The Russian History blog (Miriam Dobson) – Interview #6

 “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
The Russian History blog

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


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Outline of questions asked during the interview:

Purpose of the blog

  1. Before we begin could you tell us a little more about yourself?
  1. 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?
  1. 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?
  1. Which blogging platform did you use and for what reason?  What did it offer you that made it the most appealing and useful?
  1. 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

  1. Who do you think is your main audience?  Does this affect what is written on the blog?
  1. 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.)
  1. How many people tend to visit the blog each month?
  1. 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?
  1. How have you promoted the blog?  Other social media (Twitter, Facebook etc.), websites, leaflets etc.?

Best practice

  1. In your view, what makes a good blog post?
  1. Do you have any suggestions for best practise in using and managing blogs as a group of scholars, or as an institution or individual?
  1. Is there anything else you would like to add?
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The Early Modern Commons (Sharon Howard) – Interview #5

 

“Blogs can go quiet for a long time and then just start up again.  You think this one looks dead as a door nail, but it’s not.”

“There are as many good types of blog posts, as there are bloggers.  It’s got to be something that the blogger wanted to write, and was interested in doing.”

The Early Modern Commons is not a blog about History but rather an aggregator for blogs covering the period c. 1500-1800.  As the website says “It is intended as a resource to help readers to keep up with early modern blogging and to connect with people who share their interests”.  This seems to me a great idea.  There are so many blogs out there but relatively no easy way to find them.  It’s a 50/50 chance that a Google search will bring up what you want as it is entirely reliant on key word searches which may or may not have been used by the author(s) of the blog posts.  But now, thanks to Sharon Howard the architect and owner of Early Modern Commons, it is possible for anyone interested in the early modern period to locate useful and interesting blogs.  It’s not comprehensive, but it is by far the best index out there.

The Early Modern Commons website
The Early Modern Commons website

It is possible to search by keyword and tags.  There are also featured blogs, a list of the most recent additions, and a list of recent posts drawn from the entire catalogue.  Sharon also lists upcoming conferences related to early modern matters, making the resource even more useful.

Recently the aggregator has been used for research by Newton Key on blogging practices (see the Open Peer Review version here Newton Key History blogosphere).  Lee Durbin has used the feed data from Early Modern Commons to set up a twitter account called Renaissance Hub (Twitter username: @Renaissance_Hub).

The podcasted interview is available to listen online or download.  It is 27 minutes long.

The Early Modern Commons, Sharon Howard (Sheffield) – 25 February 2013

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Outline of questions asked during the interview:

  1. Before we begin could you tell us a little more about yourself?
  2. Let’s move on to the blog aggregator, The Early Modern Commons.  Could you tell us a little more about what it is that The Early Modern Commons website does?
  3. How did The Early Modern Commons come about?  What was the original thought processes behind it?
  4. Do you think it has succeeded in terms of your original plans?
  5. It seems to me that the Early Modern Commons provides ample scope for developing networks amongst scholars and bloggers around specific themes within the context of Early Modern studies.  Do you think that this has happened and, if so in what ways?
  6. Could you give us an insight into how Early Modern Commons is managed?  Do you seek out blogs on the right subjects or wait for blogs to be submitted?  How much is it an automated decision vs. an editorial one?

Promotion and popularity

  1. Who do you think is the main audience for Early Modern Commons?
  2. Do you have any stats about how many people visit Early Modern Commons or any information about what they get out of it?
  3. Do you do any promotion of Early Modern Commons?  i.e. social media (Blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc.), websites, leaflets etc.?

Best Practice & Concluding thoughts

  1. I’d like to just move on briefly to Blogs about History in general.  The Blogging for Historians project is particularly interested in what can be learnt between History academics and those blogging as part of their work in Archives and Libraries.  Do you find that the Early Modern Commons draws in interest from a variety of professions or is it largely restricted to academics, or archives etc.?
  2. In your view, what makes a good blog post?
  3. Do you have any suggestions for best practise in using and managing blogs either as an institution or individual?
  4. Do you have any future plans for The Early Modern Commons aggregator?
  5. Is there anything else you would like to add?

History Matters blog, Department of History, University of Sheffield (Caroline Dodds Pennock) – Interview #4

 

 “If it’s anything longer than 700-800 words people tend to switch off because it looks too long on the page”

“Something engaging, accessible, the things that do best tend to plug into something of wider interest, which doesn’t necessarily mean directly relevant”

The Arts Tower, University of Sheffield (wikipedia)
The Arts Tower, University of Sheffield (wikipedia)

History Matters is a new shared blog from the Department of History at the University of Sheffield.  It is written by Sheffield historians including staff, students, alumni and friends, and is currently co-ordinated by Dr Caroline Dodds Pennock, lecturer in International History.  Within the first three months of its existence topics covered have included the Papacy (related to the recent election of a new Pope, Francis I); Richard III (due to the confirmation of the king’s body being found); and the end of the Maya calendar (which occurred at the end of last year).

The blog is therefore concerned with showing how historical research – whether that is into recent history or medieval history – has relevance today.  Subjects that interest us or matter to us, have connections to things past and to the research going on within any department of History in this country.  This initiative by Sheffield, then, is an attempt to show that this is the case, and to give a focus for blogging that showcases the department, the individual research, and the History profession in general.

Whilst talking with Dr Caroline Dodds Pennock I realised that to create a departmental blog is not a simple thing to achieve.  First, enough staff members need to be on board.  This is as true for a History Department as it is any other institution – indeed; it is something that all collaborative blog authors have so-far mentioned in the interviews.  But then there is the question of what to do with such a blog – it could quite easily have no focus.  So latching on to a particular theme that relates to the diverse research interest of a whole department is no easy thing to do, but also a necessary thing to do.  If, after all that, a choice is successfully made then there is still a further issue to overcome: the blog title.  Dr Dodds Pennock noted that they had first thought to call it something along the lines of Sheffield History blog, to reflect the fact that it is the blog of the Department of History at the University of Sheffield.  But this suggests that the blog will be about the history of Sheffield itself.  By choosing the title History Matters, again you risk going too far the other way – it no longer reveals itself as a departmental blog – part of the purpose is to showcase the department.

I think History Matters has got it about right.  The title is accompanied by a sub-title ‘History brought alive by the University of Sheffield’.  On the blog itself there is also a University of Sheffield logo and the banner is of the Arts Tower (a relatively well-known building that forms part of the university).  The top-level menu also provides links to the department website, and other sites related to the research interests of the departments members. Even the URL includes the Sheff.ac.uk element, drawing the blog further into a wider set of online resources.

The podcasted interview is available to listen online or download.  It is 31 minutes long.

The History Matters Blog, Caroline Dodds Pennock (Sheffield) – 11 March 2013

Podcast:

Download

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 departmental effort focused around the theme of history as having present day importance.  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.?

Best practice

  • 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?

Untold Lives blog, The British Library (Margaret Makepeace and Penny Brook) – Interview #3

 

 “I maintain a planner so we can make sure we maintain coverage of key events we’ve noted in the calendar and to also mix up the contributions so that there is a spread between different collection areas if possible.  And this schedule is constantly shunted about to fit in topical stories that appear out of the blue from inspired colleagues. We like to keep a store of 5-10 blog posts in readiness, in case there is a sudden dip in posts being submitted.”

–          Margaret Makepeace

800px-British_Library_entranceway_1The third podcasted interview for the Blogging for Historians project was conducted on 31st January 2013 at the British Library (London).  The British Library hosts twenty blogs covering topics as diverse as its own collections.  This is a different approach than the one we saw for The National Archives, who have established one all-encompassing blog.  The British Library has broken up its interests by department or theme, but have maintained some element of cohesiveness by including all these blogs in a well-publicized index page.

Untold Lives is run by the History and Classics department with the remit to focus on stories of people’s lives as viewed through the multi-media materials available at the British Library.  It began life in October 2011 and in that time might look on the one hand at a member of the East India Company (blog post here) and on the other at a conservator of forests in British North Borneo (blog post here).  Margaret Makepeace and Penny Brook act as the blogs administrators – uploading new posts and taking care of the schedule.

In this interview we discussed the nature of the Untold Lives blog and its most popular topics.  At the time a post about a dead cat at the Foreign Office had done particularly well (blog post here).  The post described how a cat had been mummified when accidently trapped behind a large bound volume of newspapers.  At the beginning of March this year, Penny Brook noted that subscribers to the blog increased when they posted about the Bradford vs. Swansea cup final (blog post here).  

The title of the blog posts is one of the most defining features of this blog. They tend to be imaginative and interesting – an attempt to draw in interest to what the blog post is talking about.  Thus, for example:

Five Weddings and a Funeral – for a post about a dysfunctional Victorian family

Was ‘water rat’ the new black in 1697? – a post about late seventeenth century silks

Dickens grows a beard – a post literally about Charles Dickens growing his beard within the context of a ‘beard movement’ in the 1850s.

The podcasted interview is available to listen online or download.  It is 23 minutes long.

Untold Lives Blog, Margaret Makepeace and Penny Brook (British Library) – 31 January 2013

Download

Outline of Questions asked in the Podcast

Purpose of the blog

  1. Before we begin could you tell us a little more about yourself and your position here at the British Library?
  2. Let’s move on to the blog itself.  When and why was the Untold Lives blog set up?
  3. 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?
  4. Which blogging platform did you use and for what reason?  What did it offer you that made it the most appealing and useful?
  5. This is a collaborative blog.  How is this managed?  Is there a process to ask staff to write posts for the blog or is it done more informally?

Promotion and popularity

  1. Who do you think is your main audience?  Does this affect what is written on the blog?
  2. 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.)
  3. How many people tend to visit the blog each month?
  4. 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?
  5. How have you promoted the blog?  Other social media (Twitter, Facebook etc.), websites, leaflets etc.?

Best practice

  1. In your view, what makes a good blog post?
  2. Do you have any suggestions for best practise in using and managing blogs as an institution or individual?
  3. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Historyonics blog (Tim Hitchcock) – Interview #2

 

 “I think that at the moment we don’t yet have a clear sense of how blogging and the blogger-sphere and Twitter, fit into the academic world in general and that the best practice comes from standing back and saying well, what are you trying to do as an historian?”

– Professor Tim Hitchcock 

This podcast looks at a very different type of History blog.  Tim Hitchcock is Professor of Eighteenth-Century History at the University of Hertfordshire.  He is a digital historian and has undertaken a leading role and contribution to various online projects including the Old Bailey Proceedings; London Lives; and connected Histories.  Back in 2007 he also set up a blog that he named Historyonics to talk about various aspects of his work, upload transcripts from papers he has given, and as a means to comment on digital projects, although Tim is the first to admit that the blog did not start out with any particular goal in mind, nor does it necessarily now.

This interview was interesting for various reasons.  First we are dealing with a personal blog set up with the only goal in mind to serve the authors own research interests.  There was no institutional involvement here, nor any interest in promotion.  Blog posts are not regular or frequent, but posted only when Tim feels he has something worthwhile to say.  Yet, Tim has thought about blogs and their purposes and has much to contribute to the subject.  His view is not one of complete devotion to the blog as a genre or tool, but neither is it negative to it either.

Historyonics

The podcasts is approximately 22 minutes long and is based on a series of questions adapted from those asked in the previous podcasts (see below for the questions).

Tim Hitchcock Podcast:

[audio http://www.smke.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Blogging-for-Historians-Tim-Hitchcock-Historyonics.mp3]

Download

Outline of Questions asked in the Podcast

Purpose of the blog

  1. Before we begin could you tell us a little more about yourself?
  2. Let’s move on to the blog itself.  What is the Historyonics blog about and why and when did you set it up?
  3. Were there any particular concerns, priorities, and hopes that you had for the blog?  Could you give us an insight into the original thought processes behind it?
  4. Which blogging platform did you use and for what reason?  What did it offer you that made it the most appealing and useful?
  5. This is a personal blog.  Do you try to blog regularly (i.e. post at pre-set regular intervals) or is your posting more fluid?
  6. I have heard other academics talk about how they use their blog to work out ideas for their main research, or as a way to promote that work.  In your view what can a Historian gain from blogging?

Promotion and popularity

  1. Who do you think is your main audience?  Does this affect what is written on the blog?
  2. In your view how successful has the blog been and what do you base this view on?  (i.e. stats, public discussion etc.)
  3. How many people tend to visit the blog each month?
  4. Have you received much in the way of feedback from those visiting the blog?  Do visitors often leave comments related to particular blog posts?
  5. How have you promoted the blog?  Other social media (Twitter, Facebook etc.), websites, leaflets etc.?

 

Best practice

  1. In your view, what makes a good blog post?
  2. Do you have any suggestions for best practise in using and managing blogs as an individual or on an institutional basis?
  3. Is there anything else you would like to add?

This blog post was also published on the Social Media Knowledge Exchange website.

The National Archives Blog (Ruth Ford) – Interview #1

 

“The organisation is so diverse with what we do.  We have government archive sector, genealogy, family history, academia; people have specialisms and they want to talk about them”

–          Ruth Ford (TNA)

BloggingforhistorianslogoThe first podcasted interview for the Blogging for Historians project was conducted on 9 January 2013 at The National Archives (TNA), in Kew (London).  The recording is a 22 minute long conversation between myself and Ruth Ford (Online Editor for the National Archives) in a room just off from the TNA main offices.   We discussed in some detail The National Archives blog; why it was set up, how successful it has been and how the TNA go about managing it on an institutional level.  The blog was set up early in 2012 to better enable the TNA to reach their varied audience in a more informal way than they can do elsewhere.   A distinctive element of the blog is its design and we talked a little about that as well and to the changes they hope to make on its first birthday.

The podcast is available to listen and download here or on the SMKE website:

Ruth Ford – The National Archives Blog Download

Outline of Questions asked in the Podcast

Purpose of the blog

  1. Before we begin could you tell us a little more about yourself and your position here at the TNA.
  1. Let’s move on to the blog itself.  When and why was the blog set up?
  1. 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?
  1. Which blogging platform did you use and for what reason?  What did it offer you that made it the most appealing and useful?
  1. This is a collaborative blog.  How is this managed?  Is there a process to ask staff to write posts for the blog or is it done more informally?

Promotion and popularity

  1. Who do you think is your main audience?  Does this affect what is written on the blog?
  1. 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.)
  1. How many people tend to visit the blog each month?
  1. 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?
  1. How have you promoted the blog?  Other social media (Twitter, Facebook etc.), websites, leaflets etc.?

Best practice

  1. In your view, what makes a good blog post?
  1. Do you have any suggestions for best practise in using and managing blogs as an institution or individual?
  1. Is there anything else you would like to add?