Clio and me have been getting along pretty well lately, but you wouldn’t know it from this neglected blog. Much of my silence has had to do with the nature of my editing job. I edit a lot of interesting work that teaches me new things and occasionally leads me to related ideas of my own, but I’m not usually free to talk about those things. Either the material is not in print yet, or I’d betray the trust of authors with whom I have spoken in confidence about work in progress. Describing the things I’m learning about this side of academia and publishing would also make interesting blogging, but writing about them would mean injuring both confidentiality and collegiality, no matter how good a face I put on any given story. So I’m generally quiet here, unless I can comment on how the history I’m learning might be relevant in work outside the institute.
On the other hand, the small graduate course I taught this summer, War and Society in Modern Europe, gave me a chance to think more about my earlier research and how I might do something with it in the future. I’m planning to take the spring 2012 semester off from part-time teaching, so that I can do a little writing. It’s time to start thinking about the Groener project again. In particular, I want to move past the inevitably narrower set of specialized questions that have framed it to consider in what ways some of it might be relevant to a broader academic audience.
Meanwhile, I’m wondering if I should do some of that thinking on this blog. I began this blog after I had already completed my dissertation, and I have never much used it as a research blog. I’m wondering what the advantages and disadvantages of such might be. I am concerned mainly with thought, research, and communication; however, I don’t have to worry about a non-existent tenure-track position. The main advantage, it seems to me, is that it would afford a chance to discuss ideas in their nascency that I otherwise have little opportunity to talk about, unless I am teaching a related graduate course, which has only happened once so far. Sure, I work at a historical institute, but my (interesting) job there is to work with others on their ideas.
I’m thinking about this in the context of other changing habits. I have also been neglecting my other blog, Language for You, and there’s that whole twitter thing. Perhaps it’s time to conceptualize a single blog that would work for my current portfolio of jobs and projects?
This is what I’m doing this fall: Hist 100 at Mason. I’m actually teaching in the first part of the day instead of splitting my workday between morning and evening. This circumstance makes me hopeful that I can get back to blogging history here.
Kevin Levin of Civil War Memory has posted good material to his academic blog under the category, The Myth of Black Confederates. Several recent posts include criticism of efforts by modern-day Confederate patriots and would-be historians who want to appropriate Weary Clyburn, a slave, as a defender of Southern liberty. In one he points out that writing good books to debunk myths is all well and good, but on the subject of black Confederates “the real fight must take place on the web.”
In the same post he points to an earlier one he made in late March: “Should Civil War Historians Blog (academic that is)?” In it he observes how vast the public discourse about the American Civil War is, while the discourse in which professional historians participate is relatively narrow. Historians need to continue their current research and publishing mission, but they also have “a responsibility to engage a wider audience and contribute to the public discourse.” Since much of the public turns to the internet for ready answers, historians need to offer these answers in an accessible format, especially for highly sensitive questions that shape American identity.
I agree with Kevin about the need for Civil War historians to blog. I have also observed a similar need with respect to Holocaust denial, since I have found that Google can get it wrong. Until now I have used this blog mainly to reflect on what I do and to communicate with other historians, but as Kevin points out, Google brings him search engine traffic for important topics such as black Confederates, so his blog posts reach a wider audience. I have written a few of my posts with that awareness, but his arguments make me think I could do much more. So could other historians.
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A question about names: I refer to other historians by their last name in formal academic prose. In blogging, on the other hand, I generally refer to fellow bloggers by their first name. This post has left me unsure of how to handle this issue. Since it’s about blogging, I have decided to go with the first name. If I had been engaging historiographical arguments, I think I would have used the last name instead. What do you other blogging historians do?
Update (1/11/2010): Civil War Memory has moved to http://cwmemory.com/.
I’ve started an experimental commonplace book, that is, I’m collecting quotes I like and sometimes commenting on them. Instead of the traditional notebook, however, I’ve got a tumblelog on Tumblr, an incredibly user-friendly platform. I’ve also chosen a template that forces me to keep the quotes and commentary short. I call this new site Commonplacing, and I mention it here because history keeps popping up in my choice of quotes.
Here’s one favorite from near the end of Brian Friel’s Translations:
. . . It is not the literal past, the ‘facts’ of history, that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language.