History Project Blogs

Recently Stephen Robertson (University of Sydney) talked to the Digital History seminar (hosted by the Institute of Historical Research) about the Digital Harlem, Everyday life 1915-1930 project.  This was one of the earliest attempts to link historical data (in this case legal records, newspapers, and other archival and published sources) to a Google map, making spatial connections and analysis possible.  The project was developed by four historians in the Department of History at the University of Sydney and intends to expose the lives of ordinary African New Yorkers living within the boundaries of Harlem.

The Digital Harlem blog (click here to visit)
The Digital Harlem blog (click here to visit)

What struck me particularly about Stephen’s talk was how the project blog and website remain intrinsically separated.  The website does contain mention and links to the blog but you do have to hunt it out.  This is a problem which Stephen Robertson himself noted, expressing ambitions to find a way to more closely align the blog with the project website.  In the case of Digital Harlem this would be particularly beneficial as the website presently provides access to the data itself through the use of the map but does not contain any access to analysis regarding what has been found out, and what might be achievable.  The project blog has, however, become that very place.  There are over 100 posts on the blog, most of which examine or analysis some aspect of the records and searches that can help gleam new information about Harlem in this period.

I have come upon a similar problem with the History SPOT website.  The project blog is largely concerned with summarising and promoting the podcasts from the IHR’s large array of seminars, workshops, and conferences.  I have often replicated that information on the actual site page where the podcast lays but it is a fairly inefficient method.  Is there a better way?

Let’s look at a few other examples from History websites.   I’ll begin with those produced by the IHR.  The History of Parliament website refers to three related blogs: History of Parliament blog; Victorian Commons blog; and the Director’s blog.  These are listed alongside other social media in a relatively small blue box at the bottom of the page.  The Early English Laws project does slightly better in that the blog is part of the website (available from a tab on top menu).  However, the posts are still segregated from the main content itself providing traffic only one way (from links in the blog to the content but not from the content to the blog).  The ReScript project contains a list of the most recent blog posts as title, date, and authorship under a ‘news’ column that is quite prominent on the website home page.  This seems a little more integrated in that users coming to the site can, at a glimpse, see some of the most recent blog content.  However, the majority of the content are updates and news items rather than actual analysis or research.  British History Online meanwhile does contain the IHR Digital blog as a tab, but most of the content on that blog is tangential to the content of the actual site.

After looking through as many History websites as I could think of, I was amazed at how few either had a related blog and even where they did how little the connections between it and the site were.  For the most part, blogs remain steadfast in their disassociation from the actual project website.  This surely poses the question over what role a blog should take in a digital project and if it to be seen as useful or necessary.  Where useful there is also the question of integration.  Blogs are most likely viewed as useful through the developmental period of the project, but then abandoned once the main website is up and running.  The blog is then all but abandoned.  I have seen many examples of these types of blogs often from JISC-funded projects.  The inclusion of it may have a use, but if not maintained or worked into the greater scope of the project post-development, then it would seem doomed to failure.

If you have any thoughts about digital project blogs or about what I say above please do write in the comments section below.  Alternatively please take a moment to fill in my survey about best practise blogging in the History sector.  You don’t need to own a blog to take part, only visit them occasionally.

Access to the survey can be found from this link:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MHVXQ2W

It should take no longer than five minutes to complete and personal details will be kept confidential.  Statistics from the results of the survey alongside my thoughts and analysis will appear on this blog early in 2013.

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