“I think the peer review process is really helpful for a lot of things, and my work has in general always been improved because of it. It’s nice, however, to have something that’s different than that. I put something short up and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. It’s not the end of the world.”
“Group blogs can be really good and they don’t have to be within an institution but across countries as a collective endeavor”
The Russian History Blog is a joint scholarly effort between lecturers in the United States and here in England. Its principal authors are Steven Barnes (George Mason); Andrew Jenks (California State); Joshua Sanborn (Lafayette); Asif Siddiqi (Fordham); Alison Smith (Toronto); Elizabeth Wood (Massachusetts); and Miriam Dobson (Sheffield).
The sub-title of the blog is ‘An experiment in digital Russian history’, which hints at the founding concept behind the blog. It covers any and all aspects of Russian history and has been running since November 2010. Whilst talking with Dr Miriam Dobson from the University of Sheffield I got the sense that management of the blog was fairly relaxed – there is no schedule to speak of for posts, nor any set requirements for content. There is no concern that there should be a blog post available once or twice a week, every week. It flows more naturally than this, and seems to do okay doing so. This is in contrast to the blogs run by The National Archives and British Libraries, but also from that of the departmental blog run by the Department of History at Sheffield. All of these are focusing on presenting a ‘service’ of sorts and is therefore concerned with reaching a wide audience. The Russian History blog – perhaps by the nature of its subject – depends more on the interests and activity of its participants without too much of a guiding hand.
That the blog has been successful, and continues to see regular posts suggests that interest in the subject by each individual scholar alongside the fact that there are seven principal authors, manages to make available enough content without too much nudging or scheduling.
The podcasted interview is available to listen online or download. It is 20 minutes long.
The Russian History Blog, Miriam Dobson (Sheffield) – 11 March 2013
Outline of questions asked during the interview:
Purpose of the blog
- Before we begin could you tell us a little more about yourself?
- Let’s move on to the blog itself. This blog is run as a joint effort between individual historians with an interest in Russian history. Therefore it is, I believe, not linked specifically to any institution but to a shared interest. Could you tell me something about how this collaboration came about and when it was started?
- Do you remember what discussions were had at the time? What were the concerns, priorities, and hopes for the blog? Could you give us an insight into the original thought processes?
- Which blogging platform did you use and for what reason? What did it offer you that made it the most appealing and useful?
- This is a collaborative blog. How is this managed? Is there a process to obtain posts from each member, or any method for selecting topics, or is it done more informally?
Promotion and popularity
- Who do you think is your main audience? Does this affect what is written on the blog?
- In your view how successful has the blog been and what do you base this view on? (i.e. stats, public discussion, in-house interest etc.)
- How many people tend to visit the blog each month?
- Have you received much in the way of feedback from those writing blog posts and those visiting the blog? Do visitors often leave comments related to particular blog posts?
- How have you promoted the blog? Other social media (Twitter, Facebook etc.), websites, leaflets etc.?
- In your view, what makes a good blog post?
- Do you have any suggestions for best practise in using and managing blogs as a group of scholars, or as an institution or individual?
- Is there anything else you would like to add?