History in the Digital AgeRoundup
tags: Civil War, blogging, digital history
Kevin M. Levin is a historian and educator based in Boston. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth. You can find him online at his website and on twitter.
In November 2005 I created the website Civil War Memory, which included a blog. I had recently completed a master’s degree in history and a thesis on the Battle of the Crater and was looking for ways to connect with people with similar interests. Among a relatively small number of history enthusiasts and academics, blogging was just beginning to gain traction.
Bloggers represented diverse backgrounds and interests. Civil War enthusiasts could pick and choose from sites that focused on individual battles, regiments, and communities to those that addressed controversial questions related to slavery and memory and more. Blog followers included academic historians, students, educators, and readers with a lifelong interest in the war along with those who saw their role as defending their Civil War ancestors. This dynamic often led to lengthy and rich discussions, but it also on occasion descended into insults and threats. The Civil War blogosphere had the potential to educate and infuriate at the same time.
A few blogs from those early years are still producing posts on a fairly regular basis. Al Mackey and Andy Hall continue to share their insights into history and the latest controversies. Andrew Wagenhoffer regularly updates his Civil War Books and Authors with reviews of the latest titles, and Harry Smeltzer continues to update Bull Runnings with new primary sources about the first major land battle of the Civil War. The success and duration of these blogs speaks not just to their authors’ commitments and levels of interest, but also to the usefulness of that now-so-common platform.
The academic community has always been skeptical about the benefits of blogging and other social media, in part because it distracts from the more traditional forms of publishing such as journal articles and monographs, and in part for its vulnerability to undermining entrenched assumptions about authority and gatekeeping. But that, too, has changed in recent years, due largely to a generation of historians who came of age alongside the rise of social media. The Society of Civil War Historians, which publishes one of two academic journals in the field, maintains a group blog that publishes short essays by a wide range of scholars. Civil Discourse is regularly updated by four young scholars who have either recently graduated or are pursuing a doctorate in history. The Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College’s blog provides a space for students to share their research and learn how to write for a broad audience. These group blogs provide young scholars the opportunity to highlight their research and connect with other scholars as well as the general public.
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