Blogging and the Day Job: Tales from the Blarchive

Jonathan Willis

In a series of recent posts marking the tenth anniversary of the many-headed monster, my co-bloggers have reflected on a number of themes. Mark has discussed the transition of the blog from what seemed (at the time at least) to be a series of topical yet ephemeral interventions into something more permanent: a blog archive or ‘blarchive’ if you will. I fear the term probably won’t enter the running for OED word of the year, and if I’m being completely honest it puts me in mind of early 1990s children’s TV presenter Timmy Mallett (if you were a UK child born in the ‘80s you’ll know what I mean, if not, don’t worry about it!). Laura then highlighted a series of posts relating to the recurring theme of the relationship between historical writing and fiction, and Brodie explored how another prominent series of posts reflect the turbulent history of the historical discipline itself in UKHE and beyond over the past decade.

Parochial – geddit??

This post feels a little more ‘parochial’ (good reformation pun, that) in comparison, because looking back at my contributions to the blog has really given me pause to reflect on what blogging has meant to me at different stages of my career over the past ten years. So in some way this is quite a personal – really rather self-indulgent – set of autobiographical musings, but I hope it is also an interesting dive back into older content on the ‘monster, as well as a potentially useful series of thoughts about what the process of blogging can look like at different times and in different contexts.

I wrote my first blog on ‘fiddling at the Church Ale’ in September 2012 – I had gained my PhD in 2009, published the book of the thesis in 2010, and after two years of fixed term posts had become a lecturer in 2011. I was aware at the time, but realise even more acutely now, how lucky I was to move so swiftly into a permanent post. Between 2010 and 2013 I benefitted from a postdoctoral fellowship to start work on a new project (on the Ten Commandments), but my early posts were rooted in material from my doctoral research, highlighting the Records of Early English Drama volumes, and reflecting on the impotence of reading published reviews of my first book (all largely positive, I feel compelled to add!).

New to blogging, I was clearly determined to try to capitalise on subjects which people might be interested in in the here and now, by writing topical posts linked to Christmas, Easter, and Tudor History on TV. In the autumn of 2013 my postdoc came to an end, and I found myself struggling to come to terms with a full teaching and admin load for the first time in three years. With research time squeezed, I wrote about what was on my mind – developing new modules on early modern history – and university history teaching is something which the blog returns to now and again, such as Laura’s excellent resource on decolonising and Black British History. ‘When god gives you lemons’ has been a recurrent philosophy for my blog writing, as evidenced by posts relating to conferences I was organising, and a 2014 blog about ‘the editing game’, at a time when I was involved in editing or co-editing three volumes of essays.

(Intellectual) itch-scratching, AKA, a tenuous reason to include a cute picture of a monkey…

One thing that really strikes me are the short posts which in another universe might have become articles – on topics as diverse as ‘idols of the mind’, clergy wives, or Tudor Church Reform. Blogging has been a wonderful outlet for scratching that itch to share that interesting something you encounter during your teaching or research, but which is only tangential to the thing you are actually working on. It starts a conversation much more quickly – maybe without the blog I’d have gotten around to publishing more journal articles, but je ne regrette rien! In 2015 my colleague Tara Hamling and I organised a conference called ‘After Iconophobia’, and rather than an edited volume or special issue, we invited contributors to prepare blog posts for an online symposium, which (people have been kind enough to tell me) has proven very valuable.

There is much more to say, but in the interests of keeping things brief, I suppose the other thing that really stands out to me is the evolution of the posts relating to the project I am trying to write up right now. My short series on ‘Elizabethan madmen’ began in 2014 with the tale of Miles Fry, AKA Emanuel Plantagenet, who claimed to be the illegitimate son of God and Elizabeth I. I was still working on my Ten Commandments project at the time, and these letters were simply (I thought) fun curiosities, worth a blog post or two, but nothing more. The monster’s ‘Voices of the People’ symposium in 2015 gave me a reason to write more about these ‘green ink letters’, and five years later with the Commandments book finally published I was (thankfully!) starting to look with more sensitivity and complexity at early modern conceptions of mental illness.

Blogging will inevitably be a different experience for everybody, but looking back over ten years’ worth of posts is a real privilege, and an opportunity to reflect on my career, my pedagogical practice, my professional development and my intellectual evolution.  What’s even more exciting is looking forward to the next chapter in the history of the many-headed monster, beginning with our inaugural 2022 monster carnival, on the theme of ‘Why Early Modern History Matters’!

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