Does Civil War Memory Deliver Content or Controversy?

It’s been a while since I posted about blogging, but Robert Moore’s recent post on the distinction between content and controversy blogs, along with Brooks Simpson’s response, have moved me to offer a few observations.  First, the distinction itself makes very little sense to me, especially when you take a broader look at the blogosphere.  Just spend some time reading political blogs.  Regardless of the intent of the blogger it’s the subject itself that is necessarily controversial.  Perhaps all the blogger can do is control just how controversial or confrontational the content appears to be.  I often feel as if I am in the position as I explore for myself and my readers this slippery landscape called Civil War memory.

I’ve been blogging for seven years now and I still love it.  To me, blogging is unlike any other type of writing and it should be for the reader as well.  I tend to think of it as something akin to a jazz composition.  There are certain conventions and subject matter (motifs) that I try to stick to, but within it there is hopefully a good deal of free form and creativity (solos).  I want my readers to experience as many emotions as possible as well as to reflect on what I write as I do in response to your comments.  In short, I want my readers to be entertained as much as I want them to learn something.  I love the freedom of being able to quickly share what’s on my mind even if it is not clearly articulated.  Of course, I know that certain topics are hot button issues and are likely to spark controversy, but than again I don’t see how such issues can be avoided on a blog about memory.

I don’t mind admitting that at one point I read a great deal about how to build an audience and how to bring readers back on a regular basis.  I’ve thought a great deal about blog themes, typography, blog clutter, and even the color palette that you experience.  The changes that you’ve seen to this site over the years is me trying to perfect a crucial component of this medium.  In other words, with blogging it’s never simply about the content.

My favorite Civil War blogs are well written, thought provoking, and spicy.  I don’t regularly read blogs that function primarily as archives for primary sources or offer detailed analyses of the action at the West Woods or Little Round Top.  Most of them are just downright boring and since I don’t know anything about the authors/editors of many of these sites the information itself is unreliable.   On the flip side I can think of one Civil War blog that delivers a great deal of confrontational material and almost nothing in terms of content that is worth reflecting upon.  I don’t regularly read that site either.  Blogging is whatever you make of it, but it’s a certain mix that results in a loyal and expanding audience.  It’s that mix that I’ve been playing with over the years

Whether we admit it or not it’s an audience that the vast majority of bloggers want.  As we all know most blogs die within three months owing to a dearth of ideas on the part of the blogger and especially because of the lack of an audience.  The vast majority are nothing more than echo chambers.  We want to know that people are reading, but it actually takes a hell of a lot of work to build a loyal following.  The realization that no one is visiting and that in all likelihood you have nothing of interest to say to begin with can be a huge blow to the ego.  I felt it at times that first year.

In the end and regardless of how you label or categorize what I write on this site, my hope is that you come back and come back often.  That to me determines how far the “ripple” travels.  For me that ripple includes a book, a column at the the Atlantic, and an increasingly larger network of professional connections and opportunities.  I am not just tooting my own horn, but pointing to the real power of blogging or social media presence generally.

CraterThanks for reading this post. Scroll down, leave a comment and join the conversation if you are so inclined. Follow me on Twitter and join the Civil War Memory Facebook group for continuous updates and additional links to newsworthy items from around the interwebs. Stay up to date by subscribing to this blog’s feed. You can also check out my recently published book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.

29 comments… add one

  • Dav1d Dec 6, 2012

    There are those blogs, though, I think, that are overwhelmed by content of the theme “Someone is WRONG on the Internet!” and that gets tiring after a while. It has less to do with controversy than with lengthily explaining how certain other bloggers are wrong/misspoken/foolish/etc.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 6, 2012

      Agreed, but sometimes pointing out where someone went wrong on the Internet :-) can be an effective way of making a point. I once pointed out a disagreement with Ta-Nahesi Coates at the Atlantic. Next thing I know he writes a response and I am inundated with 5,000 additional visits.

  • Robert Moore Dec 6, 2012

    “First, the distinction itself makes very little sense to me, especially when you take a broader look at the blogosphere.”

    The distinction is obvious. What it boils down to is the matter of approach and satisfaction (of the blogger)with following results, and that gratification seems to hinge, for some, on immediacy. Maybe more so in confrontational posts. That can be measured in numbers of views as well as number of comments. “Bringing the heat” or confrontational type posts are more immediate, while content posts (if the content can be perceived as controversial, though without the confrontation) will have followers (and generally less comments), but may hold more relevance in the future than confrontational (which, instead, might end up, at some point in the future, in a greater study about social interaction and the impact (limitations of, perhaps) of being confrontational… or might be part of a study about what was relevant in 2012, but not so much in 2032, for example).

    In trying to analyze my post, folks need to reapproach and look at it from a different perspective, and I point that out in my comment (reaction, if you will) to Brooks’ post. My greater interests wasn’t to be snarky. I see no service in doing that. Rather, it’s an observation as a Web theorist. Via Brooks post, and perhaps this one, it’s being made into something that it isn’t.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 6, 2012

      Hi Robert,

      First thanks for the post. I didn’t read it in any way other than from your long-standing interest in web content.

      I disagree with the way you are drawing the distinction between confrontational- and content-driven blog posts. Your assumption seems to be that the more traditional content will, in the end, stand out because it adds to our knowledge of a certain subject. That might be true for web content broadly understood, but I have my doubts when it comes to the blogging platform specifically. Much of my skepticism has to do with the platform itself, including the way posts are archived, tagged, and accessed later by the user. In short, it’s much too messy.

      What I like about blogging is that it gives me the opportunity to work out ideas in the process of writing something serious and which I hope will contribute to a certain discussion or scholarly literature. That was certainly the case when it came to my blogging about the Crater and it is certainly the case in reference to the subject of blacks and the Confederacy. While I believe that my posts on the Crater offers solid content I will always direct my reader to the book and other articles.

      Hope that clarifies some things and thanks again.

      • Robert Moore Dec 6, 2012

        “I disagree with the way you are drawing the distinction between confrontational- and content-driven blog posts.”

        You have made the distinction yourself, in your post.

        “Your assumption”

        I prefer “theory”. If so, how can you measure your suggestion that mine is not plausible?

        “… seems to be that the more traditional content will, in the end, stand out because it adds to our knowledge of a certain subject.”

        Confrontational posts do more service to needs of people at a particular time (immediacy), though they will be evaluated in more ways than that in the future, especially within the context of social interaction, to include the blogger him/herself.

        “That might be true for web content broadly understood, but I have my doubts when it comes to the blogging platform specifically. Much of my skepticism has to do with the platform itself, including the way posts are archived, tagged, and accessed later by the user. In short, it’s much too messy.”

        I’ll acknowledge that there is a problem with tags and key words that needs to be resolved, no matter the type of post. It’s an inefficient indexing system. Long-term, hits equate to Google queries and the like. There is a disconnect both in the different posts and in the position in the blogger, especially if considered from the perspective of a single post alone, and not taken into consideration of the blogger in the bigger picture… taking into consideration the larger person and intent of the blog.

        “What I like about blogging is that it gives me the opportunity to work out ideas in the process of writing something serious and which I hope will contribute to a certain discussion or scholarly literature.”

        I’m a little taken back by your comment. For one, I also wrote my post as a means of working out an idea, most especially of writing something serious. Are you saying my post shouldn’t be taken seriously? For that matter, are you suggesting that the theory that I put forward isn’t worthy of scholarly literature? It is a matter of serious study in regard to blogging. Maybe I misinterpreted what you said.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 6, 2012

          Robert,

          It’s not that I don’t think it is or isn’t plausible since you haven’t provided much in terms of data to support it either way.

          Confrontational posts do more service to needs of people at a particular time (immediacy), though they will be evaluated in more ways than that in the future, especially within the context of social interaction, to include the blogger him/herself.

          If you mean simply that such a post will attract a buzz I agree, but what exactly are these “needs” that you are referring to? I am confused.

          Finally, I don’t know why you are reading that final quote as commentary on what you’ve written or its potential to add to some scholarly discussion/debate. I was simply sharing that I tend to see even my content-driven posts as part of a larger process of working out an idea/interpretation. Sorry if there was any confusion.

          • Robert Moore Dec 6, 2012

            Kevin,

            “It’s not that I don’t think it is or isn’t plausible since you haven’t provided much in terms of data to support it either way.”

            It is a theory and, as a blog post… as many posts can be… as you know, it is a fluid statement; part of a process; thinking out loud. Discussion would be a good thing to follow, in the natural course of things.

            “If you mean simply that such a post will attract a buzz I agree, but what exactly are these “needs” that you are referring to?”

            “Needs” as in delivering a message otherwise lost in what might be considered the subtle approach of a content post. The resulting exchanges usually result in results that might be considered more immediate. Not only does one get a message noticed more quickly, the result is usually a division of camps. You have those that agree and disagree… even to the point of the exchange being vitriolic. There’s also a problem with confrontational posts in that they can drive folks to a particular camp that is strongly against what the message is… but that’s another topic for another time.

            “I was simply sharing that I tend to see even my content-driven posts as part of a larger process of working out an idea/interpretation. Sorry if there was any confusion.”

            O.K., this is a problem, and I see it in the next comment. This isn’t personal, and the mistake that being made is that some are seing it as such. It’s a discussion about the types of blogging that is happening in the Civil War blogosphere, and a projection forward as to the potential of it’s short-term and long-term impact.

            Again, the evolution of exchanges on this topic should not be perceived as personal attacks into preferred methods.

            • Kevin Levin Dec 6, 2012

              Robert,

              Let me clarify that I am not in any way offended by your post or taking it personally. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts about blogging and the broader implications for the Web.

              Thanks for the clarification on the other points. Ultimately your post prompted me to reflect on my own process, which I hope contributes to the discussion.

              • Robert Moore Dec 6, 2012

                Good… after all, I do plan on returning to Boston again :) , and would enjoy a day out and about at some sites, such as what we experienced this past spring.

                • Kevin Levin Dec 6, 2012

                  I look forward to it.

          • Robert Moore Dec 6, 2012

            Keep in mind also that I don’t think that there are credible Civil War blogs out there that are confrontational all the time. Some are heavier than others. There is a mix in some. Still, the number of content delivery blogs is greater. This may or may not be because this is the way, in general, that the Civil War has been digested for so many years and it’s a mimic of that with which most are familiar. It’s simply a matter of preference when it comes to approach, of both the subject matter and the audience, and expectations of what might result following delivery.

            • Kevin Levin Dec 6, 2012

              No disagreement there, but in my own case it is extremely difficult to judge what might result with my posts. Often I post something that doesn’t seem at all to me to be controversial and the shit hits the fan. It’s one of the reasons why I am having some difficulty with the distinction. It really is in the eye of the beholder.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 6, 2012

      You do understand that even as you explain what your motives are and aren’t, you have no trouble speculating about the motives of others. Why is that? Why do you protest against being misunderstood even as you claim to understand the motives of others? Indeed, why did you feel the need to bring this whole matter up in the first place? Why is it important to you … especially when you speculate upon the motives of others? Could you explain what purpose that serves?

      • Robert Moore Dec 6, 2012

        You’re the one who’s boiling over Brooks. You go too far, and it’s really ashame. I’ll not entertain you at this point because even after I said what I did in my comment, you choose to continue the attack, even through another blog. Really? No more. You’re reactions speak for themselves.

        • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 6, 2012

          Robert … you picked this fight, and now you don’t want to answer questions. That speaks for itself.

          I’m not boiling over. I’m a bit puzzled as why you’ve said what you’ve said. But if you need to believe certain things, fine. Just don’t talk about the “deep needs” of others.

  • Dav1d Dec 6, 2012

    Sure, but my point was not about “sometimes,” it was about blogs that are “overwhelmed” by that “Someone Is Wrong On The Internet” (SIWOTI) content. For the record, I don’t think “Civil War Memory” is anywhere near that level.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 6, 2012

      Good to know. :-)

      • Dav1d Dec 6, 2012

        But I’ll be keeping an eye on you.

        /snark

  • Pat Young Dec 6, 2012

    I have been reading about the Civil War for more than 45 years and I blog professionally on immigration law for two web sites, but I did not start reading Civil War blogs until three years ago. I have checked out more than a hundred in that time, many of which appear to be defunct, although some bloggers put up an occasional post to announce that the site is not dead yet. Of all of those sites, CW Memory is one of six that I visit every week. Actually I visit this site 5 or 6 times a week.

    I don’t visit your blog for the controversy, I come because it is almost always interesting and well written. It covers important topics of history that are still relevant today. It does not play games with the facts. The analysis often goes beyond what i would have concluded based only on the facts presented, which means that it is challenging and useful to me.

    There is another aspect as well that does not always occur to all of your readers. I grew up and live in a majority-minority village and in my work life I rarely encounter white people even though I am white. This is one of the few Civil War sites that speaks to the people that I encounter as friends, co-workers, and colleagues on a daily basis. It helps me to think about how the war is relevant to my friends and to explain it to them in my own writing. It also helps me understand the way the post-1898 narrative that developed around the war alienates non-white people. To me this is the most constructive part of the blog.

    As someone who blogs 10 times a week and who can’t get other folks in my field to write as guest bloggers more than once or twice a year, I know what a rare talent it is to find someone with something to say every time they power up the computer. This site is almost always a good place to land for a read.

  • Bummer Dec 6, 2012

    Bummer studies Civil War Memory and Cenantua on a daily basis. Whether its content, controversy or confrontation, most of it is still informative. It sparks this student’s memory of what is really important regarding the cause and effects of the Civil War. In addition, the discussion empowers Bummer to communicate some of his 60 plus years of compilation and research by sharing on his site or in comments on others. Keep at it guys! Thanks,

    Bummer

  • nMary Ellen Maatma Dec 6, 2012

    I visit this blog Monday through Friday most weeks. It gives me food for thought and leads me to good resources I use in my own research and thinking. I’m not surprised to learn how thoughtfully and mindfully you approach the craft of blogging. I love the metaphor of jazz that you use in this post. May I quote you to my legal writing students?

    • Kevin Levin Dec 6, 2012

      Thanks for the kind words. By all means, quote away.

  • Dudley Bokoski Dec 6, 2012

    It comes down to what you want to do with the blog. You can have a provocative blog which contains informative content or you can have a blog which tends more toward being provocative for its own sake. I’m not sure which Civil War Memory is, which just underscores the notion it is possible to be both.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 6, 2012

      As I’ve already said, I don’t know how to draw the distinction when it comes to this blog. For some any mention by me of the words slavery and race is deemed controversial or provocative. It’s in the eye of the beholder.

  • Ron Baumgarten Dec 6, 2012

    Can’t we just all get along? Seriously, though, I am starting to wonder whether content blogs, such as mine and many others, are really “blogs” at all in the strict sense. Maybe there is a better or new term to apply? Before I began writing my own blog, I always considered blogs as places to go to if you wanted to read opinion and commentary rather than to gather factual information in its own right. Certainly in the political sphere that seems to be the case. Of course, most bloggers at one time or another will stray into opinion and controversy, so a strict divide will inevitably break down. That said, I call my blog a “blog” for lack of a better term, but I know it puzzles some of my DC, politically-oriented friends as to why it is considered a blog at all!

    • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 7, 2012

      That’s an excellent insight, and one that shows that perhaps we should be discussing form and function than debating terminology.

  • Matt McKeon Dec 7, 2012

    The internet is a marketplace of ideas, and like in every marketplace, you have to appeal to people, draw them to your product, and deliver a product that keeps people returning. Only your customers aren’t passive consumers, but engaged part of the content.

    I admit I skip the umpteeth post on what the Southern Heritage people are up to this time. It was interesting the first fifty times, but what new can really be said on the topic? They’re just not that interesting.

    But I check this blog a couple of times a week, because of the variety of the content, and because Kevin is a high school teacher, and the level of comments and the links to places like “dead confederates,” or Coates stuff, guys I wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.

  • woodrowfan Dec 7, 2012

    Sometimes I read this blog (and Sable Arm, and Dead Confederates) to learn. Actually, most of the time I read them to learn. And I have learned a lot from all three! (FWIW, I use an essay on Black Confederates from the early version of CWM in a class.)

    But, I confess, sometimes I enjoy reading them just to watch a few of our favorite trolls blow a blood vessel or two. 8-)

Leave a Comment