Five Years of Blogging

Sorry for the lack of posts over the past few days. I just returned from the Annual Meeting of the Southern Historical Association in Charlotte, North Carolina.  As always I had a wonderful time.  Got to catch up with some good friends and make some new ones.  I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who stopped me to share that they read and enjoy the blog.

This week marks five years of blogging at Civil War Memory.  I continue to be impressed with its growth and popularity and little did I anticipate the number of doors that would be opened for me as a result of writing this blog.  As always, I thank you for reading and for adding your own thoughts to it.  This site is not just a record of my own evolving thoughts on the Civil War and historical memory, but a small slice of our broader collective memory of the period.

Just a quick reminder that I will speaking this coming Wednesday evening at the Harpers Ferry Roundtable on the subject of the Crater and historical memory.  The talk will take place in the annex to the Camp Hill – Wesley United Methodist Church, 601 West Washington St., Harpers Ferry, WV 25425.  There is a meal at the site at 7 p.m., for which reservations should be made by calling (304) 535-2101 before Sunday, November 7. The talk is at 8 p.m.,

Can You Afford Not To Use Social Media?

When it comes down to it much of the success that I’ve enjoyed as a teacher and historian over the past few years is the result of social media. I’ve taken full advantage of it from regular updates on this blog to Facebook and Twitter.  Each platform has a slightly different focus.  The blog functions as an extension of my classroom; Facebook allows me to stay in touch with old and new friends, and Twitter provides an ideal way to share and receive information in short bursts with people who share a common interest.  However, what they all have in common is they provide an effective means of remaining on the radar screens of current and future friends and colleagues.

The past few weeks provide a number of examples to support such an observation.  Back in August I was contacted by a publisher, who was interested in commissioning a book on the subject of black Confederates.  The contact was the direct result of my writing on the subject on this site.  This past week I was contacted by the Smithsonian Institution about the possibility of offering a series of lectures for one of its spring programs.  Again, the contact was the result of this site.  And this week I completed an abstract for an SHA session that was organized by a regular reader of the blog as well as a Facebook friend.  The point here is not to toot my own horn, though I would like to think that the quality of posts here as well as my published work have something to do with my limited success.  Rather, it’s to point out how little it matters apart from the broader goal of sharing an interest and scholarship with the public.

The mistake that people make is in thinking about social media as a way to build community.  Some of you who have been around for a while know that not too long ago I was fixated with creating a Civil War Memory community.  At one point or another I included Google Friend Connect and even a widget for the Civil War Memory Facebook page in the sidebar.  Somehow I envisioned readers connecting with one another and continuing discussions in various online spaces.  I now see this as completely misguided.  There are no Online communities; in fact, it demeans the very concept of community.

In the end, social media affords the user the opportunity to build an AUDIENCE.  My audience includes roughly 1,000 regular readers of Civil War Memory, 738 friends on Facebook, 350 members of the CWM Facebook page, and 490 Twitter followers.  In the context of my role as a teacher and historians, all of these people have the potential to respond in various ways to what I produce online.  They can shreak in horror, laugh, agree, or disagree.  These same people can also, “Like,” “link,” and “retweet.”  Oh…and they are also potential customers for a book about the battle of the Crater and historical memory that may or may not be published.

Dislaimer

Update: All I can say is that if you are going to write a letter to my boss complaining about this blog at least take the time to proofread it.

I’ve never had to issue a formal disclaimer for this blog, but with the start of the new school year now seems like an opportune time, especially for a select few.  It goes without saying that the views expressed on this site are mine and mine alone.  I do not write in any official capacity as the department chair and as a history teacher at St. Anne’s – Belfield School, though I do write about my experiences in the classroom.  Civil War Memory has no official connection to my place of employment and the St. Anne’s – Belfield School does not endorse this site in any way.  The URL of this site is is not associated with the school and this website is financially maintained by me.

I hope that clarifies things.

Not Important You Say?

Every once in a while my blogging buddy, Richard Williams, reminds his readers not to take me seriously and not to exaggerate my importance within the blogosphere and beyond.  I appreciate that advice as it helps me to keep my ego in check.  The only problem is that Richard has the strangest way of showing it.  My WordPress dashboard contains ten of the most recent links to my blog, six of which can be traced back to Richard’s site.   Let’s see, today he took me to task for some comments I made about a book concerning black Confederates.  Last Thursday Richard expressed his disapproval of some comments I made in an interview with the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.  Last week I was the beneficiary of an extensive critique for a short post I did concerning a talk I heard by James Robertson.  And to round it out, check out these two posts from last month.  [See here and here]

If I didn’t no any better I would venture to suggest that Richard Williams is my biggest fan.

Why I Use Twitter and You Should Too

The other day I posted tweet no. 3,000 and thought I might take a few minutes to talk about what I find so valuable about this particular tool.  Twitter is by far my favorite social networking site.  While I use Facebook to stay in touch with friends, and it’s a place where I can have some fun, I use Twitter overwhelmingly for professional purposes.  Admittedly, it is not easy to get started on Twitter.  In fact, it’s downright counter-intuitive.  Why exactly do I only get 140 characters to work with and what the hell am I supposed to say?  Probably like most people I initially set up my account, posted a few tweets and then forgot about it for a time.

Like I said, getting started can be frustrating, but let me suggest why it may be worth it.  The first thing you need to do is understand is why you are using it.  Twitter is much more than simply responding to the question: “What’s Happening?”  I use it primarily to share information related to historical research,  the teaching of history, and other online sites that I come across that others may find interesting.  It’s one of the most efficient ways I’ve found to share information that matters to me with individuals who have similar interests.  Who, are these folks that I am sharing information with?  Well, they are people that have chosen to “Follow” my Twitter stream.  I, in turn, follow folks who are posting information that I find relevant.  As of the date of this post I am following 153 fellow tweeters and there are currently 424 individuals who follow my stream.  There is a practice or courtesy – sometimes referred to as “Reciprocal Following – that essentially returns the favor in response to the addition of a new member of your community.  As you can see I do not make this a practice.  I am very conscious of maintaining a Twitter stream that contains information that I find valuable.  The more attention you give to who you follow determines the quality of information you receive and how much you get out of the overall experience.  What it comes down to is that I now have an additional 153 pairs of eyes that I can count on to share quality information with me, information that I probably would never have come across on my own.  Once that tweet (usually including a hyperlink) comes across my stream I can do any number of things with it, including “Retweeting” it for my readers, emailing it to a friend, saving it to my Delicious Bookmarks, etc.  Finally, I enjoy the short conversations on Twitter.  The character limit forces users to keep it brief and to the point.  That said, I am continually amazed at the quality of the dialog that is possible with the various shortcuts that you will learn in a brief period of time.

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