The Social Scholar – Julian Harrison on social media at the British Library


The Anti-Social Scholar (and how not to become one)

23 October 2013, 13:00 – 14:00

Event Type: Seminar


Julian Harrison (British Library)

Julian Harrison is Curator of Pre-1600 Historical Manuscripts at the British Library, and Co-Curator of the forthcoming Magna Carta exhibition (2015). He is one of the editors of the Medieval Manuscripts Blog, which is on course to receive in excess of 500,000 hits this year.

Speakers Abstract

Having a strong online presence is key to gaining recognition in the Digital Age. By focusing on the British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts Blog, we will discuss strategies for successful blogging, and for communicating to a global audience. We will introduce the Seven Golden Rules of Blogging, and will consider how to build and maintain a readership for academic blogs.


The Social Scholar is a new series of lunchtime seminars from the School of Advanced Study, looking into the theme of Social Media. Each session includes a 20 minute presentation from an expert already using social media in the Humanities followed by discussion and Q&A.  In these sessions we hope to learn together about how to better use social media in a professional capacity and what the difficulties and issues are.  The series will look at blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media services.   Tea and coffee are provided and you are welcome to bring your own lunch.

Venue : Room 246 (Senate House)

Senate House
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU

Blogging for Historians blog: Social media or not?

Next week Julian Harrison from the British Library will be talking about social media at the British Library at the School of Advanced Study lunchtime seminar series – The Social Scholar.  I’ve been involved in organising this event, and I’d like to share with you some of the reasons below about why I think this seminar series is a great idea.



In the last few years social media has really taken off as a thing that should be used in academia for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes it is used to promote activities – lectures, conferences, seminars – other times research projects.  Often individual academics use blogs to talk about aspects of their research that would either not see the light of day otherwise, or as a preliminary place to upload thoughts, ideas, and research before traditional publication. Twitter is used both to promote research and events and to find out more about what is going on – it’s an online networking site that, if used well, can pay dividends.

In short, micro-blogging sites such as Twitter and Facebook provide a new conduit for sharing information; blogs allow academics and higher education institutions to share, publically, what it is that they are doing.  Image based social media such as Flickr allows academics to share pictures essential to their work, whilst Pinterest and historyPin enable us to share notes and organise material found online. There is a whole world out there of social media tools – some better and more useful that others – but questions still remain for many of us – are these tools really as useful as they claim and in what way?  What can they do for me?

Whilst it is true that Social Media provides a fantastic opportunity to talk to people and to share knowledge, it is also true that it’s a bubble of its own making. There’s no point relying solely on social media to get your message across because you will only ever reach a small percentage of your desired audience. When you start to use social media regularly it is so very easy to forget that not everyone else is, nor are they always going to find what it is you are sharing very easily.

The adjective “If you build it they will come” doesn’t necessarily apply – produce a tweet on Twitter, for instance, and it’s gone within minutes (perhaps seconds) on most people’s timeline – how likely is it that they will see it? Write a blog post and even if people find it chances are they will only skim read.

So what’s the solution? Is social media all that it is cracked up to be? I don’t have an answer, although these are questions that play on my mind from time to time. This is why I’m looking forward to being part of The Social Scholar seminars put on by the School of Advanced Study.  I’m hoping that experts already using social media in their work can help me in my confusion and perhaps help you in yours.

The Social Scholar will be held once every month term-time between 1pm-2pm on a Wednesday. It’s free to all to attend and coffee/tea will be provided (please also feel free to bring your own lunch!). Each session will comprise of a 20 minute presentation from an expert using social media, followed by debate, discussion and questions. For full details see the programme on the SAS blog and elsewhere on this blog.

The first session will be held in Senate House room 246 on 23 October (1pm-2pm) with guest speaker Julian Harrison from the British Library talking on the subject of The Anti-Social Scholar (and how not to become one).  You can also follow us and join in on the conversation on Twitter through the hashtag #socialscholar.

Preserving blogs – an interview with the Blog Forever Project

Blog ForeverAs blogs become a more important place to host scholarly work in whatever form the problem of longevity becomes more of an issue.  How do we capture this activity in the long term?  Is there a use to blog posts beyond the moment of their creation and is the context in which they were published important?  The BlogForever project is looking into these issues and attempting to come up with a solution.  The result: a weblog digital repository designed to store, preserve, disseminate and aggregate blogs.

Blogging for Historians has interviewed Patricia Sleeman who has been working on the project on behalf of one of its partners (the University of London Computer Centre – ULCC).  It is an EU funded project with a long list of partners all intent on developing a robust digital preservation, management and dissemination facility for blogs.  Here’s what she had to say.

First, could you tell us a bit about the people behind Blog Forever?

Blogforever is a collaborative EU funded project lead by the Computer Science Department of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTH). The other partners include CERN, whose repository system is being adapted for the management of blogs. Other Universities include TU Berlin, University of London Computer Centre, the University of Warwick and the University of Glasgow. Private enterprise is represented by Mokono and Cyberwatcher. It sees a combination of archival, developer and entrepreneurial skills. It is a unique combination of skills.

What do you hope to achieve with the Blog Forever project?

Its key objective is to develop robust management and dissemination facilities for weblogs. These facilities will be able to capture the dynamic and continuously evolving nature of weblogs, their network and social structure, and the exchange of concepts and ideas that they foster; pieces of information omitted by current Web Archiving methods and solutions. It also aims to assist in the preservation of blogs as a result.

The project is largely concerned with preservation and management of blogs, which is generally a neglected consideration for those setting up and running blogs.  Why do you think it should be something that bloggers concern themselves about?

Blogs reflect the diversity of lives, interests and activities throughout the world, and demonstrate opinions from a perspective which very often would otherwise not be obtained. One example of this is blogging from a war zone where people can anonymously report about the situation providing an ‘unoffical’ viewpoint. Another example is where people are required to blog about their research and provide insights into the day to day findings of the project.  Blogs are constantly changing and even disappearing unless they are captured.

Blogs are ephemeral – the average web page lifetime is below 100 days – and cannot be considered a reliable and long term source of information as they are extremely volatile. By achieving blog preservation, we provide integrity, permanence and credibility to blog content, making it a first line source of information which will be discoverable, referenceable, and relatable in the future.

In this project what requirements do you have for blogs to be included?  Do they need to meet certain criteria to be considered authentic, useful, and valuable in terms of the aims of Blog Forever?

Blogforever will not conduct selection, it is up to the client who acquires the product to do their own selection based on their own criteria.

The Blog Forever website suggests that part of the project is concerned with the study of weblog semantics and ‘the social importance of weblogs’.  How do you think the project will achieve these aims and do you plan on publishing research results yourselves?

In addition to the repository itself, there has been a wealth of material published about research into this area. BlogForever is addressing the study of blog semantics by modelling all aspects of blog structure, elements, and interconnections, creating a generic blog data model. The blog data model also encompasses significant properties of blogs and their inter-blog relationships – creating a solid foundation for further theoretical and practical work.

This work enables us to devise novel ways to perform data extraction, preservation, and dissemination of blog content. The outcomes of this work are both research results in the form of public reports (deliverables), as well as an open source platform that anyone can have access to.

Regarding the 2nd part of the question about the social importance of blogs, we believe that by addressing blog preservation, we elevate the importance of blogs as a contemporary resource of information.

In your view, what makes for a good blog?

This is an interesting question, as the idea of well formed blogs is something I imagine which is not considered often in this rather anarchic world of the internet, but I think a good blog is one which is well structured (and the default structure which has emerged seems to have page/post and comment). It should be well described so the reader gets a sense of it at the start, it should also be intuitively structured so readers can navigate easily. Other than that design and the like are a matter of taste. Of course a good blog should also be regularly backed up.

If people are interested in the project where should they go to find out more?

Please have a look at

When will the new platform be ready for public use?

It will be ready by October 2013 for release.

Would you like to share any other thoughts?

Collaborative working on a project such as Blogforever has shown me that anything is possible as long as all of us have a common understanding. Communication and shared understanding are crucial for working on large multi disciplinary projects like Blogforever.  It can also lead to beautiful friendships and future collaboration.

This Interview was conducted with Patricia Sleeman (ULCC) over e-mail in July 2013 in relation to the Blog Forever project.  BlogForever is funded by the European Commission under Framework Programme 7 (FP7) ICT Programme and involves the following partners: Aristotle University of Thessaloniki; European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN); University of Glasgow; University of Warwick; University of London Computer Centre (ULCC); Technische Universitat Berlin; CyberWatcher; Software Research and Development and Consultancy Ltd.; Tero Ltd.; Mokono; Phaistos Networks S.A.; Altec Research S.A.

The SMKE Social Media conference

SMKE logoThis week (Tuesday and Wednesday) is the Social Media Knowledge Exchange conference.   I along with my fellow SMKE scholars will be presenting about our projects in 20 minute sessions as part of a larger discussion about social media and the humanities.  I’m really looking forward to this as there are a lot of interesting projects out there and a great amount of opinion and thought about social media in general.  I’ll be keeping a close eye on what people have to say about blogs in this discussion, and I’m hoping that that will help to inform the upcoming online guide to blogging for historians that represents the final piece of my initial SMKE project.  I’ll write up a summary for this blog as soon as I can afterwards as well.

As for my paper I’m planning on summarising some of the things that came out in the podcasted interviews and laying out some ideas for how to continue Blogging for Historians in the future.  I think the session will be filmed (gulp!), but in the meantime here’s a very brief snippet from my paper (as always with these things, subject to change and last minute scribbling on the day!)


There are quite a few different guises that blogs can take.  There are project blogs, personal research blogs, blogs intended to promote the work of educational institutions, and event blogs.  

But there is still much uncertainty over what blogs are actually for and what use they really serve.  Very little research has been done regarding reading practices regarding blogs, for example.  Advice about the use of writing blog posts is, by definition, open-ended and largely left to personal opinion.

In the field of History, blogs are often declared as only promotional activities to advertise the work that is being done or an event that is being organised.  For example, at a workshop on social media in January I heard many people considering or already producing a blog for that singular reason – to promote their work.  One thing that I have learnt during this project is that blogs often fail if the only reason for their existence is advertisement.  There needs to be genuine interest behind it.

Blogs are easy to set up and manage from a technical point of view, content is easy to upload, but writing that content and producing it at least on a semi-regular basis is the hard part.  It takes commitment, but more than anything else it takes interest in the subject matter, perseverance, and a practical use.      

At that same workshop there was great unease about blogging as a researcher. 

“There is not enough time in the day to write blog posts regularly as well as do my research.”

“I struggle to figure out what to write on a blog.”

“I feel I ought to do it because that is the thing to do these days to get noticed.” 

There is a lot of pressure especially on postgraduates and early career researchers these days to get their work noticed.  Blogs are viewed as one means to do this, but because of that they often become tick-box exercises rather than something useful and interesting to both the blogger and the reader.  It sometimes seems that for every successful History blog, there is a mass graveyard of dead blogs surrounding them; never updated, uncared for, and existing only as proof that blogging is not for everyone or that at the very least blogs require careful consideration and thought before it’s begun.  


For more information about the conference check out the SMKE website.  To follow on the day on Twitter use the hashtag #SMKE2013.  For those of you attending, I’ll see you there tomorrow!