The Octo is now about six months old, which makes the timing right for some reflection on just what the project now looks like and what I’ve learned about the early American blogosphere. It began with a simple goal: create a space where the Institute can bring together some of the best online work discussing early American history and culture, including commentary on research, teaching, the relevance of the past to the present, and whatever else happened to be new and insightful.
At that mission, the Octo seems like a success. Since early December, we’ve highlighted work on about twenty blogs on a wide range of work about early America, defined broadly as per the Institute’s mission. In fact, we now have an Octo Archive, where we will keep a running list of all the blogs to which we’ve linked. However, two somewhat odd issues have arisen as I’ve worked to survey the landscape and keep an eye out for work that we might want to feature at the Octo.
First, it seems like the early American blogosphere suffers from East Coast bias. Now, it’s possible that the problem lies partly in the editor (I will admit that I’ve never lived further west than Baltimore, and currently live outside Boston), but I think it’s actually a more significant issue than that. There are a number of personal and individual blogs out there, but only one—Ann Little’s Historiann—is based geographically west of the Mississippi, and most hug the East Coast. Even group blogs like the Junto, of which I am a member, are predominantly staffed with historians who live in, hail from, or trained at schools on the East Coast of the United States.
In part, that reflects the field. The major graduate programs in early American studies are clustered in the Eastern time zone, as are many of the major archives, libraries, and affiliate organizations. But it surely doesn’t represent the totality of work being done out there, from the prominent institutions like the Newberry or the Huntington, to universities such as Stanford and USC (with its Early Modern Studies Institute), and beyond.
The second oddity about the field is that there is very little blogging about Native American history. I’ve actually had conversations with several scholars who work in Native American studies and they’ve agreed, but it’s a major omission for us as scholars of early America that there isn’t more work focusing on that issue. (Grad students: if you’re looking for a niche, there’s one for you!) That’s not to say there’s nothing, of course, and there are occasional posts on the various group and institutional blogs out there. But it’s a major area of early American studies, and it seems to lack a corresponding online presence.
As with most online products, the Octo is a work in progress, and we look forward to hearing any suggestions or comments you may have, either here, by email, or in person. If you’re interested in the early American blogosphere and would like to discuss these issues and more, please be sure to come to our workshop at the Institute-SEA conference in Chicago on Day 1 (Thursday, June 18) at 3:30pm. More info is available in a post I wrote at the Junto, and there are still spots available!