Truckin’: ten years of Crooked Timber

by Chris Bertram on July 8, 2013

Today, July 8th, is the tenth anniversary of Crooked Timber. I don’t suppose that when we started, any of us expected it to last this long, but it has, retaining its distinctive character through many changes of personnel. By way of marking the occasion, I thought I’d set down how the blog came into being, and a little bit about its prehistory.

Some time early in 2003, I decided that I couldn’t keep going with my solo blog, Junius. My colleague Keith Graham had unexpectedly taken early retirement and the finger was pointing at me to head the philosophy department at Bristol. But I didn’t want to quit blogging: I’d made a bunch of friends online and I was enjoying arguing with people about ideas. Still, I knew I couldn’t keep Junius going if it meant updating a blog several times a week. So the idea struck me that I should invite some of the people I’d most liked interacting with to form a group blog. To them I added a few other friends whom I wanted to read online but who hadn’t yet taken the plunge.

I don’t have the inital email, so I can’t be completely sure of the contents. I know that Henry, Kieran, Brian and Daniel were among the addressees: Henry blogged at Gallowglass, Kieran had a blog under his own name, Brian had started Thoughts Arguments and Rants and Daniel was blogging at D-SquaredDigest. I may have written separately to Harry and Jon Mandle who didn’t have their own blogs, and Henry approached Maria, the only woman in our original lineup (and his intermittent co-blogger at Gallowglass). In retrospect, I deplore the overwhelming maleness of my initial list. What was I thinking? I just hope I asked the recipients for suggestions for women members.

That first email also invited two other people: Matthew Yglesias and Norman Geras. Yglesias (a Harvard undergrad) was a rising star in the blogosphere but had yet to morph into his current superstar incarnation. Geras I knew because we’d once been on the editorial committee of New Left Review together and he’d recently phoned me up for advice on starting to blog. Yglesias never replied, and, to be honest, I don’t know if he even read the email. But Geras joined up to the list on which we discussed the project.

That provided us with the first crisis in the (pre)history of Crooked Timber. (Actually, I think, our only real crisis within the group.) At the time, we were either just before or at the start of the Iraq war and some of us were hesitating about which line to take. Geras used the opportunity of the shared emails to bombard everyone with pro-war articles and, after he had circulated a particularly egregious bit of warmongering concern-trolling from Johann Hari, Daniel snapped. If Geras were in, then Daniel would be out. But Geras, facing a bit more scepticism than he wanted, was already sensing that the group wasn’t for him. So we were able to keep Daniel for Crooked Timber. Geras went off to promote so-called “humanitarian intervention” at a solo-blog. He’s been doing that in his characteristic style for a decade; I think we got the better part of the bargain.

One thing we did find rather tough was choosing a name. A bunch of suggestions did the rounds and it eventually came down to Crooked Timber (from Kant) versus The Grumbling Hive (from Mandeville). I’m very pleased that I was in a minority of one in that vote: the Hive was a terrible idea. Not much better was my initial post, a kind of mock-Victorian announcement of our presence. Still, I think its description of what we would become has proved reasonably accurate:

Crooked Timber is a cabal of philosophers, politicians manque, would-be journalists, sociologues, financial gurus, dilletantes and flaneurs who have assembled to bring you the benefit of their practical and theoretical wisdom on matters historical, literary, political, philosophical, economic, sociological, cultural, sporting, artistic, cinematic, musical, operatic, comedic, tragic, poetic, televisual &c &c, all from perspectives somewhere between Guy Debord, Henry George and Dr Stephen Maturin.

The initial lineup consisted of me, Harry, Daniel, Henry, Maria, Kieran, Jon and Brian. Then the first new recruits were Tom Runnacles and Micah Schwartzman with Ted Barlow and Eszter Hargittai following soon after. John Holbo and Belle Waring joined up within the first year. Since then we’ve had many recruits and some departures. I miss those who have gone, but all our additions have brought something to the team. We are a loose-knit family, but a generally good natured and harmonious one. For us, anarchist collectivism has worked pretty well and nobody gets to dictate (or wants to dictate) to anyone else. (When I explained to an angry guest contributor – a famous anarchist academic – that I couldn’t overrule Henry even if I wanted to, he told me that had he understood that this was our way of doing business, he’d have refused to have anything to do with us!)

Finally, I ought to say something about our commenters. We’ve loved you and hated you over the past ten years, but there’s no doubt that Crooked Timber would not have been the blog it has been without your contribution. Looking through past threads, I think I’m right in saying that the long-service award goes to my old friend Chris Young, who shared his thoughts with us in the first week, but was still with us during the past month. But many others have written and, though we have sometimes been tetchy and defensive, we’ve also learnt from you and had our many errors mercilessly corrected. So thank you.

What a long strange trip it’s been.

{ 92 comments }

1

Matt 07.08.13 at 6:15 am

Congratulations- it’s mostly been fun and interesting. I wish Micah would have stuck around longer, and that Brian (and, more and more, Daniel) would post more, but it’s been a regular read for me for a long time, and I’ve been glad to have it.

2

js. 07.08.13 at 6:24 am

Thanks for doing this. The blog — the post too, but really the blog. I’ve learnt very very much over the last several years. cheers — js.

3

Nick 07.08.13 at 6:53 am

Congrats. I’ve been a long time reader and very infrequent commenter, you’re the main reason I still use an RSS reader. Keep up the good work, I learn something new from you every day.

4

djw 07.08.13 at 7:29 am

John Holbo and Belle Waring joined up within the first year.

Boy, my sense of time is weirdly off. I remember the founding of CT as ancient history, but John and Belle joining up as fairly recent event.

Congrats, keep it up, etc. And nice work on identifying Harry as someone who should be blogging. This blog, and the blogosphere generally, has been a better place for it.

5

Emma in Sydney 07.08.13 at 7:33 am

Yes, thanks. I’ve been reading and occasionally commenting, and always learning, for many years. You all do a great job.

6

Kevin Donoghue 07.08.13 at 7:38 am

Congratulations on the blog & especially on getting dsquared instead of Geras.

[Thanks Kevin. CB]

7

Walt 07.08.13 at 7:38 am

The long-service award rightfully goes to me. My first comment was also in the first week, and my latest comment is right now.

8

Chris Bertram 07.08.13 at 7:53 am

Walt, like Hesperus and Phosphorus, it was difficult sometimes to work out that two differently named entities referred to the same necessarily identical object.

9

Russell L. Carter 07.08.13 at 8:40 am

Still here tambien.

It helps to bring in new rabble rousers. Although, I dare say that now, a decade down the road, it looks to me like the corporatists have won.

10

Walt 07.08.13 at 10:24 am

I’m not complaining, I’m boasting. Because my life really is that bereft of actual accomplishments.

11

chris y 07.08.13 at 10:27 am

I think I’m right in saying that the long-service award goes to my old friend Chris Young, who shared his thoughts with us in the first week

Did I? Good lord, that’s an alarming thought! (Everybody else has already said what I would say, so I won’t repeat it. Keep up the good work and get dsquared to post more.)

12

bill benzon 07.08.13 at 10:41 am

Congratulations! I’m looking forward to another 10 years of CT.

13

Jacob Christensen 07.08.13 at 10:45 am

Ten years is a respectable time on the internet. Back in 2003, Google was only 4 years old (approaching 5), there was no Facebook or Twitter and only high-class political operators used something called BlackBerries. My office computer had a CRT screen and took up most of the desk.

I’m not sure about when or how I got on board as a reader but it’s been quite a ride. And Jacques Chirac has in fact resigned from politics even if Giscard d’Estaing may make another try in 2017 (re: one of your earliest posts).

14

digamma 07.08.13 at 11:27 am

Congratulations to CT. It has been a great source of my ideas over the years.

15

Russell Arben Fox 07.08.13 at 11:36 am

I’ve been hanging out in the comments (with varying levels of attentiveness, as my own blogging has waxed and waned) since the start–before the start, actually, since I remember Jacob T. Levy speaking of a “left-leaning academic group blog” that was being formed on either his own blog or on the Volokh Conspiracy sometime in the spring of 2003, and I’d been keeping an eye out for it. I was intensely jealous when you picked up Micah Schwartzman for a short time, since he and I had started blogging at the same time on the same topics, and had competed with the emerging big names for links, but whatever. You all have been my single most really substantive and important blog-stop for a decade now, and I don’t expect that to change. I miss seeing Harry’s byline, but other than that, I’ve no complaints. A big thank you and congratulations to the CTers, one and all!

16

Katherine 07.08.13 at 11:38 am

I’ve popped in and out of Crooked Timber over the years, for one reason or another, but it’s been very important to me and the development of my knowledge on various things. Sure, there are trolls, and certain categories of trollish commenters who I wish weren’t around, but generally, it’s remarkable place for internet commentary and comments.

So thanks CT. Here’s to another 10 years.

17

LizardBreath 07.08.13 at 11:48 am

Congratulations! I’ve been reading here about nine of the ten years — fall of ’04 is my best guess — and I can’t think of another blog I’ve found consistently interesting for that long. And while I’m not dead sure, I think your blogroll is what led me to the sillier corner of the blogosphere where I ultimately stuck.

18

Randy McDonald 07.08.13 at 11:50 am

Congratulations!

19

Trader Joe 07.08.13 at 11:50 am

Ironic that CT shares a birthday with the Wall Street Journal which turns 124 today.

Congratulations and thanks to all of those who make CT happen.

20

Jacob T. Levy 07.08.13 at 11:59 am

Congratulations! This has clearly (to my mind, at least) been the most successful academic group blog, and has set the standard for the genre. It’s also been especially important for political theory/ science blogging; the earlier academic blogosphere had more than its share of economists and lawyers, and I’ve been grateful for how you affected the disciplinary tone of things.

Your starting lineup plus John & Belle were a healthy number of my favorite bloggers to begin with. Some occasional sharp disagreements notwithstanding, that’s remained consistently true. I’ve learned a great deal from reading CT over the years, and enjoyed it– so, as a reader, thanks!

(Russell’s comment above suggests that I knew this was going to launch before it actually did. I kind of remember that being true, but don’t remember who told me…)

21

Chris Brooke 07.08.13 at 12:15 pm

It has been a very fine blog. Congratulations!

22

jonnybutter 07.08.13 at 12:35 pm

Long time reader and fairly rare commenter. Congrats! So glad you keep it going. It can be a lot of work, I know, and so many good blogs have evaporated in the past 10-12 years, so good on you all.

I like ‘The Grumbling Hive’!

23

scott 07.08.13 at 12:55 pm

Any blog that can bait Rob Farley and his LGM brethren into a hysterical frenzy (over navies?!) is OK in my book. More, please.

24

Steve LaBonne 07.08.13 at 1:07 pm

Happy anniversary and many happy returns of the day!

25

Marc Mulholland 07.08.13 at 1:18 pm

Regular reader, infrequent commenter.

It’s been excellent work. Long may CT endure!

26

LFC 07.08.13 at 1:42 pm

congrats

27

Z 07.08.13 at 1:49 pm

You all have been my single most really substantive and important blog-stop for a decade now, and I don’t expect that to change

Ditto. Pretty impressed by the quality and frequency of your collective output over a decade.

Regarding the actual anniversary, all in all, I’m very much surprised by how young CT is (which is the narcissic way of saying that I’m surprised by how old I am) because I started reading in late 2003 and had the impression that I joined the party late. Turned out not so much.

28

AcademicLurker 07.08.13 at 2:05 pm

Of the slew of group blogs that I discovered in 2004/5, Crooked Timber and Unfogged are the only 2 that are still going strong.

Congrats, and here’s to another 10 years.

29

MPAVictoria 07.08.13 at 2:08 pm

Congratulations on ten years. I check Crooked Timber almost every day and I learn something new each time. I appreciate the work you put in to keeping this place going.
To another ten years!

30

John Holbo 07.08.13 at 2:27 pm

Happy b-day to us! Thanks, Chris, for the post!

31

Rakesh Bhandari 07.08.13 at 2:31 pm

The video reminds me of that old joke I think I first saw posted by Doug Henwood–”What did the Dead Head say when he ran out of pot?” “Man, this music sucks.” You’re celebrating. I’ll leave it at that.

32

peter ramus 07.08.13 at 2:52 pm

Came here for the Barlow, stayed for the enlightening content. Happy Birthday, folks.

33

Donald Johnson 07.08.13 at 2:54 pm

“Congratulations on the blog & especially on getting dsquared instead of Geras.”

“Congratulations” just doesn’t make that second point strongly enough, but I can’t think of anything really clever to say.

34

Uncle Kvetch 07.08.13 at 3:24 pm

Hats off to all, and thanks for lots of good food for thought.

35

Lee A. Arnold 07.08.13 at 3:31 pm

Congratulations and thanks for putting up with my nonsense in comments since 2004.

36

marcel 07.08.13 at 3:48 pm

In addition to the requests that D^2 post more (which I heartily 2nd), I’d like to add that Belle step up her game. The average quality of her posts is near the top in the blogosphere, but her total quantity, not so much. (I’m kind of surprised to find that, based on my comments, I only started reading this blog in the spring of 2006. Feels like I’ve been reading it a lot longer than that).

37

David J. Littleboy 07.08.13 at 4:01 pm

Happy birthday, and thanks for being here.

My sensibilities may not mesh perfectly, but I respect the things you all are up to. Keep up the good work and don’t let the libertarians get to you!

38

politicalfootball 07.08.13 at 5:02 pm

Congratulations and thanks for all of the excellent work that goes into this site.

39

Tom Slee 07.08.13 at 5:19 pm

Like marcel, I can track my own comments back to spring 2006 (a Harry post about Lime Pickle and Peanut Butter sandwiches: not one of his better ideas). Congratulations to all of our hosts for maintaining such a lively, informative and educational place.

40

Random Lurker 07.08.13 at 5:20 pm

Happy birthday !!

41

Alan 07.08.13 at 5:27 pm

Thanks for all the thoughtful work that makes CT a must-read for this philosopher every day. Congratulations and here’s to another 10 years!

42

pedant 07.08.13 at 5:36 pm

Yup, you provide a valuable public service.

Pity that you charge so much.

The many ‘nyms that I have used over the last decade all thank you.

43

johne 07.08.13 at 7:01 pm

Thanks for such a consistently interesting blog, so well-done by both the contributors, and the content and comments editors (surely there are several?), that I’m invariably able to glean something, even from subjects far over my head. And yes, we need more D^2, and the return of Bérubé! But the rest of you, keep posting as well — Holbo can’t do it all!

44

geo 07.08.13 at 7:05 pm

CT is in a blog-class by itself for its amazingly inventive and wide-ranging posters and its amazingly intelligent and knowledgeable commentariat. Congratulations and gratitude — my Internet would be bleak indeed without you.

45

JanieM 07.08.13 at 7:54 pm

Ditto to a lot of the above. I would have said I’d been reading CT for four or five years, but I see that the first CT post I bookmarked was in September of 2005. Wow.

Now, as I try to break myself of the habit of sitting at the computer even when I’m not working, CT is the last blog standing, i.e. the only one I read or even look at with any regularity. As others have said — I’ve learned a lot, and I appreciate the posters for their work in keeping the place going, and the commenting community as well. (Well, most of it. :)

More Belle! More Tedra!

46

David 07.08.13 at 8:02 pm

Delurking to add to general praise and thanks.

47

Barry 07.08.13 at 8:04 pm

djw “Boy, my sense of time is weirdly off. I remember the founding of CT as ancient history, but John and Belle joining up as fairly recent event.”

Time Zones – they’re in Singapore :)

48

Barry 07.08.13 at 8:05 pm

Chris, my congratulations and thanks for this blog; it’s provided me with many an hour of fun – and Henry’s doctor with extra money for his blood pressure meds :)

49

Tim Dymond 07.08.13 at 8:11 pm

Congratulations. I’ve learned heaps from Crooked Timber over the years.

50

William Timberman 07.08.13 at 8:14 pm

Ten years. Amazing. Even more amazing that you don’t have to know anybody — you can just wander in off the street, and the good people running the place will actually offer you a chair. Many thanks to the founders, and to those who’ve kept it going long enough for me to find it. I owe you….

51

trane 07.08.13 at 8:15 pm

Congratulations and thank you all!

I have learned a lot from both bloggers and commenters here over the years.

I’d be interested to hear what blogs commenters here read besides CT.

Cheers!
trane

52

Ronan(rf) 07.08.13 at 8:59 pm

Just to echo above, congrats and thanks!

53

bob mcmanus 07.08.13 at 9:42 pm

congratulations

54

Django1066 07.08.13 at 9:58 pm

Congratulations

(and some props to Henwood and the LBO list-serve which I believe functioned as a nexus for several CT folks)

55

Doctor Slack 07.08.13 at 10:03 pm

Wow, is it only ten years? Feels like at least twelve.

JKS.

I can remember lots of fun and interesting convos on CT, and I love, love, love the CT book events. Hope you guys are around for many years to come.

56

phosphorious 07.08.13 at 10:04 pm

Just chiming in to say “congratulations,” and to add that the Crooked Timber Book Event is a unique and wonderful thing that adds real value to the Interwebs.

57

x.trapnel 07.08.13 at 10:20 pm

Congratulations! What Jacob Levy said.

58

Bruce Borowsky 07.08.13 at 10:54 pm

Other than my e-mail, CT is the only website I check every day. And it’s been like this for at least eight years, maybe all ten years.

Here’s to the next ten, the next twenty. . . .

59

Jerry Vinokurov 07.08.13 at 11:46 pm

Congratulations, that’s like 50 in off-line years! For some time now CT has been my favorite blog, so here’s to another 10 years of the same and more.

60

PJW 07.08.13 at 11:47 pm

This place is a wonder. I learn so much here. Congratulations!

61

Kevin McDonough 07.09.13 at 12:56 am

I add my name to the general praise and thanks for the efforts and contributions of the CT bloggers. And, echoing some others, more from Harry, Tedra, D2 and Belle would be lovely!

62

Malaclypse 07.09.13 at 12:59 am

Congratulations.

63

SeanLM 07.09.13 at 1:21 am

Congratulations! As someone said up-thread, Crooked Timber is in a blog class of its own. I also think it has the best comment threads on the web.

64

Anderson 07.09.13 at 1:45 am

Thanks for all the free ice cream! The internet’s been a better place for it.

65

Fr. 07.09.13 at 2:25 am

“This has clearly (to my mind, at least) been the most successful academic group blog, and has set the standard for the genre.” (Jacob T. Levy)

I heartily agree. Happy birthday!

– A happy reader

66

e julius drivingstorm 07.09.13 at 3:16 am

Happy birthday, CT. And many more!

67

Batocchio 07.09.13 at 3:45 am

Congratulations!

68

Chris Mealy 07.09.13 at 5:41 am

I love you guys (in spite of your appalling taste in music). Keep it up!

69

bad Jim 07.09.13 at 7:44 am

Thanks to you all for the fun I’ve had here, and for putting up with us. It’s a pretty strange place, and may it remain so.

70

Nabakov 07.09.13 at 7:58 am

Long time lurker (from about 2004 I think), occasional shitstirring commenter. Always found CrookTim to be one of the most entertaining and informative online salons around.

Thought about a greatest hits collection? I’d suggest it include “Ask a nineteenth century whaling expert” and “No rush to sign T. rex”.

Anyway, keep up the fine work, chaps and chapesses.

71

Nabakov 07.09.13 at 8:19 am

Also, forgot to mention the book events are a great and well executed concept. I read Red Plenty in parallel with the CT event and found it an excellent seminar that really added zing and depth to what was already a wonderful read.

72

basil 07.09.13 at 8:53 am

Happy Birthday. For lay people, this is an incredible educational resource, may you have another happy ten years, and provoke countless imitating babies across the internets.

Interesting that your first major squabble was over the Iraq War. I think we still see some of those differences in attitude towards Empire and her projects – low points for CT as a brand, but great for bringing out the best in teh Resistance.

73

Helen 07.09.13 at 9:10 am

Crooked Timber has been educating and entertaining me for a decade now. Long may it continue. I agree with Nabs there should be a “Greatest Hits” one of these days (a book, perhaps?) I nominate Belle Waring’s “10 Problems Women Need to Fix Before They Can Complain About Problems With Popular New Software, On a Blog”. I’ve linked to this about half a dozen times this year alone as it does seem to skewer a certain simplistic but very common outlook.

74

Dan Hardie 07.09.13 at 12:48 pm

Crooked Timber has been a very enjoyable read over the last ten years, but it’s also taught me a great deal. It’s pushed me to read books that I wouldn’t otherwise have opened, and to reconsider subjects on which I’d held some pretty fixed opinions.

75

bianca steele 07.09.13 at 1:01 pm

Congratulations, and hoping for another ten years.

76

Michael Collins 07.09.13 at 1:10 pm

Congratulations and Happy Birthday!

I do not comment often, but I always read. You have taught me a lot. I hope to learn much more.

77

the witch from next door 07.09.13 at 3:09 pm

Congrats CT, still my favourite blog after all these years. Just to boringly echo everyone else, more please from the missing-in-action posters, especially the ladies, and D2, whose (relative) absence from the web since the glory days of D-Squared Digest still has me feeling mildly bereft. But then I notice that he’s got a new post up, so I’m going to further my love of CT and all who sail in her by heading over there now…

78

Kaveh 07.09.13 at 3:25 pm

Congrats! I’ve really enjoyed reading and commenting here.

79

Grackle 07.09.13 at 3:31 pm

Nothing but warm feelings and gratitude from this long-time reader. I look forward to the continuing show.

80

Stephen 07.09.13 at 5:28 pm

May I add that, having recently started reading Crooked Timber, found it most valuable as a source of (mostly) courteous and highly intelligent posts and comments from a point of view that would not always naturally occur to me. That is far more valuable than posts that I would always agree with anyway. I trust CT will forgive my occasional comments from a point of view that might not normally occur to them.

Cries of “Get back to the Daily Mail” – a paper that I do not normally read and do not agree with – are of course excepted.

81

Rakesh Bhandari 07.10.13 at 1:32 am

No one has read Zerubavel’s Elephant in the Room? No one has yet noted that the blog roll here has even less diversity than the pages that Davies has just analyzed? Anyone here with an expertise on minority communities within the West or the art, politics or culture of society that is not Euro-American (or one of its offshoot)? There may well be, but I don’t remember seeing much evidence of that. No problems with this blog? The music video chosen for this celebration says a lot.

82

common reader 07.10.13 at 1:33 am

William Timberman at 50 above, speaks for me, willhe nillhe.

83

Hermenauta 07.10.13 at 1:43 am

Congrats from Brazil!

84

Rakesh Bhandari 07.10.13 at 1:53 am

Oh yes I forgot the BBC video on Brasilia. That suffices.

85

Substance McGravitas 07.10.13 at 5:27 am

Thanks for all the fine reading. I’m usually paying attention to the comments throughout the day – I’m ordinarily part of the silent majority dontcha know – and I’m grateful for those too.

86

roger gathman 07.10.13 at 9:10 am

One of the few necessary blogs. Congrats on the ten years!

87

Khalid R Hasan 07.10.13 at 9:43 am

I was first pointed to Crooked Timber in the fall of 2003 (by my son who taking one of Henry’s courses at that time) and I’m still a regular reader. You’ve all been outstanding.

88

dax 07.12.13 at 8:17 am

When does the book The Best of Crooked Timber come out?

89

Terence 07.13.13 at 8:45 am

Well done. And thank you!

90

pedant 07.13.13 at 9:04 am

Yeah, but in this entire ten years, have you people ever made any straight things?

91

chris y 07.13.13 at 10:53 am

have you people ever made any straight things?

A beeline for the bar?

92

a.y.mous 07.14.13 at 8:48 am

Though not everyday, I do catch up on CT a few times a month. But then, I devour all of it one frenzied reading. I think I’ve been reading since the early days, about the same time as Prof. Lieberman’s blog. Looking forward to more. Well done and thank you. Have learnt a helluva lot from you blokes.

Can’t add much to all the above, except to reiterate the levels of engagement with commenters here on CT is way above par. I can’t think of any other blog or journal which has this high a number of comments triggered Original Posts.

Once again, thank you.

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