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Using WordPress for research

18 Jul

A couple of years ago now I went to a training day about the use of NVivo software as a possible research tool. I wanted something that would allow me to store a big and diverse range of material that would be easy to search and could be stored simultaneously under multiple categories.

Apart from the fact that NVivo is really expensive (I think at the time my Centre would have had to pay about $2000 for me to use it), I soon realised that it was far too clunky and complicated for my purposes. What I’ve done instead is used free WordPress software to create a private research blog. And it works a treat.

Anytime I take notes about material or cut-and-paste from online text, I throw it into a post on my research blog. I then tag it accordingly and put it into multiple research categories as I please. I have the lion’s share of my research for my book on the rowdy late nineteenth-century youth called larrikins (due to be published by the University of Queensland press in Jan 2012) in an easily-accessible online repository.

Does anyone else use blogging software like this? If so, I’d be interested to hear how you find it.

Around the Maypole at the History Carnival

4 May

Welcome all to a giddy trip about the maypole at the History Carnival May 2010. What follows is a precis of good and zany posts on historical topics over the previous month.

Things topical

I begin with two  topical posts. The first is a discussion of the current and deliberate misuse of American history by the conservative Tea Party Movement. It appears on Inside Higher Ed and is a must-read for anyone interested in the politicisation of national histories.

Since the month of May marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the contraceptive pill to the US, I also begin with a post on that topic at Knitting Clio. In a fascinating (if longwinded) piece, Heather Munro Prescott argues that in spite of what Gloria Steinem might have said, a ‘contraceptive revolution’ didn’t just magically happen on US college campuses once the pill first appeared. It only started to happen after students campaigned hard for doctors to make it available.

Things Turn-of-the-Century

The swoony image below is from the turn-of-the-twentieth-century Munich magazine, Jugend, meaning ‘youth’. Over the past month, I’ve been loving the series of posts about this sumptuous Art Nouveau mag on the classy arts-journalism blog, The Blue Lantern. Lovers of Art Nouveau and fin de siecle German history, feast your eyes here and here and here and here.

For those interested in the same period in America, Edwardian Promenade‘s Evangeline Holland comes up with her usual goods in a piece on the origins of the tuxedo at Tuxedo Park. Love the pics and the detail as always, Evangeline.

On Suite101.com, lovers of this era can sate themselves on a post about the French singer, Mistinguett. She was nick-named ‘The Queen of the Music Hall’ in France in the era of such English music-hall greats as Maria Lloyd and Lottie Collins.

Far more seriously, Greenman Tim gives us the back-story to the attempted lynching of Edgar Freeman in Connecticut in 1878. Edgar Freeman was an African-American man accused of raping a 7 year-old white girl that year. As Greenman Tim argues, it was not in fact clear that Freeman was guilty of the crime.

At The Chicago History Journal, Joe Matthewson also discusses legal injustice towards black Americans in a pull-no-punches piece on the turn-of-the-century Supreme Court Chief Justice, Melville Weston Fuller.

Things Nineteenth Century

For those interested in heading back further into the nineteenth century, check out Karen Linkletter’s thoughtful piece on Abraham Lincoln’s legacy, and differing interpretations of his ‘House Divided’ Speech, at Milestone Documents.

You can also read the Wellcome Library blog’s brilliant excursus on ‘Siamese Twins‘, so-called after a famous conjoined duo hit European freak shows in the 1830s.

At the Virtual Dime Museum, readers will be charmed by a post on a newspaper begun by a prisoner at Brooklyn’s Raymond-St Jail in the 1870s. Read some great excerpts from the jailbird’s paper if you please.

The Virtual Victorian treats us to an exploration of Uncle Tom’s Cabin mania in the mid-century US. And what about Trish Short Lewis’ too-enigmatic piece on a female sex researcher from the Victorian era? (More information craved, Trish).

The Long View

At Zenobia: Empress of the East, Judith Weingarten introduces us to Eti, a strangely deformed female figure who appears as an image in Egypt’s Deir-el-Bahri temple. Eti is described in ancient texts as the ‘Queen of Punt’. For decades, scholars have argued about where this mysterious Punt might be. As Weingarten says, however, archeologists have now finally discovered its location. Go to the post for the breaking news.

If you can bear the ugly ads littering The Web Urbanist, Steve writes there about 10 ancient cities still inhabited today. The list includes Susa (Iran), Cholula (Mexico) and Damascus (Syria) – but to find out the rest, you’ll have to read on.

Finally, you can read about the Ice Age and view putative maps of the era at History Moments care of Jack le Moine.

That’s it for me for this month, history friends. Keep an eye out for the next host of the Carnival on the History Carnival site - or better still, offer to host it yourself!

History Carnival May 2010: It’s Coming Soon

2 May

For those of you awaiting the latest History Carnival: my apologies that it hasn’t appeared here yet. It will be up late this Tuesday, 4 May.

For those of you unclear about what the History Carnival is: it’s a monthly showcase of blog writing about history, usually held on the 1st day of the month. It’s hosted at a different blog each month to provide a variety of approaches and perspectives. This month it’s my turn.

Sorry about the delay, folks, but watch this space…

History Carnival#63: A Festivity for All Fool’s Day

31 Mar

Welcome all to the sixty-third edition of History Carnival, coming out on All Fool’s Day (Australian time), 1 April 2008.  

What you’ll find here is a series of links to blog entries on matters historical during March 2008. And because 8 March was International Women’s Day (indeed the whole of March was Women’s History Month in the States) this carnival will be largely devoted to posts on women’s history.

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The Festival top 5

In past centuries, All Fool’s Day festivities were an excuse for the exchange of gifts and revelry. In this spirit, I celebrate my 5 top posts this month – an offering of treats from the blog-annals of women’s history:

One, Race and the Risky Game of Claiming Icons. In this a thought-provoking piece on Britannica Blog, Joseph Lane draws parallels between the Clinton/Obama contest and an earlier one between women’s suffragists and African-Americans in the 1860s. In this period, white suffragists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton  argued that they were more deserving of the vote than black men. This, Lane suggests, was an eerie precursor to Hillary Clinton’s current political strategy. This discussion is well worth a read, both for its topicality and for its reminder that white feminism has often been uncomfortably implicated in the oppression of other social groups.

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Elizabeth Cady Stanton & child

Two, Remembering Herschey Lang (1912-1917), posted by Penny Richards at Temple University’s Disability Studies blog. This post is a beautiful musing about a disfigured boy who lived in New York during the First World War. I’ve included it here because the boy’s sister was Bella Cohen Spewack, co-author of Kiss Me Kate, who wrote a memoir of her childhood called Streets. Now published by Feminist Press, Streets is a fierce, funny, poignant memoir’, full of extraordinary detail about street-life on Lower East Side Manhattan in the early twentieth-century. I will definitely be searching it out after reading this lovely piece.

Three, a compilation of Asian feminists both contemporary and historical, by profbwoman at her blog. Of special note is the mention of Yuri Kochiyama, an activist who spoke out against the American internment of Japanese people during the Second World War, and who held Malcolm X after his assassination, watching as he died in her arms.

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Yuri Kochiyama

Four, a review of the Brilliant Women exhibition at the (British) National Portrait Gallery, posted by Natalie Bennett on My London Your London. Bennett draws our attention to portraits of women from the Bluestocking Circle, giving us a who’s who of 18thC English feminism.

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Members from the Bluestocking Circle

Five, a glimpse into the lot of late 19thC female inventors in America, condescendingly dubbed “Lady Edisons” in their day. The post is written by Barbara West at Lupec Boston, a blog with a giddy mix of go-grrl feminist commentary and cocktail recipes, and comes complete with tips on how to make your own Edisonian Cocktail. I have to say that I don’t get the whole ‘I’m a feminist b/c I love cocktails’ thing – but enjoyed this, nonetheless.

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Tongue-in-cheek kitsch on Lupec Boston

Petticoats & beading

Now, fellow fools for history, let me ask you this. Why is it that so many blogs on women’s history focus on the manners and customs of the womanly elite? Until reviewing the field for this Carnival, I had not realised quite how many bloggers are intrigued by fifteenth-to-early-twentieth century society-women’s lives.

This month one finds posts giving us the ‘real story’ on Mary Boleyn and recipes for Regency pound cakes on History Hoydens, for example – the latter not exactly a hoydenish subject, it seems to me. There’s a piece on Mary Tudor at Scandalous Women (setting the facts right for watchers of Showtime’s series, The Tudors); and on Marie-Adelaide, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, at Tea at Trianon. Lessons on the customs of refined Regency picnics follow on JaneAusten’s World; ditto a musing on what Elizabeth I might have felt if handed a lacy thong in a post for History Undressed (see two images from this below). There’s a write-up of the romance between Edward and Wallis Simpson  from the gushing Writer of Queens. And for a much older example, there’s a post on a princess Zenobia, married off to an Iberian king a few decades after the death of Christ, on Zenobia: Empress of the East.

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Elizabeth I & the thong. I mean, really…

Now I don’t want to suggest that the minute details of past women’s lives are uninteresting. Nor do I want to suggest that none of these posts are fun to read. On the contrary, one of the best-written blogs I know is Edwardian Promenade, which this month has an intriguing post on the craze for nipple-piercing and tattoos among aristocratic English women at the turn of the 20th century. (Edwardian Promenade also has a piece on English suffragettes this month, so it’s not all tea-dresses and calling-cards). Further, on Sail 1620: Discover History, Jeffery Bangs provides details of the 1613 marriage of Princess Elizabeth Stuart in admirably evocative prose, including information about music created in her honour by Pilgrim composer, John Coprario. Overall, however, there is such a focus on aristocratic women on these blogs, such a focus on the most luxurious aspects of their lives, that after a while one begins to stagger under the weight of the petticoats and beading.

The film and historical fiction industry seems to be driving much of this emphasis on opulent women. Given that both these cultural forms prioritise sumptuous visual imagery and sensual detail, they contribute to a view that the only women’s lives worth remembering are those that look and feel beautiful. This very argument was indeed made by Janet Mullany at RiskyRegencies this month. She writes a post helpfully explaining that the past lives of the English aristocracy are more interesting to read about than those of the “riff raff” because they were so very much more glamorous. Ouch.

Not so frothy

All Fool’s festivities were once celebrated by the riff-raff, friend fools, so think yourself lucky that the writer of this Carnival shares not Janet Mullany’s view. And thankfully, the same can be said of other bloggers on women’s and feminist history. At Progressive Historians, for example, Ralph Brauer has written about the wisdom of Fanny Lou Hamer, an African-American woman almost beaten to death by police in the 1960s for helping other African-Americans register for the vote. 

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Fanny Lou Hamer, image from Progressive Historians

At Feminist Review, Rick Taylor has written a review of Sally G McMillen’s book on the origins of the American women’s rights movement. This review talks about some of the 1860s feminist history critiqued in Joseph Lane’s post (above), and like Brauer’s post on Hamer is worth reading as a companion piece.

In addition to her exhibition review on My London Your London, Natalie Bennett has another review on her blog, Philobiblon, in this case of Sylvia Bowerbanks’ Speaking for Nature: Women and Ecologies of Early Modern EnglandThe book combines women’s and ecological history – an apt blend of Bennett’s concerns on Philobiblon - and will appeal to those with a similar convergence of interests.

After you’re done with these reviews, you can read about Lydia Parrish, an American nurse during the Civil War, on Civil War Women. If you can get past the ads and the we-Canadians-rock cheer-squad, you can find out about Jennie Trout, the first women to be licensed to practice medicine in Canada, from sassymonkey on blogher. And on The Reality-Based Community, you can catch James Wimberley’s sweet remembrance of the lives of five English women who lived through the Second World War. 

On backlashes of one kind & another

In her post on the Brilliant Women exhibition (mentioned above), Natalie Bennett writes about the feminist backlash experienced by the Bluestocking Circle in England. Another 18thC backlash is detailed by John Holbo on Out of the Crooked Timber. This post looks at the views of German philosopher, Justus Möser, whose froth-at-the-mouth diatribe on single mothers and bastard children strikes Holbo as an almost note-perfect precursor to right-wing American conservatism.

Here at the Vapour Trail, you can also read about the hateful songs sung about battered married women on the 19th century English music-hall stage. The anti-feminism displayed there is worth remembering, given that memories of music-hall jesters such as Dan Leno now often come immersed in a bath of nostalgia for Victoriana and simpler days.

As Kristan Tetens points out on The Victorian Peeper, however, the Victorians are also in the process of being re-written as sex-mad in a Rupert Everett documentary series about to hit the small screen. It remains to be seen whether this series represents a simplistic backlash against old notions of the Victorians as the sex-hating repressed, or whether it produces a more complex view of Victorian sexualities. (Incidentally, although his career was over before the Victorian era began, I would be interested in Everett’s take on the womanising castrato singer, Giovanni Velutti, who appears this month on Providentia).

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Dred Scott at Axis of Evil Knievel

For backlashes of another kind, check Axis of Evil Knievel’s post on the Dred Scott decision, 6 March 1857, which denied an enslaved man from Missouri the right to sue for his freedom in the US Federal Court. If you can cope with the thick white text on black background, see Yid With Lid on the anti-Semitism stirred up by the Dreyfus affair in ‘J’accuse! When anti-semitism became fashionable’. And also check Greg Laden’s piece on the ban on Irish gays joining the St Patrick’s Day parades in Boston and NYC.

‘Great’ Men in history

Of course, online women’s history is hardly the only historiographical field to be dominated by the mighty or the rich. The idea that history is the story of past giants – great men looming up from the historical sludge, as it were - is to be found plenty of bloke’s history blogs. Thomas Levenson’s piece on the rivalry between two such ‘giants’, Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke, relies on this assumption. But it still makes for a zanily informative read. His discussion of the fact that Newton is celebrated while Hooke is largely forgotten also stands as a reminder of the machinations through which certain white men made the cut as Giants of History, and certain men did not.

Saifuddin’s piece for his eponymous blog, on the pre-1800 history of Yemen, similarly draws attention to the machinations between the ‘Giants’ of that region. By detailing the struggles between various sultans and governors in the era of the Ottomans, he highlights the imperial conquest and exploitation to which much of the history of Great Men is tied.

In a wonderful post by dogboy at Executed Today, you can read about the executions which the Catholic Church once deemed necessary for the good of the masses, but not at all necessary for the edification of noble Great Men. This post looks at the executioner, Giovanni Battiste Bugatti - a man who began his bloody work for the papacy at the turn of the 19thC, aged 17, and who otherwise spent his working life painting umbrellas by the riverside.

On the tricksiness of historical sources

At Easily Distracted this month, Timothy Burke has a snappy rant about the angst attending memoirs later revealed to be hoaxes or frauds. His focus is on contemporary memoirs, but is obviously relevant to historical sources. The post is worth reading as an illustration of good bloggy sass. And it is also worth reading to see if you agree with its attack on identity politics and the survivor memoir-industry. In this month of celebration of women’s history, which still relies on a form of identity politics, what say you to this provocative piece?

On Transylvania Dutch, John Newmark has a nifty post on the unreliable details his ‘Irish’ great-grandfather gave about his life. His great-granda hailed initially from Warsaw, not Ireland, and changed a few more less-than-trifling ‘facts’ about his life along the way – a cunning jester, if there ever was one. Then on The Virtual Dime Museum, L H Crawley has a post about an 1860s’ air-gun murder in Gold St, Brooklyn, with complicated connections to her own family. Trying to piece together information both about the murderer and her ancestors is a difficult business, she notes, particularly given omissions of errant wives and the like by past family historians keen on preserving their clan’s good name. Both these post read as if written if to illustrate Burke’s point about the tricksiness of historical self-presentation.

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As a counter-point to Burke’s post, one finds a considered discussion of recent debates about the education of French children on Design Observer. As Jessica Helfand writes, plans are afoot to have every 5th-grader in France learn the life-story of a French child killed during the Holocaust. Featuring Anny-Yolande Horowitz, a seven year old French girl deported to Auschwitz in September 1942, this post raises compelling issues about the ethics of Holocaust history and about history education at large.

On this and other Carnivals

I must say now that there were a few submissions sent to me this month about the teaching of history and the impact of digital technologies on the same. Since my intention here was to focus on women’s history – and since I had a strong-enough view of my own on these posts, I made these the subject of a piece which I posted on this blog yesterday. Check it out if you want to catch up on some recent debates about the impact of new media on historiography and tertiary education (or at least for my views on the same).   

Before I get any further now, I want to thank Sharon Howard, who organises the History Carnival each month. Like any festival director, she puts in plenty of behind-the-scenes labour and energy into the Carnival, and heartily deserves our gratitude.

A couple of other Carnivals in honour of Women’s History Month or International Women’s Day are currently online. At Penny Red, you can catch The Carnival of Feminists. And for those of you who liked L H Crawley and John Newmark’s post about their forebears there are a whole series of reminiscences about female relatives and ancestors discussed in the Genealogy Blog Carnival at Creative Gene.  

If you are interested in becoming a host for a future History Carnival like this one, you can contact Sharon via the Carnival site. To submit a post to be considered for the next issue, you can make submissions via that site. The next host for the Carnival will be Felix (aka Fiona Thompson) at Bay Radical, and will appear on 1 May 2008. Looking forward to the next round of revelry and thoughtful exchange, Felix!

I will leave you now with a link to a List of Don’ts for women, published by a lady contributor to The Owl in 1903, which appears online at The Pen and the Spindle. I laughed when I first read this collation of foolish imperatives, but considering the fact that celeb pieces still offer us similar lists of what to wear and how to look (celebrity of course being the contemporary equivalent of historical lady-mania), perhaps it isn’t so jester-comic after all…

History Carnival: The upcoming April’s Fool issue

3 Mar

The latest History Carnival is out now at Spinning Clio. For the uninitiated, History Carnivals come out on the first of each month and provide a summary (delivered at breakneck pace) of the best history blogging over the previous four weeks. Carnivals are presented by a different blogger each month.

I’ll be presenting the March carnival on 1 April (no, it’s not a joke). So if you have a blog entry you want me to consider, let me know about it via the Carnival submission form. General info about the History Carnival and the process of making submissions is also available here. And for a little precis of good historical content online, see this web-snippet on the (American) history of April Fool’s day.

On nineteenth-century blogging

30 Oct

The detritus of little newspapers begun in a bedroom or tiny office downtown is everywhere in the historical record: flotsam and jetsam of political fervour and voices striving to be heard. Reading some of Sydney’s late 19thC examples, I’m struck by how much they functioned like blogs – that is, as a diaristic commentary on their editor’s daily life and proclivities.

I’ve already written about the Truth, for example, which included accounts of the unsavoury Bob Avery on his visits to theatres and bars. Another example is Society, another easy-come-easy-go Sydney offering with a theatrical bent. Wish I knew what its editor looked like. He inhabited a very similar oeuvre to the owner-editors of the Truth, but in a more benign and charmingly lugubrious way. ‘The other night our Ed was mournfully perusing copy under the somnolent effects of whisky and tobacco’, he wrote in Feburary 1886. And elsewhere: ‘One of my idiosyncracies is to want refreshments. Wherever I go I have a morbid longing for tea, and cakes, and lemonade and ice-creams, little things like that. And I note that whenever ladies condescend to overlook my repulsive personal appearance… they develop an appetite for ice-cream’.

Query: re blogging

4 Oct

It was easy to blog in the first weeks of my postdoc, because the ideas I had then were small and discrete. Not hard at all to make something like that (single object left behind on a shelf in a room / first leaves on a skeletal array of branches) the subject of a short piece. The last few weeks I’ve been researching and writing a long paper on larrikins, however – the people who were rowdy as they come in Australian theatre audiences – and the ideas have been coming too thick and fast to be made the subject of a quick-grab blog entry.

Query: does blogging encourage an aesthetic or way of thinking attuned to the singular and impressionistic? Does it work against other modes of thought and appreciating the things one is into? It certainly seems that blogging becomes difficult for me in the midst of writing something bigger, and that this is about more than just the time it takes to write an entry. It’s more about the difficulty of inhabiting two differerent sensibilities simultaneously.

It’s a morass

26 Jul

Since I’m such a novice to the universe of research blogging, I’ve just spent some time trying to find inspirational examples. What I discovered: it’s a morass. I wandered about following other people’s blogrolls for a while, stared despondently at the thicket of titles on an academic blogs portal, and then picked a few to view at random. Most of those I stumbled upon contained what was to me disappointingly newsy things: ‘I’m off to do this today’, ‘oh, I’ve just been to this conference’, and so on.

My idea for this blog is that it will be less diaristic in tone and purpose, and styled instead as a series of sketches to give shape to my research. I want to be able to go back to the archived entires for a particular month, for example, and to find there a record of the bright things that grabbed me in my reading at the time. Or to be able to choose the category on medicine shows, say, and turn up various prompts to the sources and my immediate thoughts about them. And I also want to feel my way into the project through the process of quotidian reflection about it, recorded on something more permanent than the backs of envelopes or scrap-paper I otherwise accumulate.  

Here is Sharon Howard, an early modern historian, with sage commentary on the value of her own research blogging:

‘Blogging research lets you develop the very first drafts of ideas. Bits and pieces that don’t yet amount to articles (or even conference papers), but they may well do some day. And something else, sometimes: last year I was having trouble thinking up any new ideas at all, but blogging old ideas, often attached to new sources, meant that I kept writing, if only a few hundred words a week, without having to worry about it being original or impressive. And now, because it’s all archived and easy to find, I can look back over some of that work and see potential themes, little seeds of ideas that are worth working on, start to make them grow’.

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