Friday, November 13, 2009

Blogging the Middle Ages: Muhlberger's Early History

by Steve Muhlberger
[#8 in our series of blog histories]

Blogging the Middle Ages and the whole beautiful blue world and spaces beyond
My involvement with the Internet goes back to the early 90s, soon after I obtained my first permanent job – at Nipissing University, where I still teach. The university was very small and obscure and it felt quite remote. It was hard to maintain a research agenda. E-mail and then the web made a tremendous difference for me, many colleagues, and the institution as a whole. It was not so much that we could benefit from distant resources, although that was great, but the fact that we could contribute on a much more equal basis. In my case, because of my early research in late antiquity, I was asked to be editor of the Mediterranean in Late Antiquity section of ORB, and I got a great deal of satisfaction in constructing a survey of themes and resources. Also, like many others who used e-mail, I helped raise the profile of our university considerably.  This was a general phenomenon: It was no harder for a smart person to communicate a good idea or an apposite comment from North Bay Ontario than from Manhattan or Berkeley.
Since those days my research and intellectual life have been entwined with the march of communication technology.   I posted bibliography and translated source material to my websites, for instance, because it was no more work and it might benefit someone else -- indeed, I know it often has.  And of course from early on I began posting lecture notes and other class materials to the web.
I got into blogging in late 2005, when I was teaching first-year world history, Early Modern Europe, and Ancient Civilizations.  I had lots of students and was covering lots of time and space. I often want to say a bit more, or direct students to a resource, usually but not always online. I had no illusion that announcing something before the lecture – perhaps a special talk or a good article in an online newspaper -- would get students to follow up.   But if I put a comment, announcement, or a link on a blog that was always available and easy to update, maybe...
So my blog was first of all for my students in specific classes, none of which was focused on the European Middle Ages. If it had a focus, it was on connections around the world, with an emphasis on showing that Early History that students had never heard of could easily be shown, just from the news, to be relevant to their lives.   I was also trying to show them that the subjects I taught were even bigger and more lively than they might have seemed in the lecture alone. (A selection of pictures and maps sure helped there.)
Some of my students in 2005-6 are still reading my blog today. I keep students in mind when I write the blog, which means doing my best not to be some old guy ranting about his personal obsessions. I don't tell people that I am sick and tired of zombies.  (Sneaked it in! But hey, I saw the Night of the Living Dead in the very early 70s.) On the other hand, friends and strangers who are not my students have been coming to the blog since early days, and I try to interest them as well. I do not strictly stick to my academic subjects, I just usually start with them. I continue to take the long view and the wide view, showing connections are important things that I think are important, but are under discussed.   Two distinctive features of my blog are the inclusion of pictures of astronomical discoveries and space exploration (worlds' history), and my continued coverage of Islamic affairs and the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia (since I regularly teach History of Islamic Civilization). I'm not the great expert, but if I feel that someone has to say something of a certain subject, and it relates to the history of democracy, Islamic history, or world history, I will do it.
Finally, I am on sabbatical this year, privileged to spend long periods of time thinking about my research on chivalry. I know lots of people are interested in this stuff, and few of them live close to me or have much of a chance to talk to me face-to-face, so the best insights and discoveries find their way onto the blog.
Two brief posts that may convey the flavor of Muhlberger's Early History:

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