I am sorry to read that Lincoln scholar and fellow blogger Brian Dirck will discontinue writing at A Lincoln Blog. My rounds within the Civil War blogosphere are relatively narrow, but Brian’s site was a regular stop. I valued his insights surrounding Lincoln’s place in popular culture as well as his thoughts on Lincoln historiography. I understand Brian’s concerns about time and the extent to which it takes away from other obligations, both professional and personal. Still, the participation of scholars such as Brian, Mark Grimsley, Brooks Simpson and others raises the bar significantly within the Civil War blogosphere.
I am currently working on a presentation for the upcoming meeting of the SCH in New Orleans on Civil War blogging and one of the points that I hope to make is that professional historians should see the blogosphere as an opportunity to reach beyond the confines of the their academic world. No doubt, scholarship must remain a priority for those teaching at the university level, but the general public is largely unaware of this scholarship and a certain percentage distrust academics, which I am reminded of on a regular basis here at Civil War Memory. The point is that Americans are very interested in the Civil War and in debating the central issues involved, and blogs, listers, wikis, serve as popular forums for these discussions. Unfortunately these discussions are taking place with very little involvement from those who are professionally trained and who study the Civil War and related topics for a living. Clearly, there are opportunities for professional historians to reach beyond the relatively small audience of fellow historians who read journal and university press titles. I know that professors here at the University of Virginia are required to engage in a certain number of hours a year of community service. While I haven’t thought through this idea much, it seems to me that blogging could easily be acknowledged as a form of community outreach. Civil War historians are unique in that they have a large and diverse audience to engage with, and many of them go out of their way to do so. With the Civil War Sesquicentennial on the horizon the question of how to commemorate and think about the war will be much debated. Blogging offers one useful avenue in which to discuss these questions in a way that will be read by a diverse audience the world over.
Please understand that this is not meant in any way as a criticism of Brian’s decision to leave the blogosphere. He clearly articulated his concerns and I have to admit that if it is a choice between regular posts and Brian’s published work I prefer the later. I’ve learned a great deal from both his recent study of Lincoln’s law career as well as his edited collection on Lincoln and race. I wish Brian all the best.