Tag Archives: blogging

American History Untucked

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 9.05.45 PMGreetings all!

A few days ago I had the great honor of recording a podcast segment for Professor David Silkenat’s American History Untucked. Dr. Silkenat is a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and has been hosting this podcast for some time now.

We had a grand discussion about blogging, editing, academia, and some of my research projects. You can listen to my spot and those of many of my esteemed colleagues HERE.

With compliments,


You Ask I Answer: Blogging History

Screen shot 2014-01-18 at 10.25.32 AMA few days ago I got a note from long-time reader Casey Turben. He has been keeping up with my musings since way back in the Cosmic America days and saw me speak on blogging at the CWI conference in 2012. Well, Casey has decided to start a blog of his own: The Unruly Historian. As you might suspect I am a fan of the name – and he has some good things to say as well, so check it out. As he is just starting out he has asked me a few questions to help him along. So here you go Casey, I hope this offers a few insights:

-Do you find yourself trying to not be overly academic?

I cringe at the thought of sounding even slightly academic. There may be place for esoteric language and academic density, but the blogosphere is not it. I believe that this medium is ideal for reaching out to and engaging with the informed public – those who do not have (and probably don’t really want) access to the super-special academic club. I want to expand my readership, not limit it.

-How do you cite your work?

I do not. Blogging is a colloquial format intended as a platform for virtual conversation. You would not, for example, offer citations at the end of every sentence or thought if you were engaged in a face to face talk with a friend about a historical event. So I do not do it here either. If I think it is important enough I will mention where I found a particular source (book, archive, etc) in the post. And, if anyone asks, I will happily supply formal citations via email. But I will not clutter my posts with distracting citations. True story: I once received an email from an irate scholar berating me for my lack of integrity precisely because I had not furnished footnotes for a piece I did on Civil War veterans. He demanded (and used strong language) that I immediately supply formal citations.  I politely (well, politely in my own smug way) responded with my standard anti-citation argument and sent him formal citations. The scholar apparently did not get (or bother reading) my email and once again attacked me in a private message – this time implying academic dishonesty. So, I sent them again. And do you know what? He didn’t even say thanks. Jackass.

-Who is your main audience?

As I mentioned above, I write for an informed public. Blogging, coupled with social media, is the bridge between academia and everyone else. There are plenty of people out there who know their stuff (and plenty who do not, but that’s a question for another day). These folks might agree with me, they might disagree, they might simply be interested in what I am talking about and want to join in the conversation. I want to reach them. In this way we are together forwarding historical inquiry. Blogging is then, in a sense, a collaborative effort between writer and reader. The discussions that emerge from these posts, often taking place on Twitter or by email, have helped shape my thoughts on a number of topics.

-Do you net any income off of your work?

Yes indeed. Blogging has led to paying invitations to write, speak, and appear on television. I have yet earned enough to purchase a Porsche 356C but things are looking up and there is more to come. So stay tuned.

Casey – I hope this helped. And good luck with your blog!

With compliments,


A Few Words About Blogging and History

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Discussing blogging with Brooks Simpson and Kevin Levin at Gettysburg College.

Recently, historian Heather Cox Richardson posted on The Historical Society blog a brief summary of the benefits of blogging, tweeting, and texting for the historian. The post quickly caught on among those scholarly types who are Internet savvy and interested in such things. I picked it up from a Twitter retweet and retweeted it myself, and then several of my followers proceeded to retweet it too. I guess you could say that the post went about as viral as it can in our little world.

I found her points to be right on the money. In sum, and I am paraphrasing here:  blogging is short, sweet, and relatively easy when compared to writing an article length or longer academic piece. It’s fun (yay), it forces you to write clear and concise prose, and it allows for a sense of humor. Bloggers do not need to be overly theoretical or use jargon and esoteric language. Both blogging a tweeting provide the platform for an author’s personal style to shine through. Both are informal – and who doesn’t love informality? Finally, she notes that blogging, tweeting (and I suppose texting) allow historians to share their enthusiasm with a larger audience. Yes indeed.

But I would add just a couple of other things to the list. First, blogging and tweeting can (and often do) function as extensions of what historians do. I speak, naturally, of primary research. I use my blog and twitter account for historical inquiry – engaging archivists, specialists, and other historians who have access to documents that might take me months or years to find (or not find) through traditional research methods. While I relish days spent in dusty special collections departments (I am not being sarcastic here, I think we all have a thing for crunchy old documents) sometimes I need information faster than it would take to get the funding and fly wherever to sift through archival boxes for something that may or may not exist. A blog post or a quick tweet generally yields results within twenty-four hours – if not sooner. Second, I use both blogging and tweeting as a teaching platform. I receive questions from people who are interested in history, other teachers, and high school and college students regularly. So regularly in fact, that I created a Youtube program called Office Hours designed specifically to address some of the questions. The show (usually a few minutes in length) got such a good response that I am developing an extended half-hour format with a real studio setting, editing, and everything (stay tuned).

I am pleased that social media have found a home in academia and that (many) historians are embracing the possibilities that social media offer. We are finding ways to incorporate Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc, etc for the benefit of historians and students alike. And…this is just the beginning. My next book will be in many ways a reflection of the scores of conversations of have had with both colleagues and an informed public on Twitter, Facebook, and in the comments section of this and other blogs. And of course…I will discuss this at length in my acknowledgements section.

With compliments,