2 June 2006
Covering some odds and ends, prompted by my Internet Friends …
On the community blogging the American Civil War
Joe Avalon has just posted a listing of Civil War-related blogs on his venerable Civil War Interactive site (tip from Drew). Joe already has the preeminent set of recommended ACW web links at Link Central – over which he’s labored for at least 10 years. This is a welcome and logical addition. As a relative newcomer to these blogs, but not to the War or the web, Joe’s first impressions are quite valuable. He opines:
[These blogs] … tend to have something in common: terrific material and not enough comments.
A blog isn’t just a soapbox set up in a vacant lot for people to declaim their voice to the weeds and litter and less identifiable rubbish lying about – it is, ideally, a meeting place for a community where voices go back and forth, opinions are shared, questions are asked and answered, and people who would otherwise never have met get acquainted.
As I hinted to Joe on his board, I wonder if he isn’t expecting too much from us, or blogging generally. Judging from my web server logs and stats posted or derived for other ACW blogs, I believe there’s a group of maybe 50 to 100 regular readers for most of these. A core subset are the bloggers themselves. An almost incestuous little community are we.
I don’t expect these people to get excited enough about my posts to comment. I’m happy if they read. Ecstatic if they get something useful. I do not expect constant feedback.
As anyone with a website can tell you, only a tiny fraction of readers will stir themselves to tell you what they think, let alone contribute. Tiny, as in parts-per-thousand-tiny. This is not surprising. Silence implies contentment!
Significant comments appear only in response to hot-button controversy or heresy. These moments are golden, truly, but exhausting, and most of us can’t maintain a heated pace for very long. We are benign scribblers on the whole. A polite and open-minded bunch, too.
Comments directly against a blog entry are not the only means for two-way conversation, of course. In the blogging tradition, posting about news items or other peoples’ blog posts has long been the norm. This cross-pollination is where the transport and mutation of ideas most often happens among Civil War blogs as well.
On what ‘backwash of a digital history project’ means
As I research the campaign and individuals who were there, I frequently find startling connections or interesting nuggets that fall outside the scope of AotW. Sometimes the path of the research is, itself, particularly interesting. This blog is the place for these things.
I also like to write about my experience with the technology of the web and the field of digital history, specifically. Or at least about what my corner of the subject looks like.
Sometimes I use the blog to announce new developments on AotW or among our readers and contributors. Horn-tooting, if you like.
That’s about it.
I can’t post every day. I’ll be lucky to do so once a week. I only occasionally have anything interesting to say, and writing, for me, is like pulling teeth. Each post is something of an investment. I also reserve time for my family, the 9-to-5 that pays the bills, and for studying and writing for AotW itself. These are the meat, potatoes, and veggies. Blogging is like desert.
This blog is not meant to be daily entertainment, anyway, so I hope neither of my readers will be disappointed by the (in)frequency of posts.
On what Antietam on the Web is about
On his return to the blogosphere today, Dimitri Rotov made reference to AotW, suggesting it as some kind of model* for history online:
… the new shape of Civil War history: collaborative, open, massive in content, free, self-correcting in a wiki way, and ultimately unavoidable. It will bring certain academics to heel by making them accountable to broadly shared public knowledge – a death knell for Centennial era history, except as entertainment.
I appreciate his confidence, but I’m not sure my site – or any similar – can live up to the billing. I should also say that I have no mission to bring anyone ‘to heel’.
My goal has been to collect good information bearing on the people, places, and events of the Battle (and more recently, the Campaign), and get it online in useful form. I began this project for my own benefit: trying to get a handle on the bewildering detail. It’s grown a lot over the years thanks to help from, and for the use of, a surprisingly large community of interested people.
I/we don’t often do deep analysis, I don’t write or worry much about why things happened the way they did (gasp!), and I’m not out to advance any particularly exciting new historical theories of my own. The gathering of high-quality information, and making it accessible and useful online are the reason for being. I’ll let the readers draw the conclusions.
Insofar as the site is, or becomes collaborative, open, massive in content, free, [and] self-correcting I’m most gratified. Broadly shared public knowledge? OK. More than that?
* The reference by Dimitri was:
Harry [Smeltzer] tells me that rather than blog he would like to do for Bull Run I what Brian Downey at Antietam on the Web has tried to do. I hope he does. This will be the new shape of Civil War history …
Best wishes and Godspeed to Mr Smeltzer, by the way, on this endeavor. Anything I can do to help, Harry, you let me know please.