I’ve made a few changes to this blog, including changing the theme to use HTML5.
“But Stew, it looks just as boring as it did before. Where’s the huge carousel of superfluous images? It can’t be HTML5 without that, can it?”
The most noticeable change (at least for some people) is that the layout is more flexible than it used to be. The sidebar is now only absolutely positioned on the right on computer screens where the window is more than 700 pixels wide. In all other cases, it’s displayed at the bottom of the page where I hope it won’t get in the way. This was actually done with CSS 2.1, and I could have done it a long time ago if I’d bothered to find out how to do @media rules.
The new HTML5 markup probably won’t make much difference to most people, but I like it because it’s more semantic. I’ve used header, footer, nav and article tags instead of divs for everything. Although there are more tags available now, I find that they’re easier to use because they’re more logical and reflect what people really do.
I’ve also turned off ReCaptcha because it’s an obstacle to genuine commenters and doesn’t stop all spammers. Even with my unimpaired vision, I only have about a 50% success rate with captchas on other people’s blogs (this is one of the reasons why I particularly dislike Blogger).
I’d be grateful for any feedback on whether the new stuff does or doesn’t work, especially if you’re visually impaired and/or using a phone. I don’t care about whether anyone dislikes the aesthetics of my design: I just want it to be accessible to as many people as possible.
There’s also some new content today as I’ve started putting guides to historical records on static pages. The first is a guide to compounding cases in SP 23.
[posted by Gavin Robinson, 3:23 pm, 14 January 2013]
I promised that I’d get back to blogging in January. I’ve finished the last freelance contract, but I’m just about to start a bigger one so I won’t be blogging as much as I’d planned. Instead of what I said I was going to do, I’ll be posting a transcript of an early-modern document every month, with links to images and some explanation of what it’s about. This means that my blogging will be exclusively early-modern for at least six months. The series starts tomorrow with accounts of horse losses in the English Civil War, which will make a nice transition from last year’s cavalry series and partly answer a question that people are always asking me.
The other big news is that I’ve changed my Creative Commons licence to attribution only. This means that you (yes, YOU) are free to modify and re-use my blog posts for any purpose, including commercial use, as long as you attribute it to me. The new licence DOES NOT apply to any posts deleted before today. Also, I’m not waiving any of my moral rights, so no defamatory false attribution, please. I was already planning to make this change before Aaron Swartz died, partly to save me from the trouble of having to give permission for commercial use when people ask for it, and partly to prove that CC-BY doesn’t automatically help neo-nazis. The downside is that I have to pay myself £1,500 per post in Blog Processing Charges, but I’m hoping I might get some free taxpayers’ money to cover that, because I’m a businessman too and so my profits should be just as important as publishing companies’ profits.
[posted by Gavin Robinson, 1:07 pm, 22 October 2012]
I’ll be taking a break from blogging from now until January as I’m about so start a new freelance contract and ‘work comes first, I’m sure you’ll understand’. I was hoping to write a post summarizing the cavalry tactics series, but it’s still too complicated and uncertain for any definite conclusions. When I come back I’ll be blogging about some different things. I’m planning new projects involving digital history and WW1, so expect to see more about that sort of thing and less about early-modern cavalry. I think my blogging is starting to resemble TV seasons: I’ve posted regularly about cavalry (and also the Wharton letters running at the same time) since August, but now it’s finished and after a break will be replaced by something different.
And some relatively new blogs that I’ve only recently found out about:
the many-headed monster: Mark Hailwood and Brodie Waddell blog about early-modern English society and culture, including lots of weird and surprising things
Past in the Present: Paul Lockhart, who has researched early-modern Denmark and the American Revolution, blogs about his work, early-modern military history in general, and differences between academic and popular history
Pen, Book, Sword: covers medieval military history, violence, disabilities and lots of other things
Jo Hawkins at historypunk is writing a great series of post about how academics can build an online reputation. There’s one particular point that struck me in this post:
Blogging is very different to academic writing, even when you are writing for academic audiences. Whether a blog post is a well-developed idea or a quick thought-point it will generally be quite short (ideally under 500 words, most certainly under 1,000 words). This flexibility allows you to play with ideas and experiment with different writing styles. The prospect of building an audience for your research challenges you to communicate ideas in more engaging ways. The need for brevity and clarity poses a challenge to express complex ideas simply.
I’ve certainly aimed for flexibility, brevity and clarity since I started this blog in 2006, but I’ve got into the habit of thinking that a post should be at least 1,000 words, and ideally about 2,000 (still much shorter than journal articles). But that’s become more of a myth or ideological assumption than a reflection of reality. In practice the length of my posts has been going down. This is mostly down to lack of time because I’ve got more to do in real life than I did a few years ago. I tend to think of 500 word posts as desultory filler, but maybe I shouldn’t.
It’s important to recognize that things have changed. It would be easy for me to get complacent because I had a good online reputation five years ago, but that’s a very long time on the internet (although it can still count as ‘recently’ in lit reviews in academic publications!). Since then, Twitter has taken off, which may have contributed to attention spans going down. Smart phones and tablets could well have changed reading habits in ways I don’t understand because I don’t have one. Meanwhile, ebooks are a new way to read long, in-depth pieces. And there are probably more blogs than ever before. That’s not to say that everyone wants to write or read short posts all the time. I wouldn’t want Erik Lund‘s posts to be any shorter. And I’m planning a new series of posts on cavalry tactics (my most popular topic) that will be as long as they need to be, with lots of detailed evidence. But I also want to take up the challenge of saying something worthwhile inside 500 words and not feeling like I’m cheating my readers. That should help me to post more often, and will be a nice change for me after writing a 100,000 word monograph (although the experience of blogging helped me to write it in little bits and the end result is divided into sub-sections of 500 to 3,000 words each).
But what do you think? Do you prefer long posts or short posts? Does it depend on what they’re about?