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,

Keith

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