Category Archives: Blog

A month of history podcasts: May 2017

The past month for me has involved trying out a few new history-related podcasts, some better than others, some more Trump-focused than others. I salute the efforts by historians to attempt to integrate the current seismic shift in American diplomacy, policy & the presidency by drawing historical parallels (and contrasts) – but I must admit I’ve actively sought to escape current affairs of late.  I’ll list a couple of podcasts here which do seek to historicise the current US administration, as well as some others I’ve discovered this month.

Letters of Complaint. This is a series of short episodes, part live-action, part discussion, which explore the grievances of Sydney’s 19th century residents. The City of Sydney historian Dr Lisa Murray delves into the City’s archives to reveal the best, worst and most bizarre letters of complaint. Click here for the website for the podcast, but you can also download the series on iTunes and elsewhere.

Just Words. This Australian series was released a few months ago amidst the (repeated) debate about section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. The podcast examines a number of the legal cases  which have been brought under the section. It seems the debate has now been put to rest (fingers crossed), but these episodes serve as a really interesting examination of the history of a piece of Australian legislation, and its impact on the litigants and the wider public. I highly recommend the podcast – in particular the first few episodes. Click here for the podcast on iTunes, although it’s available via all the usual apps as well.

The Outlander Podcast, Episode 199 is an interview with the cast and production team for 1745. I wrote about this film in a post on my Caribbean Histories blog. That post also has links to the work of a team of historians at the University of Glasgow investigating runaway slaves in Scotland. The podcast interview is well worth a listen. The story in the film is fascinating, and as the writers mention, there is so much research yet to be done. I think it’s brilliant that this invisible history is being brought to the big screen.

The Whiskey Rebellion. This is a podcast series hosted by Frank Cogliano and David Silkenat, both historians of America based at the University of Edinburgh. The episodes I’ve listened to do tend to draw upon the current American presidency, but then explore events and figures in the American past. Click here for the Whiskey Rebellion site.

The Lawfare Podcast. This is for when I do want to hear about the goings-on at the White House. The episodes tend to be long, but in-depth, and feature some senior and experienced people with seemingly considered viewpoints. The podcast series is hosted by Lawfare, a website devoted to American national security, law and policy. This isn’t a history podcast, but appeals to the ex-lawyer/regulator in me. Click here for the Lawfare podcast site

I have to say my favourite find this month was this short interview with Jill Lepore about the evolution of Wonder Woman and her connection to feminism. Lepore is a brilliant writer and historian (one of my favourites), and is the author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman. Lepore is probably the best historian I know at relating the excitement of the process of archival research and the moment of discovery. She’s a very entertaining speaker—this is the kind of escapism I’d been seeking all month!

 

How to subscribe to a podcast. Subscribing simply means that whenever a new episode of a podcast is released, it will appear on your podcast app of choice, on your phone, iPad, computer etc. Click here to go to a how-to article written by one of my favourite (non-history) podcasters, Gretchen Rubin. The article explains how to subscribe to Rubin’s Happier podcast, but the steps she describes can be followed for any podcast. The article explains how to subscribe on iTunes and Soundcloud, using either your computer or your iPhone or android phone. I hope this helps!

 

A month of history podcasts: April 2017

This is the first of what I hope will be a regular post with links to history-related podcasts I’ve listened to over the past month.

Some podcast series are well-established and not hard to find—such as Ben Franklin’s World or Stuff You Missed in History Class  but in a more recent trend, academic conferences and seminars are often being recorded and released online as podcasts. But these can be harder to find.

As always, I thrive on feedback from readers and listeners. If any of the podcasts I link to have interested you, or inspired you, please tell me! Also, please share with me any history-related podcasts you have discovered so that I can add them to my list.

* Please see the end of this post for a how-to guide for subscribing to podcasts*

1. Professor David Armitage, “Civil Wars: A History in Ideas.” A paper given at a seminar entitled “Partition and Civil Wars in Ireland 2020-2023: Civil Wars and Their Legacy” at Queen’s University Belfast, 10 March 2017. Armitage introduced his new book (Civil Wars: A History in Ideas) and traced the history of the idea of civil war from Cicero to Syria.

2. Paul Revere’s Ride Through History. This is the latest instalment in the ‘Doing History’ Series on Ben Franklin’s World, which focuses on how historians work. This episode focuses on why it is that historians have focused on Paul Revere’s ride on 18 April 1775, and not on the many other significant rides he took? Why is it that Revere seems to ride quickly into history and then just as quickly out of it? A great feature of the series is the additional resources – related to each episode – which are available on the Omohundro Institute’s website.  Click here to access the episode.

3. ‘Cuba is already ours:’ annexationists, filibusterers, & the US struggle to buy Cuba, 1820-1898. Dr Carrie Gibson, author of Empire’s Crossroads, which I reviewed here, recently gave a paper at University College Londons Institute of the Americas on the US’s many attempts to buy Cuba from Spain throughout the nineteenth century.

4. Mike Duncan is back with a new Revolution! Since 2013, Duncan (an historian, author, and podcaster) has produced a number of podcast series, each focusing in depth on a different revolution in the past. In march, his sixth series launched – focusing on the July Revolution in France (1830). Duncan focuses on timelines, and often goes into great detail about people, places and the order of events—not as much analysis as the other podcasts listed above, but the podcasts make for great listening and are very popular.

Click here to see Revolutions podcast in iTunes and here for Duncan’s website, which includes some images, maps and further commentary. Also, I linked to a previous series on the Haitian Revolution on my CaribbeanHistories blog here.

5. Last but not least, some Australian content from the Dictionary of Sydney. Lisa Murray, the Historian of the City of Sydney discussed an exhibition at the Australian Museum which highlights the work of two of the most prominent natural history illustrators in 19th Century Australia, Harriet and Helena Scott. Click here to see the accompanying blogpost at the Dictionary of Sydney – once there, click the ‘Listen Now’ button. If you explore the blog, you’ll find links to other podcasts from the Dictionary team.

How to subscribe to a podcast.

Subscribing simply means that whenever a new episode of a podcast is released, it will appear on your podcast app of choice, on your phone, iPad, computer etc. Click here to go to a how-to article written by one of my favourite (non-history) podcasters, Gretchen Rubin. The article explains how to subscribe to Rubin’s Happier podcast, but the steps she describes can be followed for any podcast. The article explains how to subscribe on iTunes and Soundcloud, using either your computer or your iPhone or android phone. I hope this helps!

Caribbean Histories: A New Blog!

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 2.43.20 pm.pngOver the summer, I ‘launched’ a new blog: Caribbean Histories. That sounds rather formal, but I wanted somewhere to share all the links and book notes I’ve kept over the past couple of years related to Caribbean history. I’ve discovered to my surprise that Caribbean history is somewhat under-appreciated. It’s dispersed between accounts from various perspectives and languages—including the European empires which had a hold on the region for so long, pre-Columbian perspectives, and more recently the African diaspora. And then there is the diversity within the region itself.  For my thesis I’m approaching it from a British/Irish perspective, which I know is only one of the myriad ways the history of the region can be approached. I hope that by sharing my finds, I can help those interested in Caribbean history to dig deeper. The blog is not pitched necessarily at the academic, rather I hope to spark interest in a more general reader. For example, high school or university students seeking deeper knowledge or help with a research topic, or travellers heading to the region for a holiday. If you know someone this could help out—please share!

Head on over to Caribbean Histories… and as always, I’d be very appreciative of feedback.

Long weekend in Dublin

 

mccullough-mulvin-architects-long-room-hub-in-trinity-college-dublin

 

I returned from a long weekend in Dublin a week ago – I was delighted to be able to attend a symposium at Trinity College organised by David Dickson: ‘Ireland and the Caribbean in the Age of Empire.’ The 5-day round trip from Sydney was somewhat crazy but the symposium was so well put-together, with so many ‘big’ names in this emerging field, that it was well worth the jetlag. Many of those of us who presented have been inspired by Nini Rodgers’ Ireland, Slavery and Antislavery, so it was wonderful that she could be at the gathering—in closing proceedings she told us how delighted she is by the direction research is taking in this area, and is amazed at the array of sources scholars are drawing together. I was also rather chuffed that she recalled our chance meeting 18 months ago in the Linen Hall Library in Belfast.

It was wonderful to see papers presented by (among others) Jenny Shaw, Matt Reilly, Jonathan Wright and Orla Power – all of whom I have already cited in my in-progress PhD thesis. There were so many other interesting papers covering Irish connections with the Caribbean in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. A handful of fascinating papers also touched on interactions with the Spanish empire in the Caribbean. I have dreams of reviving my Spanish skills and exploring those connections in the future.

Many papers took a biographical/microhistorical approach, as I’m doing. A stand-out for me was a paper by Tom Truxes on the value of the British National Archives’ High Court of Admiralty Prize Papers—anyone who’s read the Bordeaux-Dublin Letters 1757 will have an inkling of the type of documents available in the collection. Truxes explained that there are over 4,000 boxes of mostly uncatalogued court records, personal correspondence, commercial documents, shipping papers etc at Kew… so potential dissertation-writers without a topic and with access to Kew—go check out the prize papers! I would if I lived in London.

I presented my work-in-progress on my merchants and planters chapter. I discussed John Black of Ulster/Grenada/Trinidad, and James Watt of Ramelton/Barbados/Jamaica. I was followed on my panel by Jonathan Wright who also presented on Mr Black, and then David Fleming who spoke on Eyre Coote, a Governor of Jamaica. Both papers were excellent, and really helped me think about my approach as I write up my second chapter.

Next week I’m off to my first Irish Studies Australia/NZ Conference, to present much the same paper as I did in Dublin. I’m looking forward to getting the lay of the land in Irish Studies in Australia & promise to report back soon.

References:

Nini Rodgers, Ireland, Slavery and Anti-Slavery:1612—1865 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

The Bordeaux-Dublin Letters 1757: Correspondence of an Irish Community Abroad, edited by L.M. Cullen, John Shovlin and Thomas M. Truxes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)

 

 

 

 

 

Going on a bear hunt

BearsParents out there, and maybe some younger readers, will recognise this line: “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, Oh no! we’ve got to go through it!” The line has been going around and around in my mind the past couple of weeks.  On a global scale, my challenges are miniscule – but nonetheless they have ebbed away at my steady PhD research-and-writing habits so that I find myself almost entirely out of the way of working now. I can’t quite believe I’ve let it get to this stage.  I really need to get words on the page. I find myself forcing my way through excuses – I’ve just got to go through it. I wish I could summon up the energy and drive I had as I studied for all those law exams so many years ago – I remember making clear sacrifices back then (not going to footy matches for a few weeks before exams, not going out on Friday nights – I remember those ones!), but I now find making sacrifices very very hard. I’ve just got to go through it.

My aim by the beginning of December is to finish my draft introduction and literature review, and a second chapter on plantation/merchant life which I’ve almost finished researching.  Perhaps putting that aim in writing on this blog will impel me towards the finish line! I really want to have some proper, guilt-free time off over Summer.

I’ll end this post with a quote I heard from Ira Glass on the Happier podcast this week. This hints at the “we’ve got to go through it” sentiment, but with a positive promise of better things to come…

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Busy busy

The last few months have been very busy, and not always with PhD work unfortunately – I’m also juggling the transition to a new school for my daughter (which has been a brilliant move, thankfully),  and major home renovations (going well, but somewhat disruptive and time-consuming). So all good stuff, but my focus has not been on my research as much as I would have liked.

I’m now into year 2 of my PhD. I’ve written my first full chapter, on military connections between Ireland and the Caribbean. It’s a fair bit longer than originally planned, but I found three brilliant (if I do say so myself) characters to test out my biographical/micro-historical approach on. All will be revealed when my thesis is finished, but the approach seems to have worked well. I loved researching the lives of the three soldiers I found, and putting my detective skills to the test. I will write about the research process in more detail at some point, as I have researched them all ‘remotely’ – from my desktop in Australia, nowhere near Ireland or the Caribbean. I’m now working on a chapter on Irish merchants, & plantation owners and managers.

I’ve also had success on the publishing and conference front. I have an article approved for publication in an upcoming special ‘Transnational’ edition of Éire-Ireland, and I’ll be presenting on my biographical/micro-historical methodology at an International Graduate Conference at my university in July. The Conference is a joint venture between Macquarie, two universities in China (Tsinghua & Communication University of China), the University of Paris III-Sorbonne, and Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok). The conference theme is Methodology—perhaps not the most inspiring theme, but I’m excited to be talking about my methodology, and the chance to think hard about my approach.

I’ve made some updates to the blogs and podcasts posts on this blog. The changes to my daily routine this year have meant more time driving around Sydney, so hence more podcast listening time!

 

Blogging around the web

While I’m not the most prolific blogger myself, I do love reading others’  blogs. I’m constantly discovering new blogs to follow, many (but not all) written by historians. If they are published in WordPress, they’re easy to keep track of in my Reader app, so I tend not to miss a post, but if they’re not WordPress…then I lose track of them. So as an aide memoire to myself, and as a way of promoting others’ blogs, I’m going to *try to* update this post regularly with blogs I’ve discovered.

 

Pubs and Publications. The PhD Experience

Isles Abroad. A Group Blog of British and Irish Global History

Gretchen Rubin – My experiments in the pursuit of happiness and good habits

 

Age of Revolutions – a collaborative, academic ‘historioblog’

Old Weather Blog: Our weather’s past, the climate’s future

National Gallery of Jamaica Blog

The Old Parramatta Blog

Amber Davis – Political Scientist & PhD Coach

 

The Possibility of Small Revolutions

The digital revolution and the practice of history: what’s changed and what hasn’t changed? This was the question posed by Dr Tim Sherratt in his keynote address at the History teachers Association/Macquarie Uni Headstart to Extension seminar this week.

Sherratt describes himself as a historian and hacker who researches the possibilities and politics of digital cultural collections. As well as an academic post at the University of Canberra, he’s currently half of the Trove management team at the National Library of Australia.  My favourite line from his keynote was that he wants “to mobilise our cultural collections into the spaces people already inhabit.” That is, I think, what public history is all about.

The study of the past has already been transformed by digital technology: Trove’s 190,000,000 newspaper articles is just one example of this. But Sherratt demonstrated that digital technology means more for the practice of history than ‘simply’ digitising documents. Through the course of his keynote, Sherratt demonstrated a number of digital tools which can help historians think about and analyse primary sources in different ways; and he showcased a number of projects which utilise digital technology to help us see people, places and events in the past in a new way.

But back to the question—what’s changed and what hasn’t changed? We must continue to be sceptical of our sources. Just as students of history are trained to think about the assumptions and forces which shaped individual primary sources, so we must also think about the assumptions and forces which shape digital collections. Funding priorities, significant anniversaries and curatorial agendas are just some of the forces which dictate which documents are digitised, and how the collection is presented. For example, Trove (which draws from other digitised collections around Australia) returns significantly more digitised newspaper articles for 1914. This is the result of the priorities of the state libraries around Australia, which have focused on providing sources in relation to World War I during the current 100 year anniversary.

Understanding the forces and assumptions that drive the creation of digital collections should in turn lead the historian to consider the age-old questions of what isn’t there, just as much as what is. Absence is just as important as presence when considering an archive. As Sherratt noted, it’s important to guard against the “sense of completeness” in the digital age. Just because something isn’t in google, does it mean it doesn’t exist?

TR-riding-moose-560.7

I can’t take credit for discovering the Roosevelt on a moose picture. Refer to Dr Sherratt’s slides for more on this.

Sherratt also drew attention to the presence of fake and unattributed historical pictures which seem ubiquitous online. But the well-known fake picture of Teddy Roosevelt riding a moose was actually created in 1912. New technology may make it easier to share fakes, but as Sherratt pointed out, this technology also makes it easier to learn about—and from—those fakes. For example, @picpedant tweets attributions and calls out fakes, and digital tools such as Tin Eye enable anyone to analyse whether an image has been doctored. The fake historical pictures may drive pedants mad, but they do generate discussion.

The slides from the keynote are available online here and include links to many exciting digital history projects, and the tools I’ve mentioned in this post.

I’m really excited about the possibilities for accessing and analysing sources, and communicating historical findings, which digital technology is bringing to the practice of history. Much of the audience at the keynote yesterday was students in their final year at school. My hope is that Sherratt inspired some of them with the desire to see where technology can take their historical practice in the future—in Sherratt’s words, “the possibility of small revolutions.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Podcasting for historians (and for fun)

I’ve been thinking about writing about podcasts for a while and it seems I’m not the only one. Elizabeth Covart published a really interesting blogpost today about  Trends in Digital Communications which is worth a read—she  produces the successful Ben Franklin’s World podcast series in the US.  I’m no tech writer, but it seems to me that the medium has come into its own this past year—possibly owing to the runaway success of Serial last year. The industry has now entered a consolidation phase as the commercial realities of the medium are thrashed out. As Covart argues, historians need to be aware of digital media trends in order to better communicate their work.  I believe historians (individually or en masse) can utilise podcasting to get their work out into the public domain—to spark discussions, influence debate, entertain, and maybe even sell their books—with much lower barriers to entry than for other media formats.* We might even remind people why the humanities are so important to everyday life.

*My latest favourite podcast, which is not history-related, is Annabel Crabb & Leigh Sales’ Chat10Looks3. This is a weekly Australian podcast, where two journos discuss (often hilariously) what they’ve been reading, watching, writing, baking etc. They frequently remind listeners not to expect high production values in their podcast, so they serve as a good example of the low barriers to entry in terms of technology. Although having said that,  both are well-known in Australian media, so I guess being a relatively-invisible historian might make launching your own podcast slightly harder.  Hence networks as a way of getting content noticed.

There is a range of history-related podcast material out there, and I list below some of what I’ve discovered. Most of what I’ve found is American. Some of it is quite academic, advanced-meta-historiography-type stuff, some is really engaging, some is very light-hearted. There are also some lecture and conference recordings available, although I agree with Covart that this doesn’t always translate into great digital content.  But as someone researching a topic on the other side of the world from most other researchers in my field, I would dearly love to see conference proceedings recorded for podcast on a regular basis (please!)

The Juntocast – a podcast on early American history

Ben Franklin’s World – what I love about this is listening to both academic and public historians talk about their work in archives, museums, research, writing etc.

Rum, Rebels & Ratbags – slightly irreverent Australian series presented by the author of Girt, the Unauthorised History of Australia Great for getting some facts about the early years of European Australia (but mostly stories about men…)

PastPresent – American, links history with current affairs

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – great content but slightly boring as it’s just someone reading out entries from the dictionary!

I’ll also link to an article from the Telegraph (one of my least favourite newspapers I must disclose), but they list some British history podcasts which may be of interest: The Telegraph’s best history podcasts list and this is a link to a list of 19 (American) history podcasts compiled by the online magazine Mental Floss

My other non-history favourite is Happier with Gretchen Rubin … an acquired taste perhaps, but it’s been great for helping me think about productivity, which has been important in my first year as a PhD student.

**Update 24 November 2015: I’ve had quite a few comments via WordPress and elsewhere, so here are a few more podcasts to add to my list. (Thanks to all the commenters.)

The British Museum/BBC podcast series: A History of the World in 100 Objects

Mike Duncan’s Revolutions Podcast

Backdoor Broadcasting – this site contains recordings of presentations (often including Powerpoints) given at various UK universities in the Arts and Humanities. It’s not the easiest site to navigate but has some interesting content.

New Books in American Studies and New Books in Gender Studies

Finally, this is a blogpost on the Teaching United States History Blog, which contains an extensive list of podcasts, and some interesting comments on using podcasts as a teaching tool.

Institute of Historical Research Interviews The IHR produces occasional podcast interviews with historians, the list includes Peter Burke, Anthony McFarland & Lady Antonia Fraser.

**Update 2 May 2016: Some non-history podcasts I’ve enjoyed so far this year:

I religiously listen to Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast and have recently discovered Dan Harris’ 10% Happier in which he interviews a great mix of people about their meditation practices. I loved his book, and find the interviews really engaging. I also really got into Serial Season 2 – a thought-provoking series, which really drove home the point that emerges again and again in historical research, that nothing is ever quite as it seems, and nor is anything ever black and white.

Liz Covart has also launched a great series with the Omohundro Institute as part of her Ben Franklin’s World podcast – it’s called Doing History and I think should be mandatory listening for all students of history. Three episodes have aired thus far, with experienced historians discussing questions such as how they come across their research topics, how they use sources, and the cross-over with archaeology.

Women’s memoirs of the West Indies

My PhD research focuses on connections between Ireland and the British West Indies from about 1770 until 1830. I hope to be able to weave the voices of some Irish women who had connections with the region through my work, but I suspect this will be a challenge. I found a few (very few) letters written by Irish women who lived in the Caribbean during my research at PRONI in Belfast, and am now looking for published (or unpublished for that matter) memoirs. I’ve found a number by women travellers from England, Scotland and north America, as well as a handful of works by non-white women. My search for a work by an Irish woman, however, continues. This list is not exhaustive and I may update it as I go. I haven’t done much secondary reading on this topic yet, but the most helpful work by far has been Evelyn O’Callaghan’s Women Writing the West Indies, 1804—1939, “A Hot Place, Belonging to Us” (Routledge, 2004).

Any recommendations or comments from you, dear reader, would be most welcome!

Perhaps the best-known published journal is that of Lady Nugent, wife of Sir George Nugent, who served as Governor of Jamaica at the beginning of the nineteenth century. This is a link to a published copy of her journal Lady Nugent’s Journal of Her Residence in Jamaica from 1801 to 1805.

Anne Powers, the author of A Parcel of Ribbons: The letters of an 18th Century Family in London and Jamaica, has reviewed two memoirs by female visitors to Jamaica in the nineteenth century: Martha Jefferson Trice’s A Lady in Jamaica 1879Link to Powers’ Review and Diana Lewes’ A Year in Jamaica, Memoirs of a girl in Arcadia in 1889Link to Review

I used the journal of a Scottish traveller, Janet Schaw, during my Masters research, for her description of the bustling island of St. Eustatius in the 1770s: Journal of a Lady of Quality: Being the Narrative of a Journey from Scotland to the West Indies, North Carolina, and Portugal, in the years 1774 to 1776

The Fate of the Fenwicks, Letters to Mary Hays (1798-1828), which (excitingly!) is available in digital form via the National Library of Australia here.

As for the writing of non-white women, O’Callaghan notes that the generally agreed chronology commences with the writings of Anne Hart Gilbert and Elizabeth Hart Thwaites (The Hart Sisters: Early African Caribbean Writers, Evangelicals, and Radicals, edited by Moira Ferguson (University of Nebraska Press, 1993)), followed by the History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself  (1831), and concludes with Mary Seattle’s autobiographical Wonderful Adventures (1857). There is then a gap until the twentieth century. O’Callaghan notes (pp.2-3) that although very few texts by non-white women appeared, that does not mean that there was no women’s writing from the West Indies—although it seems that for a long time, academics did argue that such a void existed. The book goes on to discuss what O’Callaghan terms “narratives of the West Indies by women.”