Over the weekend, C-Span aired a panel on Civil War blogging from the Civil War Institute summer conference last June. It featured myself, Brooks Simpson, and Kevin Levin. You can watch it HERE. I have noted more than once that I feel the Civil War Institute is doing some of the best work out there in terms of connecting academics with the public - it is always a honor to spend a week with such a fine assemblage of historians and enthusiastic participants.
Now that I have had a chance to think about it, there are a couple of points on which I would like to elaborate (both Brooks and Kevin have offered their reflections on the panel). I thought CWI director Peter Carmichael did a great job moderating the panel - and posed numerous questions giving each of the chance to to explain the nuances of engaging the public through a relatively new medium in comparison to what some might term the work of a traditional historian. To begin, as I noted during the discussion, blogging is in its infancy - and in terms of blogging as it relates to academic pursuits, even more so. As the medium develops, the questions will certainly change. Bloggers' methods will undoubtedly change as well. While our objectives will surely remain - to engage with the broader public in a meaningful way - how we go about doing this will take various courses depending on technological developments, the creation of new platforms, and any number of other things. At the end of the discussion, National Park Service historian John J. Hennessy offered some very kind remarks for those of us on the skirmish lines of historical blogging. I thank you, sir.
There are clearly some issues that need sorting out when it comes to defining the academic blogger's role in the context of the profession of historian. One aspect of the dialogue that I found troubling was Pete's suggestion that we relegate some contributors to the virtual cornfield. Those who, sometimes under the cover of anonymity, offer a counter narrative of a dubious nature are seeking to exploit the ease at which individuals garner information from the Internet. Historian-bloggers, by engaging with this narrow, even reckless segment of the public, are thus complicit - we are giving them the space to carry out their aims and whether we like it or not, the implication is that we could be offering up the platform of credibility to those who really have no idea what they are talking about.
At Cosmic America, unless threatening or unnecessarily vulgar, the authors of all comments get their chance to speak their mind (this is the case on my related Facebook and Twitter pages as well). One of the stated purposes of this blog is to unlock the mysteries of historical memory. People's interpretations of the past, whether based on evidence or purely delusional, are the foundation of historical memory. In the 21st century, conversations on the blogosphere are a vital part of that collective memory - what in years to come will certainly be some bright graduate student's dissertation topic. In answering Pete's question: are we gatekeepers? I would say no - we are facilitators. Regarding the credibility issue, that will sort itself out in time. I always ask people who make questionable claims to offer evidence. They never do.