Blogs > Cliopatria > The Edge of the American West to Cliopatria's Hall of Fame

Jun 26, 2011

The Edge of the American West to Cliopatria's Hall of Fame

Beyond promoting the periodic history carnivals and sponsoring the annual Cliopatria Awards, Cliopatria recognizes excellence in history blogging in its Hall of Fame. Its first honorees are: IA's Invisible Adjunct (February 2003-August 2004), Caleb McDaniel's Mode for Caleb (July 2004-August 2006), Bill Turkel's Digital History Hacks (December 2005-December 2008), and Mr. H's Giornale Nuovo (October 2002-October 2007). Today, Ben Alpers of U.S. Intellectual History and the Honors College at the University of Oklahoma explains why we are adding the first group blog, The Edge of the American West, to Cliopatria's Hall of Fame:

The Edge of the American West (October 2007 – December 2010)

The Edge of the American West began life in October 2007 as a history blog based at the University of California at Davis, founded by Americanists Ari Kelman and Eric Rauchway. By the time it went on what appears to be permanent hiatus in December 2010, it had added two more historians (one a Europeanist), a literary scholar, a computer scientist, and a philosopher to its list of contributors. But throughout EotAW's all-too-brief run, history, and especially U.S. history, remained central to its mission.

Nevertheless, the wider scope of its bloggers' interests says something important about what kind of history blog EotAW was. Its two founders have long shared interests in communicating their work to a broader public and in pushing the generic boundaries of historical writing. The opening posts of EotAW concerned the question "why blog?" The initial answers Rauchway gave to this question were direct, diverse, and almost aphoristic. A blog can publicize oneself, increase one's influence, act as a commonplace book, change the profession, ensure that "all that reading doesn't go to waste," initiate conversations, and keep oneself sharp. Over the next three years, EotAW would substantiate this vision.

The Edge of the American West quickly distinguished itself by the wide range of its interests and, in the words of its 2008 Cliopatria Award for Best Group Blog, "snazzy visuals" and "zippy writing." Its greatest impact outside the blogosphere was probably generated by Eric Rauchway's long series of posts collectively entitled "New Deal Denialist Truth-Squadding," which took on conservative public intellectual Amity Shlaes's attacks on the efficacy of the New Deal and which were eventually promoted in the New York Times by Paul Krugman.

But in many ways the blog was most notable for the diversity of its content: from "This Day in History" features to posts on contemporary politics and culture, from often-autobiographical considerations of the state of the academic profession to a review of the crabs at the Seaside Restaurant in Glen Burnie, Maryland. EotAW was always worth a visit, because you never knew quite what you'd find there, though history—as a subject and a profession—was never far from the top of the page. By the time the blog was a few months old, it had also attracted an excellent commentariat, who helped make EotAW a place not simply to visit but to hang out in. And though, at the time it went on hiatus, many of its regular visitors felt that it had come to an end far too quickly, it can truly be said that EotAW had never lost its edge.

-- Ben Alpers

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