The Twilight of the Blogs

A few months ago Bill Caraher declared that this is a “golden age” of blogging about the ancient world, a sentiment that I find hard to disagree with despite the popular idea of a blogpocaplyse. And yet when Neville Morley posted last week about a decline in blog traffic, that, too rang true.

Caraher subsequently posted a reflection on the changing rhythm of blogs, suggesting: “Instead of blogs maturing into a less-formal and more intimate complement to the scholarly discourse, blogs have become places where we negotiate the social conscience of our fields.

I am perhaps a little too aware of my blog traffic. Since switching to the WordPress platform I have had slow, but steady year over year growth. Although much of this growth is attributable to the WordPress reader, the single largest referrer, particularly when a post blows up, is Twitter.

(The exception to this statement is an intermittent flurry of activity from India any time there is an election because I once wrote about Intizar Husain’s Basti.)

Ultimately, though, I am small potatoes. “Growth” here is relative in that I started virtually from scratch and do very little promotion outside linking to each post in a tweet.

Nor do I really engage with scholarship or sources like most substantial classics-related blogs. I’ve written about this before, but, in short, my writing has passed through several iterations before settling into what it is now: a catchall where I can write about things for which I do not have another outlet. Writing helps me organize my thoughts, and, for instance, I don’t write about books for any other outlet (at the moment––I would love to start), so those posts go here.

At the same time, blog posts are as resource where I can direct people should I not have space to give a substantial answer. To give just one example, a Twitter-friend asked about The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, a book I wrote about last year and so in addition to a short answer on Twitter, I was able to point to the longer thoughts here. Similarly, I wrote reflections about the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting in San Diego and in defense of graduate programs at non-elite schools, as well as posting a reading list for teaching at the college level. Like the examples Caraher gives, the most trafficked posts are those grappling with the social or structural issues in academia and rely on viral (at least by my standards) transmission.

Other platforms serve other purposes. Podcasts give the sense of being a silent participant in the conversation. Instagram allows me to post pictures of things I bake and places I go. Twitter tends toward the ephemeral, albeit with a long public record, as it flies by in quick drips that fit both hot-take culture and the large number of demands on our attention.

Does this mean that the current blog landscape is populated not by survivors living in a new Eden, but those who are already dead and just don’t know it?

Yes and no. A few years ago I noticed that a blurring between reportage and analysis or opinion on news sites. The suggested “articles” were increasingly from the latter category, on blogs hosted by the site. This says to me that the problem of declining traffic isn’t a matter of “blogs,” but of unaffiliated blogs. Based on the comments on Morley’s post, I am hardly alone in struggling to see value in writing substantial posts for a personal blog since the odds of it being picked up are significantly lower.

But, as Caraher notes, blogging has matured in a somewhat different direction, and each blog will reflect the individual author(s). Traffic is a sort of validation, but reasons to blog exist beyond that alone. So long as I see value in using this space to organize my thoughts I will continue to blog. At the moment I am confident enough that I plan to use student-run blogs in two of my classes for the upcoming semester.

Intents and Purposes

I have not been writing on my blog recently. There are a variety of reasons for this, including the demands of graduate school, several alternate places that I write and some issues that I have run into in life, but perhaps the biggest concern for me in regards to the blog is the sense of purpose. When I started this blog I meant it to be a way for me to think about and talk about history while I did not have a formal platform. It was that general and as a result there was a sense of aimlessness. The one thing I did not want was excessive narrative of my own life. As I have gotten back into school the content changed slightly, and I spent more time reflecting on academia and society, as well as history. This is closer to what I want, but I am still not sure.

My ideal would be to help foster my own blog network among people I know who are writing and thinking about various topics, connected through mutual readership, commenting and supporting one another and collaborating whenever possible. In this goal, I have a standing offer to host blogs for other people. My dream in this event is to also host a forum community connected to this blog network that would (hopefully) foster collaborative and peer-review opportunities, as well as the opportunity to participate in academic debate. There are a number of problems with this goal, though, particularly in that my colleagues, much as I am, are pressed by their own work even if they are inclined to blogging, the internet or this sort of collaboration. There is also a fundamental lack of participants in general. The most successful forum communities I have or still do participate in have dozens of regular participants and hundreds, if not thousands, of members and occasional contributors. Of course this will not deter me from creating this forum with the hope that eventually something will come of it. Now, if only I had time to set all of this up.

But those are the goals for the aspects that are beyond my control and I still have uncertainty about my own blog, in part because I have heard horror stories about intellectual property and research projects stolen because they were posted online before publication. Now in my experience there tend to be five type of historian-academic blog:

-Relating everything that happens in the modern world to whatever project the author is currently working on
-Discussion of the academy and classes
-“This day in History”
-Commentary on politics and society
-Posting links

Now most blogs blend two or more of these different elements and, inevitably, mine will be no different. I started this for history and that will still feature prominently simply because it is central to my life, but more and more I expect that I will write about more diverse topics, including academia generally, self-review, book discussion, methodology, and commentary about society. Whatever piques my interest is fair game, though I expect narrative of my life will rarely feature. The key here is that I will also rarely feature straight narrative history. If some story comes up in my research then I may recount that, but that is about it. More often I expect my historical discussion to be in the form of contemplation and working through various arguments.