How the 21st Century Echoes the 19th: The Rise of the Alt-Ac and Post-Ac Blog

One of my enduring interests (and a prime reason why I went back to graduate school) is how much phenomena in the 21st and 20th centuries replicate that of the 19th-century.  I find these echoes everywhere, but what I want to focus on today is that there are so many alt-ac and postacademic blogs that the writers are like latter-day Lowell mill girls. The Lowell mill girls, in the 19th century, were New England maidens sent to work in the woolen mills of Lowell, Massachusetts—the first time unmarried young women left the home to work in commerce.  The relevant part here, dear Meta readers, is that they banned together to write, share, and publish a particular genre—poetry.  A real phenomenon in an era where poetry was more widely published, read, and known than now.

Let me pull back a second to say that I don’t really plan to comment a great deal on other blogs, because the point of Retaining the Meta is to take in the whole wide world of thought.  I don’t want to make it too insular, or too self-referential.  So I don’t plan a lot of bloggist-on-bloggist commentary.  I especially don’t want to make it intertextual with other blogs on leaving graduate school, the alt-ac track (for those not in the know, this is an abbreviation for “alternate academic”—with degrees, but leaving academic research and teaching, no longer is pursuit of the tenure—or any—track), the postacademic movement (leaving academia entirely), or the perils of higher education. The last way, especially, danger lies. As I said in my first couple posts, there may be perils, but there are also many pleasures.  And I intend this blog to focus on those.

But I do want to salute the alt-ac bloggist phenomenon. In addition to the ones I’ve mentioned in previous posts (the narrators–Life After the PhD ( and PhDs at Work ( and the sharing sites/organizations ( which provide great resources, a shout-out is also due to the guides (  And even, recently, a narrate-your-own-guide feature in the Chronicle of Higher Education, asking us all to nominate a favorite alt-ac resource (

Like the Lowell mill girls, we peri-academics are using a widely published and read genre, blogs, to make our experience known. A great example of using an art form to, um, weave your new world together. They clustered around a communal art form—in their case, poetry; in ours, blogs—to give voice to the newly formed nexus of culture and economy they inhabited.  Alt-ac bloggists, similarly, are making sense of a new phenomenon via a popular and accessible art form.  The new phenomenon is the growing evidence to indicate that not everyone with an advanced degree can be accommodated in academia, whose tenure track lines have been shrinking—particularly in the liberal arts. Adjuncting—the fallback position of many academics—is extremely underpaid; moreover, with the decline in academic teaching positions overall, it is under pressure as well.

Now—starting several years ago, and hitting a critical mass maybe a year ago—there is growing public sharing in the alt-ac/postac/peri-ac moment.  What one does; how one lives. How we feel.  How to do it.  We are charting a path together.  So to that effort, live long and prosper.