williams College seminar that with easy-to-use programs like Blogger out there, launching an online Web journal is not the hard part.

"It's real easy," he said. "How you get anyone to read it is another question."

In the past several years, Lynch's widely read commentary on Middle Eastern media and politics has brought together an audience unusual for many academics, including colleagues, journalists, and government officials.

And it has led to opportunities explaining his work in mainstream media like newspapers, television and radio.

Lynch began his blog in 2002, at a time when a few former journalists and others had begun posting Web journals. At first, he viewed blogging as a distinctly separate pursuit from his academic work, and he found the rough give-and-take appealing.

"There was no possibility to trade on authority," he said. "You had to make it on your own."

After a brief hiatus, he returned to blogging in March 2003, as the run-up to the war in Iraq reached its height and he decided he "couldn't not have a voice."

But his thinking about the project changed that summer, when "Abu Aardvark" was contacted by an editor at Foreign Affairs magazine, based on nothing more than his Web postings.

Much of the thinking and research that followed found its way into his recent book about Arab public opinion, "Voices of the New Arab Public," which was released last winter.

Lynch said the size of his audience is not "vast," but "good," and amounts to a few thousand viewers each day. Readers of his blog include scholars, journalists, and government officials, and that is part of the value of it. And he said this is one of the most positive elements of blogging — helping academics find readers beyond the Ivory Tower.

"(Blogs) can help you find an audience," he said. "It lets you get your ideas out there quickly."

He also said blogging is a "disciplining mechanism," which forces one to write regularly and keep up with events.

But Lynch didn't neglect to mention blogging's negatives as well. It is time-consuming, and the quick response and quick reaction can interefere with the careful attention to detail of serious academic work.

"For some people, it can get in the way of real scholarship," he said.

Some have raised questions whether blogs can "subvert hierarchies" in academia and if that is dangerous for scholars starting their careers. He notes friends at another university who wrote popular blogs who were denied tenure, sparking speculation from some that the blog may have had something to do with it.

While many Williams faculty members have Web sites and other Web presences, few have made the leap to regular blogging. Among them is his colleague in political science, George T. Crane, whose blog at uselesstree.typepad.com focuses on "Ancient Chinese Thought in Modern American Life."

On the Web: abuaardvark.typepad.com.

Christopher Marcisz can be reached at cmarcisz@berkshire eagle.com or at (413) 664-4995.