A Brief History of Blogging as Experienced by Yours Truly

I began blogging in 2002. At that moment blogging was a relatively new technology; it had been around for a few years but suddenly picked up in popularity. There were many platforms: Blogger (my initial host), Moveable Type, and LiveJournal for example. Most of my initial entries were short: they were quick meditations on primary sources, contemporary politics, and cats. There were always plenty of cat pictures (once Blogger started supporting them). Conversations were slow on blogs–initially most blogging software did not support commenting and you would have to wait to see if someone else commented on my posts in a post on their own blog. By 2005, though, I was plugged into a growing and supportive community of graduate students and junior faculty bloggers. We commented on one another’s work, posted syllabi, and exchanged cat pictures.

Also in 2005: The Chronicle of Higher Education published a pseudonymous column condemning academic blogging and claiming that it would badly damage students who were just entering the job market.It’s pretty fair to say all hell broke loose. Harvard’s placement people began holding meetings about how to remove ourselves from the internet (!!) and under no circumstances were we to ever, ever blog pictures of our cats. (I didn’t have a cat at the time, but sometimes Stella Chaplin-Armitage appeared, anonymously of course.)

I think that particular panic passed. By 2007 no one was talking about how terrible blogging was; instead we saw graduate student blogger after graduate student blogger get jobs and prosper. Clearly Tribble’s histrionics were just that–histrionics. By then, there were serious discussions about listing blogging as a scholarly activity during performance reviews and including posts in packets for promotion and tenure. In 2011 my friend Manan Ahmed of the blog Chapati Mystery published a dead-tree anthology of his blog posts on Pakistan.

But even as that was happening, my cohort of bloggers was beginning to blog a little less, and the nature of what blogs looked like was changing. There are a couple of reasons for this, I think. First of all, new social media platforms were changing how bloggers talked to one another. I joined Facebook in 2007 at the behest of my students, where I found they had started a facebook group for my class and were busily exchanging information about their draft transcriptions and research papers there. I soon found other academic friends on facebook, and I began sharing a lot of my short research queries and cat pictures there. In 2010 I joined Twitter, a microblogging platform that allows a user to post in short, 140-character bursts. Katrina Gulliver had already created the hashtag #twitterstorians to create a twitter community of historians. I found that I had less time to write the longer think pieces I had been posting on my blog and instead I tweet links, short commentaries, and enter into helpful and vibrant conversations on Twitter instead.

The academic blogging world, I think, has become less freewheeling and more formal, I think. The blogs I visit regularly are generally topic-specific groups blogs, The Junto, the U.S. Religious History Blog, or the US Intellectual History blog. These blogs tend to function more like journals, publishing book reviews, interviews with new authors, and I think, generally longer pieces. Professional associations and presses now have their own blogs, which increase visibility and aid marketing as well as facilitate communication. Shorter, punchier conversations take place in social media. My own blogging has followed this pattern: I write blog posts that are almost exclusively long form now (the most recent was a meditation on empire, Islamophobia, and American Sniper, which was published on Chapati Mystery).I don’t know if that’s what Joe Adelman means by “maturing” 🙂 but I think that’s how I see the trajectory.

Some notes and observations regarding NYU’s proposed Social Media Policy

1) This was apparently written in the Public Affairs Office. The “Responsible Officer” listed is the Vice President for Public Affairs. There was no consultation with faculty that I can tell. There were no meetings about this policy, there were no surveys of faculty to see how they use social media tools in research and teaching, and yet the Faculty Senate is expected to give its approval without question. Such a policy should NOT be implemented without substantial faculty input and support.

2) The Public Affairs Office should not be issuing policies that have anything to do with faculty’s use of Social Media except in the context of institutional accounts. This policy does have a section dedicated to Institutional Media Accounts (Section III), and that is the ONLY place where the Public Affairs Office should be involved in drafting such a policy.

3) The perfunctory statement on Freedom of Expression and the Academic Community (Section 1a) is inadequate and contradicted in other sections of the policy.

4) In Section II the policy conflates electronic communications such as email with the use of publicly available Social Media tools (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, for example) which should be considered separately.

5) Section IIb purports to prevent “misuses” of electronic communications. While references to preventing threatening behavior seem reasonable on the surface, this section of the policy could in fact be used to bring sanctions against faculty, staff, and students for such innocuous behavior as posting a picture of someone wearing a Game of Thrones tshirt. (If you think I’m kidding about this, see recent happenings in New Jersey: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/04/16/bergen-community-college-faculty-and-president-conflict-over-many-issues#sthash.PS3sZyg5.dpbs ) There is NOTHING in this policy that would prevent administative retaliation against a member of the faculty using perceived “threats” as an excuse.

6) Section IIb also prevents “engaging in conduct that disrupts NYU operations or creates a foreseeable risk of doing so.” ANY criticism of the university, its policies, and/or its administration could come under this rubric. My tweeting about this policy could be seen as sufficiently disruptive and could become an excuse to attempt to shut down my social media accounts.

7) Section IIb also prohibits “Engaging in prohibited electioneering” but this goes completely undefined.

8) Section IIc prevents members of the NYU community from altering or creating their own versions of NYU marks. This section needs to be amended to protect satirical speech.

9) Section IVg is entirely inadequate in protecting faculty who use social media as part of their teaching. It was obviously not written with input from anyone in the classroom.

10) This policy should absolutely NOT be passed in its current form. A committee of faculty should be convened to design an APPROPRIATE social media policy that protects freedom of expression and academic freedom as well as establishing reasonable guidelines for social media use. This policy does not do that.

New syllabus!

This will be the first time I’ve taught an Atlantic world graduate course. This was a ton of fun to put together and is chock full of brand new stuff I haven’t even read yet. I’m looking forward to the course!

Thursday January 30 The Big Picture

John Thornton, Cultural History of the Atlantic World, 1250-1820 (2012)
David Armitage, “Three Concepts of Atlantic History,” in Armitage and Braddick, eds., The British Atlantic World, 1500-1800 (2002)

Thursday February 6 Whose Atlantic is it, anyway?

Jorge Canizares-Esguerra, Puritan Conquistadores: Iberianizing the Atlantic, 1550-1700 (2006)
Eliga H. Gould, “Entangled Histories, Entangled Worlds: The English-Speaking Atlantic as a Spanish Periphery,” American Historical Review 112, no. 3 (June 2007): 764-786. (JSTOR)

Thursday February 13: Big Pictures, Little Pictures

Read ONE of the following:

Kirsten Block, Ordinary Lives in the Early Caribbean: Religion, Colonial Competition, and the Politics of Profit (2012)
Jenny Shaw, Everyday Life in the Early English Caribbean: Irish, Africans, and the Construction of Difference (2013)

AND:

Lara Putnam, “To Study the Fragments/Whole: Microhistory and the Atlantic World,” Journal of Social History vol. 39, no. 3 (Spring 2006), 615-630. (Project Muse)

Thursday February 20 Big Little Islands (or from Curacao to Manhattan and back again)

Linda Rupert, Creolization and Contraband: Curacao in the Early Modern Atlantic World (2012)
Wim Klooster, “Other Netherlands Beyond the Sea: Dutch America between Metropolitan Control and Divergence, 1600-1795,” in Daniels and Kennedy, eds., Negotiated Empires: Centers and Peripheries in the Americas, 1500-1820 (2002), 171-192.

Thursday February 27 About that Peripheral Anglophone Atlantic…

Read ONE of the following:

Owen Stanwood, The Empire Reformed: English America in the Age of the Glorious Revolution (2010)
Michael A. LaCombe, Political Gastronomy: Food and Authority in the English Atlantic World (2012)

AND:

Trevor Burnard, “Empire Matters? The Historiography of Imperialism in Early America, 1492-1830” History of European Ideas vol. 33, no. 1 (2007), 87-107. (available from a number of dbs; but please don’t use it on Elsevier)

Thursday March 6 What if there were a Moravian Atlantic…

Aaron Spencer Fogleman, Two Troubled Souls: An Eighteenth-Century Couple’s Spiritual Journey in the Atlantic World (2013)
Greer and Mills, “A Catholic Atlantic” in Canizares-Esguerra and Seeman, eds., The Atlantic in Global History, 1500-2000 (2007)

Thursday March 13 …or a French Atlantic!

Sophie White, Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana (2012)
Laurier Turgeon, “Codfish, Consumption, and Colonization: The Creation of the French Atlantic World During the Sixteenth Century,” in Caroline William, ed., Bridging the Early Modern Atlantic World: People, Products, and Practices on the Move (2009), 33-56.

Thursday March 20

No class, spring break!

Thursday March 27 The Enslaved Atlantic, Part I

Read ONE of the following:

Mariana Candido, An African Slaving Port and the Atlantic World: Benguela and its Hinterlands (2013)
James Sweet, Domingo Alvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World (2011)

AND:

Sidbury and Canizares-Esguerra, “Mapping Ethnogenesis in the Early Modern Atlantic” William and Mary Quarterly vol. 68, no.2 (April 2011), 181-208, and sample the associated articles in the Forum.

Thursday April 3 The Enslaved Atlantic, Part II

Michael Guasco, Slaves and Englishmen: Human Bondage in the Early Modern Atlantic World (2014)
Kevin Dawson, “Enslaved Swimmers and Divers in the Atlantic World” The Journal of American History vol. 92, no. 4 (March 2006), 1327-1355.

Thursday April 10 Science and Ecology in the Atlantic World (or the Enslaved Atlantic, Part III)

Read ONE of the following:

John McNeill, Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914 (2010)
Andrew Curran, The Anatomy of Blackness: Science and Slavery in an Age of Enlightenment (2013)

AND:

James Delbourgo, “The Newtonian Slave Body: Racial Enlightenment in the Atlantic World” Atlantic Studies vol. 9, no. 2 (April 2012), 185-207.

Thursday April 17 The Atlantic’s Interiors

Read ONE of the following:

Hal Langfur, The Forbidden Lands: Colonial Identity, Frontier VIolence, and the Persistence of Brazil’s Eastern Indians, 1750-1830 (2006)
Paul W. Mapp, The Elusive West and the Contest for Empire, 1713-1763 (2011)

AND:

Sample the essays in Alison Games, et. al., “Forum: Beyond the Atlantic” William and Mary Quarterly vol. 63, no. 4 (October 2006), 675-742.

Thursday April 24 An Indigenous Atlantic? Part I (Or, the Enslaved Atlantic, Part IV)

Brett Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France (2012)
David Andrew Nichols, “Indian Slavery and the Fictions of Empire” Reviews in American History, vol. 41, no. 4 (December 2013), 600-606.

Thursday May 1 An Indigenous Atlantic? Part II

Jace Weaver, The Red Atlantic: American Indigenes and the Making of the Modern World (2014)
Paul Cohen, “Was There an Amerindian Atlantic? Reflections on the Limits of a Historiographical Concept” History of European Ideas, 34, no 4 (December 2008)

Thursday May 8 The Atlantic and the Pacific: “invasion is a structure, not an event.”

Lisa Ford, Settler Sovereignty: Jurisdiction and Indigenous People in America and Australia, 1788-1836 (2010)
Patrick Wolfe, “Structure and Event: Settler Colonialism, Time, and the Question of Genocide,” in A. Dirk Moses, ed., Empire, Colony, and Genocide: Conquest, Occupation, and Subaltern Resistance in World History (2008), 102-132.

Colonial Divisions?

Ed’s third question deals with differences between the colonial North and the colonial South. As he points out, textbooks often present the northern colonies, most notably the New England colonies, as religious, enchanted, and driven by consumer goods. The south is presented as a place obsessed with profit and with slavery. I think these divisions are largely artificial. The roots of this division are twofold: it stems partly from a temptation to read antebellum sectional divisions back on the colonial period, and partly from Jack P. Greene’s synthetic history of the colonial period Pursuits of Happiness (1988). In Pursuits, Greene argued that Americans have too long been taught that New England was the source of the United States’ political and intellectual heritage. Greene showed that New England was in fact atypical: its demographics and culture were wildly different from that of the mid-Atlantic, the Chesapeake, Carolina, and the Caribbean. New England was comprised primarily of families and it resulted in a self-reproducing population of English people almost immediately. No other English region in the New World was like that. Far more typical were the wild demographies of the Chesapeake, where migrants were comprised mainly of young single men and it took decades to create a self-reproducing English population. Greene, I think, was right on about New England’s atypicality, but his synthesis has led to other divisions between New England and everywhere else. I don’t find these particularly productive.

Take religion, for example. New England’s puritans were a pious lot, and the Chesapeake harbored England’s lawless and godless. New Englanders lived in an enchanted, supernatural world, full of devils and witches and  portents. In Virginia, damned souls made tobacco for profit (apologies to Edward Bond). It’s a common portrait, and it would make historians’ lives so much simpler if it were true. But it isn’t. Consider this document:

“Upon the first day of April my wife was washing a bucke[t] of clothes, and of a sudden her clothes were all besprinkled with blood form the first beginning to the rincing of them, at last in such abundance as if an hand should invisibly take handfuls of gore blood and throw it upon the linnen. Where it lay all of an heape in the washing-tub, she sent for me in, and I tooke up one gobbet of blood as big as my fingers end, and stirring it in my hand it did not stain my fingers nor the linnen: Upon this miraculous premonition and warning from God having some kinde of intimation of some designe of the Indians (though nothing appeared till that day) I provided for defence, and though we were but five men and mistrusted not any villainy towards us before: yet we secured our selves against 20 savages which were three houres that day about my house. Blessed be the name of God.”

You’d think that this prophetic bit of blood in the laundry came from New England, but if you thought that, you would be wrong. James Horn uses this document from Virginia in 1644 in his book, Adapting to a New World: English Society in the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake (1994, quote on page 381), to introduce a chapter on religion and popular belief. Horn argues, quite convincingly and with plenty of evidence, that English society in the Chesapeake was highly religious, and not all that different from New England. Edward Bond, in his Damned Souls in a Tobacco Colony: Religion in Seventeenth-Century Virginia (2000) makes a similar argument: historians must take the religiosity of English people outside of New England seriously.

The same goes for New England and slavery. Slavery was not just the province of the colonial South and Caribbean. Slavery was legal in all colonies; New York City’s population was 40% enslaved by the middle of the eighteenth century. The great merchant houses of Newport and Providence were up to their necks in the African slave trade. And New England’s founding fathers, even the oft-admired Governor John Winthrop, were perfectly happy to trade in Indian slaves with the Caribbean. (How else would one dispose of captured survivors of the Pequot War? We’ll be hearing more from Linford Fisher on this shortly.) No one in New England or elsewhere was making abolitionist arguments. (Well, hardly anyone, but that’s a post for another time.)

I suppose it is convenient to teach undergrads from the formula of difference, but I think a greater understanding of colonial English society emerges from thinking about similarity.  The divisions of the antebellum world shouldn’t be read onto the seventeenth and eighteenth-century past.

Parson Weems and David Barton–Traveling Salesmen/preachers

I have a fondness for the absurd, and there are few things more absurdly enjoyable than the collected writings of Mason Locke Weems. Parson Weems, as he dubbed himself, was not actually a parson, but rather a printer, traveling books salesman, entrepreneur, and fabulist of the highest order. He had an eye for opportunity, making his name (though his fame was unaccompanied by fortune) by publishing his masterpiece, A History of the Life, Death, Virtues and Exploits of General George Washington (1800), a few weeks after his hero’s death. The good parson circumnavigated the southern United States peddling his biography of Washington—I say “biography,” but Parson Weems’s writing hardly meets the modern definition. Weems has the dubious distinction of being the originator of the story of little George chopping down his father’s prized cherry tree, and then owning up to his sin by piously intoning “I can’t tell a lie, Pa, you know I can’t.” Parson Weems made that story up out of whole cloth, as he did so many others about Washington and his other subjects (Francis Marion, Benjamin Franklin, and William Penn).
Weems had a habit of recreating the colonial and revolutionary American world for his readers, and he did it, I think, to show readers a lost world of religiosity and virtue, and to urge them to begin that lost world anew. Weems was a prophet of the past as well as the future, fashioning each to suit his vision of what America was and would be yet again.
Weems was much on my mind this morning, since my twitter feed and email inbox overflowed with the New York Times story about David Barton. Mr. Barton, the Times tells us helpfully, “is a self-taught historian who is described by several conservative presidential aspirants as a valued adviser and a source of historical and biblical justification for their policies.” I have long familiarly with Barton; he has been a thorn in the side of progressive educators in Texas for decades. (I myself am the product of public education in Texas.) Barton, autodidact and spiritual advisor, is also the founder of Wallbuilders, a dominionist organization whose goal “is to exert a direct and positive influence in government, education, and the family by (1) educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values; and (3) encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena.” Barton sees the hand of God clearly in the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, and in the country’s early history, and he also sees a present in which secularists and atheists are destroying the fabric of God’s kingdom on earth. In a well-publicized controversy last year, Barton was hired by the Texas State Board of Education as an evaluator of the state’s social studies curriculum; he billed himself an “expert reviewer” (though his formal education, from Oral Roberts University, is in religion) and offered factually, er, unreliable recommendations to increase schoolchildren’s knowledge of the virtue and religion of the founding generation.
I have long thought that Parson Weems, nineteenth-century fantasist, and David Barton have much in common. Like Weems, Barton criss-crosses the country selling his version of the past to all comers. Like Weems, Barton excels at cherry-picking quotes from the hallowed Founders, often folks like George Washington, to suit not the art of historical inquiry, but rather to bring about a future that matches the past—or the past as he remembers it to have been. David Barton’s American history is untainted by nastiness—it is a peaceful place, inhabited by industrious, pious, Christian white people who brought the light and wonder of God to the new world. In return, God granted them a biblical Republic and His protection—a protection that Barton darkly believes will soon be withdrawn if the United States does not change course. In this past, there was no violence, imperialism, slavery, or racism. Such blemishes do not become a vision of the past perfect.
Weems looked upon the past in similar terms, creating a history that would be a model for the future. Weems, writing about Washington’s virtue: “And truly Washington had abundant reason, from his own happy experience, to recommend Religion so heartily to others. For besides all those inestimable favours which he received from her at the hands of her celestial daughters, the Virtues; she threw over him her own magic mantle of Character. And it was this that immortalized Washington. By inspiring his countrymen with the profoundest veneration for him as the best of men, it naturally smoothed his way to supreme command; so that when War, that monster of Satan, came on roaring against America, with all his death’s heads and garments rolled in blood, the nation unanimously placed Washington at the head of their armies, from a natural persuasion that so good a man must be the peculiar favourite of Heaven, and the fastest friend of his country. How far this precious instinct in favour of goodness was correct, or how far Washington’s conduct was honourable to Religion and glorious to himself and country, bright age to come and happy millions yet unborn, will, we confidently hope, declare to the most distant posterity.”
David Barton might have written something like that, perhaps in a less flowery way. And Barton would have found a way to work supply-side economics into it, but the sentiment is the same.
Weems and Barton, prophets of the past and the future. Their concerns are the same, though separated by two hundred years: that the nation is losing its virtue, its religion, and its place in God’s favor. The “most distant posterity” they both fear, will lose God’s blessings and squander the Founders’ efforts. Yet that past remains a mystery for Barton, as it did for Weems. As Barton told the Times, “We haven’t had the time to read through even 5 percent of these things,” he said, opening a sheaf of 18th-century newspapers. “You never know what you’ll find.” And I wonder what would happen if Barton read, truly read, those newspapers. Is he prepared for what he might learn?

Friday Cat Blogging with Pepper the Crazy Cat

I’m feeling very zen today. Mom rescued another kitty. He’s living in the bathroom and I am pretending not to care.