This has been a long journey for me. If you're here, if you're reading this, you're not coming in at the beginning of something--a newsletter, a website, a blog--but toward the end. So, as a way of introducing what this site is and how we got here, let me start at the beginning, or closer to the beginning.
I am primarily a historian. I've been other things too, such as a lawyer--I don't practice anymore--and I've written books, mostly fiction, but I consider myself primarily a custodian and disseminator of stories about the human past. After my first exit from the practice of law I went back to graduate school to get a Ph.D. in history. About 2011, when "blogging" was just starting to become a major cultural force, I started a site on the free WordPress (dot com) platform. This roughly coincided with the publication of my novel Zombies of Byzantium, which is now out of print. My blog was supposed to be your standard-issue "author website," mainly for the promotion of the book. I couldn't stick to that. I had too many interesting things I wanted to share, usually things about history or pop culture, and I started writing about them, whether they had to do with my book or not. In 2013, probably thanks to WordPress's algorithm, my site took off. At its height, roughly first half of 2016, I had thousands of subscribers and amassed over 3 million hits. I built a community of readers and other bloggers who I still consider friends--Robert H. and Marilyn A., I'm looking at you.
In 2016-17 my old blog declined. Melancholy over the declension of the United States--in other words, the Trump era--was part of it. But I also graduated with my Ph.D. in that period, moved, went back (partially) to the practice of law, and also began developing my online history course platform (now www.seanmunger.com). I tended to the blog half-heartedly, doing articles when the spirit moved me, but WordPress at that time was becoming an unwieldy, capitalist-driven "platform" catering mainly to paying business users and not real bloggers. I thought I'd make the jump, as a few of my contemporaries did, to WordPress dot org, a self-hosted site. Instantly my subscribers were wiped out and this was the last most of my regular readers ever heard of me.
I tried for a while to regenerate my thoughts on Medium, which was big in that time frame. I hated Medium from the get-go, but it seemed like "WordPress 2.0," and it was a way (supposedly) that journos and pundits were reaching their audience in 2018-19. When the pandemic started I moved all of my operations, including blogging, to my own site, intending that the blog, what there was of it, to that new server. The blogging platform there, however, was no better than Medium's. So then I tried Substack, mainly because, again, all the cool kids (journos and pundits) were using it, and it was an email newsletter as well as a blog. Maybe you know me from there; my site is still up.
I didn't feel like I had that much to say on Substack. I had vague plans to launch a membership tier, and, I thought, who would pay to read a history blog? Plus, Substack was designed for those aforementioned cool kids, so I thought my articles there should have a future-looking, at least quasi-journalistic, quasi-pundity bent. Consequently, I talked a lot about climate change and rising fascism. A few of my articles there generated significant hits. But something was always off. I didn't write articles on Substack because I wanted to, but because I thought I shouldn't remain silent about the threats I see in the modern world.
Substack itself has problems. Transphobia is one of them. After Elon Musk bought Twitter and I fled to Mastodon (my handle is here), people in the fediverse were telling me I should ditch Substack too. I didn't disagree with them. It was now late 2022 and I'd been effectively out of blogging for nearly four years, having concentrated mostly on my online courses and my YouTube channel. But I still think I have some interesting things to say to the world, and I have a very long, deep shelf of historical and cultural subjects I've written about.
So here we are--yet another reboot, but with a different mindset, and, I hope, ten more years of life and digital experience. The Garden of Memory is powered by Ghost, an open-source, non-profit platform, which is not chasing the "cool kids" or promising that I can make a gazillion dollars from subscriptions by becoming one of them. There is no algorithm here. I am not a journalist or a pundit, and I'm not trying to become one. I'm a historian. I want to get back to my roots, what made me want to express myself in the first place.
But cleary this is not 2013, and blogging as it was known then is largely dead. A newsletter is, and always was, better than a blog, but fortunately today you can combine both. I'm interested in building a community of readers who find interesting what I find interesting. I'm not trying to be all things to all people. I'm not a "cool kid." You won't find me on Slate or writing for Buzzfeed. But you will find things here that you won't find there.
If you need a value proposition, click here, same link as in the bottom of this article, which I've decided will appear on every post here on the Garden. Here is an explanation of the tiers. I'm going to try running this site for the month of February, with both public and members-only articles. On March 1, 2023, I'm going to try instituting a paid subscription tier. I'd like to build a community, if I can, and if there is interest. If you'd like to come along with me as this journey continues, I'd love to have you. It's a long trek across the Silk Road and the desert sands are shimmering hot, but you may find it an illuminating journey.
The header image depicts the Silk Road across Asia in the Middle Ages. It is from the Catalan Atlas, created in Spain in 1375.
The Value Proposition
Why should you be reading this blog, or receiving it as a newsletter? This is why.
☕ If you appreciate what I do, buy me a virtual coffee from time-to-time to support my work. I know it seems small, but it truly helps.
📖 You could also buy my newest book.
🎓 Like learning? Find out what courses I’m currently offering at my website.
📽 More the visual type? Here is my YouTube channel with tons of free history videos.