For Academics: How to Set Up Your Own Website and Why It’s Worth It

Dear Academic Friend,

Over the years, many of you have asked me how to build a website. About eleven years ago, a graduate school friend patiently sat next to me and taught me the ropes using pure HTML. It’s much easier now. If you want a little convincing as to why to do this or want to get firmly rooted on your politics in this, continue reading. If you are already determined to build your own website, click here to skip down. My mantra here: ideas are free; let’s share.

Really, people want to hear about what I do? Let’s begin with the obvious: what you do is important. Wildly important. You may think you are boring, dull, unclear, or talking to your navel, but someone, somewhere needs your work on the lesbian spaces, the history of the lute in 1689, Saharan slavery practices, a rare snail on the coast of the Bahamas, or the relationship of the human-animal of lab scientists studying jellyfish. They truly do. Let’s say you actually choose to believe me for a second and the grip of self-doubt can be put aside for even a few minutes. You know I’m going to encourage you to set up your own website. Now let’s deal with your concerns.

But why, Jack? Is this some pathetic effort to get me to “brand” myself? I’ll be honest, I’d rather claw my face off than discuss any talk of branding. But I do believe getting our work to the public is very important. As you know, journals and databases usually allow minimum–if any–access to the work we spend months if not years producing in the form of a single article. While some academic presses are increasingly support open access (#OA) work, there is also a bottleneck on access for monographs and, even more so, for academic readers, most of which finance themselves through library sales. (Ha, and surely not through the vast sales [read: sarcasm] of academic works.) While some would say my argument is the goal of public humanities, the commitment to educating the public is not merely a task for the humanities. As a graduate of a public institution, I learned first-hand what it meant to live in a city where 5% of the population was being educated by the institution you studied within and the power to make change and promote justice through education. (And: rah CUNY!)

But then how will my work get to the public if I put it on a website? Building a website increases access. When you make a website, your work will become logged in search engines like Google in association with your name, even before links to JSTOR, EBSCO, etc. People who search for “lesbian spaces” can find access to the materials I share of my own work, as well as the recommended reading list on my subject area I keep for folks. Plus, folks can download your work directly.

Won’t I just be breaking copyright? Sigh. Sister. Brother. Themster. Pause with me. Do you realize that the entire academic publishing industry has you quaking in your surely stylish boots?? About your own content and work that you were (in all likelihood) never paid for??!??!?!? Now, friend, what are we teaching our students about political economy and the value of labor in this model? Oof. (See the embedded tweet at the end of this post for solidarity.) And, no, you will not break copyright if you follow the stipulation of your contract(s).

How do I determine the copyright of my work? And, dear mother of Athena, why didn’t I realize I didn’t know all along? Enter the magic of Sherpa Romeo! Sherpa Romeo is the work of grant-funded and often donated labor of librarians, archivists, staffers, and scholars at institutions around the world to keep track of the re-publication policies of each journal. As an example, I entered the fabulous Gender, Place and Culture into Sherpa Romeo to check my publication options. I see a green check for pre-print (pre-refereeing; yes, this is just dumb) and post-print (post-refereeing, final edits, pre-fancy journal layout. There’s a giant red X next to publish the final journal PDF. This means I can take the final version I sent to the journal for layout for any GPC publication, put it in a PDF for easy download, and put a link to it on my website. I include the text “Do not quote, cite, or reprint without permission. Instead read and cite:” and I provide the final citation. Yes, and it’s legal. I remain thankful for @jillasella teaching me this four years ago!

But I do need this? Did Virginia Woolf need a room of her own? Yes. Consider this a project of feminist place-making and read this to understand what the Domain of One’s Own workgroup / movement has to say about this. [Added paragraph thirty min after original publication–when I found this stunning blog post.]

Okay, okay, how do I make a website then?? There are two easy ways forward.

  1. If you are at a university or college as a faculty member, postdoc, visiting prof, or graduate student, contact your IT department. Tell them you would like to do a WordPress install with your name (a la jackgieseking or jgieseking) with the college; can they do that for you? If yes, do it with these folks. (If you leave the college, back up your site with Tools > Export, and then reinstall in the next place.
  2. If your college does not allow you to do this, the cheapest, sanest, and most trustworthy option are the great folks at because, wait for it, they were all academics who got frustrated with not being able to easily make or afford their own sites so they made this company. (Disclaimer: while I own one of their Tshirts, I do not work for them and they do not pay me. I just respect the heck out of them, as do many, many other digitally-inclined academics.) For $50 a year for those of us with full-time work and $30 for students, choose the correct Shared Hosting option for you. You can follow Reclaim’s directions for how to set up a WordPress install.

Once the WordPress site is installed, login with the login and password you chose to create your site. Empowering, eh? Now ask the IT folks (or friends) you know or this thing called The Internet how to setup the theme (design background) and add content to your new site. Enjoy!

Finally, don’t forget to actually tell folks you set up your site. Attach it to your email signature, and, of course, consider joining us in the conversations of Twitter.

Oh, and the work of your college or university’s digital repository (pray that they have one) should not be overlooked. If you’ve loaded your work to your website, it will only take a minute to send the PDFs and proper cites to your librarians.

My best for a mutually productive and restful summer for you,