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Mar 21, 2009


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Invisible Adjunct (February 2003 - August 2004)

Despite its name, the Invisible Adjunct’s weblog was not defined by its attention to the problem of adjuncts in higher education. Or more properly, its interest in the plight of adjuncts was not reducible to a list of specific and narrow grievances suffered by the Invisible Adjunct herself.

The Invisible Adjunct held up a mirror to higher education and asked whether it liked what it saw. She drew in readers who had thought their own alienation from and disappointment with academia was only a private and personal feeling. In her postings and in the discussions that followed, they discovered that they were not alone. Whether they were currently suffering the trials of adjunct employment, had left academia as ABDs, or were struggling to make sense of life as a tenured professor, many readers found that they shared common dissatisfactions with academic life.

However, Invisible Adjunct’s site was not for whiners, or axe-grinders with primordial grudges against the professoriate. She also pushed readers to consider what was valuable and precious about higher education. She consistently elevated the tone and substance of the conversation as a writer and as a host. The Invisible Adjunct’s site brought together many readers and many issues under a single roof, in a shared dialogue. When the site ended, many of those conversations fractured and became far more divisive.

Maybe that was inevitable. Certainly no one faulted the Invisible Adjunct for shutting down her site, as she had promised, once she decided to give up on the quest for a regular tenure-track position. I think that one of the signs of academia’s underlying problems is that someone like the Invisible Adjunct wasn’t able to find a regular position, and that in some small but crucial way, academia has suffered for it. Because I like to think that had she found the position she was seeking, and kept her site going, that perhaps some of the most frustrating contemporary debates about academic politicization and similar issues might have been less divisive, less captive to the larger fractures in the body politic. One host, and one writer, really can make all the difference, and for an important time, the Invisible Adjunct did.
-- Timothy Burke

Mode for Caleb (July 2004 - August 2006)

I discovered Mode for Caleb, Caleb McDaniel's brilliant blog about history, academia, religion, politics, culture, and jazz, in September or October 2004, right around the time I was launching my own blog on a few of those subjects. Every post Caleb wrote made me realize that I'd have to work a lot harder than I'd planned. What Mode for Caleb showed me was that this new medium we're improvising need not be flimsy or disposable. Like the jazz music Caleb loves, blogging and history blogging in particular can be deep and rewarding and complex. With all due respect to the instapundits and daily link harvesters (we need them too) Caleb showed how well the history blog works in the long form. Call it"smartblogging"--or don't, that's pretty awful--week after week, Caleb delivered sustained intellectual solos, extended virtuoso riffs on teaching and writing, American and transnational history, nuclear weapons and the abolitionist mind. Each of his posts claimed to be"improvised," but if that's true, he's an even more terrifying genius than I think he is. They all struck me as meticulously crafted, and worthy of serious thought and time. They're worth rereading, too: do yourself a favor and spend some time with his series on transnational history, or his case for nuclear abolitionism, or his essay on the origins and meanings of Memorial Day. It doesn't matter that these posts were written by some graduate student somewhere you'd never heard of. If anything, that makes it cooler. Those posts represent a powerful mind at work, and you got to see it in action (or else you get to now), in your browser or RSS reader, for free. If the story of Invisible Adjunct, our other inaugural Hall of Famer, exposed a failure--not a personal failure, by any means, but a collective failure of the academic profession--Mode for Caleb represents a glowing success. It's Caleb's success--he's got his PhD now, a tenure-track job, and a new baby on the way. We envy his students and wish him well. But it's a success for the medium of academic blogging, too.
-- Rob MacDougall

Digital History Hacks (December 2005 - December 2008)

It seems like just yesterday I was toasting Bill Turkel's Digital History Hacks for winning Cliopatria's Best New Blog Award. Now Bill is moving on from the blog to other things, and I have the sad task of bidding DHH adieu. Let's see what I said back then:

William J. Turkel's Digital History Hacks goes beyond new media platitudes and internet hype to demonstrate in word and deed what history in the twenty-first century will be all about. From the nuts and bolts of spidering and scraping to the loftiest questions about what historians do and why, Digital History Hacks points the way to a brave new world with infectious enthusiasm and blazing imagination.

All that proved to be true and more. Years from now, people are going to look back at Digital History Hacks and say"Something started here." At least, I hope so. For three years, DHH offered a crash course in the history of the future. Bill's three-year-old posts still seem three years ahead of their time. There's still nothing else like DHH in the history blogosphere, which is a compliment to Bill but maybe also a bit of a shame. Sure, Bill has fans and followers now. (Not that he was ever interested in fans or followers–have you noticed that DHH has no comment function? how cool is that?) He's tight with all the digital history illuminati, he's released dozens of new history bloggers into the world, and it's he, not I, that anchors the northern end of the UWO-GMU Axis of Digital Evil. But there's still nobody I can think of that thinks quite as creatively or as provocatively as Bill does about what digital history is and what it might become.

I can't list all the things I've learned or all the ideas I've stolen from Digital History Hacks, but one meta-idea which Bill taught me is that the loftiest questions about what we do are not separate from the nuts and bolts of how we do it. As above, so below: lofty philosophical issues are practical technical questions and vice versa. Change the tools available to the humanities and you have the opportunity to rethink what the humanities are. That's what Bill's been doing for the past three years and that's what he continues to do.

I'm sorry to see Bill put DHH to bed, but I'm lucky enough to be privy to some of the cool new stuff he's doing, and I promise you will see and hear more amazing things from him before too long. In the meantime, explore the archives of DHH or try working through the exercises in The Programming Historian, Bill and Alan Maceachern's in-progress, open-source textbook on How It Is Done.

Bill sometimes says there's more to being a musician than posing with a guitar. What he means, I think, is that there is or can be more to being a"digital historian" than having a Blogspot account and an opinion about Wikipedia. When Bill launched The Programming Historian, Mills Kelly (no slouch as a digital historian himself) wrote,"with its release, my excuses [for not learning to program] go poof." Digital History Hacks made a lot of our excuses go poof. If we want to be part of making our profession's future, it's high time to stop talking and roll up our sleeves.
– Rob MacDougall

Giornale Nuovo (October 2002 - October 2007)

Mr H's Giornale Nuovo, the self-described "accumulation of inconsequential notices in the shape of a web-log", provides an excellent model for how an amateur enthusiast can publish a website of distinction within a niche subject. For the ever modest Mr H, that venture involved collecting, scanning and linking to an eclectic array of beautiful, curious and sometimes bizarre art works, dominated by unusual engravings and etchings from the Renaissance and Early Modern periods. At a basic level, one would classify Giornale Nuovo as an Art History blog, justifying its appearance among the esteemed company in this memorial, but Mr H also shared his passion for books and literature as extensions from and sources for the visual delights that appeared on the blog.

A side venture involved the ocr-scanning and hosting of Isaac D'Israeli's 'Curiosities of Literature', and when his collecting habits overtook the available shelf space at home, Mr H generously held periodic book [and CD] giveaways for site visitors.

Still and all, the cavalcade of fascinating pictures was the dominant feature. That's not to suggest or even intimate a comparison with the sausage factory image streams à la the digg/ffffound/reddit clone aggregator sites du jour. It's immediately obvious, even to a first time visitor to the blog, that discerning taste and great care was taken with the selection of material for display. Usually, we were only given a tantalising thumbnail glimpse of a part of an each image with full high resolution files hosted in the background. Erudite accompanying commentary, drawn from Mr H's wide reading, might introduce the artist and technique, the historical context of the images and the connection to related posts or artworks, all supplemented with links to cogent background information. Nothing to it really. The astonishing part is that he managed to maintain such a high standard for five years. And it is all good.

From my own perspective, Giornale Nuovo was [is!] a great inspiration, not just in terms of the visual and factual resources provided (that I am still mining), but because it showed me how to shape an evolving interest into a respected web journal. Mr H was assiduous with attribution and identification of sources, charming and helpful in dealing with comment enquiries and consistently populated the site with amazing material. This is just the kind of site that should be preserved for posterity so historians of the future can see how the early weblog phenomenon transitioned successfully from personal diary to classy publication. We are fortunate that Mr H is keeping the site alive at least for a couple more years. Some examples from which to start delving: the series on alphabet forms (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven); Clovio, and the Farnese Hours; Faces of the Grotesque; How I Found the Codex; Hoefnagel & Hoefnagel's Archetypa and the final entry: Thank You and Goodnight!.

-- by peacay

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

Old is the New New (November 2002-December 2010)

Rob MacDougall at Old Is the New New did almost everything wrong. He posted irregularly. He wrote about all sorts of topics that interested or irritated him instead of building an audience. And he mostly wrote about the intersection of fields that don't like each other very much: history and technology, history and game design. Also Canadian views of American history, culture and politics, which is always a crowd-pleaser. He was writing about zombies when zombies weren't cool. But MacDougall's blog became one of the unalloyed joys of the history blogosphere, and one of the reasons why the last ten years has been so much more interesting, and perhaps less surprising. How can a history blog explain the future? By ignoring the rules, the boundaries, the separations; or perhaps it's more correct to say that it was his wandering spotlight-like focus on those intersections, boundaries, and divisions which made Old Is the New New so much fun, so enlightening.

Then there's the writing. The original essayists practiced a form of writing which blended fact and fiction, wandered through topics, reshaped the sense of what was possible in prose. MacDougall's posts regularly lived up to that legacy. Take the essay he wrote on the day after the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, American For A Day." It starts with a quote from The Simpsons; later he moves on to reference The Lord of the Rings and The Dukes of Hazzard in the same sentence, then uses Sarah Palin's discourses of authenticity to reflect on the nature of Canadian self-consciousness. He then riffs on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" (plus Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass) in a way that not only shines a light on Obama but, in retrospect, explains a lot about the rise of the Tea Party. Then, he finishes with Walt Whitman, just for fun.

Rob MacDougall's post Turk 182 won the inaugural Cliopatria Award for Best Post, after which he was (and, I hope, will be again) a regular fixture in the judging committees (2006, 2009). He's primarily blogging now at Play the Past, where his interest in history, gaming, and pedagogy continue to flourish in the company of kindred spirits, and microblogs at Robotnik. Old Is The New New is done, at least for now, but it was a great contribution to the early years of history blogging, and shockingly enduring work in an ephemeral medium.

– Jonathan Dresner

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