History Blogs: a new dawn

In the past year history blogs have exploded. You only have to look at the History News Network Blogroll to see this. Readers interested in history have a wealth of well written and entertaining blogs to keep them happy. The subjects of these blogs cover all aspects of history from the big subjects such as the First world War, down to the minuet such as Historical Cases of Dying Bees.

Whenever the media talk about blogs, they tend to paint them as a passing fad with little impact beyond their small readership. This is clearly incorrect. A fact illustrated by the recent shooting at Virginia Tech, where a picture of the gunman was posted on a blog hours after the shooting and days before the police released his identity.

For me, history blogs represent a new and exciting avenue for historical thought. They provide a free and democratic tool, that can be utilised by anyone, to post on any subject that feel worthy of their time.

This democracy has resulted in a wide range of blogs. As a good historian I have tried to group these into three distinct types. Academic blogs, written mostly by professionally trained historians that address history from a more historiographical view point. These often concentrate on the argument, above the detail. Enthusiastic blogs, written by historical enthusiasts. These bloggers tend to highly knowledgeable about a single aspect of history, they may or may not be historically trained but they are often written for the sheer joy of the subject. These blogs focus on ‘facts’ rather than interpretation and argument. The final type is Personal blogs. These tend to be blogs about subjects other then history, that often drift in to the subject with occasional posts.

At first sight it seems that the history blog community is fragmented and unconnected. In a way this is true. However, I feel that a number of trends tie the history blogs together. The fist is simply passion. History blogs are consistently passionate about their corner of history, happily blogging regularly to an unseen audience. The second is knowledge. Almost exclusively history blogs contain accurate details and content. The third is a wish to spread knowledge. Very few bloggers are making money from their blogs and this means that it is the sheer enjoyment of spreading knowledge that is a key motivator of many history bloggers.

This finally brings me to the point of this post. Our community is fragmented but it needn’t be. History blogs represent one the most important developments in the historical community in recent years. If we are able to control and harness the wealth of information that exists, then blogging provides a tool to publish levels of historical detail that was previously impossible.

Traditional avenues of historical publishing are limiting. Conferences, journals and books are great, they have their place. They provide a solid base of peer reviewed historical data and more importantly historical argument. Yet, by their nature they are elitist and limiting. Despite many efforts, they alienate the amateur historian, who though not necessarily historically trained, still possess the skills and intelligence to carry out valuable and detailed historical research. It’s this type of historian, who the traditional system ignores. Their research is often niche and commercially unviable. Yet, the blog allows them to find a valuable voice.

I am suggesting that all and sundry should post their half baked historical views?

Yes.

Defiantly, yes.

YES.

Well, no.

I am suggesting that blogs offer an avenue for amateur historians to present their carefully researched knowledge. This doesn’t remove the need for a higher level of historical discipline to carefully sift, review and assimilate this knowledge. Instead, the blog provides another stream of information that can be plumbed into the existing system.

So this is my vision.

A historical community in which the amateur historian can have a valid and valuable voice.

The question remains – how do we get there?

The answer is I am not sure.

What I do know is that it requires networks and communities. Communities are the key. It requires utilisation of web 2.0 sites. It requires a network to be centred through blogs but extended into other applications such as MySpace, Flikr, newsgroups and more. Some historians are trying this (Gavin Robinson recently published pictures of his family during WW1 at Flickr), but it needs more control and thought.

In the short term I suggest that all history bloggers should follow these three rules. This will help to strengthen the existing community links and encourage new bloggers.

1. Comment more! Comments are the life blood of the blogging community. They encourage writers to write, whilst offering footprints back to other like minded blogs. Go one try it! Start by leaving a comment here – its not painful I promise.
2. Cross post. If you see a post that you really enjoy, mention it in your blog, this way it extends the web of links connecting blogs.
3. Get involved with projects such as carnivals. These collective exercises are superb at bringing communities together.

Rant over – Happy blogging.

18 Responses to “History Blogs: a new dawn”

  1. Gavin Robinson Says:

    I’d definitely agree with those three points – we do need more comments, more cross posting and more involvement in carnivals.

    I’m not sure whether more control is appropriate for getting the best out of Web 2.0. I’d argue (perhaps perversely) that what we need here is less control – people should have more confidence to just do things for themselves rather than waiting for someone to tell them what to do and how to do it. For example, the Great War Forum is full of extremely valuable information from enthusiastic and hardworking amateurs who know far more about certain aspects of WWI than any academics. That’s all good, but they seem to be very conservative and stuck in a hierarchical way of thinking. It seems like most people there are not comfortable with new technology or with Web 2.0 ways of thinking. My threads there about Flickr, the Military History Carnival, and the PRO Wiki haven’t attracted much attention, but many of them are working hard on trying to create an overarching (and possibly over ambitious) database standard which is the antithesis of Web 2.0’s “small pieces loosely joined”. We need these people, but I’m not sure how to get through to them.

  2. breathinghistory Says:

    Perhaps control is the wrong word. We need a system in which amateur historians are encouraged to publish their information. Applications like the WW1 forum are great, but by their nature they are limiting. We need to expand the conversation and encourage participants from all levels.
    The Wiki model is great but I feel its biggest limitation is its lack of recognition. All historians need to feel their work is being read and recognised. It also doesn’t encourage a wider conversation/interaction.
    Say I want to be able to quickly access the best historian on say, ‘British medical treatment in the trenches in 1914’, I know he exists but how to a get in contact. A more ‘controlled’ (read co-ordinated) environment would allow this to happen. If he was blogging, then he should be easy to find.
    A more important point is that the work of these historians needs to be recorded and made accessible to other historians. It is only this way that the trivial details that we historian find so fascinating, can be assessed and implemented on a wider scale.

  3. Gavin Robinson Says:

    I’ve realised there was a paradox in my comment: people should just do things, but only if they’re doing what I consider to be the right thing! What I really should’ve said was people need to do more small scale experiments with a wider variety of techniques rather than doing nothing or jumping into a major project without trying all the options.

  4. Digitalisation « Victoria’s cross? Says:

    […] About ← History Blogs: a new dawn […]

  5. Brett Holman Says:

    Perhaps I’m being “ageist”, but it seems to me that there’s a bit of a generation gap here. It’s younger people who are in general going to be more willing to plunge in and try out new technologies, but conversely, when you’re talking about interested amateurs it’s the older ones who have the depth of knowledge, discipline and perhaps spare time to bring to the table. (Though no doubt there’s a group of people at the intersection of computer geekery and military geekery too …) The database fixation that Gavin mentions sounds very 1980s, in fact. That doesn’t really help with the question of how to get them onboard though!

    I did look into setting up a wiki for future-war fiction (at least British pre-WWII aviation-related future-war fiction, initially anyway), a sort of annotated checklist/bibliography. I think I lost interest because I tried hard to get a wordpress wiki plugin to work, and it wouldn’t, then mediawiki etc looked like overkill. So I was probably too inflexible, which goes to what Gavin says in his last comment here. I may give it another go, although it might have been more useful to be doing it last year when I was using those sources a lot.

  6. myhistorynotes Says:

    Hi,
    I`m new to History blog comunity (just found out that it exists), just doing it for fun as I like to watch documentaries and read biographies and other stuff about history. For me it seems that everyone is blogging about military history and there is little linking, little blogrolling and few coments.
    I would suggest making H-list. What it is? Tourism&travel&hospitality bloggers have T-list. One travel blogger makes a list of travel (etc.) blogs he/she reads and likes. Other blogger sees himself on this list, takes it and continues. T-list is huge success and they have got to know each other. That would do for history blogs too.

  7. breathinghistory Says:

    Bret –
    You may be correct about technology applying to the younger generation. However, the revolution in genealogy contradicts this idea. The internet has transformed the manner in which the family tree is being studied, with many genealogists connected across the globe. If feel that this is very much a ‘build it and they will come’ situation.

    As for ‘wiki for future-war fiction’ I can only encourage you to give it another go. I suggest that it is this individually run projects that will be the life blood of future history research. I feel that the power of control will move from universities and archives, into a more democratic sphere as resources become available on the internet.

    Myhistorynotes –

    Welcome!
    I love the idea of a list. Any sort of interactive approach like this is great. Perhaps you should give it a go and email to me – I will blog it and pass it on.

  8. myhistorynotes Says:

    My first H-list is
    here Go on and continue it!

  9. Investigations of a Dog » Six months is a long time Says:

    […] of research blogging and the difference between personal and non-personal blogs. Gary Smailes at Victoria’s Cross? celebrates the new dawn of history blogs and calls on history bloggers to comment more, post about […]

  10. Esther Says:

    Interesting points. I’m actually finding this dichtomy so tricky at the moment that I’m writing an article on it to try and order the confusion of thoughts about it. What responsibilty the historical blogger? It’s made particularly difficult by random surfers coming in for information and taking umbrance at politicised history, which I argue all bloggers convey to some extent… (or is politicised the wrong word…oppionionated?).

    I’m really surprised that people don’t seem to think that comment, bloggrolling and cross posting doesn’t exist in the history blog network…in fact so much so that I just don’t agree with that. One of the primary reasons my site has always had a huge amount of external traffic is its linking elsewhere… and then of course people coming back looking for ‘ww1 rats’, ‘jessie pope anti-war’ and more eccentricly ‘ Gollum’s Feet’ and ‘Father Christmas wigs’… I also think comment and cross posting are very much a blogging choice; rather than a default…

  11. breathinghistory Says:

    Esther:
    For me the internet does two things.
    Provides information and offer the chance to build networks and communities.
    The first aspect will bring people to a site but the second offers a chance for a much longer and more fruitful relationship.
    My call for more comments etc was to try and solidify the links that already exist between blogs. That way someone coming to my blog will quickly see ‘paths’ to other like minded blogs.
    However, this is not enough we need some kind of central focus for history bloggers. A place they can meet and converse. A ‘virtual’ common road or a MySpace for history.
    Perhaps applications such as twitter are a short term solution.
    If we can build these strong communities, then the new breed of blogger/historian, who is doing great personal research but lacks an academic avenue, kind find a home for their work.

  12. Esther Says:

    I’ve posted some further thoughts on this on the main site, as you’ve got my thoughts going here! There are several entries regarding the article I’m writing below it as well!

    http://www.whatalovelywar.co.uk/war/2007/05/military_histor.html

  13. Wellness Says:

    Hey

    I was surfing the web and i saw this site, pretty cool.
    Currently im running and adult site:Wellness
    k, just want to say hi🙂
    Can i link you from my site? im looking for quality content like yours. If no let me know if i can add u in exchange for a montly fee or something.

  14. Stasigr Says:

    Hello, very nice site, keep up good job!
    Admin good, very good.

  15. Idetrorce Says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

  16. Andy Says:

    I launched History Nexus about three months ago, not in resonse to this thread I have to say, but with the express intent of having a focus for the disparate history sites and blogs out there… which is

    Let me know what you think:

    http://www.historynexus.net

  17. Alexwebmaster Says:

    Hello webmaster
    I would like to share with you a link to your site
    write me here preonrelt@mail.ru


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: