It’s not Bruce Catton’s world anymore

Posted on August 20, 2013 by


Keep in mind, I’m merely using Bruce Catton as an example of a writer of Civil War history from that era (1950s-70s), but…

The point is… the world in which Civil War (and other) history is delivered by an author has changed.

I think it’s clear enough that the methodology has changed… but that’s not all.

The structure of information/content delivery has also changed… or at least, in blogging, that should be clear enough if one understands the intent of the typical Web reader (stop, read, maybe comment… maybe… and on to the next site; sometimes within 10-15 minutes**).

Yet, there’s one other thing that is, in my mind, quite significant… the author-reader interaction.

In Catton’s time, author-reader interaction was limited. How often, for example, could a reader pop-in on a passage by Catton… and then read and comment… thereby opening an immediate opportunity (depending on how long he would take to respond) for one-on-one engagement?

It simply didn’t exist… at least as we know it today.

As opposed to the letters to the author, delivered via postal service, we now have immediacy… IF the author is online, and especially manages a blog.

Now, the discussion has happened before, between bloggers and audiences… and one question, in particular has been raised… just how many historians want to expose themselves to that level of engagement? Furthermore, considering the shift in methodology, well… considering the expanded potential for volatility… how many historians want to even consider opening the door to that which seems inevitable? Clearly, the number of those willing to partake is limited.

I think the “immediacy”, combined with the exposure via the Web AND the difference in methodology (especially as demonstrated over the last two decades) defines the difference between Catton’s world of history and that which exists today.

If this is an evolution of practice, I wonder what is next.

Now, to some, I know that this probably sounds like I’m overstating the obvious, and if you think so… you’re probably already a Civil War blogger or long-time reader of Civil War blogs on the Web. I don’t think anything that I’ve said is a great surprise to that particular crowd. Still, don’t be too quick to dismiss the significance of the reminder… not only of the obvious, but that there are different layers of readers, which also begs another question for those who write history for blogs.

For whom do you write?

This is also a question that I’ve raised at different times, and in several instances I’ve heard from others that they write for themselves. It is an outlet for a passion for history and/or writing itself.

Still, I’m reminded of the old saying in the military about text being written for a specific grade-level, in order to accommodate the largest possible audience.

I’m curious, however… how many bloggers care about writing for the largest possible audience, how many prefer to write for a specific audience, and how many just continue to write for themselves… not being so much aware or concerned about the audience?

Just some rambling thoughts on a Tuesday morning…  

**Time spent by readers on a post can vary, but some visits can last as long as 10-15 minutes, often as a result of time spent mulling-over the post and generating a comment… especially when a thoughtful comment.