Why BazBlog?

The genesis of Bazarrabusa: A Ugandan Life

A few years ago, in the chaotic attic of a long-neglected family house in England, I discovered several books by my maternal grandfather Timothy Bazarrabusa. Alongside these novels in a language I couldn’t decipher there were some old photos, a couple of photocopied documents, and a tiny page of notes in my father’s handwriting. Over the following years, I began to investigate these fragmentary leads as a diversion from my research in French colonial history. What started as a casual interest in a long-departed forebear has now become a viable research undertaking, and a vehicle for inquiry into the possibilities of digital scholarship.

Along the way, I’ve encountered all kinds of interesting people: from a good-natured historian who interviewed my great-grandfather in the 1960s and threw away the tapes, to a yak-riding forester-geographer-mountaineer who organized the first Uganda Ski Championships in 1958, to another historian who for years sat next to Bazarrabusa in the Uganda Legislative Council, to a British writer-publisher-adventurer who unwittingly helped foment revolt (and establish a kingdom) in the Mountains of the Moon. I’ve also discovered wonderful documents, such as an interview of Bazarrabusa by Ugandan dramatist Robert Serumaga, recorded under the auspices of the CIA-funded Transcription Centre.1

In praise of process

My point here is that process is as important as product. Historical research is like a treasure hunt; it’s full of dead ends and frustrating obstacles, but also delightful discoveries. The significance of process is something I try to emphasize in the Information Literacy sessions I conduct at the American University of Paris. Planning these sessions has made me reflect on the value of recording the research process, notably through the mechanism of the research journal. As I trawled through the abundant literature on journaling,2 I started thinking… why not explore the possibilities this form offers, through its most prominent contemporary manifestation: the weblog?

Though I remain skeptical in the face of faddish pronouncements about the “blogosphere,” the immediacy, interactivity and public/private hybridity of blogs do make them an interesting medium to explore. They are becoming increasingly popular in the academic community, and we already have the beginnings of a literature on their use as a research tool.3

For a “born digital” project like Bazarrabusa: A Ugandan Life, blogging seems particularly appropriate. Digital media promise to let the historian bring integral source materials much closer to narrative (and stop limiting him/herself to disembodied quotations and skeletal citations). Blogging allows the researcher to reveal the process through which a final product — with its particular arguments, assumptions and conclusions — has taken shape. I suggest that exploring the genesis of a piece of scholarship in this manner might allow the reader to more fully comprehend and evaluate it.

In addition, blogging allows the researcher to share some of those elements of lived experience that attract readers to even seemingly insignificant blogs. Listening to a scholar reflect on his or her practice can provide very enlightening clues as to how (or how not!) to conduct research, how to deal with problems and frustrations, and why doing research can be such an enjoyable experience.

Of course, some scholars will be concerned about issues such as confidentiality and plagiarism. These are certainly not to be taken lightly. However, they are inherent in the openness of the Web, and we are forced confront them if we hope to engage with — and benefit from — this medium.

So, welcome to BazBlog. I’ll try to post on a relatively regular basis, though I’m still getting used to the idea that I have a blog… ;-)

  1. For more on the Transcription Centre and its (marginal) role in the “Cultural Cold War,” see Gerald Moore, “The Transcription Centre in the Sixties: Navigating in Narrow Seas,” Research in African Literatures 33, no. 3 (Fall 2002): 167-181. Available via EBSCO Academic Search Premier and other databases (subscription required). [Back to text]
  2. There is much discussion of journaling in the fields of information literacy and teacher education. [Back to text]
  3. See, for example, Torill Mortensen and Jill Walker, “Blogging Thoughts: Personal Publication as an Online Research Tool,” Researching ICTs in Context, ed. Andrew Morrison (Oslo: Intermedia; Univeristy of Oslo, 2002): 249-279; Erkan Saka, “Blogging as a Research Tool for Ethnographic Fieldwork,” paper presented at the Association of Internet Researchers conference: Internet Research 7.0: Internet Convergences, Brisbane, Australia, September 27 - 30, 2006. [Back to text]

1 Response to “Why BazBlog?”

  1. 1 jesse

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