2007 navel gazing

18 December 2007

Thompson's Navel (orange), A. Newton, 1915
Citrus sinensis (A. Newton, USDA, 1915)

Not known as an omphaloskeptic, I’ve nonetheless been meditating on some things that have been piling up in my blog ‘idea box’ over the last year. Grumpy little snippets about blogging and history. Things noted over the year. Pray humor me as I unburden myself in a collection of mini-posts here. Call it end-of-year housekeeping…

I know my opinions are only of interest to me and the dog (and I think she only listens hoping for a treat), but I’d be very happy to further discussion, so please comment as the spirit moves you. I promise I won’t do this again. This year.

On blogging for respect
Most people think bloggers are all narcissistic whiners. It’s largely true, of course, except for me and thee. I suggest to bloggers who feel they are not taken seriously (enough) or that they’re unfairly lumped-in that they get past this.

Want the coveted recognition accorded a journalist or historian because you have a blog? Get a paid gig in the field. Or get over it. Conversely, if you are a paid professional and worry that blogging will damage your reputation, it probably will.

Remember Blog Rule One: content is king. As a blogger you are what you write; your blog will have to stand on its own feet. All the rest is chaff.

On blog comments
The greater part of blogging is in the give and take. Conceptual feedback. Exchange of ideas. Learning from your readers. Participation in a larger community. All those lovely things. Good blogs are less like preaching and more like a conversation.

But a few bloggers (booo. hisss) either turn off comments entirely or put readers through email or other hoops to respond. Perhaps worse are the blogs open for comments, but who’s owners never acknowledge or react to them. I find both these behaviors arrogant, grating, insulting. If you’re such a blogger, please tell my why you think it’s ok. Or why you’re special.

On fear of copyright
Please, bloggers, learn a little copyright law. For we in the US, the basics are online. When posting on historical subjects with an educational or research focus, the doctrine of Fair Use brings a powerful spur to creativity and the healthy spread of information. Understand it. Use it. I cringe when I read about how frightened academics and their institutions are of copyright owners. Get a grip.

Bloggers and other writers would be well served by understanding the Public Domain, too. For those of us feasting on the works of the 19th Century, especially, the 1923 rule of thumb is easy to remember. Works — books, photos, music–published in the US before 1923 cannot be copyrighted. Period. Be aware also that US Government-funded and created works of any vintage, with few exceptions, are also yours to use without limits.

I don’t know how many historians are afraid to post information online because they think there are “copyright issues”. Over the last 12 years or so I’ve met dozens. Crying shame, that is.

On a related issue, how is it that archival institutions like museums and libraries have the gall to require authors get permission before reproducing visual works in the public domain? And why do authors and publishers put up with that? Is anyone seriously challenging this practice? Inquiring minds.

On giving credit
The other side of the coin, however, is the obligation bloggers have for giving credit. It’s no different from any other form of writing. Particularly in “non-fiction” work, like a Civil War history blog, please, if you use someone else’s material, give them credit. OK?

I’m not complaining about people using my work, incidentally. My interest–outside of the moral component–is selfish. I want to see your sources so I can (1) go deeper into them myself, and (2) evaluate the validity of your conclusions.

On amateur historians
Which brings me to talk of a touchy group. Some who are not academic historians were a defensive lot in 2007. So what’s the deal? History is history. Good writing is good writing. Strong historical method works for us all, weak logic and poor research technique will doom anyone. Ask yourself: can I stand being judged on those terms?

Conversely, the enemy of history is wishful thinking. Presenting historical events or people not as they (probably) were, but rather as we wish they were. Just let me entreat current or prospective bloggers: if you need superhuman heroes to admire or yearn for some mythical better place, take up fantasy novels or comic books. Stop calling that history. It’s embarrassing.

On doing something other than complaining
It would be sad to end the year with nattering negativity. Not my usual style. So let me take a different tack down here at the end…

Civil War Campaign Badge

On the best blogging
For the record, except for the peeves above, I think 2007 may have been the best blogging year yet. Certainly on subjects I care about.

I read (or subscribe to feeds for) about one hundred, and love them all. I don’t mean to slight anybody, but take my hat off to the following favorites among my Civil War family:

Mannie Gentile. For the zing of life in your posts, the uncanny skill you have with a camera, and for the wit you bring to my favorite spot on the planet.

Jenny Goellnitz. For your win over the Hodge and baring it in the sun. For that incredible Gettysburg Monument series. And for being a most excellent netizen all these years (apparently since you were twelve).

Paul Taylor. For sharing the beauty of old paper and ink. Though your blog is new this year, I hope you’ll stay about for a long spell to come.

Maggie MacLean and Steve Soper. For telling the myriad of tiny stories that add up to the real deal; one woman and one man at a time. Faithful and sure, week in and week out.

Don Caughey, Eric Wittenberg, and JD Petruzzi. For your beautifully crafted Fiddler’s Green, Forgotten Cavalryman, and Faded Hoofbeats series (serieses?). My favorite kind of research and presentation of lesser-known figures of the War. Though cavalrymen all–and who ever saw a dead one?–none should be forgotten.

On the season
A very joyful holiday season to you both, my faithful readers. Peace and love to you and your families.

Mannie's (Park Service) White House ornament

Thanks also to Mannie for this do-it-yourself 2007 Antietam ornament just in time for Christmas. Just print, cut and hang.

So much for 2007. If not before, I’ll see you soon in a shiny new and promising 2008!



The image at the top is Citrus sinensis “Thompson Navel”, a stunning watercolor done by US Department of Agriculture artist Amanda A Newton in 1915. It’s from the USDA Pomological collection (say, doesn’t that look like pornological on first glance?).

The picture of the Army Civil War Campaign Badge, above, is from the Scientific American Reference Book, 1914, pg. 404, a digital copy of which is on Google Books.

5 Responses to “2007 navel gazing”

  1. Eric Wittenberg says:


    Thank you very much for the kind words–I really appreciate it. And I agree with virtually everything you’ve written here.

    One place in particular where I definitely agree with you is on the issue of permissions for material that cannot be copyrighted. I’ve often said that I don’t request or get that permission and that I wish one would come after me, as that’s one lawsuit I am absolutely certain I can win.

    Merry Christmas and happy new year to you and yours.

    And please keep up your good work in 2008.


  2. Don says:


    Thank you so much for the kind mention. I’m honored by the company that you included me with, there’s a lot of talent in that list.

    Keep up the great work, this is one of the places that I look forward to visiting each day.

    Merry Christmas,

  3. Mannie Gentile says:


    I actually said “Gee whiz” (yes, that’s something I really say).

    Thank you for those very kind words. What a nice way to end the year, and, in such wonderful company.

    I hope that sometime I can introduce you to my very good friend Steve Soper. He and I have known each other and clowned around together for twenty years now. Steve and his wife Susan are two of the most delightful people you could ever meet.

    Thanks for your great “Antietam On The Web” which is not only a compelling read but also a constant resource for many Antietam Rangers.

    Have a great holiday!


    If I don’t respond to my comments, it’s only because I’ve not yet figured out that particular electronic function….here’s hoping for the new year!

  4. Jenny says:

    Gee, thanks Brian. You made me blush. :) That’s some pretty impressive company to be mentioned with. I give you props for probably the best (most creative) titled post of 2007. And like Mannie, I think Antietam on the Web is an outstanding resource. It is an excellent example of what this medium can be used for.

  5. Brian says:

    Thank you Eric, Don, Mannie, and Jenny for popping by and saying such nice things. Best wishes for 2008!

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