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?
Language Log reports that inept reactionary pressure group the Queen’s English Society is going to close because most of its members can’t be bothered to do anything, and shows that they weren’t even very good at grammar (hat tip Andrew Hickey). This could also mean the end of the No She’s Not, She’s German Society.
Historypunk is starting a series of posts on how humanities academics can build an online reputation. In my experience it wasn’t too hard to build up a reputation when I had nothing much to do, but keeping up my online presence has been much harder when it’s competing with paid work and writing for traditional publication. Writing a book has almost killed my blog but now I need to promote the book online. I might have to try Twitter soon…
Ages ago I was asked to link to this editable collaborative online edition of the Devonshire Manuscript. So now I have, although I haven’t had time to try it out.
Podcasts of IHR seminars are now freely available under a Creative Commons licence at History SPOT without having to log in, which is a big improvement.
[posted by Gavin Robinson, 9:18 am, 5 February 2012]
I’m planning to finish my Winter in Windsor series of posts while it’s still winter, but in the meantime here are some links:
Skulking in Holes and Corners is a relatively new blog by Jamel Ostwald, who has written a book about Vauban and is writing another about Marlborough. The blog ‘hopes to facilitate communication between the rarest of beasts, early modern European military historians (EMEMHians – but please give me a better idea for a name)’. He’s made a very good start, so go and read it, comment on it and link to it.
My book is going to be published on 21 August 2012, and you can already read the blurb. Just proofreading and indexing to go.
Andrew Hickey has written a brilliant short story about Shakespeare which skewers the snobbery of Oxfordian conspiracy theories.
Ben Brumfield reports on the 2012 American Historical Association conference from a software developer’s perspective.
History SPOT has a podcast of Ben Worthy’s IHR seminar paper on the impact of the Freedom of Information Act.
Zotero 3.0 has been released. It can now run as a standalone program as well as a Firefox extension and has lots of new features. I couldn’t have written my book as quickly (or at all?) without Zotero to manage my bibliography and citations.
The latest version of the Spotify client crashes whenever I search for Kim Carnes. Bug or feature?
[posted by Gavin Robinson, 9:17 am, 11 December 2011]
This week the UK National Archives announced that they will be closing the Your Archives wiki in September 2012. Existing content will be preserved as HTML snapshots and kept available on the government web archive, but it won’t be running on MediaWiki so search, edit and export won’t work. Along with TNA’s other online resources, Your Archives will be replaced by the new Discovery service (now in beta), which will integrate the Catalogue, DocumentsOnline and user-created content, along with a powerful search engine and an API so that third parties can query the data (so no more need for Python scripts to scrape data out of the HTML). It’s not yet clear exactly what kind of content they will and won’t let us add, and I suspect that the scope will be narrower than Your Archives, but better integration should make up for that. One of the biggest problems with Your Archives was that getting incoming links from the Catalogue was very clunky and getting incoming links from DocumentsOnline was impossible (so people browsing DocumentsOnline had no easy way of knowing if a transcript of the document was available). This was a limitation of the Catalogue and DocumentsOnline as much as a limitation of MediaWiki, but in any case it’s good that they’ve solved it.
I’ve been contributing to Your Archives on and off for over four years. According to the log of my contributions, the first page I created was a transcript of a prisoner of war report on 27 October 2007. Up to now I’ve made 3,410 edits, including creating the third most popular page (which has had over 80,000 views – my ‘proper’ academic publications will never be that widely read). Now as a community moderator I’ll be helping to manage the transition by tidying up existing content and ensuring that it will be as accessible as possible in the archived snapshot version. I’ll also be exploring the possibilities of MediaWiki outside Your Archives. It’s still an immensely powerful and useful piece of software. I used it to draft my book and it worked really well for that, which shows that wiki doesn’t have to mean letting just anyone edit, or even any kind of collaboration at all. I really want to find out how to use Semantic MediaWiki and what it can do. It is kind of sad that Your Archives is coming to an end, but that’s just sentimentality. If things don’t change they’ll stay as they are, and who’d want that?
[posted by Gavin Robinson, 12:26 pm, 17 July 2011]
A couple of weeks ago I posted about a building (or buildings) called the White Bear in Cornhill, London. This post is about one of the people who lived and worked there. It starts with the same entry in the list of horses contributed to the Earl of Essex’s army (TNA: PRO SP 28/131 part 3 f. 55r, 16 August 1642):
Valentine Stuckly of the white Beare in Cornwall vint[ner] listed one browne bay geldinge, his rider John Courtnye armed wth Carabine a Case of pistolls a buffe Coate and a sword valued in all at £21
I’ve found that his name was spelled lots of different ways, but he seems to have preferred Valentine Stuckey. This narrative of his life is still hypothetical because the record linkage isn’t absolutely certain. I might well have conflated details of two or more men with the same name, but what I’ve written seems probable, and at the very least it makes a good story. (more…)