U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Reflections On My 2015 Blog Year

2015 woodI’ve been writing pieces for this blog for nearly nine years. My first post appeared in January 2007. I’ve had many up-and-down months here, but this felt like my worst year as a contributor. I began the year by taking the first two months off (i.e. planned). Since then I’ve written 21 posts, even after taking a few more unplanned months off.

If each USIH writer has 52 theoretical opportunities to contribute, and I lost 8 slots to my first quarter leave, overall I’m batting only .500 (even, 22 for 44 counting today’s post). That’s Hall-of-Fame territory for a professional baseball player, and okay for slow-pitch softball, but terrible for a regular blogger with a weekly slot. Given that we live in an age of metrics, and value “predictive analytics” in education and academia (perhaps excessively), I project as a lousy investment for the upcoming year. Quantitatively speaking, you could probably plug any average first-year master’s student into my slot and get better production. But hopefully the years of experience have helped me (at least!?) provide a bit more in terms of quality. Let’s review.

The year began, for me, reflecting on the recent passing of former University of Notre Dame President, Theodore Hesburgh. I turned that into a series of three total posts.

Around the same time, after becoming supremely irritated with a Steve Wasserman piece that appeared in The American Conservative, I wrote two posts refuting his theory of a mid-century, middlebrow Arcadia (the last being my term, not Wasserman’s).

In April I presented on the history of the Anti-Vaccination Movement at the OAH meeting in Saint Louis. Afterwards it seemed appropriate to post the paper here. The next month, during the “For the Love of Film: Film Preservation Blogathon,” I chose to write on Star Wars—with “moral adventure” being my theme. I enjoyed working on that piece, for personal and professional reasons. It’s rewarding to apply historical thinking principles to a fun memory.

As summer began, I got annoyed with another Chronicle piece, Lee McIntyre’s “The Attack on Truth.” I found only one section of his three-part essay to be worth the time. Here’s my analysis.

As the summer progressed I became mired in many different readings on cosmopolitanism. Since one of those was David Hollinger’s Postethnic America, I brought my thinking to the blog. My solution to some problems encountered between Hollinger’s text and others was to posit a continuum of cosmopolitan thinking, between pluralists on one end and universalists on the other.

My post controversial post this year came in late July, when I argued that removing Confederate monuments (i.e. just monuments, not all historical markers of the CSA) was the right thing to do after the murders in Charleston on the continued relevance of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The post even inspired a reply from Ben Alpers.

Something inspired me to ponder the power of slogans in early August. I’m guessing it was #BlackLivesMatter, but when you read the post, it’s clear the topic had been brewing in the back of my mind for some time.

As the calendar turned to the end of August, I decided to release some of my cutting-floor leavings from an overly long review of D.J. Mulloy’s recent book on the John Birch Society. My assessment of that book inspired an interesting Facebook conversation from S-USIH friend Jason Stahl (i.e. our assessments of the book differed).

After basically skipping the month of September at the blog, I returned in early October with a post on the history, meaning, and significance of honorary degrees. The impetus for addressing that topic were some recent debates about revoking past degrees given to Bill Cosby.

I hosted a three guest posts this fall, from Bryan McAllister-Grande, Michael Kramer, and Susan Pearson. Bryan has been a friend of the Society for a few years (and he reviewed my book for a round table here in 2014). Michael has commented many times at the blog and written us a few guest posts. This fall was Susan’s first appearance here. I hope she returns with more!

One reason I was happy to host those posts is that I was busy. My day job kept me on my toes (I planned a conference that occurred on the exact same days as our beloved S-USIH Conference), but I also led a seminar this past fall at Chicago’s Newberry Library. Titled “Dumb in America,” the seminar addressed the topics of anti-intellectualism, ignorance, and ideology. We studied Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life and Susan Jacoby’s Age of American Unreason. Because the seminar filled up quickly, I pondered a Winter-Spring seminar immediately. One book we’ll read in version 2.0 (titled “More Dumber in America”) is Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. I hadn’t read it yet, so I started immediately and posted some early analysis at the blog.

November slipped away from me, but I came around this month with two posts. The first was a remembrance of some remote intellectual encounters with Amy Kass, who passed away in August. The post received no worthy comments, but I received a few notes on the side, complimenting the piece. My last original piece for 2015 was for Star Wars week. That received lots of comments, in part for timing and in part because I meant the piece to be provocative. Few like to think of America’s doings in the framework of empire. I know why, but the framework is useful and fitting.

That’s my year at the blog. It probably wasn’t as bad as I first thought when reviewing the metrics. I think there are a few worthy pieces in the bunch. It’s better than a “meh,” but only by a bit.

Whatever the assessments, this definitely closes the book here on 2015 for me. I won’t be writing next week due to family plans and anticipated chores for a New Year’s gathering we’re hosting.

With that, a hearty happy holidays to you—as well as a happy New Year! I hope to be a better, more consistent writer in 2016. – TL

4 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Tim, bless your heart — don’t be so hard on yourself. Your contributions are always better than a “meh.” Besides, we’re intellectual historians; we don’t believe in counting things! (I’m only 3/8 joking.)

    Alas, it’s probably the case that sundry deanlets and aides-de-camp to the captains of erudition at various institutions have already developed quantitative “assessment” formulae for evaluating academic blogging. But surely we’re not headed down that road at USIH (she says, looking nervously over her shoulder).

    Seriously, though — writing here is a labor of love, a work undertaken by volunteers, and a work that’s not without personal cost and perhaps even professional risk. (It’s rewarding too, or people wouldn’t do it — but the rewards are no more easily quantified or assessed than anything else about the work.) And it was a labor that you undertook on your own, and sustained on your own for a long time, carving out a space for a conversation and then turning that into a community that has since spun off a professional society. And now here we are, the bloggers and the commenters and the readers (and our hard-working editor, bless his heart too!), keeping the lights on and the doors open. And somehow it works. So take it easy on yourself!

    And also: thank you.

    • You’re most welcome. I noticed you took the time to comment on many of my pieces—which I appreciated. And yes, I might’ve been too hard on myself with the “meh” assessment, all things considered. But I like to keep “the standards” high for myself. I’m looking forward to a fun 2016 here! – TL

  2. Thanks for writing this and all your posts this year. It’s not often enough that a historian blogger posts a meta-review of their writing worth reading. Most of the time they’re like prologue’s in books, something Stephen King stated would never be anthologized. Looking forward to 2016.

    • You’re welcome, Ethan. I started this as just a “happy holidays” post, but then began thinking about what I wanted for next year—which caused me to reflect on WHY, exactly, I wanted next year to be different. – TL

Comments are closed.