Letting Go

Yesterday I spent some time browsing through my local bookstore as I still have a substantial amount of money left over from student Christmas gifts in the form of B&N gift cards.  I spent a few minutes reading Harry Smeltzer’s short article on Civil War blogs in America’s Civil War.  Harry did a super job introducing readers to the pros and cons of blogging and a few of the better blogs currently in operation.

What I found interesting was the reaction of the few historians who were asked their opinions about blogs.  Both were direct in their overall concerns that since practically anyone can blog the field as a whole lacks credibility or they simply can’t bother sifting through the morass.  That may be too harsh an assessment, but it’s at least on target.  [Note: See Smeltzer’s comment to this post below.]While I agree that there is a lot of nonsense out there I don’t buy this reaction.  Can’t you ask the same question and substitute Civil War histories for Civil War blogs?  Most of the former is crap written by people who have not business writing history at all.  However, we don’t throw our hands up in the air in frustration we sift through the literature and look for signs of legitimacy.

The bigger problem is that blogging is still relatively new and its place within academia is still questionable.  Many academics blog anonymously rather than risk being shunned by their peers or in the worst case being denied tenure.  Whatever the reaction on the surface I’ve found that roughly half of my readers are from the academic world.  I can’t be sure that they are historians (professors or students), but they are logging on from their school’s servers.  Like any new technology change takes time.  Perhaps the pace is just right as it lends itself to being able to think through some of the tougher questions surrounding methodology/pedagogy.  Whatever the case it seems to me that we are beyond the questions of to blog or not to blog or what do you think about blogs.  The question now is what can we accomplish through blogging.

If anyone has any doubts about the possibilities that blogging offers to academics just check out Mark Grimsley’s Blog Them Out Of The Stone Age.

3 comments… add one
  • Walking the Berkshires Jan 2, 2007 @ 14:50

    Reviewing the Situation

    Kevin at the excellent Civil War Memory discusses the pros and cons of blogging from an academic perspective. He writes:…blogging is still relatively new and its place within academia is still questionable. Many academics blog anonymously rather than…

  • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2007 @ 10:59

    Thanks for the clarification Harry. I admittedly read through it quickly so I take responsibility for the misleading characterization. I definitely wasn’t indicting Fonveille and Prokopowicz as much as I was sharing a general sense of frustration that I’ve heard expressed by academics about blogging. Thanks again and good job on the article.

  • Harry Jan 2, 2007 @ 10:51


    In the interest of full disclosure, Gerry Pokopowicz and Chris Fonvielle were not resonding to the same questionairre submitted to the four bloggers quoted in the article. Their statements were culled from another email survey sent to six academic historians regarding web resources in general, which is the basis of a future article. Gerry and Chris were the only respondents at the time who addressed blogs at all.

    I don’t think it quite accurate to imply that these fine historians simply throw up their hands in frustration and DON’T sift through the information on blogs. I was careful to submit my summaries of completed surveys to each respondent to be sure I was not taking them out of context. As regards their opinions of the value of blogs, their frustration lies with the large and ever growing number of websites, including blogs, and the wide range of quality. These sites dwarf new entries in print media. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. Both men are clear that they have found “good stuff” online, and neither “condemn” blogs. Their frustration is with the search and filtration process, and I think it is an understandable concern. One must of course prioritize.

    Dr. P was a little worried that his sarcasm was not translating well to print, which is why I inserted “he quips” into his quote. Maybe I was too subtle, and for that I apologize.

Now that you've read the post, share your thoughts.