Social Media and the Historian’s Craft

This past weekend a preeminent American historian asked me about my blog.  He wanted to know if blogging improved my long form writing. I told him that while I found it slightly more difficult to write long-form after I started blogging, in the end I thought it improved my longer pieces by instilling in me the habit of daily writing.  He seemed genuinely interested in the genre.

I thought about that conversation as I read Heather Cox Richardson’s post “What Blogging, Twitter, and Texting Do for the Historian’s Craft.”  I could not have put it any better.  Here is a taste:

Blogging also forces your writing up several notches. It has to convey an idea clearly and, with luck, engagingly. Those are not necessarily skills professional historians practice very much. We tend to fight over arcane theories and dig so deeply into our research that we lose all but a few other specialists. Blogging forces you to distill complicated ideas into crucial points, and then to communicate those points in such a way that a nonspecialist can understand. (Twitter and texting have similar value. Never is the importance of strong verbs more clear than when tweeting. You MUST use short, powerful verbs to keep ideas within 140 characters. Don’t believe me? Follow @JoyceCarolOates.)

Blogging and tweeting also let a writer develop a personal style that is terribly hard to find in academic writing. The form is much more epistolary than academic argument, and that very informality means that much more of your own quirks come out, which can bring your online prose to life. Blogging lets you develop a sense of humor in your writing. Hell, it encourages you to.

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