7 years of blogging!

Posted in Blogs, Podcasts by Alex L. on March 8, 2016

HistoryJournal.org temporary logoToday marks seven years since I started blogging on HistoryJournal.org! I did have another history blog before that on blogspot, called Trojan Walls. In this post, I’ll do a bit of reflection, per tradition, on how I have been blogging lately.

The year of 2015 was very sparse for me in terms of updating my blog. But in 2016, I’ve had a recent spurt of posts about upcoming history books, which I’ve been following on Amazon and taking notes on for some time. These posts are relatively easy for me to create — and I enjoy making them — so I think I’ll be focused on them for some time. Hopefully they are of some value to others beside me, who also enjoy keeping up to date in the latest literature about U.S., Russian, and ancient history (my general areas of focus).

About my much-promised podcast… I think I’ll cease for now to make more promises about it. I have everything ready to go in terms of hardware and software, but I can never quite be satisfied with anything I’ve recorded already to bring myself to publish it here. This is perhaps, admittedly, a lame excuse. But in any case, since blogging (and podcasting) are meant to be hobbies for me, I’m hesitant to push myself too hard on content creation if I’m not naturally feeling an inclination toward creative endeavor.

So I’ll try to continue on the path I’m currently on, publishing semi-daily posts about upcoming history books. And I’ll see where it goes from here. Thanks for coming along on the journey with me for the past seven years, and hopefully there will be more to come!

New books from the Univ. of N. Carolina Press (Spring 2016)

Posted in African, American, Blogs, Imperialism, Podcasts, Politics, Storytelling by Alex L. on January 11, 2016

History off the Book header

Today let’s look at a small selection of upcoming new history titles from the University of North Carolina Press (UNC Press). Again, these are works that struck my curiosity from their catalog rather than books I have already read.

First up is The Virgin Vote: How Young Americans Made Democracy Social, Politics Personal, and Voting Popular in the Nineteenth Century by Jon Grinspan. This one is interesting because we are in an election season, and young people of my generation don’t vote (but they should! though I am sometimes guilty of this myself) as often as their elders. I never would have thought that this was not the general trend in earlier times.

The next original work is The Voyage of the Slave Ship Hare: A Journey into Captivity from Sierra Leone to South Carolina by Sean M. Kelley. The events described in the book took place in the mid-1700s and explores an overlooked segment of African-American history: the first-generation slaves brought to the American continents.

Finally, for anyone interested in podcasts and the new upsurge in popularity of talk radio, this work by Jeff Porter could be a worthwhile read: Lost Sound: The Forgotten Art of Radio Storytelling. Today’s great podcasts have their roots in the shows of storytellers who honed this craft on the airwaves when radio first became widespread in the early 20th century. This is their story!

Thanks for “tuning in” to these new blog posts. I will continue to look at new history works from other university presses as well as from popular publishers in the days to come.

Happy 2016! and an update

Posted in Blogs by Alex L. on January 7, 2016

HistoryJournal.org temporary logoHappy New Year! I’ve been kicking around some new (and old) ideas in my head about my nice, old blog, though I haven’t shared any of them for a long time. I would like to change that over the next few weeks. I want to rejuvenate my interest in history after a long break resulting from a disappointing graduate school experience.

What are the general plans for the blog? Well, I still plan for the centerpiece of HistoryJournal.org to be the new and upcoming podcast: History Considered. I am currently recording the first episode of 2016 and will hopefully have that up shortly.

In addition, I want to continue making this blog more and more informal, so that posting on here becomes an extension of everyday thought, rather than a laborious exercise in planning. That’s a very general sketch for now. I hope you continue to stay tuned in for more updates!

New history articles (July 2012 edition)

Posted in Academia, Blogs, Greek, Reading by Alex L. on November 19, 2012

Historical Proceedings header

Historical Reflections journal cover

“Virtually a Historian: Blogs and the Recent History of Dispossessed Academic Labor” by Claire Bond Potter in Historical Reflections (Summer 2012).

Like the recording and newspaper industries, humanities departments in universities have struggled to generate enough income for their practitioners in the Information Age. Many members of this “dispossessed academic labor” pool vent their frustrations with the system online on blogs. Potter sees these (often anonymous) online criticisms as one of the only honest records available of how unemployed and underemployed historians truly feel about the labor conditions in higher education.

As someone on the brink of entering the profession of history, I find myself somewhat repulsed by the stygian tone of the more vociferous academic blogs. Part of me blames these down-and-out historians for not being more creative in how they practice history: is trudging the academic career path that they profess to hate really the only option they see for themselves? Why not reach out to the public, which finds history intrinsically interesting and presents a larger market for writing than the academy?

But the more empathetic part of me understands that such a recommendation is glib and naive. It is not so wise to abandon the academy completely as to reform it. And that won’t come without an honest — and often unpleasant — voicing  of dissatisfaction with the current state of things. (more…)

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Driving at the speed of flight

Posted in Blogs, European, Just for Fun, Technology by Alex L. on November 4, 2011

Instrument panel for Jay Leno's 1915 Hispano-Suiza Aero Engine CarI can’t say I enjoy Jay Leno’s jokes as much as I do the work of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and David Letterman. But man does the guy have an awesome car collection.

I know next to nothing about vintage car restoration, but I can appreciate a sleek-looking and rumble-producing automobile. When I came across Jay Leno’s video of his 1915 Hispano-Suiza Aero Engine Car restoration (see part 1, part 2 and part 3), though, I almost started drooling. The reason is because the restored car combines in an engaging package some things that, well, just make me salivate like a dog sensing dinner: aviation, World War I history, craftsmanship, and speed.

The 1915 machine is no ordinary automobile. It’s fitted with an engine taken from a World War I fighter airplane. As Wikipedia informed me, after the First World War ended, surplus airplane engines were relatively cheap and vastly more powerful than what cars were then using. Some auto engineers decided not to let this opportunity pass and created cars with automobile chassis and airplane engines. Such aero-engined cars were a brief trend in auto racing during the inter-war period.

The Hispano-Suiza engine is the motor that was used to power the S.E.5, a British fighter plane during World War I. This was the primary aircraft of No. 56 Squadron RFC (Royal Flying Corps), the famous unit of expert flyers and warriors—such as James McCudden, Albert Ball, and Cecil Lewis (the last of whom wrote a now-rare but fascinating and honest memoir of his war years, titled Sagittarius Rising)—who helped defeat the imperial German air force. (more…)

Two-year anniversary

Posted in Blogs, Music, Poetry, Stories, Storytelling by Alex L. on March 10, 2011

History, slightly skewedOne way to measure the success of a blog is by how much spam its WordPress filters catch. Somehow, I think the bots that troll the blogosphere know which blogs get more traffic and target their “marketing” strategy at them. The blog that I keep at work, where keywords and headings are meticulously crafted to optimize hits from the search engines, is visited as often as Don Corleone on “this, the day of his daughter’s wedding” in comparison to this, my personal blog. Each day nets dozens of spam comments in my work blog’s filter. HistoryJournal.org, on the other hand, is lucky if the errant male-enhancement ad washes up on shore once or twice a week. I don’t care. Not search-engine-optimizing my <h2> tags on HistoryJournal.org is my rebellion against marketing, my current profession.

(Yes, folks. This is the one day of the year, my blog’s anniversary – it was technically on March 8 – where I blog about blogging. Feel free to turn away. There is not so much a sign of a blog’s decay, writer’s block, or an author’s sickness of the writing craft as when he or she begins to write about what it feels like to be writing. Like a historian writing about what good history should be written like instead of showing you by writing good history himself. Nevertheless, the historiography demons need to be exorcised at least once a year, so I’ll try to keep it as short and sweet as possible.)

An opportunity presented itself to me a year ago after I wrote the post, “History, the History Channel, and Dairy Queen”. I had been looking for a way to a way to write about history that would be fresh, interesting, and relevant to the living world. With that post, I hit upon a style or genre which I could develop upon in the future. I desperately wanted to avoid writing history in the dusty forms everyone is so used to, either ringing grandiose notes that always fall flat (“Since the dawn of man…”  or, “Our world would not be the same if it were not for…”) or delving into minutiae that interests nobody but the collector of such informational tidbits (“On this day in history…”). The style that I have tried to work on this past year (in between peddling my marketing skills, chasing various pet hobbies, and staving off spirit-sapping ennui which has been waging war against me since 2007) has been to present history in an extremely personal narrative. (more…)

I’m posting every week in 2011!

Posted in Blogs, Just for Fun by Alex L. on January 7, 2011

Image of soldiers doing push-upsI read about WordPress’s PostAWeek Challenge for 2011 today, and it made me think about how I have more articles sitting in my “Drafts” folder from the past six months than those that have actually been published. I think I have been leaning too heavily on the side of “literary-like” writing lately (and hence killing drafts with an overly-zealous editing standard) and less on the more informal style which is the hallmark of blogging.

So, at the risk of this blog degenerating into a collection of YouTube videos about my hauls, I will publish an article every week on this blog in 2011. The sample post suggested by WordPress, with such phrases as “[relying on] the community of other bloggers” and “asking for help when I need it” makes this challenge sound almost like a substance-abused support group. I guess one can “abuse” the instinct to edit to the point of crippling the writing process altogether. I’ve also been coming around to the realization that online communities are a legitimate way to connect with people (strangely enough, an article titled “Why I Hate Social Media” and its related commentary sparked this realization – perhaps more on this later), so WordPress may have a point there.

Since one of the reasons for this blog has been to train myself to write better (hence the push-ups image, in case you were wondering) and since that can’t be accomplished without me actually writing once in a while, look for at least a post a week on this blog in 2011 (I’m thinking Sundays).

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One-year anniversary

Posted in Blogs by Alex L. on March 8, 2010

Today marks the first anniversary of HistoryJournal.org. Since I began this blog as a continuation of my former blog, Trojan Walls, I have written 38 posts on topics ranging from history in popular culture to the liturgy during Eastern Orthodox Holy Week. When I first began blogging (alas! what an ugly word) about history, I tended to write long and esoteric posts about academic topics. Well, come to think of it, not much has changed, but I think I have learned some things this past year about how to write better for the web.

Writing a history blog has been challenging for me because the academic approach that I am used to contrasts with the more informal style of blogging. How can one be pretentious and chummy at the same time? (Joke). Another difficulty has been understanding the “genre” of blog posts. If I read a history book and want to review it on this blog, should I write an Amazon.com-style review, an academic review, or something entirely different? Who would want to read any of this stuff anyway? These are some of the questions I have encountered (and am still try to resolve) while trying to blog about history.

I have been coming around to the conclusion that the cure for many of these problems is to just write more often. The more I write, the faster a rhythm and style will evolve for what I want to communicate (as long as I keep important questions in mind, like, “how can I make this interesting for the reader?”).

I have also tried to write in a more colloquial style and about history-related topics that are not necessarily “academically significant”. Lately, I have let my imagination have free reign (such as when I go to a bookstore and browse “on autopilot”) and have found that, if allowed to roam freely, it takes me on a journey. The historical imagination thrives on good stories told well. In fact, it seeks to construct its own story by following the threads of others. This journey is what first made me fall in love with history when I was very young. Why, even now, write about anything else?

The tagline for my blog this past year has been, “A blog about history, religion, politics and philosophy by a very amateur historian”. Today, a year later, I have changed it to, “A blog about the journey taken by the historical imagination of a very amateur historian”. I don’t know if I’m becoming any better of an historian, but at least – I hope – I’m following the right path.

Many history blogs

Posted in Bible, Blogs, History by Alex L. on February 24, 2010

When I started historyjournal.org, I thought there were relatively few people blogging about history. I’ve since learned that there are many such blogs on all kinds of topics. Below are two helpful lists of quality history blogs:

1. Cliopatria’s History Blogroll (Part 1 | Part 2)
2. Top 50 Biblical History Blogs

My current blogroll consists of PaleoJudaica.com (biblical history), Easily Distracted (history and academia), Cliopatria (general history), AHA Blog, and Pedablogue (an awesome blog about pedagogy).