About thirteen months ago, I started this blog to keep my friends, colleagues and family updated about the work I was doing. As I have been blogging for over a year now and as I am going to discuss history blogs on a panel this week, it is time to reflect on how it all started, what it has brought me, and what the future looks like. I was inspired to start a blog of my own by Lindsey Fitzharris’ brilliant blog The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice, although I by no means intended to copy what she is doing, nor did I expect to generate the same kind of success. Lindsey has, amongst other things, gone on to appear in a variety of media, writing for the Huffington Post and crowd funding her own television series. However amazing all this is, it just would not be right for me (the camera doesn’t love me, for starters).
However, blogs are a useful medium for a historian whatever your ambitions are. As a reader of history blogs, I can say they give me a quick and enjoyable insight in what colleagues are working on, enabling me to contact them easily if I am working on something similar, or have some information that might be useful to them. Some of my favourites are:
- Joanna Ebenstein, founder of the Morbid Anatomy Library and Cabinet in Brooklyn, New York, runs the Morbid Anatomy blog, a wonderful overview of anatomical collections and events: http://morbidanatomy.blogspot.nl
- Gemma Angel’s blog on the history of tattoos: http://lifeand6months.com
- The Alienist’s Compendium, a blog on a variety of medico-legal, historical, and scientific topics written by a director of mental health services for the American state prison system: http://alienistscompendium.com
- Professor Anita Guerrini’s blog, mainly on her work on the history of animal anatomy but also on current events and conferences: http://anitaguerrini.com/anatomia-animalia/
- The Recipes Project blog, a collective of scholars interested in the history of recipes, ranging from magical charms to veterinary remedies: http://recipes.hypotheses.org
- Shells and Pebbles, an Anglo-Dutch history of science blog: http://shellsandpebbles.wordpress.com
- The Giant’s Shoulders, a monthly science blogging event, in which authors are invited to submit posts on topics in the history of science: http://ontheshouldersofgiants.wordpress.com
- The blog of the London Wellcome Library for the History of Medicine: http://blog.wellcomelibrary.org
If you look at these blogs you may be surprised to find that they vary wildly: some are personal projects, some are collectives or institutional blogs, some appear weekly, others incidentally. There are blogs that feature journal article-length pieces, while there are also blogs (like my own) that rely on shorter pieces. One is not necessarily better than the other, although it is good to realise that a certain format will be more likely to draw a particular audience.
For me, writing my blog is valuable in itself, as it allows me to share finds that do not fit entirely in a ‘real’ publication, as well as to share work in progress. Moreover, blogging helps me to reflect on my own work and to communicate it to a variety of people. My research is funded with public money, so I feel obliged to show the public what I am doing with it. Obviously I could simply refer to my print publications on my faculty page, but I want to share my work more frequently, more directly, and with a broader audience. In comparison to others, mine is a small, rather unpretentious blog, but still people from seventy countries have viewed it over 4,000 times in the past year.
Apart from the fact that it is nice to know that my parents and someone in Japan read my blog, it has also brought me into contact with people whom I otherwise never would have met, like Tamara Varney. My blog also got me invited as a guest blogger with The Recipes Project and I regularly receive emails from other academics, as well as from journalists and people who are simply interested in one of the topics I write about who ask questions, have helpful suggestions, or who want to share some of their work with me. Finally, the blog serves as a business card: often people look one another up on the internet before meeting at a conference, and a blog gives a quick impression of the work you’re doing.
I know I am probably not using the full potential of my blog yet; I could improve on tagging and categorizing, and might be able to use my posts more strategically. Yet the foundations are there, and as James M. Banner Jr. points out in his book Being a Historian. An introduction to the professional world of history:
“Fortunately, there is some evidence that the readership of serious history blogs, infinite in prospect, is, while small in comparison to those on popular subjects, an attentive one spanning the world. Whether this audience can help make history blogging an accepted, respectable means of communicating historical knowledge among both amateurs and professionals remains to be seen. But no one concerned with the future of historical communication can afford to ignore this new use of a young medium.”
 James M. Banner Jr. Being a Historian. An introduction to the professional world of history. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2012. p.92.