Using a template provided by Microsoft, I planned each bi-monthly issue, parceled out “article” assignments to my colleagues, and did the rest of the writing myself. I loved the format: planning “thematic” issues; writing “editorials”; compiling lists of history-related events in the area; reviewing a book now and then; even producing occasional obituaries, or “appreciations,” of deceased historians I had come to respect in grad school.
As retirement loomed, I knew that writing, much of it scholarly, would be an important part of my post-classroom life but hoped there also might be room for a less formal approach. At first, I thought that Facebook might fill the bill and opened an account. Shows you what I knew! After a few posts, I realized that, compared to the sort of stuff I wanted to write, Facebook was little more than “short attention span theatre.” And then, while doing research online, I followed a link to a blog at wordpress.com.
It wasn’t that particular blog that charmed me but just the idea of creating a forum which I could design and control and through which I could write about virtually anything I wanted, in any way I wished. I found that setting up a blog of my own would be fairly easy–and free! Thus, after I retired in May 2010, was born “Retired But Not Shy: Doing History After Leaving the Classroom,” which recently celebrated its fourth birthday.]
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As I began, “Retired But Not Shy” (with John Quincy Adams as the avatar) denoted my new status, and “Doing History After Leaving the Classroom” referred to my post-retirement “project,” completion of a manuscript on the development of political parties in Georgia after 1806, the sequel to my dissertation (which had become my first book).
Initially, in other words, I planned to use the blog to publicize my work on the second part of the magnum opus, but I suspected there had to be more to it than that, though at first I wasn’t certain what “more” might be. The key was how I defined “doing history after leaving the classroom.” I knew that, at least at first, I didn’t want to put up a post more than once a month (which, I eventually learned, set me apart from bloggers with more ambitious goals), but that still left unanswered the question of what I could produce over twelve installments that would a) be worth sending into cyberspace; and b) attract readers.
I hoped to pursue a less formal brand of history through the blog, supplementing my current research efforts by putting up posts on related topics that would not fit into the manuscript, and “piloting” others that might eventually appear there, though in a different guise. I also vowed that I would not be bashful about treating in the blog other, usually history-related, topics that interested me.
Early in my retirement, I was completing work on an article for the Georgia Historical Quarterly, the second–and final–installment of a biography of James Gunn, one of Georgia’s first United States Senators and prime mover of the infamous Yazoo Land Fraud. Since part one had appeared in the same journal way back in the Summer of 1996, you can see how little importance the “prep school” where I worked placed on “publish or perish” (which I rather selfishly believe was to its great credit)!
As the months rolled by, I began to develop an approach to the blog that felt more and more comfortable. First, I decided that I would try to make each post between fifteen hundred and two thousand words, an arbitrary goal admittedly, but one that struck me as about right for a “serious,” thoughtful post without all the scholarly detritus (footnotes, bibliography, etc.). Then, too, I began to see that, while a blog devoted to my “project” probably would not have wide appeal (I know, I know–ya think!), I did have other interests that might fit under the blog’s rubric and draw some readers who were not all that interested in antebellum Georgia.
So, I gradually created a number of other categories that I hoped reflected “doing History after leaving the classroom”: discussions of books I’d read; things I’d learned about teaching History, both in general and as a PhD. employed by a “prep school”; current events; the “History Wars” raging in American culture; the history of the Blues; and Civil Rights, both historical and contemporary. My older son, who also has a blog, had begun publishing excerpts from his journals occasionally, and I thought I might do that too, when it seemed appropriate.
As I began to look for blog topics, I realized that I had a “pack rat gene” in my makeup (must help explain how I became a historian)–I seldom threw away anything I’d written (that’s not to say that I shouldn’t have thrown some stuff away–just that I didn’t!). I decided that at least some of this material–short papers, reviews, lectures, essays, even a few “editorials” from the History Department Newsletter–might provide fodder for the blog, if revised, updated and, in some cases, condensed (or, if that wasn’t practical, then published serially).
“In Pursuit of Dead Georgians” became the category for (almost) all things Georgia, including several posts about topics that I also treated in my “project” but wanted to look at in a different way in the blog.
The “Blues Stories” series originated in several “mini-courses” on the Blues I created for my school’s annual “Alumni Back-to-School Night,” but I also decided I would not limit the blog’s treatment of the Blues to those lectures. Soon I began to read, and write about, biographies of other Blues performers and works on other aspects of the history of the Blues that had begun to appear in heartening numbers in recent years.
During my teaching career, I had participated in a number of interdisciplinary projects, and out of these lectures I devised several “Adventures in Interdisciplinary Land” posts.
Of late, I have begun to deal more explicitly with historical pedagogy, in a series I’ve designated “History Lesson Plans”.
The blog has become a part of my life in retirement. I’ve managed to spend enough time writing–and revising–posts that I have a sufficient backlog to move to a twice-a-month publishing schedule, at least for the foreseeable future, in hopes of continuing to please my existing audience and (perhaps) attract additional visitors to the site.
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I thought I’d include in this excursion down memory lane a “top ten list.” What follows are the ten posts at “Retired But Not Shy” that have drawn the most interest from visitors over the past four years. [NOTE: I have eliminated from this list three generic topics: Homepage/Archives; “About”; and my introductory post, “We’ve All Got to Start Somewhere, I Suppose.”]
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While I certainly appreciate each and every click that has brought a visitor to “Retired But Not Shy,” I’d be less than honest if I did not admit that there are a few posts I wish more people had read. So what follows is a personal “Best of the Rest List”:
Several are on Vietnam, and the difficulty of teaching about it because it had been a part of my life, a theme that ran through a number of early posts. For example, the concluding part of my “Growing Up With Vietnam” series made the top ten list, but what about the others? (Part I; Part II; Part III) And then there was a talk I gave to a group of historians about teaching that war as “history.”
One post combined two of my favorite topics, History and Civil Rights: “Race–and History–Matter”
While the posts on antebellum Georgia governors Wilson Lumpkin and George R. Gilmer aroused a surprising amount of interest (to me, at any rate), the final post in the series, comparing and contrasting the careers and ideas of the two men, failed to make the cut, and I wish it had.
I’ve enjoyed putting together all of the Blues posts, but perhaps my favorite among the recent ones is a review of life on the so-called “Chitlin’ Circuit.”
Finally, I liked a recent post on the “mind of the South” in the early twenty-first century.
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Enough back-slapping and (mild) recriminations. If I’ve learned one thing about blogging over the past four years, it is that, once you’ve sent a post into cyberspace, there’s no telling how many people will be interested in it. My thanks to all who have visited “Retired But Not Shy.” I hope you will continue to follow my musings on Georgia, Southern, and American history; History teaching; American culture’s “History Wars,” and, of course, the Blues.
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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject: