Today marks the tenth anniversary of my first post on The Posterity Project. In historical terms, a decade isn't a long time, but on social media it's an eternity.
I first published this blog in 2008 following an informative session on blogging held at a Special Libraries Association conference. The presenters encouraged special collections librarians and archivists to establish their own professional footprint online as a way to communicate and to share information and expertise while also building an online presence. The advice I gained from this session during that informative week certainly set me on a different path. This blog has helped me engage with interested readers and connect with my fellow public history professionals. It has also steered my career in ways I could have never imagined.
Since that time, my focus on The Posterity Project has shifted from that of an archivist and public historian to that of an author and writer of early Tennessee history. Social media habits have also shifted. Not long ago, so-called social media "experts" and "gurus" declared blogging dead. Many people, including myself, listened to this dreadful advice and took to other online social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to chronicle their musings. Over the years my posts on The Posterity Project waned as I've explored these new social media platforms. The brevity and ease with which one can post and comment on these sites made blogging seemingly obsolete. But invasions of privacy, online addiction and distraction, and political vitriol and negativity have now consumed much of social media.
One source of personal frustration I've had with social media is the practice of "dunking" on pundits and propagandists. This has developed into something of a sport for historians on Twitter. While I believe it is important to shed light on the truth with historical facts, I also believe directly engaging with liars and charlatans gives them a sense of validation and risks placing these provocateurs on an equal footing with historians. Amplified by Twitter's unwillingness to police its most abusive users, the false historical narratives endure despite efforts to refute their claims. This lack of meaningful exchange has led some in our professional ranks to go beyond debunking incorrect information, responding instead with the same petty snark and sarcasm found in their target's replies. While I've long believed that it's important to confront historical myths and misinformation, I've never made it my practice to pile on with insults, and I won't change course now despite encouragement from some social media circles to embrace this form of history communication. This is unprofessional and doesn't represent "the best practices of the discipline of history," in my view.
While I've been discouraged by this increased level toxicity, I still believe in the power of social media as a tool for public engagement. And so, on this tenth anniversary of my first post on The Posterity Project, I've decided to return to my blog as tool for online expression. I'll still maintain a footprint on other social platforms, but this blog will serve as my base camp with a writing focus on topics centered around early Tennessee history. You may also see other changes in the near future, including a site redesign and a shift to my own hosted site. My goal is to return to what inspired me to follow this path in the first place. The blog seems like a great place to begin this journey anew.
I'm grateful for your continued interest and I'm looking forward to exploring this new path with you.
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Gordon Belt is a public historian and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.