Thursday, June 27, 2013 by Ethan Rafuse
On September 28, 2006, I did my initial post here on Civil Warriors. I expressed then a great sense of honor and appreciation at having been invited by Mark to participate and still feel that today. I have, however, come to the conclusion that the time has arrived to end my participation on Civil Warriors. In light of the decline in the quantity of my postings here, I can’t imagine this will come as much of a surprise to anyone who has been following the blog recently.
This has not been an easy decision and it is one I have wrestled with, and signaled my interest in making to folks from whom I have sought advice on professional matters for a while now. A number of factors have stayed my hand, though. One is that I hate the thought of quitting anything. Another is the fact that the nearly seven years since I joined Civil Warriors have been very good ones for me professionally and the blog undoubtedly played a role in that. Consequently, there is some anxiety that Civil Warriors could, going forward, be the nail that for want of my kingdom could be in serious trouble. Another factor has been the difficulty of figuring out how to go out on the right note. I did not want to just stop blogging and leave it others to figure out that I had. I also wanted to make a clear break from blogging, both for myself and the audience (though mainly on behalf of the former), and it has taken a while to find the time to put together a farewell post that does that properly and provides something close to what I consider an adequate explanation for my decision.
One of the factors in my leaving is a sense that over the past few years, the medium of blogging has been in decline. I know that my interest in it certainly has. Five years ago, I followed, along with this blog, Eric Wittenberg’s, Kevin Levin’s and two or three others pretty much daily. Now, if I look at another blog besides Brooks’s more than once a month it feels like a lot. The decline in interest in blogging is, at least for me, also a consequence of the emergence of Facebook. I know joining Facebook in late 2009 removed one of the motives I cited for joining Civil Warriors; namely, to facilitate the efforts of those who wish to contact me. I will also say that my decline in interest in blogging preceded Gary Gallagher’s much-discussed critique of blogging a year or so ago, though I have to say it reinforced it, for there was much in it that I agreed with.
It has been suggested by some with whom I have discussed this move that I could recharge my interest in blogging by breaking away from Civil Warriors and starting my own blog, one more personalized that might engage with folks on matters of interest to me other than the Civil War. I considered it, but in the end, have simply decided I just do not want the obligation of blogging anymore. (I do hope Mark would be open to my returning if I should wish to do so at some point; indeed, I shall be very surprised if I don’t.) Mark stated in a post a while back that he never wanted to feel obligated to blog for the sake of blogging, but my experience is that feeling is unavoidable as long as the blog is there and you are affiliated with it.
The ramifications of the ongoing budget problems my employer is experiencing also unavoidably figured into my decision. In the past year or so, my department has lost seven of the forty-three members of the faculty and staff, with no prospect of replacement. (Perhaps most regrettable, as anyone who works in the military or academic setting—or a place that combines the bureaucratic processes of both like this one does—will appreciate, is that our department secretary was one of those who departed.) Consequently, the workload of just about everyone in my department has increased significantly in the past year. For me personally, the last academic year saw a 25% increase in my teaching load during the core course and a doubling of the number of elective courses I taught. The increase in my workload was partly offset by the staff ride program for the other campuses of the Command and General Staff School falling victim to the budget axe earlier this year. That of course was hardly a positive thing from my perspective, as I believe strongly in the importance of the properly directed study of historic battlefields in officer education. (It also provided some good material for posts.) But this was a development that was far beyond my power to prevent.
Above all, though, I just want to spend my time in other ways than blogging. I have a number of projects that I am currently trying to bring to completion and personal interests that I would like to spend more time on. Moreover, my daughter’s turning ten recently has impressed on me that her childhood is running short (and teen years are approaching too fast for comfort). While I can’t say I think this is the case at this point, I don’t want to look back and lament I missed something because I was worrying about a blog. I know that the period a year or so ago when there were technical glitches here were a great relief to me, for during that time the obligation to blog was lifted and I could do other things without feeling guilty that I was neglecting the blog. After the glitches were resolved, obviously, I resumed posting. But I do not think it is hard to see a decline in both the quality and quantity of the posts I have been producing since then to a level where I am justified in being skeptical as to what value my continuing here has anyway.
I would like to express my appreciation to Mark for extending the invitation to me back in 2006 to participate in Civil Warriors, and to the other folks who participated in the blog during my time with it. I also thank the friends and colleagues who participated with me in this blog, especially those who served as sources of material, commentators on posts, or guest bloggers.
Thanks as well to those of you who have followed this blog over the past seven years. If I don’t see you in Gettysburg next week, I do hope our paths will cross somewhere else up the road.