You may have noticed that I’ve made a few changes to the look of Civil War Memory. Actually, these changes go beyond simply moving back to a full-width framework and a transition to Arial as the main content font. Over the past few weeks I’ve slowly stripped the site of just about every plugin. While WordPress plugins add a great deal of functionality to your site the downside is quite often a slow load time, especially those associated with social networking sites. Another problem that I’ve encountered is that plugin authors are often slow to update their code with new versions of WordPress. Essentially, the installation of a plugin increases the number of external sites that your blog must rely on to load properly and quickly. I noticed this with DISQUS, which added a great deal of functionality to comments and allowed readers increased access to one another. Unfortunately, any problems on their end directly impacted the user experience, which is simply unacceptable. It sometimes felt like my blog was being held hostage.
I am now committed to locating as much of my blog’s functionality locally. I’ve gone from 20 to 6 plugins over the past few weeks, the remainder of which include: Akismet (spam), Get Recent Comments, Popular Posts, Post-Plugin Library, Recent Posts, and Subscribe to Comments. Functionality related to SEO is built into Thesis Theme, which is my theme of choice and ought to be yours as well. As you can see I’ve ditched those plugins that expand the blog’s social networking reach. The Share This plugin is gone as is Follow Me which was hidden away on the right side of the screen. In addition, I’ve nixed all of the code for such sites as FriendFeed and LibraryThing. This has forced me to learn a bit of php and css language, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. If you’ve experienced very brief downtime over the past few weeks that’s me crashing the site with some idiotic mistake with the code. Luckily, it’s very easy to correct. I still need to figure out a way to bring back the Facebook Community badge as well as a Twitter feed. Again, the only way I will do it is without a plugin.
My Facebook profile page is recommending that I “friend” Bill Vallante. Perhaps I can convince him to become a “Fan” of Civil War Memory.
Who is “Wild” Bill Vallante?
Click here and here.
This last week has been pretty busy around here since the governor of Virginia announced his Confederate History Month Proclamation. The number of visitors went through the roof owing to some key hyperlinks from a number of very popular news outlets. To those of you who are new to Civil War Memory I encourage you to take a few minutes to look around. Click here for some background about me and a brief description of the scope of this blog. You can also explore my list of publications and research interests. As for the blog itself you may want to check out the list of Popular Posts in the sidebar as well as the Archives and Categories list. My most popular subjects include “black Confederates,” the Civil War Sesquicentennial, and my ongoing research on William Mahone and the battle of the Crater. Enjoy and welcome.
My focus on the controversy surrounding Confederate History Month resulted in two writing assignments. Today I finished a short editorial for Civil War Times that will appear in the next issue along with contributions from roughly ten others. I’ve also been asked to write a critical review of an essay for The Wilson Quarterly. The essay is titled, “America’s Changeable Civil War” by Christopher Clausen and is right up my alley. How cool is that?
By now many of you have noticed that I’ve disabled the plugin for Disqus. It is unlikely that I will activate again, but than again anything is possible. Let me be clear that I actually think the service is very useful for moderating comments and promoting community and I appreciate the control it gives users over their comments throughout the blogosphere. On top of that the customer service is first rate. I highly recommend Disqus to those of you who are looking for advanced comment moderation features. The one problem that persisted and that I could not get over is the problem that I have with all WordPress plugins: Plugins place the blogger in a dependency relationship with a third-party site. I am willing to wager that the downtime with Disqus is no more frequent than with most plugins, but when it comes to comments I want an instant response. Readers should not have to wonder whether a blog’s comment system is working properly on any given visit. Perhaps I am overreacting, but I have a suspicion that a bad experience or even a few bad experiences, will turn off a reader from commenting in the future.
The other change to the site is the inclusion of a widget for Civil War Memory’s Facebook page, which you can join if you are on FB. Once in a while it acts up, but for now I am willing to deal with it. I am using it to communicate with “fans” of the blog and to share information that will not make it to the blog. I am pleased that the number of fans continues to grow. Please feel free to post your own notes, which will then appear in the feed on my blog. You can post news items, events, and even your own Civil War related blog posts if you so desire. All I ask is that your links loosely relate to the content of my blog. Of course, I reserve the right to control the feed as well as membership.
With trimester exams completed I am now looking forward to my spring break week and the opportunity to recharge before the final push toward the end of the year in May. I hope to get in a bit of writing on the Crater manuscript and a solid week of jogging. On Tuesday I head up to Shepherdstown, West Virginia to visit with Prof. Mark Snell’s seminar, “The American Civil War in Memory and Remembrance” at Shepherd University. I first met Mark Snell back in 2005 at the annual meeting of the Society for Military History in Charleston. Mark chaired a panel on the Civil War and memory that I took part on that also included Ken Noe and Keith Bohannon. Since then we’ve remained friends. I very much appreciate Mark’s enthusiasm and support of this blog from the beginning as well as his encouragement of my own research. In addition to teaching history, Mark is the director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War at Shepherd University. The Center is currently engaged in a number of projects, but I do want to take a minute to plug their annual conference which will take place this year in Petersburg in June. I am very excited about it since I am once again joining a stellar faculty that includes among others, Earl Hess and Will Greene. Check it out if you have a chance.
Mark has assigned my blog as regular reading throughout the semester and he thought it might be worth having me visit with his students to discuss various issues related to the format and its place in the profession and the broader culture. While I’ve discussed the role of blogging extensively over the years on this site, and even addressed a group of academic historians last year, this will be my first opportunity to engage undergraduates who may not be headed down an academic track. In preparation for that trip I’ve been perusing the archives for a few posts in which I discuss how blogging fits into my career.
What follows is a 2008 interview that I did with a graduate student at the University of Richmond who was enrolled in a Public History course.
1. What motivated you to create this website/blog? What, if anything, inspired or challenged you to create this website/blog?
Answer: I began blogging back in November 2005. At the time there were only two or three Civil War blogs, but it was Mark Grimsley’s Blog Them Out of the Stone Age which inspired me to throw my hat in the ring. What I liked about Mark’s blog was that it introduced a wide spectrum of topics related to military history to a diverse audience. It worked to bridge the divide between more casual readers of military history and scholars working in the field. I’ve tried to do the same thing with Civil War Memory. I see myself as occupying a unique position as both a high school history teacher and Civil War historian. In addition, my interests extend beyond military themes which remains the preoccupation of most Civil War enthusiasts and while I did not have specific goals in mind when I first started blogging I did hope to introduce and discuss questions and issues that are often overlooked in certain circles. These include the topics of memory, race/slavery, social/cultural history and even subjects beyond the Civil War entirely.