State of the military historioblogosphere, March 2007

[Cross-posted at Revise and Dissent.]

With the inaugural Military History Carnival coming up, it seems like a good time to ask: what does the military historioblogosphere look like? The obvious answer to that is another question: what on Earth is a military historioblogosphere anyway? Well, 'historioblogosphere' is just a silly word I invented to describe the history blogosphere, and so the military historioblogosphere is the part of that to do with wars and suchlike. (And actually, of course, it's the Anglophone military historioblogosphere ...) In practice, I will take the 'Wars and Warriors' section of Cliopatria's History Blogroll as the closest thing we have to a census of the military historioblogosphere. Which is not to say that it is complete, nor that I think everything on that list should be there, but it's a whole lot more comprehensive than any list I'm willing to maintain! It obviously excludes blogs which may discuss military history, but are not primarily focused on it -- but it's a good place to start.

So I've gone through the blogs listed there and compiled some basic statistics with them, and made some basic plots with them. (I used Keynote because it's soooo much easier and prettier than Excel, or Powerpoint for that matter; and because my otherwise go-to app for plotting, Plot, doesn't do pie charts.) I actually intended to do something along these lines ages ago, but never got around to it; fortunately I kept the data on my hard drive; and as it happens it was almost exactly a year ago that I compiled it, so it's perfect for a year-on-year comparison! So let's begin.

Blogs: numbers

The number of blogs in the military historioblogosphere. The red portion represents the increase in the past year. The blue part (blogs active in March 2006) actually decreased. This is because some blogs have moved out of the military historioblogosphere since then, according to Cliopatria -- mainly because they've ceased activity, but not always. The percentage of blogs in the list in March 2006 which did not make the cut the following year -- call it the churn rate -- is 23%.

The total percentage increase is 65%. This sounds impressive, but actually it's well below the growth rate of the blogosphere as a whole (which would predict a 151% increase in a year). Of course, the Cliopatria blogroll is human-generated, not machine-indexed, so it might be expected that it would fall short of the actual increase. And of course there may well be selection biases affecting what is considered blogroll-worthy by Cliopatria.

Blogger: nationality

The nationality of bloggers in the military historioblogosphere. This I tried to determine by visiting each blog and looking for information as to where the blogger(s) -- members of group blogs are counted individually -- live or originated from. I did not read every entry (!), and for some blogs I couldn't get any positive indication as to origin. These are labeled 'Unknown' -- but as it happens, every single one of these unknowns blogs about the American Civil War, so it's a pretty safe bet that they are all from the US. So the blue and red sectors combined represent the American part of the military historioblogosphere.

Now, it's not unexpected that Americans would dominate the sample. Based on population, the share from each nation is probably about right. But as somebody from (in fact, who IS) the smallest wedge in the pie chart, I would have liked to have seen the non-US proportion at least stay constant. Instead, it has fallen from 23% to 18%. It's an increasingly American 'sphere. Having said that, I noticed that two of the ACW blogs have announced they going on hiatus (or worse), and there are a couple of British blogs not yet on the list, so in a month the picture might be different. But that's the sort of thing that happens with a snapshot like this.

Blogger: gender

The gender of bloggers in the military historioblogosphere. Again, there was a (much smaller) number of bloggers whose gender could not be positively determined. As one might expect in this area, there's a very small number of females, certainly much lower than in the historioblogosphere as a whole. But at least it's improving: in absolute terms, from 1 in 2006 to at least 3 now; in percentage terms, from 4% to at least 6% now.

Subject: period

The periods covered by blogs in the military historioblogosphere. Here, 'None' means that the blog in question did not confine itself to one period, not that I could see anyway. Leaving these ones aside, the biggest sectors are the 19th century by a big margin, followed by the 20th century. Again, there has been a significant change since March 2006: blogs covering the 19th century now make about half of all military history blogs, up from just under two-fifths a year ago. The 20th century's share has remained about the same, at a bit over 25%.

Subject: theatre

The theatres covered by blogs in the military historioblogosphere. This is the most subjective of my classifications, and it doesn't help that 'theatres' (as in, of war) doesn't quite cover what I mean, which is not necessarily the part of the world where the wars under discussion were fought, but sometimes it was more the nation the blog was about, if that seemed more appropriate. Maybe 'perspectives'? Well, that's not great either. Because of the vagueness, I went broad with the bins and made them continents.

So, there's a pattern developing here. North America was the biggest sector in 2006, and it's only getting bigger: a whopping 58% of the military historioblogosphere, up from 42%. The next biggest is Europe, which maintained about the same share over the year, just over a quarter. It's the generalist blogs which have declined relatively (though not much in absolute terms, it's true).

Subject: war

The wars covered by blogs in the military historioblogosphere. And here the reason underlying the aforementioned trends becomes clear: blogs about the American Civil War numbered just 10 in March 2006. Now there are 22 on Cliopatria's blogroll! So just over half of the military historioblogosphere is now devoted to the Civil War, up from under two-fifths a year ago. Just over a quarter are about the World Wars, a figure which has remained about the same; again, it's generalist blogs which have fallen behind in relative terms.

There's clearly a strong correlation between the nationality of a blogger and the period/theatre/war they blog about: at the risk of over-generalising -- it's probably true about 75% of the time -- if they're American, they blog about the Civil War; if they're not, they blog about the World Wars. Well, it's not exactly news that Americans have far more interest in the Civil War than non-Americans, nor is it in any way surprising. But where are all the American blogs about the Second World War? You know, the Greatest Generation, Saving Private Ryan, Call of Duty 2 and all that? Conversely, to all the non-Americans out there, aren't there any other wars worth blogging about than the two big ones?

Technorati rank

The top five most popular blogs in the military historioblogosphere, by Technorati rank. Here, lower numbers (shorter bars) are better, meaning higher popularity. I didn't think to check this last year, so unfortunately there are no comparative data. It's still interesting, though. As expected, War Historian (AKA Blog Them Out of the Stone Age) is the most popular blog in the military historioblogosphere; it just breaks into the top 50,000 of all blogs. Civil War Memory comes in a very creditable second; also no surprise. Most remarkable is Investigations of a Dog, which as I have remarked previously has very quickly become entrenched as a must-read blog -- and hosting the Military History Carnival is only going to increase its popularity and Technorati ranking! Then follows, a long way back and close together, *modest cough* Airminded and Military History.

I must admit that I'm surprised to see Airminded in the top five; I had thought that the cluster effect of so many Civil War blogs linking to each other would mean that they would dominate the Technorati rankings. That's not the case; there's only Civil War Memory (and I don't consider War Historian to be one, as it always had very substantial non-Civil War content even before Civil Warriors was founded). However, it must be noted that Technorati rankings (which are based upon the number of inbound links a blog receives from other blogs) are a bit dodgy; for example, it sometimes claims a blog has no incoming links, when the search results clearly show several. Also, the URL which Cliopatria has listed for Victor Hanson isn't recognised as a blog by Technorati; instead this one is, which would be ranked at 4 if it were included here -- but it's not :)

So there it is. There are other metrics I could have compiled, such as blogging platform (WordPress is quickly coming up on Blogger's position) or a clustering diagram (as has been done for the historioblogosphere as a whole), but I think that the ones I have done tell us something useful about the current state of the military historioblogosphere, even if it's not perhaps very surprising.

Edit: fixed a minor error in the period plot.

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12 thoughts on “State of the military historioblogosphere, March 2007

  1. As CEM Joad is no doubt saying somewhere, it all depends on what you mean by a military history blog. I have to wonder about the '21st century' category above, which I suspect is dominated by discussion of Iraq and the GWOT: but surely there are many more warblogs (as I believe they're called) than this. But can they really be described as history blogs? What makes a blog about Iraq 'historical' or not? These are open questions; I am curious as to what everyone else thinks.

    There is also the matter of a blog's functionality. The site I currently maintain has all the technical paraphernalia of a blog but is not really a 'blog' in the conventional sense. I use it purely as a mobile reference point for links and references that I spot along the way and find interesting, and it is only irregularly updated - a matter of choice, not (only) laziness. If other people stumble across it and find it useful too, all well and good, but that is not what I am doing it for. There are no thumb-sucking 'this is what I think about X' posts of the type that have become characteristic of blogs. Or at least not in its present iteration. I wonder how many more people, particularly researchers, will come to use blogging technology more as a sort of public file folder than as a 'hey world, here I am!' forum.

  2. This is all really interesting and useful. I think Cliopatria's definition of military history blogs is very narrow and classifies a lot of relevant stuff as something else. For example, How It Really Was meets my definition of military history, because it's entirely about the aftermath and effects of World War 2. It seems quite arbitrary to leave that out and put Airminded in, when you're mostly writing not about the war itself but what people thought it was going to be like. Again that's well within my definition but why is it more about "Wars and Warriors" than HIRW is?

    Anyway, the Military History Carnival will be much more diverse than the Cliopatria blogroll. At least a third of the posts in the history carnival I hosted in January could be included in a broad definition of military, even though I wasn't trying to give it a military bias, and I doubt that anyone thought that war was over-represented. I'm wondering if Cliopatria are reluctant to classify a blog as military history unless they can't classify it as anything else. I can see how some people might not be comfortable with the label, but I'd rather reclaim it than reject it.

  3. Alan:

    Actually, there's just the one blog in the 21st century category, but that's partly because I (and I think Cliopatria too) share your concerns about whether milblogs/warblogs count as history. Some of the 'None' categories include blogs which mostly talk about the GWOT, but it's more politics or opinion than history. But I think a good case can be made for the sole exception, Marine Historian, the blog of a history teacher and Marine reservist who has just returned from deployment in Iraq, where his assignment was actually as a Marine historian. Certainly it can be debated whether contemporary history is possible, etc, but I'm inclined to agree with Cliopatria on this one.

    Good point about the purpose or functionality of a blog. I thought about trying to classify that but it was too hard -- a survey would probably be better for that sort of thing.

    Gavin:

    Yeah, I would also differ with Cliopatria over some of their choices (and HIRW is one of them). But to be fair, it isn't always easy to ambiguously classify a blog as one thing or the other, especially since most blogs are one thing AND the other. Airminded could just as well go into the 'Modern History' category, for example. Or maybe 'Regional Histories' or maybe 'Digital History, Science & Technology'. I (and Cliopatria) classify The Avia-Corner as military history, but maybe it's more history of technology. And so on.

    Perhaps it would be possible to use the Cliopatria list as a seed, see which blogs they link to most (on the assumption that military history blogs are most likely to link to other military history blogs) and construct a more comprehensive list out of that ...

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  5. Brett and Gavin, Thanks for these reflections about Cliopatria's History Blogroll. As you can imagine, it's become a pretty big job just trying to keep it updated. You are certainly correct that categorizing blogs is problemmatic. The alternative is no categories -- and a single, long list of 700 blogs would probably be useful to no one. We've got to do problemmatic calls all the time. Does Medieval Warfare Blog go in Premodern, where it currently is, or Wars & Warriors? Does News for Medievalists go in News & Links or in Premodern, where I'll probably put it? The Primarily Non-English Language Blogs have sometimes complained that they are all segregated together -- but frankly I don't have the language skills to comfortably scatter them elsewhere and, this way, at least, Spanish speakers can more readily find them. Thanks for mentioning HIRW -- this is the first time it's come to my attention. And that's the point that I'd stress to you. Trying to keep track of hundreds of history blogs of all sorts is a big job and you can, as Brett has, help us out by recommending in comments at the History Blogroll those that you know of but we haven't yet found. That would be a big help.

  6. Post author

    I agree Ralph, no categories at all, while having the virtue of simplicity, would not be an improvement in the least! One idea I had was that perhaps the blogroll could be split into two lists, with the same blogs on each: one would be ordered by period, the other by subject/theme. It would be a bit more work, and it's a bit less accesible perhaps. And it wouldn't entirely solve the category problem (especially for the subject list), but it would cut it down considerably.

    Another approach might be a wiki, and let the users maintain it -- but consistency would be difficult to maintain, and without a large number of users it probably wouldn't work.

    Incidentally, just to illustrate the flakiness of Technorati rankings, Airminded's went down after I wrote this post (even though I had a new blog link to me), and I noticed that the About.com blog has another 7 links to a different URL, so if they had been included with the default ranking, it would certainly be well ahead of me. Oh well, 'tis better than nothing. I could have used the TTLB rankings I suppose.

  7. Crooked Timber set up an academic blogroll as a wiki. It has a history subsection. No sub-categories within history.
    Frankly, it's a huge time commitment to maintain the one History Blogroll that Cliopatria has. I can't make the time commitment to maintain a second, period-only categories, blogroll. Even if we tried to do it, there are a very large number of history blogs (including most digital history, most academic lives, most Non-English Language, most Other, etc.) that just can't be periodized

  8. Post author

    True, but there's always that useful category 'Other' for all the problem cases :) Sorry, I hope I didn't sound dismissive of your work or anything like that -- I'm just thinking out loud, really. I guess the best thing is, as you say, for people to suggest new blogs in the comments at the Cliopatria blogroll.

    Re: the CT wiki -- yes, that's what I had in mind as a model (though I don't think it's suitable for Cliopatria's purposes because it's only academic blogs) -- the ultimate advantage would to let the "wisdom of crowds" maintain and order the lists. True, there are currently no sub-categories within the history section, but there's no reason why there can't be; in fact, the possibility is explicitly mentioned in the FAQ:

    Can new discipline pages be added?

    Yes, as bloggers in these disciplines emerge. But they should be genuine self-standing disciplines. You shouldn't, for example, expect to have a separate page with a link from the main page for medieval history or for comparative politics. These are sub-disciplines, but they aren't disciplines in their own right. Of course, if you want to write a wiki page with a list of medieval historians, and add it to the Internal Resources for history you should by all means do so.

    That hasn't happened, at least not yet, and I think the reason is the same one I mentioned in my comment: there is not yet the userbase at the academic wiki to make it viable, so the alternative lists would likely end up being maintained by the one person (or not at all). I guess one could try to organise a team of volunteers to look after the areas they know best ...

    I've just noticed that I don't link directly to either the Cliopatria blogroll or the CT wiki in my sidebar, I should fix that.

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