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shutterstock_82911643When you read a blog post about History what are you looking for?  If you own a blog do you write posts about historical topics?  Why do you do this?  What do you get out of it?  These are all things that are of interest for the Blogging for Historians project. 

The project examines the purpose behind blogging either as an individual or as an intuition for academic purposes.  It looks at ideas about best practice as well as the hopes and desires of those writing or reading the posts.  The idea is to gather a wider body of evidence regarding what people involved in History-related disciplines think of blogging and why they may give it a go.  The project will attempt to do the following:

  • A series of podcasted interviews with practitioners in archives, libraries and history departments who blog about History in one form or another.
  • A workshop (details to follow) about History blogging to be held in the Institute of Historical Research
  • An online survey asking for thoughts and ideas about blogging

A crucial part of the research for the Blogging for Historians project will derive from the survey.  This is live now and it would be brilliant if you could take a moment of your time to fill it in.  The survey is very short and should take less than five minutes to complete.  It is broken down into three sections:

  1. Using blogs
  2. Creating and managing blogs
  3. Personal details

It is the first two sections that will provide the majority of interest and will hopefully raise some interesting thoughts, ideas and questions.  Essentially the survey asks why we create blogs, what do we hope to gain from them, and how do we access blog posts as a reader?  It also asks what do we gain by reading blogs?  From this survey it is hoped that we can further understand the processes and many reasons why blogs have become such a successful forum for writing, reading, and discussion over the last few years, and what impact or importance this might already and in the future have for the History discipline.  

I would be very grateful if you could fill in this survey.  It doesn’t matter if you own a blog or just visit them (or even if you don’t visit them – I would be interested in that too).  The survey is interested principally in History-related blogs, but this does not necessarily mean academic or professional.  There are a variety of History-related blogs out there, all of which have something useful and interesting to offer. 

Access to the survey can be found from this link:

Blogging for Historians Online Survey

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. 

For more details about the Blogging for Historians project see its own blog here: Blogging for Historians Blog

The project is funded through the SMKE scheme.  For further details about this project see here: SMKE website

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I have been writing this blog ever since I took on History SPOT for the IHR over two years ago.  It took me a while to find my feet as I had never created or written a blog before.  My remit was to make the blog more interesting than just relaying update reports which would quickly become dull not only to read but also to write. 

“What we want is a ‘day in the life’ of a project officer” Jane Winters (head of IHR Publications) told me on my first day.  Looking back at my blog posts I don’t think I have ever actually done that.  I have discussed research training and the nature of podcasts.  I have narrated the highs and lows of live streaming.  I have summarised or reviewed numerous IHR podcasts and given the odd project update.  But I have never talked about my working day.  Perhaps, it is time to do just that.  Time to indulge in a little bit of ‘this is what I do’, although I won’t go on for too long I promise.

My working day begins at a railway station – queued up with other commuters in untidy columns approximated to where the train doors will open.  My train journey takes about 30 minutes, in which time I often listen to one of our podcasts and take notes.  This morning I was listening to a talk about the development of cricket as a sport in France.  Yesterday, the subject was ‘Memory’ as a focus for looking at the early modern period.  I never know what subject will come up next, which makes the process all the more fun. 

After dodging crowds of commuters its coffee time!  In the café I will generally write up my blog posts, usually from the recording I was listening to on the train.  Then it’s a short walk into the office where I pick up the audio recorders from seminars held the night before.  Once at work proper, I check my emails and upload the day’s podcast to History SPOT and add a new blog post to the History SPOT blog.  These are daily tasks Monday to Thursday which I tend to do early on so that I can start to work though my tasks list for the rest of the day. 

I then upload the audio file from the recorder to my computer and edit the file.  This usually consists of chopping off the beginning and end, adjusting the sound levels (as much as possible), and adding metadata to the finished mp3. 

For the rest of this morning I worked on the HISTORE project.  At the moment I’m working on a short case study about the John Foxe Online project as an example of semantic data.  Although John Foxe, and his Acts and Monuments was the focus of my PhD thesis, and despite helping out on some of the text transcription, I had thought next to nothing about what any of this meant in terms of the digital tools employed so this work is proving quite illuminating. 

In the afternoon I finished editing one of the Digital History videos – adding images to the video and zooming in and out where appropriate.  This is time consuming work but quite relaxing and enjoyable.  There is something satisfying about creating a short video. 

My next to final task of the day was to continue working on the Online Databases course that we are developing for launch in 2012/13.  Mark Merry (its author) provided me with additional text and images this morning so now it’s a matter of uploading this to History SPOT and making it into something that will display nicely.  This often involves working with some straightforward html coding and working out in what format the data should be displayed.  Again, time consuming work, but quite enjoyable to do once I get into it.

The final task of the day is to set up the audio recorders for tonight’s seminars.  This varies.  Some nights there won’t be any to record.  Today is one such day.  As far as the seminars are concerned we are still in the Easter period so groups have temporarily grinded to a halt.  Other nights there can be anywhere between one to three events scattered throughout Senate House and Stewart House.  This can mean some running around and up and down stairs. 

So, in a nut shell, that is roughly a day in the life of the History SPOT Project officer.  From tomorrow I’ll get back to posting some more summaries of our podcasts.                    

 

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At our workshop Developing Online Research Training and Course Delivery it was generally agreed that many historians were hesitant to use blogs and wikis although different age groups vary in this.  The age cohort is worth bearing in mind when setting up a course – often a younger age group will be able to cope and understand new technologies better than older groups (although this is not always the case and must be approached cautiously).  Whilst Google has transformed searching on the internet it is a paradigm for online teaching.  People tend to think that they already know how to search when they actually don’t.  Plus library catalogues are beginning to lose functionality to appear more available to the ‘Google-generation’. 

The issue of ‘googleification’ in library catalogues has been discussed somewhat in-house.  Established librarians and historians don’t generally like it (that at least seems to be the consensus).  I find myself in agreement here.  The loss of functionality seems to be a backward step especially if it is just to pander to those who want something familiar and are unwilling to learn.  That said, there is a fine line here between unwillingness to learn and the necessity to learn.  I recall a discussion held in another workshop that I attended at the IHR recently on digital editing projects.  It is very easy for those of us who work in the realm of e-learning and digitalisation to just assume that everyone knows what we are talking about.  We sometimes forget that we only learnt these things because it was part of our job to do so.  It took time.  The question, then, is how do we create training resources that students can understand and relate to whilst at the same time feed into that process some of the more complex digital knowledge that they may one day require?  No easy task!

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