Brooks Simpson questioned Robert Moore’s classification of Civil War blogs into “content blogs” and “controversy blogs”, I commented, and Brooks raised some questions both in the comments section and in a follow-up post to his earlier effort.
First, I’ll respond to his questions in the comments section of his first post:
Brooks Simpson: “However, you style yourself a content blogger. What does that term mean to you?”
First let me say that I don’t feel as strongly as you do about creating these labels of content/controversy, but as in all things, it’s not nearly that simple. Most if not all Civil War blogs engage in both, and most are at least somewhat full of content regardless of delivery style.
Second, I style myself a content blogger for The Siege of Petersburg Online only. TOCWOC can and has engaged in some controversy over time, both posts by myself and others.
Third, let’s get to the question. The term “content blog” means in my mind that the blog is there solely to produce articles about things that happened during or were related to the Civil War. They try to present the facts without too much commentary, particularly commentary on modern day political issues. That last part forms a major crux of this distinction in my mind. Many, like me, are sick to death of people taking the Civil War and arguing past each other all day to no gain. People who engage in controversy tend to use colorful titles meant to draw people into the post, and the post itself is intentionally meant to inflame.
My Petersburg site is a “content site” because my main goal is to reproduce Civil War content related to the Siege of Petersburg, hard to find items which have not been transcribed prior to me or one of my transcribers having done so. My voice is not heard on most of the site, and I’m not producing posts and pages for any personal gain. I enjoy studying the Siege of Petersburg simply because it hasn’t been covered to death like Gettysburg, and I thought others, especially those who had ancestors die at one of the numerous small battles and skirmishes, might be interested in following along. About the most I can say as far as my hopes for the site is that people will eventually look to me as someone who is a known authority on the Siege of Petersburg. I’ve been studying its events since 2005, and I’ve got a long way to go to reach that goal. This comment foreshadows your later post on the subject, as readers will see.
With that said, I’ll freely admit what TOCWOC has done for me as far as personal gain. Among other things, blogging at TOCWOC has:
- Allowed me to speak directly to professionals in the subject like you, experienced amateurs like Eric Wittenberg and J. D. Petruzzi, researchers like Bryce Suderow, and a lot of other people with a ton of useful knowledge to share. I still can’t believe, for instance, that when I read and loved John Hennessy’s Return to Bull Run as an 8th grader in 1993 that I’ve one day be on a first name basis with him. It still amazes me sometimes.
- Allowed me to pick up some extra money in the form of selling ad space, being an Amazon.com associate, and receiving royalties for my work as a consultant on several wargames.
- Allowed me to receive an amazing number of books for review, so many now that I can’t possibly keep up. To be fair, I do note that I can’t review everyone that reaches my mailbox, but I do at least try to mention every one.
- Given me a place to share with others my own lifelong obsession with the Civil War. My friends and family have zero interest in the conflict, and for me blogging is a more rewarding way of sharing my interest with others than participating on message boards, though I do that too.
In all of these cases, the more readers and exposure I have the more likely I am to continue receiving these benefits. Most of it is due to blogging. And it doesn’t hurt to engage in a little controversy because controversy sells. Read any of the big “for money” bloggers like ProBlogger and you’ll see what I mean.
Brooks Simpson: “How useful is a typology of blogs, blogging activity, and bloggers?”
It is more useful to me than arguing about Black Confederates, the cause or causes of the Civil War, and the use of the ANV’s battle flag. I think the typology should be much more nuanced than this/that, but Robert was just starting his musings on that topic in the post you referenced, and given time I believe he’ll probably continue to formulate a more varied view. On the other hand, arguing with and baiting dumbasses who think there were hundreds of thousands of Black Confederate soldiers is a complete waste of time. They’ll never change and your average person is smart enough to figure out they are morons.
Brooks Simpson: “Have you thought about some of the questions I have raised in more recent posts that move beyond this squabble?”
I have. I’ll answer these as fully as I can below.
Brooks Simpson: “Are there other ones worth asking?”
You seem not to care about “why” people blog, and I have no problem with that, but I think it helps a reader understand where they are coming from and what a reader might gain from reading their blog. To me, this is the “elevator speech.” What do you find interesting about the Civil War? Do you like to bring modern day politics into the discussion? Do you prefer social, political, or military history, or some mix? These are questions whose answers help me determine which Civil War blogs I like to read and enjoy.
I’m sure there are others, and if I think of any I’ll add them as updates here.
Now, on to the questions posed in Brooks’ later post on the topic, “Challenges for ‘Content’ Blogging“:
Brooks Simpson: “Donald Shaffer’s fine blog on emancipation … is that content, or controversy?”
It’s both due to the nature of the subject, but Robert mentioned most blogs engage in both in his original post:
I think there is a place for both types of blogging. Perhaps it’s best to see a little of the two types mixed together in the respective blogs.
Brooks Simpson: “As for “confrontation,” why is that necessarily a bad thing?”
It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if done aggressively and with an intention to cause anger, it turns some people off. Others flock to it like flies to shit. Civilized debate is one thing, but titling a post , for example, “Trace Adkins Ruins Christmas With Confederate Earpiece” and expecting that not to piss some people off, people you are absolutely trying to to bait on a modern day political issue, is being disingenuous.
Brooks Simpson: “When Kevin Levin examined Ann DeWitt’s website on black Confederates … and, folks, if we are going to divide the world into “content” and “controversy” blogs, Ms. DeWitt’s self-identified as a “content” provider … was that “content,” “controversy,” or “confrontational”? And why would it matter?
For me, the question to ask is, “Why would anyone care?” Anyone with half a brain knows that Black Confederates are a stupid modern day political ploy to make a small portion of people who honor their Confederate ancestors feel better about themselves. Ms. DeWitt’s topic is controversial, and she is known to be grinding a modern day political ax, so by my definition of “content blogs”, hers is not one. It matters because I want to know what to avoid, and I’m sure others do too.
Brooks Simpson: “As an educator and a historian, should Kevin have ignored the rampant distortion of the historical record contained in a “content” website? Should Andy Hall have ignored Ms. DeWitt’s claim about a regiment of black cooks?””
You said yourself that you don’t care why people blog. Andy does things in a more reserved style, one that I still enjoy reading on a daily basis. Andy also does far less of the baiting I’ve been mentioning. Kevin, on the other hand, has and always will go about blasting everyone and anyone who doesn’t agree with his far left of center modern day political views. He titles his posts simply to get the most hits, even if those titles are sensational, misleading, or in some cases wholly without ties to his point. Don’t get me wrong. Levin has some good points, has made definite contributions to what we know about the Civil War, and often asks good questions. He has as much content as Andy does, and because he has been blogging for so long, it’s not a stretch to say he has more. However, his attack style, condescension, “who me?” attitude when confronted on his tactics, and his seeming pleasure in engaging in controversy has completely turned me off from day one.
Brooks Simpson: “[W]hat quality controls do we have when it comes to material posted on the web? Just because a self-styled “content” blogger posts what he or she believes is “content” doesn’t mean the “content” is any good.”
Good questions, and probably the first set we agree 100% on. First, there aren’t any quality controls, which can be problematic. The blog is only as good as the writing quality and expertise of the blogger. Some are good at both, some are good at one, and some are good at neither. People get to pick and choose who they wish to follow. Typically poor quality blogs fade away over time because no one engages them or signs up to receive their “newsletter”. I also agree about the content itself. While I may find a letter on the 24th Virginia Cavalry at the Battle of Fussell’s Mill to be fascinating for one reason or another, you might find it to be terribly boring. While you find it interesting and engaging to bait “the gift that keeps on giving”, I’ve found it to be amusing but pointless.
Brooks Simpson: “Who assesses “content” blogs to make sure the “content” is up to snuff?”
Primarily this would be the blogger who creates the content as well as any friends or associates they wish to share their work with early, but the answer is really all of us. If I find something to be misleading or incorrect on a blog I read, I and others should comment and try to set the record straight. If the blog doesn’t allow comments, I have my own blog as a platform with which to engage the blogger directly. In other words, the entire Civil War blogging community, many people who have spent good portions of their lives studying the war, are most responsible. You are indirectly doing this yourself right now with a blogroll, as are others who maintain one. I have my favorite Civil War blogs on the front page of the site, though I am a bit different in that I have a Civil War blogs roll which attempts to identify everyone who wants to be identified as a Civil War blog. The only exceptions I’ll not allow are blogs which are racist or bigoted in some other way.
I can’t speak for others, but what I attempt to do at the Siege of Petersburg Online is to footnote everything, as if I were writing a book. I try to even link directly to the topics, right down to the page in cases. Here’s an example of what I did with a mostly fleshed out page on the 19th Massachusetts at the Siege of Petersburg, for example. It’s up to readers to determine if what I’m doing is up to snuff after that.
Brooks Simpson: “Second, just because it’s out there doesn’t mean it’s worth anything … or do you believe everything you find on the web?”
I doubt anyone with half a brain does. For the record, I don’t.
Brooks Simpson: “That’s why I found the discussion about “timelessness” and permanence of contribution a bit besides the point: says who? Have you taken steps to make sure that your timeless work is indeed “timeless” and permanent? (Documentary editors used to engage in the same sort of discussions.) Have you taken steps to inform people that you’ve done all this work? Have you opened yourself to critical assessment of that work?”
I don’t know that I really care in my case if anyone else finds my work on the Siege of Petersburg interesting. If they do, great. If not, the web’s a pretty big place. As I stated before, I have taken steps to document everything I can at The Siege of Petersburg Online. If someone finds it worthwhile enough to be timeless and permanent (John Hennessy seems to think so based on private emails, as well as Hary Smeltzer’s Bull Runnings), great. If not, I don’t care. I have tried to spread the word about my site in various ways. I mention it at TOWOC, it’s in the signature of pretty much every message board post I write, whether those message boards involve the Civil War or not, and I’ve reached out to various people who run unit history sites to let them know what I’m doing. I allow comments, so if anyone believes anything I’ve presented is inaccurate, I welcome corrections. Even on a site with as few followers as the Siege of Petersburg Online, I’ve had people come along and correct something that was on the site. One example I can recall is when a newspaper piece given to me by Bryce Suderow provided the wrong first name of the author of the letter contained in the piece. A descendant of the Confederate officer came along and corrected me. After a short investigation, I found he was correct, thanked him in a follow-up comment, and made the change. I welcome anyone who wants to devote the time to looking over what I’ve done there.
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