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Reflections on One Year of Blogging

"Veteran in a New Field," by Winslow Homer

“Historical Digression” is one year old. It started with this squib, on September 1, 2010. I’m glad that I’ve kept up with it and have managed to meet my goal of posting (on average) one article per week. For me, these digressions have proved to be both enjoyable and useful.

Perhaps the most useful thing about blogging is that it’s a great cure for writer’s block…which is why I started this whole thing in the first place. During 2010 I was struggling to get a historical novel off the ground. Having very little free time and/or energy, I found the notion of embarking on the project daunting. And though I had done a tremendous amount of research and had (I think) a good concept, I was frozen and the whole project just stagnated for most of last year. It then occurred to me to pick a random historical subject and just write about it. Nothing long or intimidating. Just a short article. Easy enough and sort of fun. And, while I was at it, why not post it online? Then I had some accountability, some reason to keep writing. Next thing I knew, the writing was flowing, both online and off. Okay, I still haven’t finished the damn novel, but I’m probably about two-thirds done and have cranked out some fairly good writing since last year. And I really have the blog to thank for breaking the ice.

A blog about obscure historical events really isn’t a great formula for wide readership. Nonetheless, it’s worked out fairly well. Still, I sometimes find myself envious of people who write “current events” blogs that are heavily trafficked, clever and timely. Mine is really the antithesis of a “current events” blog. I write about dead people and things that took place hundreds of years ago. Those few posts I’ve done that flirted a bit with current events, such as one on bin Laden or The Rapture really exploded as compared to my usual stuff. Blogging about headlines must be a totally different world.

But there are certainly some great rewards and interesting connections that I’ve made over the past year with people who are also working on historical projects. The communication that pleased me the most was a response to my post on a Civil War cannon somewhat hidden in a small building on the campus of Amherst College. It was captured in the Battle of New Bern, North Carolina and given to the college as a memorial to Frazar Stearns, an Amherst College student killed in the battle. It seemed sad to me that the memorial was in such a cloistered spot. Then come to find that the North Carolina Museum of History has since borrowed the cannon for an exhibit on the Battle of New Bern. I don’t think I ever would have known about this if it weren’t for the blog.

For kicks, I’ll note that my most popular post by far is one on the Boston Massacre. I am fairly sure this is due to sophomore high school students looking for material to plagiarize. One of my most ignored posts, which I actually thought was fairly good, was one on shipbuilder Donald McKay. Poor guy. I guess he doesn’t get Googled a lot.

I frequently blog about Civil War reenacting and someone paid me a high compliment recently. To the majority of the world, reenactors seem more than a little crazy. We are, in fact, more than a little crazy, but that’s beside the point. Someone mentioned in a comment about this blog (on another website) that they were never able to quite understand why reenactors do what we do, but after reading some of my posts, it made sense to her. Not sure how I accomplished that, but I’m mighty glad I did.

Possibly the most surprising development to come from blogging over the past year falls in the “be careful what you wish for” category. One of my more frequently read posts is about the establishment Massachusetts Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission. In March I had bemoaned the fact that Massachusetts had no commission to organize statewide commemorations of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Unbeknownst to me, the Governor was just then in the process of establishing the commission. Later, through a series of events that really need not be here related, I found myself appointed to this very commission. The blog entry did have a little something to do with it. Odd how things unfold sometimes.

So, it has indeed been an enjoyable and rewarding venture. And one that I intend to continue. Always new fields to mow…