Long before I started my blog I had a foretaste of the limits of privacy in the digital age. In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks I got into a long and complex discussion of religion and politics with some of my relatives, conducted by e-mail, since we were in based in several different countries. In the midst of these came a slightly unexpected contribution: a forwarded response by an Afghan friend of one relative to some of my (doubtless ignorant) comments on his country. I had not specifically said that my messages were to be regarded as private, but I had not expected an audience beyond my own family. But in a world of e-mails and websites, what is easier or more obvious than to share items thought to be of wider interest with friends?
So when I started my blog, I knew I couldnt rely on obscurity alone to protect my privacy: any corner of the internet might be discovered. And I expected (and even welcomed) some of my family reading the blog (while secretly being relieved that some of my more reactionary relatives were not then using the internet). My blog was not intended to be confessional, but it was inevitably personal, since once of the things I wanted to talk about was the intersection of my family life and my academic career.
For the sake of my daughters privacy, I therefore decided that the blog should be pseudonymous. When I started it, she couldnt read; she can now, but isnt currently interested in what I write. But in a few years time she may want to see what Ive written about her. I hope it wont embarrass her too much, though if she really objects I may have to make some cuts. But at least I can reassure her that none of her friends can easily google her name or mine and find out daft tales of her past.
The secondary reason for being pseudonymous was that I was looking for work and didnt want employers googling me. Ive seen suggestions (I suspect by people who already have relatively secure jobs) that this is somehow underhand, and that people ought to have the courage to admit their views. But when decisions on hiring are often made on intangible features, such as how someone would fit in a department or organisation, it seems unreasonable to prejudice my chances if an interviewer happens to think that Storm is a good name for a child.
My decision contrasts with some of my friends, who have tried to use their blogs to showcase their research and enhance their employability. Occasionally, I have mentioned my blog in applications, where its seemed particularly relevant, but Ive found that restrictive. Its left me feeling that I can only put up posts that are serious and strictly relevant to medieval history, and that I have to stop posting about how to explain gay marriage to small children or what Barack Obama can tell us about Gregory of Tours. (I have, nevertheless, actually been commissioned to write articles and chapters on the basis of my blog, even by people who didnt know me by name).
When I chose to adopt a pseudonym, I also decided that pseudonymity could not absolve me from being responsible for my words. I should not write anything that I would be ashamed to own in public. In particular, I have tried hard to avoid criticising my varied employers (although I think one post sneaked through) and also to temper my criticism of other scholars (apart from those important enough to take it, like Judith Butler). There are still a few authors whove objected to my comments on their (and Im glad you cant libel the dead), but I hope that most people dont feel theyve been unfairly attacked. Since I havent had much teaching to do, I havent really been faced with the dilemma of whether or not to blog about my students.
I knew from the start that it would inevitably be possible for people to work out who I was, unless I censored myself extremely to prevent this. In fact, a number of my friends deduced my identity rapidly (they are, after all, professionally used to picking up clues to the authorship of anonymous texts). In particular, I couldnt write about my research, or the conferences I spoke at, without revealing important details. My field is just too specialist: if you google Carolingian masculinity you will normally find both blog posts and articles by me on the first couple of pages.
I am now ripping the thin veil of my pseudonymity further, by including a link in my profile to my professional webpage. Partly, this is because I have now heard that CUP want to publish my book, so in a while I will want to urge you to go out and buy it. But before that, I will shortly be blogging a bit more about some of the intersections between my professional role as a librarian in an academic library and my own research, as part of the training course 23 Things Cambridge.
I will still stick to magistra as my screen name and on comments, and since I would prefer that googling my name doesnt find this blog, Id ask anyone linking to it just to use my pseudonym. But if anyone reading has ever vaguely wondered who I was, but not felt up to the close textual analysis required to discover this, they now have a simple alternative.