A Conversation about History Blogging in Canada

Keith Grant

At this year’s Canadian Historical Association, we’re going to have a face-to-face conversation about history blogging in Canada. If you’ll be in Calgary for Congress 2016, you’re invited to join us on Monday morning, 8:30 – 10:00, for CHA session 9 in Science B-142. Sharing their thoughts will be the editors of five collaborative blogs: Tina Adcock (The Otter~La loutre), Stacy Nation- Knapper (Findings/Trouvailles), Beth Robertson (Active History), Corey Slumkoski (Acadiensis’ blog), and me (Borealia). The roundtable will be hosted by Sean Kheraj, and is sponsored by both NiCHE and ActiveHistory.

Among the questions we’ll be exploring are these:

  • Blogging, research, and storytelling: How does blogging enable historians to tell new kinds 
of stories? Can blogging provide a platform for voices traditionally underrepresented in, or excluded from Canadian history narratives? How do we communicate our research differently online, and to mixed or non-academic audiences?
  • Blogging and publication: How does blogging complement traditional academic writing and publishing? How might it affect the eventual publication of research in books or articles? How does blogging fit into discussions about open-access publishing?
  • Blogging and teaching: How can blogging be used as a classroom activity? Should blog posts be assigned as readings in Canadian history classes?
  • Blogging and academia: Is blogging scholarship, or service? Does it hinder, or help academic careers?


One of the themes that I hope to raise is community: how do collaborative blogs help to create or support academic networks? Can they do this in a way that is different than conferences or journals? In my work on print culture in British North America, I see how books and periodicals enabled people to participate in “imagined” communities that extended beyond their locales and across borders. When we began musing about the project that eventually became Borealia, Denis and I had the perception that scholars working on Indigenous North America, New France, or British North America were diffused among several conferences and journals. We see the blog as a common space for collaboration and cross-fertilization. Through friendships and accidents, as much as good planning, Borealia has also developed as a transnational conversation. Many of our contributors have cross-border academic biographies, or are working on continental projects, and our readership is roughly split between Canadians and Americans. In these ways, we have experienced Borealia as a community-supporting forum.

Historians of print culture, however, have sometimes resisted this narrative of community, and have stressed the instrumentality of print in diffusion, as well as coherence. I think this is also true of history blogging. Recently it occurred to me that instead of working with a blog format, we could have explored something on the H-Net community: H-EarlyCanada, anyone? Perhaps something like that could still be beneficial, but for the present, it seemed to us that the collaborative blog format allowed us to reach a readership that was both academic and general interest—that we wanted to have a conversation among historians and for historians that was also public and accessible. Some essays do this more successfully than others, of course, but there is something about the medium that encourages us to write about our subjects in a way that is more open and engaging.

A final note on community: a real pleasure of editing Borealia has been participating in an active, generous community of history bloggers. The roundtable at the Calgary CHA emerges from that collegiality among the editors of Canadian group blogs. Rather than seeing one another as competitors, there has been cooperation, partnership, promotion of one another’s work, and practical behind-the-scenes advice. To take just the most recent example, for the last two weeks in May, Borealia and The Otter ~ La loutre co-hosted a series on early Canadian environmental history. By pooling our resources, ideas, and contacts, we were able to put together something that is stronger than either blog could have done on their own. The sense of community in the blogging community extends across borders, too. We have something in the works now with The Republic, the blog for SHEAR on the Early Republic. And Borealia has received plenty of support, advice, and promotion from—among many others—our mentors at The Junto, a group blog on early American history; the new, energetic Age of Revolutions blog; and individual history bloggers/podcasters such as Liz Covart (Ben Franklin’s World) and John Fea (The Way of Improvement Leads Home). I mention these concrete expressions of collegiality in part to gladly give credit where it’s due, but also to make a larger point: there is a growing informal network of historians and blogs committed to thoughtful academic conversations in public spaces. At least for the present, they seem to be an organic infrastructure for mediating between peer-reviewed research and public communication, as well as between disciplinary and national specializations.

If you can, please do join us for the roundtable in Calgary. Our goal for the roundtable is to have a lively conversation (rather than a series of short monologues!), and we look forward to wide participation. You are also very welcome to kick off a conversation here in the comments below.


Keith Grant is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of New Brunswick, writing a dissertation on religious communication networks, book culture, and emotional communities in British North America. With Denis McKim, he is a founding co-editor of Borealia. You can find him on Twitter @keithsgrant and @earlycanada.


Featured Image: Coffeehouse broadside, 1674, in William Harrison Ukers, All about coffee (New York, 1922), 60. Public domain via Archive.org. Are blogs and other forms of social media the coffeehouses of today?

Latest Comments

  1. andreaeidinger says:

    I personally think this is awesome and I’m super disappointed that I won’t be there to see the roundtable. Have you thought of maybe putting together a formal network of Canadian history blogs? To share resources and tips and to encourage collaboration?

    • Borealia Editor (@earlycanada) says:

      Thanks, Andrea! The kind of network you’re suggesting is more organized than anything that’s come up in our conversations so far. However, we are planning to meet as editors for a more behind-the-scenes conversation while we’re all together, and may try to continue that in some kind of online forum. I think this whole experience is–as Tina said in her NiCHE post today–building some momentum for greater collaboration. So yes, let’s keep talking.

  2. Valerie Jobson says:

    I agree there is a link between the coffeehouses and the internet. During the early days of the Royal Society of London, the Secretary Henry Oldenburg complained about the “coffeehouse wits” who mocked the Society’s members and their scientific experiments. The wits would have loved Twitter.

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