Commonplace
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Publick Occurrences 2.0

June 3, 2013

Historians and Ethics on the Web

Filed under: Academia,Historians,Joe Adelman's Posts — Joseph M. Adelman @ 10:56 am
Last week the AHA Today blog hosted a roundtable on Web Ethics to continue an ongoing conversation about civility among historians online. Respondents included:

If you haven’t had a chance to read their thoughts, you should. They provide a nice cross-section of experiences, from those with personal blogs (Fea and Little), to one affiliated with a historians’ association (Alpers), and one with The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s network of blogs (Potter). As far as one can generalize, I agree fully that we need to be clear and careful about how we interact with one another online.

For the most part, the respondents focused their thoughts on blog comments sections. Both Fea and Little, as proprietors of their own web spaces, try to articulate clearly their standards for commenting and police the comments section regularly, to some effect. (The comments sections at Historiann are some of the most active I’ve seen in the history blogosphere, and Fea’s blog, though the comments are often somewhat quiet, has a lively discussion space on Facebook and numerous links on Twitter.) The USIH blog also has an incredibly lively comments section, though it occasionally involves sharp elbows, and Potter has had several famous (infamous?) showdowns in the comments, both in her own blogs (both before and during the Chronicle era) and elsewhere around the web.

What I would add to the conversation is that I try not to think of blogs and social media as new in the sense of uncharted or complicated. Yes, there is a greater possibility of transgressing acceptable norms because commenters can remain anonymous (for more on that, see the comment thread about “jerks in academia” in Historiann’s post on her own blog). Yes, not everyone is comfortable writing for blogs (I don’t discuss my research, for example, a possible topic for a future post), and many are uncomfortable with Twitter—including Historiann herself. There are issues with the online public sphere that don’t exist in print journals or the face-to-face proceedings of conferences and meetings.

But online spaces are public, and treating them that way as participants goes a long way to answering the concerns raised in the roundtable. Participating online can be enormously beneficial to our profession, and is all the more so if more historians join in that conversation. But one should always assume that one is speaking in public, the same way one would be at a conference, in print, or through any other medium of communication. I don’t want to open myself up the critique that I’m being naive, but at the same time, on a certain level online public spaces are no different from any other, and demand the same professional decorum. That won’t stop every troll, to be sure. But as Little notes in her piece, some effort by bloggers and others to police the boundaries of acceptability (much as senior scholars might take aside an overly aggressive or rambunctious grad student at a conference) can do wonders.

Finally, I would second Potter’s suggestion that the AHA can (and perhaps should) play a central role in serving as a clearinghouse for and perhaps a publisher of best practices for web interactions, including guidelines for expectations for professionally oriented blogs, Twitter feeds, comments sections, and so on. I don’t think that AHA should be prescriptive—that would defeat one of the main benefits of online conversations, which is that they can aspire to be, as Alpers puts it, “open, public scholarly space[s].”

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November 30, 2012

The Brevity Thing

Filed under: Common-Place,Jeff Pasley's Writings — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 4:47 pm

As my students and editors and listeners and readers and future readers inevitably discover, I possess no tendency toward concise, economical expression — I am much more of an El Duderino guy. That said, I have surprised myself by finding Twitter a much more comfortable venue in which to snark of late. There is something considerably less daunting, and less competitive with other responsibilities, about sitting down or standing up to write 140 characters than the potentially limitless space of a blog post, along with the links and images they seem to demand. I still have stubborn hopes of getting this space more active sson, but for now, I would urge interested readers to follow @jlpasley over on Twitter.  The last few tweets in my account appear in the right-hand column of the blog, of course, but they are a bit more intelligible on the Twitter site itself, where you can see their context. Of course, Joe Adelman and Ben Carp are on Twitter as well — indeed it is only through @jmadelman that I ever learned to tweet — along with a surprisingly large and growing number of historians, especially graduate students and younger scholars. What H-Net email lists were to many of us back in the 1990s, Twitter seems to be to the currently rising generation. I do not like to proselytize about such things, but anyone capable of commenting on a blog or using Facebook certainly has no need to march under the banner of General Ludd as regards Twitter.

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January 25, 2012

Should we remember the War of 1812?

Filed under: Early Republic,Historic sites,Joe Adelman's Posts — Joseph M. Adelman @ 3:05 pm

I had an interesting discussion on Twitter this morning about the War of 1812. It started when I linked to an article in The Wall Street Journal on the difficulties faced by those supporting bicentennial celebrations. Rather than restate everything that was said, I created a Storify that recounts the conversation:

View the story “What Deserves Commemoration?” on Storify

I’m probably not the best equipped to make the case in favor of defending the War of 1812, but I’ll take a stab at a few points that make it worth commemoration.

  • It established that Canada would remain British. At least from the early 1770s, when the Boston Committee of Correspondence tried to entice merchants in Quebec and Montreal to join their network of dissidents, Americans had their eye on including Canada in the Union. A failed invasion in the winter of 1775-1776 put an end to that dream during the Revolution, but the question remained open into the Early Republic. The stalemate in the war pushed that possibility out of the realm of reality and forced instead treaty negotiations to determine the exact nature of the border. Alan Taylor in The Civil War of 1812 makes a similar argument that the key to the was is in the battles between Americans and Canadians across the border.
  • It established the United States’ right to exist. Perhaps it is a hackneyed or outdated view of American history, but it seems to me that even in stalemate the United States blunted a threat to its national sovereignty in defending itself against naval harassment by the British.
  • The War of 1812 was an event of important significance in several locales. Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, site of the immortalized bombardment in September 1814, still guards the harbor and is a point of local pride. Upstate New York  and Michigan were shaped by the war and home to many battles. And, as both the Journal and Taylor point out, the war was of great significance for Canadians. Whether or not a national commemoration takes place, surely these places will remember the war in their own ways. Maryland made the war the centerpiece of its default license plates in 2010 (to run through 2015).

On the other hand, I’m not a War of 1812 expert, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I have some of this wrong. So my open question is, should we be funding bicentennial celebrations of the War of 1812? And beyond that, what should be the standard for selecting what to commemorate on a national level?

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November 15, 2011

Tweet Occurrences

Filed under: Common-Place — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 7:48 pm

Officially I still don’t quite approve of Twitter, but when I posted here for the first time in let’s not  say how long, comments came in almost immediately via that channel. So, Twitter is trending here at Common-Place. I am experimenting with various widgets and plug-ins to get such tweet comments into this space for the many of you out there, especially historians of a certain age, with no plans to tweet in the near future. You should be able to see the initial results in the box at the right of the main page. I have been having a little tweet-debate with William Hogeland over whether liberals should see anything in Thomas Jefferson, following up on the post last week. Seems like there should be some way to post a link with both sides of the back-and-forth, but my twitucation is still pretty thin. “Follow us,” I suppose is one way.

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