What is Blogging for Historians?

This is a blog about blogging.  It is also a little more than that, in that I hope – in time – for it to become something of a resource in its own right.  I hope that it can help to inform others about why you might want to blog, what the point of it all is, and what pitfalls you might wish to consider before you begin.  In principle many of the things I will be looking at and investigating will be relevant to any kind of blog, but the focus is more tightly restrained than that, for this project is an investigation into best practice in the History profession.  This includes academia (which is my background), but also archives and libraries.

As you may have noticed via the series of logos and links on the left column this blog is part of a wider project entitled the Social Media Knowledge Exchange (SMKE).  This project is funded by the AHRC and acts as a collaborative enterprise by several higher education institutions based in the UK.  Its aim is to give postgraduate students and early career researchers in the Arts and Humanities the opportunity to exchange knowledge with social media practitioners in academia, museums, archives, libraries, and the voluntary sector.  This specific project investigates best practice in blogging specifically in the History discipline.

There is a detailed account of the project aims and outputs on the SMKE website along with a brief biography about myself.  However, I’d like to just briefly say a little more here, in this introductory post.

My name is Matt Phillpott.  I’m a recent graduate from the University of Sheffield, having studied my PhD there on the general subject of history writing in sixteenth century England under the supervision of Professor Mark Greengrass.  I currently work for the Institute of Historical Research on the History SPOT project, which is where blogs first entered my world.

As an initial advertisement for History SPOT I was asked to start up a blog that would look at the day to day work of a project officer working on the project.  This I did, and while at first I was unsure about what sort of things I should be posting, I soon built up a fascination with the potential for information dispersal and interaction that the format provided.

My work at the IHR has been variable; at one moment focusing on podcasting the research seminars held every week and at another managing and mounting online research training courses.  The History SPOT blog includes discussions, excerpts and abstracts for both.  I have also been involved with a few other blogs at the IHR: the IHR Relocation blog (set up to provide a public ‘virtual’ space concerning the temporary relocation of the institute while renovation work takes place); the HISTORE blog (set up to discuss digital tools training which included two modules on semantic markup and text mining); the IHR Digital blog (talking about digital History in various forms); and a ‘virtual conference’ blog site for one of our winter conferences.

The opportunity therefore to learn more about blogging within academia, to exchange knowledge with related practitioners such as archivists and librarians, and to share that knowledge with fellow early career researchers and postgraduates, is one that I am very pleased about and very much looking forward too.  The question of course is how do I plan to go about this task?  The SMKE website explains in full but I think it is worthwhile repeating it here in summary:

The project will mainly consist of a series of podcasted interviews with practitioners in archives, libraries and history departments that will focus on the process, purposes, and best practises of blogging.  A wider body of evidence will also be sought through two online surveys.  The first will be directed at specific individuals or multi-author blog owners within the History and Archives/Libraries professions, to gain an insight into why they blog and what they think they get from the process.  The second will be made more widely available on the internet and advertised through websites and social media to historians, archivists and librarians nationally and internationally.  This survey will look more at the users of blogs rather than owners and what they hope to gain, what devices they use to view blog posts (PCs, mobile devices, tablets etc.), and what applications they make use of (web browsers, RSS readers etc.). 

A workshop will be held near the end of the project period introducing the project and engaging speakers to talk a little more about blogging.  Participants will be asked to join breakout groups to discuss best practise, examples and purposes of blogging.  Participants will also be asked to write down a short paragraph with their views and thoughts about History-related blogs, which will also be placed online as part of the wider resource. 

Over the next few weeks I plan to post a little about how I developed this particular blog and the issues surrounding blogging for academic presentation.  Behind the scenes I plan to begin my investigation into potential bloggers who might agree to interview and consider the primary questions that I wish to ask and have answered.

More soon!

Matt

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