King George III Would Be Proud: Historian Humor


King George III by Johann Zoffany, 1771

Funny moment: Yesterday, my cell phone rang while I sat in a waiting room. Normally, I keep my phone on vibrate, but for whatever reason its ringer was turned on.

Like many early American historians, I love the soundtrack to Hamilton the Musical. My ringer plays the “Silence! A message from the King!” lyric at the end of Samuel Seabury’s “Farmer Refuted.”

When my phone rang, everyone in the waiting room jumped a bit because I had a “message from the king.”

After I shut the ringer off, I imagined King George III smiling about the fact that he could make a room full of Bostonians jump more than 200 years after the British Army left Boston and the United States declared its independence.

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5 Tips for How to Start a Writing Group Plus The Origins of #BookSquad

typewriterDo you have a community of writers you can rely on to push you to meet deadlines and write the best books and articles possible?

In this post, you will discover how to start a writing group and the origins of my writing group, #BookSquad.


Origins of #BookSquad

One of my big goals for 2015 was to finish my book: America’s First Gateway: Albany and the Making of America.

I have lofty, but achievable (I think) goals for my book. I want America’s First Gateway to be a well-researched, well-written, and accessible book. It should speak to both my colleagues and non-historians.

#BookSquad came about because I need help accomplishing these goals. I need to be around writers who can lend perspective to my project and who will set and hold me accountable for deadlines.


Starting a Writing Group: How #BookSquad Came Together

I expressed my desire to start a writing group to Megan Kate Nelson, a friend and fellow historian. I told her how I wanted the group to be an in-person workshop with a focus on writing well-researched, accessible history books. Megan loved the idea and suggested that we invite Kevin Levin to join us. He accepted our invitation.

Not long after I spoke with Megan and Kevin, I had lunch with Heather Cox Richardson. We met to discuss digital public history; Heather is a co-founder of the fantastic digital history magazine We’re History. During our conversation, I mentioned how I was starting a writing group with Megan and Kevin. Heather asked if she could join us and suggested that we invite Seth Jacobs, her colleague at Boston College, too.

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Trends in Digital Communications

I have been monitoring a few trends in digital communications.

In this post, I will discuss what I have noticed, where I think it is all going, and why historians should care.


General Observations


Digital communications has entered a “Wild West” period. Digital audio, video, and magazines have been around long enough that people know how to start and produce content for them. Today, the focus is not on content creation, but on how to monetize digital media.

There are four major players driving digital media monetization trends: Traditional media networks, digital media networks, internet entrepreneurs, and consumers.

Consumers want to locate high-quality, digital content that interests them quickly and reliably. Traditional media networks, digital media networks, and internet entrepreneurs aim to service this consumer demand by providing high-quality, easy-to-find, niche content to consumers as part of membership/subscription programs.

The future of digital media is content curation and bundling.[1]

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Initial Blueprint for a Digital History Communications Lab

Vintage ScienceFor the last year or so, my brain has been formulating ideas for a digital history communications lab.

This post represents my first attempt to articulate and sketch out what my brain envisions.

Note on terminology: I use “scholarly history” as a stand in for well-researched historical projects. These projects include traditional articles and monographs as well as museum exhibits or other new media projects.


Digital History Communications Lab Services Two Needs

1. Convenient Public Access to Scholarly History

People love history and if granted convenient access to historians and their work they will become advocates for history and its study.

Presently, a divide exists between historians and non-historians. People who love history want to consume high-quality historical scholarship, but they settle for “history-lite” books and programs because that is what they can conveniently access.

The Digital History Communications Lab will produce high-quality digital platforms that make scholarly history conveniently available to non-historians. Additionally, the lab will create programs that foster a sense of community and interaction between those who consume this content and the historians who contributed to its production.


2. Resource Center for Historians Who Want to Learn and Perfect Digital Communication

Vector internet marketing conceptThe Digital History Communications Lab will serve as an information hub for historians who want to learn how to communicate their work via digital means.

The Lab will curate content about social and new media and offer suggestions for how historians might adapt these platforms and tools to communicate their work. It will also offer how-to tutorials for digital platforms, social networks, and tools such as WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Tutorials will provide both basic and advanced instruction in an effort to serve the skill levels of all historians. Private consulting will be an option.

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What Are Your Strengths?

StrengthsFinderWhat character attributes make you “you” and good at what you do?

Lately, I have fielded a lot of questions about what I am doing with my digital history scholarship, my career, and my future. These questions have made me turn inward and ask: How do I articulate who I am, why I am good at what I do, and where I am going with my work?

As an avid podcast listener (I am a podcast junkie), I have heard many business podcasters mention the Gallup StrengthsFinder 2.0 book and test. Based upon psychologist Donald O. Clifton’s 40-years of research, StrengthsFinder 2.0 helps people recognize and better articulate their strengths of character.

The test consists of numerous questions that each taker must answer in 20 seconds or less. The whole test takes about 30 minutes to complete. The 2.0 part of the test involves the computer, which takes your answers, compares them with 34 of the most common strengths, and then produces a report that shows you your top 5 strengths and articulates what they mean for most people.

Admittedly, I was skeptical: Could a single test and computer algorithm tell me about my character? Could it help me articulate the essence of what makes me unique?

Much to my surprise the answer is “yes.” The test articulated why I am obsessed with history, driven to succeed, and why I become discontented if I don’t have some idea or problem to turn over in my head.


My Top 5 Strengths

1. Context: “You look back to understand the present…It is only by casting your mind back to an earlier time, a time when the plans were being drawn up, that the present regains stability…you make better decisions because you sense the underlying structure.”

I guess this explains why I love history and why I became a historian.


2. Learner: “Whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you…You thrive in dynamic work environments where you are asked…to learn a lot about new subject matter in a short period of time.”

This makes sense. I prefer to hang out with brilliant people and I often seek to learn new skills, ideas, and technologies.

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