Tag Archives: blogging

Authority in Blogging

I enjoyed re-visiting the panel discussion on Civil War blogging from this summer’s Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.  A number of interesting issues were discussed including the question of whether Keith Harris, Brooks Simpson, and me occupy a position of authority in the blogosphere and whether that position comes with certain expectations about the kinds of issues discussed and who should be allowed to participate.

Peter Carmichael did a good job moderating this discussion and I appreciate his pushing this issue of authority, but his questions and comments point to the gulf between how the three of us see our blogging and an apparent lack of comfort with the range of subjects and voices that are embraced outside traditional channels.  We did our best to communicate our approach, but it is very difficult to do unless you’ve experienced the challenges and dynamics of blogging for yourself.

If I understand him, Pete seems to think that our respective credentials ought to translate into a privileged place in the blogosphere.  That is not an unreasonable assumption when looking at the blogosphere from the outside.  Professional historians operate under a certain set of rules related to publishing and advancement in the academy that are intended to maintain quality control.  I’ve experienced first hand the benefits of peer review as well as feedback on papers presented at academic conferences.  The point is that there are, at times, reasons to limit certain voices.  To be fair, Pete has spent a good deal of time thinking through the value of blogging for his students and for the history profession.  His organization of this panel is evidence enough of this. Continue reading

Blogging the Civil War on C-SPAN

This weekend C-SPAN will air a panel on Civil War blogging that took place at Gettysburg College back in June as part of the Civil War Institute.  The panel included Brooks Simpson, Keith Harris, and yours truly.  We got into some really interesting issues so do yourself a favor and check it out on Saturday at 6 and 10pm and Sunday at 11am EST.  Here is a short preview.

I Believe in a Silent Rational Majority

Today I read a Facebook update from a history professor, who is dealing with the fallout over a recent essay on Antietam that he published in the Wall Street Journal. Like everything else he writes, it was a thoughtful essay, but it should come as no surprise to those of you familiar with sites with unmoderated comments that the article received a great deal of negative and abusive feedback. Unfortunately, this professor chose to correspond with one particular commenter, who has over the years also leveled his attacks on me for my supposedly anti-Confederate/South views. Like many of my most vocal critics, the individual in question does not live in the South. In this case he lives in Long Island, New York. The correspondence eventually made its way to the office of the president of the professor’s college.

I certainly understand the frustration and that sense of futility when reading comment after comment of such vitriol and having to deal with nasty personal emails. I’ve got a file of hundreds of such emails. While teaching in Virginia I had to deal with regular telephone calls and emails sent to the school headmaster. Just this past week I was called a Nazi on another website and recently I complained about the quality of feedback that followed one of my recent essays at the Atlantic. It’s an unfortunate part of the online world.

I could offer a few words of reassurance and advice to this professor. First, don’t correspond with these people. It accomplishes nothing and what you write will likely make its way to the Internet as was the case here. It is important to keep in mind that the comments section of most sites is likely to be populated by people who feel the most defensive. The vitriol and name calling is a reflection of their ignorance and inability to engage in an intelligent discussion. The only resort is to shut down any and all discussion. I do my best to remember that the vast majority of people who read what I write will never leave a comment on the blog or communicate with me personally. They may not agree, but hopefully they will consider what I’ve written and pass it along through one of the many social media channels. I believe in a silent rational majority.

Maintaining a blog or other social media platform is not for everyone and I certainly understand that, but it is hard to sympathize with people who dabble in the web 2.0 world. It is safe to say that this professor’s job has not been threatened one bit by this correspondence. In the future he can refrain from publishing articles on sites that allow for unmoderated commenting or he can refrain from publishing online entirely.

Informing your community that there are ignorant and hate-filled people out there is not news. What I want to know is how we can respond in a constructive way to this environment. What responsibilities do we as teachers [k-12 and beyond] have to prepare our students to engage one another in online communities? The maintenance of a vibrant online world has become essential to our democracy. Where else but the classroom can we learn to be civil to one another?

Most people who experience the nastiness of online discussion throw up their hands and abandon the idea completely. It takes a lot of work to maintain an online space that nurtures passionate and thoughtful exchanges. Just ask Ta-Nahesi Coates.

My response to all of this is Civil War Memory.  What is yours?

RIP Marc Ferguson

Union Soldier in Forrest Hills Cemetery by Milmore

Over the years I’ve come to consider a small number of you as part of my online family.  I read your comments with great interest and I’ve learned a great deal as a result.  Our online communities are all too often shaped by the worst elements in our society such as ignorance, hatred, and  dishonesty.  I like to think that Civil War Memory is a place where you can exchange ideas and engage one another in a thoughtful way.

With that in mind I am sad to report that over the weekend Marc Ferguson passed away.  Marc was a frequent commenter here going back almost to the beginning. I could always count on Marc to leave a thoughtful and challenging comment in response to my posts.  During the research phase of my Crater project he emailed links to online collections and other resources he thought I should check out.  Marc was incredibly helpful when I moved to Boston.  He suggested places to visit and even offered helpful advice once I began to look for employment.

I knew Marc was sick, but we still talked about getting together.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.  I am going to miss having Marc around as I know many of you will as well.  My thoughts today are with his family.

300 Comments and Not a Word to Read

I love writing for the Atlantic, but I have learned to hate the comments section.  My last post on changing attitudes surrounding the public display of the Confederate flag is now pushing 300 comments, but I would venture that 98% of them are worthless.  It should come as no surprise that the post has been co-opted by a few select voices, who clearly have way too much time on their hands.  One woman apparently spent a sleepless night and the better part of a day writing and monitoring the post.  The level of vitriol and pettiness now being expressed is quite impressive and I have no doubt that they will get at least another 100 comments out of it. I did my best to respond to the few comments that actually touched on points in the post, but they are now lost in a sea of narcissism.  The comments thread is a perfect example of why I moderate discussion here.

The comments included the standard litany of accusations that I am anti-Southern/Confederate and that I am part of a broader conspiracy that wants to remove all reminders of the Confederacy, including the flag.  This is silly.  In fact, the post in question was an attempt to challenge the standard narrative that paints Southerners as one-dimensional and makes a few descriptive claims that may or may not be true.

  • Southerners (white and black) do not speak with one voice on what is acceptable surrounding the display of the Confederate flag.
  • A growing number of Southerners (white and black) acknowledge the complex history of the flag from its use as a battle flag to its role in the resistance to desegregation.
  • Over the past few years the flag’s visibility on high-profile public and private sites has waned.
  • Organizations that have challenged the removal or absence of the flag from such places have met with little success.

Those are four descriptive claims that, like I said above, may or may not be accurate.

I do believe that the visibility of the Confederate flag will continue to suffer owing, in part, to the people who claim to be its staunchest defenders.  This all or nothing attitude is simply not a workable strategy if the points I made above are accurate.  Despite what my detractors say, I do not want to see the Confederate flag completely removed from our historical landscapes because it is part of our history.  It has an important story to tell.  The only question remaining is whether moderate voices will emerge from various constituencies to lead a discussion about what is and is not acceptable.

What is clear is that the status quo is untenable and even the most creative insults that you can hurl in my direction is not going to change that.