Blogging and American history

Perhaps the most famous living American historian, Bernard Bailyn, has weighed in on blogging — sort of.  Thanks to Rick Klau for pointing out quotes from Prof. Bailyn from “Ideological Origins,” the definitive history of the intellectual tradition and philosophies that led up to the American Revolution.  Rick’s point is that Bailyn could just as easily have been talking about blogs as about pamphlets, the blogs of the 18th century.  (Or, put another way, blogs are the pamphlets of the 21st century).  Thomas Paine’s Common Sense is the emblematic pamphlet.

The American Revolution, Bailyn tells us, was really about the preservation of political liberty.  Blogs, no doubt, are about the preservation of political liberty in the online environment, in a digital era.  Rick’s analogy rings true to me, given a recent experience testifying against the mini-DMCA proposed in Massachusetts.  In a centuries-old hearing room, dozens of technologists had come to testify against a lousy bill, with one special interest lobbyist representing the other side.  How did the techies know to show up in that hearing room off Nurse’s Hall?  They read today’s online pamphlets, just as our forebears read paper pamphlets.  The spirit, it seems to me, is precisely the same.  Blogs are just faster, more powerful, with greater reach.  We should learn how to use them, yet better — not just in Massachusetts, either, but in other states and in the world at large.  It’s no time to claim victory, of course, but rather to celebrate a new means of political organizing and figuring out how to put it to yet greater use.

Prof. Bailyn was on the committee that reviewed my work as an undergraduate in History and Literature and grilled me at my orals.  He is a so-called University Professor, which is probably Harvard’s highest honor; it means, some say, that he’s so smart that he can teach in any discipline.  He is a giant of an historian and a wonderful man.  To be able to claim him on our side would be quite a coup.  Perhaps we should invite him to one of Dave’s blogging sessions here at the Berkman Center on Thursday nights.

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