Blogging: Community and Consciousness ...
I'm obviously intrigued by the virtual community and communities created in the blogosphere. I think that I found one here. For others, it appears to offer the opportunity to extend real community into a virtual future. Two small examples of blogs that seem to serve that function are Big Tent and Outside Report. In both cases, a group of friends near the end of their time together in school and begin to disperse across the country. A shared blog allows them, amidst increasingly complex and pre-occupied lives, to extend their community into the future in ways that letters, telephone calls, and, even, e-mail don't do quite as well anymore. The fascinating thing about blogs, however, is that the shared community of earlier experience together is then opened to strangers. No doubt, when that happens, there may be unwelcome intrusions. But, more importantly, it makes possible the meeting of interesting people with common interests.
Some years ago, when I was still in the classroom, one of my favorite books to read with students was Robert Wiebe's The Search for Order, 1877-1920. It's a brilliant work, I think, about American history in the period, but its sense of far-reaching social change has implications that range far beyond the borders of the United States and beyond the scope of its period. Wiebe argues, essentially, that the coming of the railroad to"island communities" scattered across the American countryside foretold vast social change of unforeseen consequence. It both put those isolated communities in vital touch with larger worlds beyond them and made them dependent upon its scheduling and its economic requirements. One consequence of that was to create virtual communities of professional interest that in many ways displaced communities of geographical propinquity.
Wiebe is one of those historians, like Garry Wills, whose work so profoundly influenced me that there've been times when I thought I needed to exorcize his influence over me. And, yet, when I think about how my life is lived, I cannot help but think that Wiebe understood it profoundly. I barely know the names of some people who live on the same block with me here in Atlanta. We have the occasional block party, but they repeat their names to me every year and I immediately forget them, because we have little in common besides geographical propinquity. Beyond my immediate family, my community of interest is with those of shared professional or vocational interest.
It's no coincidence that American professional organizations like the American Bar Association, the American Historical Association, the American Medical Association, and many others all began in the period about which Wiebe writes. I'm sure that an Early Modern historian or an Asian historian might frame the discussion in slightly different terms. The creation of print media or of ocean-worthy ships might be the focal social changing innovation of choice for other historians. Even so, the pattern of things seems almost inexorable. If our communities are increasingly virtual ones, they might even challenge the divisions of race or nation or religion.
But I want to return to my earlier point about blogging and the virtual community of history blogging. There's a fascinating point at which Cliopatria's and, then, Big Tent's, chez Nadezhda's and Early Modern Notes's discovery of Mark Grimsley's War Historian becomes known to all four of us. At Big Tent, Tom Bruscino's prior interest in military history means that he knows something about what Grimsley is about, but Cliopatria's and chez Nadezhda's finding his blog and Early Modern Notes's featuring it in the History Carnival causes Grimsley's readership to spike and for good reason.
What kind of military historian features pictures of Robert E. Lee and Che Guevara on his blog's masthead; and what kind of military historian talks about a"post-colonial military history"? This is intriguing stuff! Even to those of us not ordinarily moved by guns and battles. Here's a military historian asking big, interesting questions of his special field; and answering them in ways that would interest all of us. Here's the kind of military historian who even the University of Michigan might want to lure. And he freely and generously shares of himself at War Historian. I'm making copies of his"‘Thieves, Murderers, and Trespassers': The Mythology of Sherman's March" and passing them out to all my neighbors here in Atlanta. Maybe I'll get to know them better. As Ben Wolfson said at The Weblog on Friday,"I confess that life is awesome."
Richard Henry Morgan - 1/24/2005
I've yet to hear a discouraging word about Wiebe's book. As for Wills, apart from his guns and Second Amendment scholarship, I'm not all that familiar with his work (outside of his book on Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which I continue to enjoy). I'd be curious to hear just what works of his influenced you the most, and why.
Oscar Chamberlain - 1/23/2005
I am teaching a short graduate course on Progressives as part of the Learning by Doing grants. This year I'm using Wiebe despite the book's age because he provides powerful insights and an interpretation that teachers can build on effectively (as I have done).