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?
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.