Blogging the Past: Editor’s Introduction

Emily J. Arendt

1 July 2024

cartoon style18th century woman sitting at a computerThe last twenty years have seen a vast proliferation of widely available historical content across a variety of internet websites too numerous to count.  Run a Google search on virtually any historical topic and you’ll be inundated with sites publishing the dubious and unsubstantiated claims of amateur historians, the conspiracy theories of pundits manipulating the past to control the present, and a rapidly growing body of sloppy, AI-generated historical material.  Now, perhaps more than ever, it is imperative for historical practitioners to solidify an online presence providing reliable (and easily discoverable) content not just for fellow specialists, but for readers outside of the profession.

 As The Panorama unveils its new site—freshly redesigned with a new aesthetic and better user interface—I’ve been thinking about goals and objectives to guide us forward into an online universe that grows ever noisier and more cluttered with what Steven Conn, one of our contributors, calls “historical nonsense.”  Indeed, this is part of a larger conversation about the role of historical experts in contemporary society: what obligations do historians have to engage in advocacy, policy development, the shaping of public discourse, or to otherwise provide crucial historical context? (For great ruminations on many of these questions, visit our recent “Rethinking Applied History” Forum.) On an even more basic level, how do we ensure the general public has access to reliable information about the past when so much online is inaccurate and distorted?

When Will Mackintosh founded The Panorama in 2017, it was largely to provide an online presence for the Journal of the Early Republic.  Under his leadership, however, the site became something much more: it became a hub for larger conversations about researching, writing, and teaching the early American republic.  And, moreover, it became a space in which academic historians and general readers alike could find important historical insights about the early national period and its relevance for today. Since taking the reins of The Pano last year, I’ve been contemplating how to build upon this legacy.  With that in mind, I approached Professor Mackintosh along with editors from six other well-respected digital history publications (Black Perspectives, History@Work, Insurrect! Radical Thinking in Early American Studies, Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, Picturing Black History, and Pieces of History: A Blog of the National Archives) to take stock of what role digital publications serve both within the historical profession and in American society more broadly considered.

What follows is a series of roundtable-style posts that shed light onto the value of digital history websites, including blogs, online publications, and multi-media platforms.  After introducing our contributors and their publications, future posts will explore issues including the potential of digital platforms to democratize scholarly output and, conversely, issues related to unpaid labor and the unfortunate lack of credit for professional advancement most authors receive in exchange for their labor. The Forum will conclude with a post compiling helpful advice from our contributors to those seeking to write for a more general audience.  It is my hope that our readers will feel empowered to submit their own scholarly contributions to public-facing venues which, like those highlighted here, serve a critical role in fostering crucial conversations about the past and the present.

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Blogging the Past: Part I
In the first installment of our "Blogging the Past" Roundtable, we introduce our contributors and explore the value of public-facing digital history publications.