Civil War History and Digital Scholarship

Niels Eichhorn's picture

As many of you are aware, especially those on Twitter, over the past weekend an image from the most recent issue of Civil War History made its rounds. Taken from an article by Earl Hess on "The Internet and Civil War Studies," the focus of Twitter users was on a lengthy and anonymous quote that in part took issue with Kevin Levin's "Civil War Memory" blog, but also the uses of social media more generally. In the heated conversation that followed, there were some calls for a conversation about the merits of social media and uses of blogging, a discussion about digital technology, as well as questions raised and clarity sought about the methodology employed by Earl Hess.

In response, Matt Gallman at the University of Florida announced on Twitter this morning (September 11, 2019) that he had prepared a blog post in response to Hess's article. Having read a draft of the post, I decided to give Matt the opportunity to use H-CivWar as a platform to publish. I think Matt's post can serve as an excellent start for H-CivWar to initiate a conversation about the uses of social media and the internet, discuss methodological questions about gauging success or reach on social media, talk about the vast or limited opportunities available for scholars to reach different audience, and also our obligations as scholars engaging in digital forms of scholarship. I think this is an important conversation to have not just for Civil War historians and I would like to offer H-CivWar as a location to those interest in discussing the topic.

Let me suggest that in an age where groups like the SCV, UDC, and other white supremacist heritage group have a digital footprint and internet search literacy for many is limited (first thing in google is right and there is no need to look any further), it might be especially for Civil War historians a worthwhile conversation to engage in to ensure that the magnificent work we do, writing excellent books, groundbreaking articles, reaches a broader audience, while we maintain our scholarly norms. I am for example thinking here about SCWH's Muster Blog. At the same time, digital collections and projects, such as William G. Thomas III and Edward L. Ayers's The Valley of the Shadow, offer internet users resources that for a long time were only accessible in archives.

With the endless opportunities, but also many pitfalls of digital humanities, I want to invite all our subscribers and interested parties beyond H-CivWar to feel welcome to participate in this conversation. We start this conversation today with Matt Gallman.