Looking back on the first week of blogging

Posted on February 25, 2008 by

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After about a week of blogging I find myself looking back on my posts and asking myself if I am blogging or writing articles. What is the prescribed method (if one exists) of blogging digital history? I’ve looked at a number of blogs within the digital history genre and within the Civil War memory/American Civil War genre and I’ve realized that there isn’t consistency. Some postings are long, while others are short.

George Mason University Center for History and New MediaThe next best thing that I could think of was to turn to digital history’s “virtual guru” at the website for George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media. Not finding what I was looking for there, I was able to find it at GMU’s History News Network (more specifically, HNN’s FAQs). First, I needed to look at how this site defined a blog. According to this definition, it sounds like I have hit the mark. The basics of a blog consist of frequent updates with lots of links to other sites while maintaining a personal tone. Feeling that I had satisfied that requirement, I wanted to look at HNN’s definition of why a person blogs. After reading this and looking back at what I had written over the past week, I was not disappointed with my “blog week.”

The challenge of writing a blog is particularly great given the pressure to keep it up to date. But doing a blog is not fundamentally different from writing articles that appear in other places on HNN. In both cases the pressure to publish something in a timely manner necessitates foregoing the slow and steady approach common in peer-reviewed journals. By the peer review standard, none of the articles we publish pass muster as none of them are peer-reviewed in advance; the peer reviewing comes after they have already reached the public. But if that standard is the only standard, then historians must retreat from the journalistic fields and leave the harvesting of interesting views and opinions to others.

This does not sound like a reasonable approach to us. In the fast-paced world in which we now live, public attention is focused on issues for ever briefer periods of time. If scholars want their analyses to be taken into consideration–and why shouldn’t they?–they have to jump into the debate early and with forcefulness.

HNN is committed to the scholarly discussion of issues in a timely manner. A person can achieve a scholarly analysis even if they write fast. Their very familiarity with the issues at hand gives them an advantage over others in arriving at a considered opinion in a quick period of time.

It may be argued that blogs fall into a separate category because they need to be updated constantly. But what is a blog? It is nothing more than an old fashioned common-place journal in a new setting. It gives the reader the chance to look over the shoulder of a historian who’s reacting daily to events.

Blogs are so new a device on the Internet that no standards have yet evolved to govern their use. Anything goes on a blog. One of the functions that HNN can perform is to help establish standards for blogs. The only way we can do this is by trial and error. Slowly over time as readers provide more and more feedback–readers like you!–we will get a better sense of what should appear in a blog written by a historian and what should not.

Unique though a blog may be, the speediness required by a blog is not unique. When a reporter rings up Arthur Schlesinger Jr. for a comment on an issue in the news Schlesinger has even less time than a blogger to get his thoughts in order before committing to a certain analysis or viewpoint. Yet no one argues that the public is not benefited by Schlesinger’s participation. He brings to bear in an instant a lifetime’s worth of reading and reflection from which everybody can benefit, whether they agree with him or not.

Sonny and Cher So, borrowing an old tune (one that goes quite well with the nature of history) from Sonny and Cher (hmmmm, I guess I’m dating myself a little bit, huh?), while altering the words ever so slightly… “The blog goes on, the blog goes on… La de da de dee, la de da de da…”

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Posted in: Digital History