Dear Readers, as of today, The Zamani Reader is officially two years old! A couple of weeks ago, I dug back into the archives and found my first blog post. It was posted on February 1, 2014. The post was called “The Columbian Question: A Call for a Plebiscite on Columbus Day.” It was a reflection on the controversy that surrounds the US holiday Columbus Day, with a list of three ways that Americans can respond to the annual celebrations. You can read that article by clicking on the link above. Suffice to say, it does not seem like our approach to Columbus Day has changed very much since I published that piece. Of course, we have not changed the name of the holiday; yet, as a nation, we continue to welcome its yearly arrival with a mixture of irony, banality, and indifference.
Since today is the two-year anniversary of TZR, I wanted to take a brief moment and reflect on the blog’s origins. First, there is no doubting that this blog would not have been started if I hadn’t ended up pursuing my master’s degree at Loyola University Chicago. As many people know, the History Department at Loyola University emphasizes “public history,” an innovative approach to the study of history based upon fostering sustained engagement between professionals and non-professionals. Loyola University offers one of the most unique History programs in the entire nation. While most History programs base their curriculum on a standard model of reading and then discussing a seemingly endless list of books written by practitioners of History, Loyola requires its students to do work that is much more versatile. Most importantly, teachers encourage their students to build connections with local people and non-academics in nearby communities.
Here is an example of just some of the things that History students learn to do while at Loyola University: write for different contexts, like popular and academic publications; curate museum exhibits; lead History tours; collaborate on exhibits and grant proposals with historical societies and archives; manage the business side of Historical institutions; preserve and catalog historical materials; judge local History competitions; review multi-media presentations and performances, including plays, musicals, dances, exhibits, and more; construct digital media like interactive maps and databases; build a library catalog; analyze material artifacts; process library materials; conduct interviews with locals in the community; and, as you may have already guessed, create and keep a personal blog as a way to share your academic work with the public.
When I arrived at Loyola University, the History Graduate Student Association (HGSA) was running a blog called The Lakefront Historian. As far as I can tell, the blog’s first post was on April 12, 2012, about a year and four months before I arrived at LUC. The piece was called “Plans for Summer 2012;” and it was a series of very short interviews with current graduate students about, you guessed it, what they were planning to do for the summer. By the time that I arrived at LUC in August of 2013, the blog had been going strong for over a year, and every new graduate student was invited to participate articles. The blog was a great way for new students to get involved in the graduate community, reach out to a national public-history audience, while contributing to something that the students of the LUC History Department held in collective ownership.
I began writing for The Lakefront Historian after my first semester at LUC. My first piece was called “Reflections on DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis,” and it was a review of a documentary of the same name. I posted that piece on Thursday January 9, 2014, only three weeks before my first post appeared on The Zamani Reader. I guess that my experience with the The Lakefront Historian convinced me rather quickly of the merits to creating and maintaining my own blog. At the time, many public history students maintained personal blogs and I studied their examples. In fact, there were even one or two graduate classes at LUC that required students to create their own blogs as part of the curriculum. Anyway, I continued to post my pieces on both The Zamani Reader and The Lakefront Historian until August 6, 2014, when my last piece appeared on The Lakefront Historian. This was called “My Favorite Historical Lecture,” and it was a discussion about a 1965 debate at Cambridge University between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley.
In total, I published about 19 pieces on The Lakefront Historian over the course of seven months, when I switched over to The Zamani Reader exclusively. Some of the pieces were good public history pieces–analyses of museum exhibits, History competitions, and interactive History media–and, as such, they belonged on the blog. Many others, were reviews of academic books that did not reflect either the values or the mission of the blog. For a while, I even ran a series of book reviews from an independent-study course that I was taking on “The Black Atlantic World.” These reviews were particularly out of place on a blog intended for the public history community, and I am sure that most readers of The Lakefront Historian were bewildered to see them there, week after week.
By the time I was publishing my book reviews from “The Black Atlantic World” course, I had come to realize that my intentions for blogging were quite different from those of The Lakefront Historian. Most of all, I wanted a blog that reflected my own personal voice, and was not constrained by any individual approach to the presentation of History. I wanted a blog that could archive my own development as a scholar of History, as well as one that was flexible enough to feature content that alternated (at times awkwardly) between very opposite styles. One week I could post a lengthy academic analysis of new works in the field, and another week I could post a short casual rant about the representation of an historical event in the media. Although I have not posted nearly as many casual rants as I would have liked, I feel like that blog does reflect this diversity. Over the past two years, I have published personal reflections, announcements, reviews and precis, research essays, news items, historiographical works, and more.
While my intentions for blogging History diverged from the great work of The Lakefront Historian, I owe the makers and contributors of that blog extreme gratitude for inspiring my work. I cut my teeth as a blogger by writing posts for that website; I learned the value of a scholar even maintaining a blog; and I developed my concept for TZR by studying the layout and style of The Lakefront Historian. Without that platform originally set up by the HGSA at LUC, The Zamani Reader would not exist. So while TZR continues to draw on new influences and evolve in different ways, I will never forget where the idea originally came from. Thank you Loyola, and Happy 2nd Birthday to The Zamani Reader!