the many-headed monster is 10: looking forward

This year we are celebrating ten years of blogging about the unruly sort of clowns and other early modern peculiarities. But we are also laying out plans for the next ten years, because it felt like it was time to make some fundamental changes in how we do things at the Monster.

We started this blog in 2012, and in all sorts of ways the world is a very different place now than it was then. Back then, the global financial crash and the UK coalition government’s policy of austerity loomed large. Today, the ongoing impact of the covid pandemic, Brexit, the Trump presidency, the climate emergency and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine set an even more apocalyptic backdrop. The MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements have brought more positive change, but in countless less obvious ways the nature and tone of public discourse often feels more radical and polarised than ever. Closer to home, the university sector in the UK has been transforming too, thanks simultaneously to the tripling of tuition fees and cutting of budgets, a central government increasingly hostile to the arts and humanities, the rise of decolonising initiatives, and a series of bitter labour disputes.

Our own situations have also changed. All four of us are now on permanent open-ended contracts, with solid publication records and ever-expanding administrative responsibilities. This is in sharp contrast to 2012, when two of us were still in temporary posts and the other two were very junior lecturers. We all now officially fit the label of ‘mid-career scholars’. All this could have spelled an ignoble end to our grand and monstrous venture. However, rather than simply puttering along and writing an occasional isolated post, squeezed in between our many other professional duties, we decided to take advantage of our current positions as established scholars of early modern history and build on the huge success of our recent Early Career Researcher Takeover event in 2021. More practically, we all now have extensive experience as peer reviewers and academic editors, so this seems like an ideal new long-term role for the Monster heads.


Welcome to the Monster Carnival! Johannes Lingbach, Carnival at Rome (1650-51)

Monster Carnivals

We are therefore delighted to announce that starting this year we will be hosting regular Monster Carnivals: online events that offer a platform for scholars of history, especially but not exclusively newer researchers, and those who study the late fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. The Carnivals will provide a forum for addressing critically important themes in current scholarship.

Continue reading

the many-headed monster is 10: looking back

When Brodie and Mark quietly announced the birth of the many-headed monster to the world in July 2012, little did they know how big their baby would grow or just how many readers and contributors the behemoth would ensnare. But it’s been quite a ride.

four photos of the monster heads when they were young
monster heads when they were young

It’s possibly obvious to our readers, but we have never had a strict editorial line, preferring the blog to develop organically and to lead us in whatever direction seems promising. We share a consensus that we want to reach broader audiences than journal articles and academic monographs can, and that the types of history that we discuss, the format, and particularly the tone of our writing is intended to be accessible and engaging for non-specialists, but beyond that, there aren’t really any rules. Indeed, until we four co-authors met late in 2021 to discuss how to mark our ten year anniversary we’d never had an editorial meeting, rather we very satisfactorily conducted matters via email, or a scatter of shared google docs for when we were feeling fancy.

This informal approach is perhaps one of our great strengths. For one thing, it keeps editorial and administrative duties to the barest minimum. Just as importantly, it has allowed us to develop ways of publishing content online that retains the quick blog post format, but which expand and adapt it for different purposes. At its simplest, this might mean breaking a longer post into more easily digestible chunks and posting each chunk individually across a week or a fortnight, as Mark did with his posts on the application of theory to the history of food and drink.

More distinctively, our ‘Monster Mini-Series’ quickly became a feature of our output. These are both finite and current/long-running collections of posts focused around a particular theme or topic. Laura’s posts on the history of the Tudor Southwest is an example of the former, and our co-authored series ‘On Periodisation’ of the latter.  

Continue reading

the many-headed monster postgrad and early career takeover!

***NOW CLOSED TO SUBMISSIONS***
[But we will be back with future editions, so watch this space…]

We monster heads still strongly believe in the value of the blog format, but sadly life has conspired to mean none of us can post as often as we used to. The site remains popular though, and we receive an average of around 5,000 views per month. So rather than having this platform sit here twiddling its thumbs, we put our monstrous heads together to think about how we could make the most of it at the current time. The answer was obvious: for at least the next six months we want to make the monster a platform for our postgraduate and early career readers to showcase their research, and to voice their views on academic life.

We hope there will be a number of benefits. Obviously the takeover will give early career scholars the chance to bring the fruits of their research to a wide audience, but it is also an opportunity for writers to give blogging a try and for us to share some of the insights we have gained over the years. Of course with lockdowns still in place in many parts of the globe, and with further postponements of conferences and symposia, the takeover is also intended as an alternative way of encountering and engaging with current research and work in progress – and in a digestible format that can fit in around online teaching, caring duties, daily exercise and lying on the floor in a darkened room breathing deeply, etc.

So if you are a budding historian who does not have a permanent academic job (our deliberately baggy definition of postgrad/early career), then please consider writing a blog for us. You can download our simple guidelines and style guide here: Submission Guidelines For Authors.

The rest of this post provides a gloss on the guidelines, familiarising potential contributors (or anyone else thinking of venturing into blog writing) with the reasons why we have come to write for the monster in the way that we do. As you will see, most of them relate to our sense of who reads the blog, when and why.

Continue reading

Evading the hounds: online scholarly collaboration and crowdsourced harassment

The latest post in our #SchOnline: Scholarly Communities Online series addresses the urgent issue of online harassment and abuse. 

Elizabeth Watts

Taking our scholarly collaborations online has opened up a world of conversation – at least for those who have the health and energy for it in a global pandemic, and those who are not impeded by barriers such as inaccessible digital materials or organisers’ time zones. Yet in grounding our collaboration in spaces which are subject to rampant organised harassment and surveillance, the well-known threats that marginalised scholars at in-person events face from individuals are exchanged for the instantaneous threat of abuse at menacing, escalating scale.

Online abuse has been an endemic aspect of public scholarship, above all for women of colour, since social media started collapsing digital communication into a handful of massive, searchable platforms. Marginalised and feminist scholars have been ever more vulnerable to forms of online violence aimed at hounding them and their knowledge out of the public sphere since the 2014 #GamerGate campaign (when anti-feminist internet users subjected them to the same tactics of doxxing and swarm harassment they were already turning on Black women journalists), which some writers argue was even instrumentalised by Steve Bannon to help elect Donald Trump.

Besides these organised campaigns, the ease with which high-profile public figures can expose individuals with much lower public profiles to a mass of followers in derogatory ways creates an intimidating atmosphere for any scholar who has experienced or even witnessed the spontaneous harassment that can result. In my own case, as a white mid-career scholar with an ongoing contract, I was privileged and secure enough that abuse from accounts that did not appear to be linked to any identifiable offline people was no big deal. Coming to the attention of individuals with a wide reach on social media, offline positions of power and the capacity to use their influence to cause me material detriment has been a different level of threat altogether, leaving me anxious that I would not be able to keep up with my core job during another episode. With consciousness that my family’s peace and privacy would also be at risk (an even greater threat for scholars whose families are not cis/heteronormatively traditional), my online life has had to become much more defensive and constrained. Continue reading

A Seven-Year Old Monster

Today the Many-Headed Monster celebrates its seventh birthday. Katherine Foxhall of the Royal Historical Society recently asked us if we’d like to reflect on our experience as blogging historians. You can read the results on the RHS blog, or just read on …

How and why did you get started back in 2012?

It started with a conversation in a very dingy Cambridge flat – quite possibly over a few beers – between Mark and Brodie, about some of the interesting stuff that was turning up on other history blogs of the time: Sharon Howard’s Early Modern Notes as well as those by Gavin Robinson and Christopher Thompson which have sadly since disappeared. We chose our name ‘The Many-Headed Monster’, because we thought it captured the fact that we’d have a ‘history from below‘ angle, and that it would be multi-authored. It’s not easy to remember exactly how we justified taking on this new project right about the same time we were starting new jobs, but it was partly because we liked the possibility of an outlet for ideas and research finds that were not ‘big’ enough for articles, but which suited the blog format perfectly.

What are the advantages of running a blog collaboratively?

Continue reading

The Monster @ 5

Well, well. It was five years ago today that the many-headed monster first reared it’s head in the blogosphere. It all started with a pithy welcome post advising our readers that this blog was unlikely to feature Henry VIII’s wives, swiftly followed by Brodie’s first ever post – about a monstrous hairy child who was put on show for the entertainment of the citizens of 17thC Norwich – and by Mark’s first foray into blogging – a short think-piece on the 17thC hangover.

Pepys_1_0434-0435_iBaseIn the following half-decade ‘the monster’ grew two new heads – Laura and Jonathan – and between us (and a few guests…) we published 260 posts on various aspects of early modern society and culture: an average of one per week. Collectively they have been viewed over 236,000 times, by over 123,000 visitors, and been subject to thousands of comments. We would like to say a big thank you to everyone who lurks somewhere in those statistics for their interest in, and support of, this blog. We drink your health, dear readers!

One of the great things about having been around for a while is that we can now lay claim to having our very own ‘archive’. Every post we have published is still openly available for all and sundry to peruse, and we would like to take this opportunity to encourage our readers to do what many of you love to do best – delve into the archive!

If you’re looking for bite-size chunks of early modern history to fill your lunch hour – or perhaps to set as introductory reading for your students – then there are a number of ways to search through our past posts. First, you can use our ‘Browse by Theme‘ option to browse our archive by – you guessed it – specific themes. Second, you can visit our ‘Monster Mini-Series’ page to find some collections of some our most popular posts, which include things like useful introductory reading lists (‘Marooned Monographs‘) and posts relating to ongoing debates about issues like periodisation. Third, you can simply stick a keyword in the ‘Search’ box on our homepage to see if we have any posts touching on whatever it is you are interested in (‘drink’ brings up quite a few hits…).

And of course we will continue to add many more posts to the archive over the next 5 years…

Merry Christmas from the Monster!

slide_8Well folks, let us not pretend that 2016 has been a year of peace and unity, but that’s all the more reason to wish each and every one of our readers a restorative and merry midwinter holiday. We also want to say a huge thank you to everyone who supports the blog, whether that’s simply by taking the time to read it or by sharing our posts on social media or indeed in your classrooms. We were delighted to recently pass a couple of statistical landmarks – 100,000 visitors and 200,000 views of the blog since its inception – and we hope to have many, many more in the years to come.

If you’re not feeling in the festive spirit yet then perhaps a quick trawl through the many-headed monster’s archive of ‘Christmas Specials’ will help: you can read about the history of early modern Christmas dinners; find out how our old pal Ralph Thoresby spent his Christmases; delve into the political conflicts that engulfed seventeenth-century Christmas; discover the impact of the Reformation on Christmas carols; relive an epic Boxing Day pub crawl from 1647; and be warned of the perils of refusing to give seasonal charity in the age of witchcraft.

See you in 2017.

The 200th Post!

200Welcome to the many-headed monster’s 200th blog post! We started the blog back in July of 2012, so it’s taken us about three-and-a-half years to get here. In that time we have managed to produce a post (on average) about once a week, so there has been plenty of content for our readers to get their teeth into over the past few years.

We thought we would take this milestone as an opportunity to revisit some of that content, and pluck out a few highlights from our archive (we are historians, after all). So, if you missed any of these the first time round, or indeed fancy reading them again, here are some of our other milestone posts:

The 1st Post: Norwich entertainments–Part I: A monstrous hairy child and a boneless girl

Prides Fall (1684-6)The blog kicked off with Brodie’s first installment of his ‘Norwich entertainments’ series – also launching the mini-series format that has proved a popular one on the ‘monster – in which he reflects on what 17th century Norvicians’ penchant for viewing ‘monstrous’ deformities might reveal about the culture of our early modern forebears. You can revisit the rest of this series here.

 

The 50th Post: Eating Animals: A Bit of History

In this milestone post Mark examined the relationship early moderns had with eating meat – finding evidence that whilst meat eating was more widespread in the 17th century than we might expect, so too were notions of vegetarianism. Plenty of fodder here for those dinner table discussions! For more on the history of food and drink see Mark’s ‘Food for Thought’ series.

 

The 100th Post: Elizabethan ‘madmen’ Part I: Not such a Virgin Queen

west-country-to-worlds-end-tyrwhitt-drake-collection-43Our century of posts came up with the first part of Jonathan’s Elizabethan ‘madmen’ series, which looks at a selection of unusual letters written directly to the Queen by some of her more marginal – and eccentric – subjects. In this instance the writer makes an extraordinary paternity claim. Jonathan reflects further on the signficance of these letters in his contribution to our Voices of the People symposium.

The 150th Post: Memorial and History: appendix ii, further discoveries

DSCN5322In this post Laura adds a postscript to her Memorial and History series. This examined a whole range of monuments and memorials – often found in rather unexpected places – which reveal how battles over how we remember the Reformation have raged down the centuries. It also includes some lovely holiday snaps. Stay tuned to the ‘monster, for next week’s post revisits the issue of how history and memory are embedded in our landscape.

Just a few highlights then from our archive, and here’s to many more to come! Thanks to all of our followers, readers, commenters, guest bloggers and re-tweeters – your interest and support for the blog are what make it tick, so keep on coming back…

Addressing Authority: Petitions and Supplications in Early Modern Europe

Brodie Waddell

How can we study the sort of people who – according to William Harrison’s oft-quoted phrase – had ‘neither voice nor authority in the commonwealth’? This is a question we have returned to repeatedly on this blog. In our ‘Voices of the People’ and ‘History from Below’ symposiums, we discussed the many ways in which historians might attempt to get at the experiences and opinions of those who did not hold the reins of power in early modern Europe.

The Humble Petition of Jock of Bread (1648)

The Humble Petition of Jock of Bread (1648)

One type of source that some of contributors to the events found particularly promising was the ‘petition’ or ‘supplication’. Such documents have received attention on this blog from Mark Hailwood, Jonathan Healey, Michael Ohajuru, Laura Stewart, Jonathan Willis and myself. However, this failed to satisfy my own fascination with such documents, so I’ve joined with three colleagues from Birkbeck – Rebecca Tomlin, Laura Stewart and Sue Wiseman – to organise an event focusing specifically on these sources. Here are the details…

Addressing Authority: Petitions and Supplications in Early Modern Europe

One-day workshop

Friday, 18 March 2016

Birkbeck, University of London

Invitation for Participants

This event will have space for 10-15 participants in addition to the 12 speakers. The workshop will be informal and conversational with substantial time for discussion between the panel presentations, so there will be an opportunity for all attendees to participate.

If you would like to attend, please send a brief statement of your research interests in this topic (100-300 words) to Brodie Waddell (b.waddell@bbk.ac.uk) by Friday, 12 February 2016. Postgraduates and early career scholars are especially welcome.

Continue reading

The many-headed monster devours its 100,000th victim

The monster heads

We are delighted to report that we recently received our 100,000th view on the many-headed monster! We would like to thank everyone who reads the blog, as well as all those who share posts with others, or who take the time to comment. It is safe to say we wouldn’t be here without you.

The monster celebrates like it is 1566.

The monster celebrates like it is 1566.

We usually mark milestones with some reflection, so here goes:

The monster’s first post appeared 18 July 2012 (so we will soon be 3 years old as well). Mark Hailwood and Brodie Waddell were the founding members, soon joined by Laura Sangha and Jonathan Willis. Since then we’ve:

  • Posted 167 blogs
  • Had 48,500 visitors
  • Featured 11 mini-series
  • Received 766 comments

Our most successful post is now Brodie’s ‘A missing child and a suspicious meat pie in 1645’, relating the strange case of human flesh allegedly being sold as food. After being featured on the suspiciously named Hacker News, this post received an astonishing 4,857 views (4,246 visitors) on 2 June 2015. Continue reading