Where ya been, and where ya goin’?

Posted on September 26, 2015 by

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As the last two years have shown, it isn’t unusual for this blog to go silent for a while, but the most recent round of silence came rather unexpectedly in mid-August.

For the past month and a half I’ve dealt with a serious health issue in the family, a major veterinary issue (ongoing), returned to my role as soccer dad (with two in two different travel soccer leagues), and returned to school (albeit only for one course… and testing the waters to see if I’m up for a PhD… but not in history). Somewhere in the midst of all of this is “life” in general. In short, not writing blog posts has either been a matter of too little time, or lack of energy… or both (depending on the day). I have, to some degree, “micro-blogged” (if it can even be considered such), by posting short bursts of material via the blog’s Facebook page (which is also set up to toss the same material onto Twitter). It’s about all I’ve had time to do (enter < here > my encouragement for folks to follow me on Twitter and/or via the blog’s Facebook page. No, I’m not trying to “score” numbers, it’s just a sincere invitation to folks who might like to catch those “posts” which aren’t coming out in blog format here). Hopefully that can change.

As I’ve said before, however, it’s not that ideas for blog posts have either been left dead-ended (my journey through the American Colonization Society annual reports… I’m not done yet) or I haven’t thought about other potential subjects to post.

Despite my absence from writing (in this blog, at least), the “act of writing publicly” is a subject that has weighed more on my mind; in part because of the course I mention above.

Several years ago – actually, more like 24 or 25 years ago – I was asked if I was an historian or a writer. Having just published my first book, I answered… “historian”… of course (I was in my mid-20s and thought I “knew” what I was). Strange to say, that question has haunted me since that day. It’s not that one can’t be both historian and writer. In fact, I think with most (?) the two are joined at the hip. It’s not that “writer” is dependent on being an historian, but, indeed, I do believe that historian is certainly more dependent on writing.

Beginning in the late 80s, I began writing history in public mediums. First, I took a shot at a few pieces for a newspaper, followed by a book (please… don’t read it. As I was in Navy boot camp at the time, I never had the chance to proof it before it went to print), and then… more books, magazine articles, more newspaper articles, a regular newspaper column, more books, and so on.

In 2007, I wrote my first blog post, but not really getting into it, abandoned the idea until the opportunity surfaced again in a course in graduate school (not in my grad school studies for history, but in my grad school studies for technical communication). The second time it seems, was the charm. It stuck with me. Not only did I find it fascinating, but I also had a good deal of time with which to tinker with it. I was curious as to what worked and what failed… that being mostly as to what posts really increased numbers of both views and readers, and which did not. I also learned that blogging – depending on how it was approached – could lead to a very hostile environment. Unlike with writing articles and books, content was open to public discussion… both between different readers and directly with the writer. I considered what that meant on a grander scale, and it played a large part in my second masters thesis.

Since that time, I’ve continued to consider the blog format… where it succeeds and where it fails. I’m not interested in numbers anymore, but the mechanics of the rhetoric. I’m curious to see how writers/historians engineer the rhetoric of their posts, as devices to stimulate discussion/encourage engagement (poking/aggravating targeted readers being part of that, for some), consider historical information (for themselves) in a public venue (the whole open-book historian approach intrigues me, though I also think that some readers misunderstand the approach), and/or to try to persuade… to whatever end.

I’ve even started considering the rhetoric of different practitioners of history (are all “practitioners of history”… historians?) outside blogging. One author of a contemporary biography of a famous person from the nineteenth century, for example, ranted (if I remember correctly, in an interview on YouTube) how the subject of the biographer was a racist in every way. Really? I’m curious why that person even bothered to write the biography. Was it merely to tear down a popular person in American history? With such bias toward one opinion of a person, should that biographer even be considered an historian?

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying we need gatekeepers passing judgement as to who is and is not an historian, but rather, I’m curious as to what the rhetoric used by different practitioners means. I’m curious as to which weighs more heavily with each respective practitioner… ethos, pathos, or logos? If, for example, pathos outweighs ethos, what does that mean as reputable… “good” history? Is there such thing as a balance of all three in “good” history?

What about where we are at, at present, with Confederate and even non-Confederate iconography (antebellum iconography, for example, tied to slavery)? Because of our modern moral lenses, are more people more moved by “pathos”, and lacking in “logos”?

Do I plan on taking this further in other blog posts? Who knows. For now, it’s just me, thinking out loud.