Week 3: Blogs, Media – Public Opinion

In a previous class we discussed Marshall McCluhan’s phrase “the medium is the message” in which he explained that there is a symbiotic relationship between the medium and how a message is perceived. This week’s readings brought a few things to mind with public opinion being the overarching idea. Ralph Luker concluded his essay Were There Blog Enough and Time identifying some of the younger contemporary historians who were able to expose him to various bodies of history, through their use of blogging platforms. The Nursing Clio article She Looks the Abortionist and the Bad Woman recalls the level of influence newspapers particularly the New York Herald had on influencing public thought. Public opinion and validity become a dichotomy when examining ideas like phrenology or the inclusion of the peer-review process in the blogosphere. How is it phrenology was an accepted theory in its time? How is it more and more people are logging onto blog sites and other digital mediums, allowing for those sources to shape their perception and opinions of various issues in the public sphere?

Historian, Ralph E. Luker was once a regular contributor on George Mason University’s History News Network (HNN). The blog’s mission statement describes HNN as a means to “put current events into historical perspective.” It was in there in that mission statement where I learned that HNN shared similar sentiments about public perception when they wrote, “given how public opinion is shaped today, whipsawed emotionally on talk shows…egos of the guest…desire for ratings by the hosts and search for profits by media companies and sponsors, historians are especially needed now.” How did the historian come to be a trusted source? How does a historian who presents are his or her work as a blog entry set themselves apart from a history “enthusiast” someone I describe as being passionate about history, likely well-versed on particular subject matter(s), yet lacking formal academic training? How does a historian do as Luker described and “teach me about South Asian history and culture” or “teach me about the cultural impact of World War I”?

Maybe, just maybe “a peer-reviewed, collaborative and international history of sexuality blog” found in the about section of notchesblog.com solidifies the validity of its contributing writers. As we discussed last week, it is through the process of peer-review that influences many to accept a historical narrative as a trusted source. Still, how can one decide if the historical narrative offered in the public sphere is tried and true or also a means to shaping public opinion? Just as phrenology was an accepted ideology in 19th Century American culture there may come a time when some of our contemporary historical arguments may not seem as pragmatic. In contemporary times, historical blogs provide an alternative to what is being offered in major news mediums. As noted on HNN’s website, blogs have an opportunity to shape content using a bit more integrity than major news sources. Still, that doesn’t repudiate the fact that most historical narratives are researched and written to prove a particular argument. Arguments and opinions are one in the same, leaving me to believe that history blogs also run the chance of skewing public opinions based on the content they present. Although some may consider most of the blogs referenced in this week’s readings, as experts in a particular subject matter, it is up to a well-informed, knowledge seeking audience to utilize several available digital history resources to fact check and form an analysis of the information they’ve been subjected to rather than succumb to the methods of shaping public opinion.

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