Back again…

Seems like an unforgivably long time in the blogosphere since I last posted something here. Reasons? I could name a few. Keeping up the first scholarly blog I started requires some effort, and that one hasn’t been overtly active in the past few weeks…

One of my recent thoughts was also: “Who the heck is going to read what I write about my research in English?” But, since I will be presenting some thoughts at a workshop on scholarly blogging in Vienna in November, and the host mentioned this blog in my short CV, I thought “I can’t let this one lay waste”. So, I’ve actually decided to take up more regular posting here.

Breaking the silence…

Phew, after a good start, I had to succumb to

  • the weekly stress that teaching brings with it, especially when giving a full-fledged lecture in front of ca. 100 first-term students for the first time
  • my struggle between maintaining the group blog I’m already running (NordicHistoryBlog)
  • the pressure of constantly having to write in order to justify running a second blog
  • lack of ideas what to write about

So, now I’m finally up and writing my first post in half a year. Shame on me! But I’ll promise to keep the good pieces coming.

Acquiring the taste

I borrowed the title of this blog post from the title of the second album by the British 1970s progressive rock band Gentle Giant (which gives you a hint about my musical preferences, by the way!). Somehow the headline sprang to my head when I thought how I could describe the process I’m currently in. I have been sketching up my project for more than a year now, have done a lot of reading and conceptualising. With the blog going online, of course I feel myself under a stronger pressure to write about the actual aims of my study, about the contents and projected scope.

Yet I feel almost as if I still have to, well: acquire the taste. What does my project actually “taste” like? Is it spicy enough, does it stimulate my own senses enough, or have I added too much salt? Is it OK to actually only present the recipe instead of simply saying, here’s the finished meal? What kind of toppings will I add to the dessert? A double espresso or a double Dimple afterwards?

Acquiring the taste: I think I still have to work on the menu. I have a rough idea of the case studies that will be the parts out of which the whole is going to be created. I still have to find out if it’s going to be a four-course or a five-course dinner. For some courses I have an idea about the ingredients, but not how I should cook them. Not to speak of the seasonings which, of course, I can only add at the end.

But I think, it’s going to be delicious and pleasantly surprising, that’s what I am sure of.

Blogging in English

I opted for English as my working language on this blog. Not being a native speaker, I am aware that my use of the English language might have some shortcomings. I recently discussed the issue with a colleague and we agreed that it is hard or even impossible to reach the same degree of precision and detail when not writing in your mother tongue (which is German in my case). However, I felt that considering the scope of the topic and the public I would like to reach, English would be the right choice. Since English is so ubiquitous as the academic world’s lingua franca, of course one gets used to reading and communicating a lot in this language. Besides, a lot of the literature on the field I want to study and write about in the blog is in English. Several of my case studies and samples will be taken from the UK and the USA. Finally, I hope that using English will enable me to create a worldwide network of people with similar interests, thus creating a larger pool of knowledge to profit from and to contribute to myself.

Even though I have some trust in my verbal skills in English, I know I’m not perfect and that my way of putting things is perhaps not always apt and 100 % correct. Thus, I will be thankful for linguistic advice or corrections.

Getting started

Finally, I’m sitting down to write my first post here. I have to admit I’m a bit nervous and excited, but well…here it is! The blog to accompany my research project on the changes that history and memory cultures are undergoing due to the digital turn. This will be my public research scrapbook, my “open journal”, where I will discuss all kinds of matters connected to my research on this exciting topic. There will be some distractions, some marginal aspects, but also a lot of sweet little toppings on the cake, i.e. links, hints at recent publications on the field, CfPs etc.

But what you will read here mostly is how the project is emerging, the stages it will be going through, including drafts of texts I am and will be writing, but also questions, all sorts of ponderings about how to address the topic, methodological questions etc. I’ve taken the inspiration to do so from two people: the leading digital historian Peter Haber (1964–2013), who recently sadly passed away, and Martin Weller, Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University. Both have based the writing of books strongly on blogging about the subject. Weller stated that he wrote his fascinating volume The Digital Scholar through his blog. Peter Haber on the other hand wrote his seminal study on the Digital Past (which, despite its English title, is in German) by posting more than 500 mostly rather short entries on the blog he co-administrated

Whenever I read about the positive experiences that authors like the mentioned ones described, I felt in awe but could not imagine to do the same. Actually, I first had to overcome my own skepticism towards blogging. When participating in a course on the use of web 2.0 tools in academic teaching and research I discovered the world of blogs, twitter and (academic uses of) Facebook. As an experiment, I started a blog on the field I have been teaching and doing research on for more than ten years now, which is Northern European History. NordicHistoryBlog, which is predominantly in German, has become quite a successful project, even winning the poll on the German-speaking branch of hypotheses as most popular blog 2013. From a solo project, this blog has grown into a group blog with other permanent authors as well as guest authors.

This has not only been a most encouraging experience, but also the impetus to start a  blog on my post-doctoral research project. I’ve been working on it for a while, but to tell the truth, it took me a while before deciding to submit the application for this new blog. I was rather hesitant at first, unsure whether it’s a good idea to go public still at a rather early stage of my project. In contrast to my other blogging experience, I feel rather…naked, one might say. I was not sure if I were confident enough to present unfinished thoughts, drafts, a project still in its infancy. But then I finally said to myself it should be worth “taking the risk”. Well, what risk, actually? I decided that there is nothing to lose and much more to win. I hope you will be joining me on my journey through the digital world of history. I am looking forward to your comments and remarks!

  1. Haber and his colleague Jan Hodel were pioneers of scholarly blogging in the German-speaking humanities when establishing their history portal in 1998, followed by the blog in 2005. []

The blog is connected to the post-doc research project of the same title conducted by Jan Hecker-Stampehl at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany. Blog and project focus on the impact the digital turn has on the representation and dissemination of historical knowledge on the world wide web. Which specific ways and tools have emerged on the web to spread historical knowledge? Is something like a memory culture 2.0 developing and what are its features? How does the philosophy of the web 2.0 help to diversify public discourses on history? How do established players on the field of history and remembrance culture (like archives, libraries, museums, universities etc.) react to the digital turn? What kind of strategies and agendas do they pursue and in what kind of societal context does this happen? How do historians take up the challenges that the digital turn poses? Are traditional “interpretative hierarchies” crumbling because of the digital turn?
The blog will present research hypotheses, methodological questions, partial results and text drafts.