It’s been a little over 100 posts since we’ve started. Have we been more or less productive than the current administration over the course of six months? Hard to say.
As the tag cloud to the left suggests, we’ve talked a lot about race, gender, religion, health care, the environment, and the politics of dominant narratives and commemoration. We’ve tried different post formats, scrapped some of them, and picked up a new regular contributor and partner in our efforts.
We’ve also gotten exhausted by how often the news draws us back to the same things, over and over: race, gender, health care, religion, lather, rinse, repeat.
In the time we’ve been writing, there’s been an explosion of good historical writing online, most notably the new Made By History section in the Washington Post. It’s made me ask myself whether what we’re doing is important. Whether it serves a unique purpose. Why write here when we could pitch something to the WaPo?
But I keep coming back to what Chris said in our opening post. We wanted to engage people in the historical context of our present moment in “a short and accessible manner.” We’ve kept it short, for the most part, but what does it mean to be accessible? Have we succeeded?
One measure of accessibility is whether we’ve hooked non-historians, whether those non-historians have been engaged by our writing, and whether they’ve understood it. Often the sorts of pieces you pitch for newspapers and magazines ask you to presume an “educated” audience. I see two problems with that, both of which this blog has tried to avoid. First, all people deserve to be able to engage with the past and the way it shapes the present, whether “educated” or not. Second, even “educated” people have very different ideas about what happened in the past and why we should study it. We’ve tried to write for our friends and families and the people we grew up with, many of whom wouldn’t count as members of an “educated” audience.
Another measure is how widely our material has been shared and read. We have tried to use Facebook because, even though historians hang out on Twitter, we know that Facebook is where most people get and share their news. Some of our most popular posts have been the ones shared on Twitter, through networks of historians. That’s great, but it’s not really what we were aiming for.
The last measure of accessibility is that what we produce is free. This is somewhat of an issue among historians writing for the public. After all, this is our labor and expertise, and if we don’t place monetary value on it, how can we expect the public to?
But on the flip side, are we reaching the people we want to reach if people have to decide if they have enough Washington Post or New York Times articles left each month to click on the piece we’ve written? It would be great if everyone had the money to subscribe to lots of magazines and newspapers, but that’s not the case. And many people who might be interested in what we’re writing don’t think of themselves as people who subscribe to these sorts of outlets anyway.
Besides, I don’t think legit outlets would let me use all the GIFs I need in my writing.
Ultimately, we’re trying to write for people who don’t think of themselves as people who read all of the other historical writing that’s out there in national magazines and newspapers
We want to keep going. If you like what we’re doing, you can do a few things to help.
- Like us on Facebook.
- Comment on Facebook or on the website. It’s really not scary!
- Share our posts, especially with people who might never click on a link to an elite coastal news outlet. We try very hard to make sure the posts come with an engaging image so that the links look more appealing when you share them!
We’d also like to get better at writing about what people are interested in. We’d love your thoughts on these questions.
- What topics have you found most interesting?
- If you teach history, are there any of our posts you’ve considered using in the classroom?
- What topics would you like us to cover? Things you feel like you’re supposed to have learned about at some point but never did? You can always privately message us on Facebook to suggest a topic.
- Any posts you want us to write specifically so you can passive-aggressively share them on Facebook for the benefit of that one relative?