Civil War Memory Stats or Why Blogging Matters

I am collecting some basic statistics about Civil War Memory for my upcoming talk on Civil War blogging and thought I would share them with my readers.  Compared to political blogs and other high-profile sites the number of visits and page views is trivial, but within the history blogosphere I assume it ranks somewhere in the middle.  Right now this site attracts around 450 unique hits a day.  As a military history blog (broadly defined) it ranks very near the top.  This blog's Technorati ranking is 62, 589 with an Authority of 96, which measures the number of links from other blogs over the last six months.  The smaller the number, the better. 

One of the points that I hope to make is that the battle for Civil War memory or how we approach the history will be won or lost in cyberspace – including blogs, listservs, message boards, etc. – and not in books, conferences and other traditional forms of public outreach.  This is a tough sell since my goal is not in any way to instill feelings of guilt in my audience.  My purpose is not necessarily to convince one person in the audience to pick up blogging, but to share my experiences engaged on the front lines and how that experience reflects a changing public discourse about what it means to talk meaningfully about a crucial moment in this nation's past. The numbers speak for themselves.  Of course, the numbers don't tell us anything about what readers have learned – if anything – or whether they will return at some point in the future.   For me the numbers reflect the potential or promise of blogging.  It's a powerful tool that can expand a historian's ability to reach out to fellow academics as well as, more importantly, to all corners of the general public.

Blogging has given me the opportunity to join public debates about some of the most controversial subjects within the Civil War community such as black Confederates.  Hopefully, my posts have helped to clarify the complexity of the subject as well as the broader questions of memory that have come to shape our national and regional narratives.  More importantly, I've heard from countless readers that the focus of this site on issues surrounding memory and public history – subjects that are typically discussed only in academic circles – have not only enriched their understanding of the Civil War, but of history in general.  

With the Civil War Sesquicentennial right around the corner I think it is crucial that state commissions and other professional organizations think critically and imaginatively about how to use the Internet to educate the general public.  The number of Americans who will attend a conference, museum exhibit or read a book between 2011 and 2015 will pale in comparison with the reach of various websites – much of them filled with myth and propaganda.  Let's reach out.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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7 comments… add one
  • Phil LeDuc Oct 6, 2008 @ 21:09

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Kevin, at least when it comes to how the lay audience is going to be receiving information, analysis, and opinion on historical matters – whether Civil War or any other historical subject, era, or person. The challenges presented by the blogosphere (and the internet in general) are the same as those presented by any other subject. I was reminded of this just today when I received some forwarded material of a political nature from family members. There were factual errors and other content that just turned me off, despite my general political agreement with those members of my family. There is unfortunately, still that prevailing sense that “This presents something with which I generally agree, and it comes from someone I know (or whose site I visit regularly, or whatever), therefore it must be true.”
    It will be a battle indeed to try and separate the true from the false, and the fact from the conjecture, when it comes to Civil War history and memory in blogs, message boards, etc.

  • Kevin Levin Oct 6, 2008 @ 7:03

    Thanks TF. I do my best.

  • Craig Oct 6, 2008 @ 4:33

    Try to access JSTOR without paying tuition or holding a position in academia.

  • tf smith Oct 5, 2008 @ 23:30

    Kevin –

    Your points – and your work on CWM – are noteworthy; trying to wrest internet discussion of the ACW away from the delayed adolescents is a worthy goal for every ACW historian.

    Keep up the fire

  • Kevin Levin Oct 5, 2008 @ 9:13

    Robert, — I did and it is extremely helpful.

    Sherree, — Very insightful comments. Thanks so much.

  • Sherree Oct 5, 2008 @ 8:10

    I am a little surprised that you have not had more response to this post, Kevin. The use of the Internet has given new meaning and life to Jefferson’s concept of the academical village. Not only will interaction among those in the academic community and the public at large educate the public; it will also give those in the academic community a broader base of knowledge as well, and, in time, will change the dialogue of intellectual discourse entirely. When women and minorities were finally required to be admitted to universities in the 1960s and 1970s, a paradigm shift with enormous implications occurred in every department of every university. The same is, and will be true, of current theory and strains of thought as the halls of the academic world are opened to the public via technology. It seems almost imperative that members of the academic community interact with the public on some level or not at all, since if they do not, many falsehoods and half truths will be promulgated. In future decades, volumes of information will be accesible to anyone who wants to access that information. In fact, much is available now. So, the question remains: will measured analysis of the information also be available? I certainly hope so. In addition, the use of the Internet as a means to provide more information to more men and women addresses another age-old problem that has plagued our society: the creation of a dichotomy in society based upon class due to the availability, or the lack thereof, of the one thing that helps to break down class barriers more than any other: education. It is time for that blight on our society to quietly fade away as well. Thanks for the difficult work that you do.

  • Robert Moore Oct 4, 2008 @ 21:43

    Kevin, Did you catch that link in one of my posts to the article about blogging? ReadWriteWeb is a must-have subscription for anyone interested in the issues behind social networking. Incidentally, it appears we have something else in common in a deeper interest in the science behind blogging. My practicum next semester will go into a lot more about just that and I’ll be doing some heavy analyzing. All-in-all, too much to go into here. Perhaps we should chat about this after 10/20. For now, comps are bearing down!

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