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.
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.
One of these mini-series, ‘Marooned on an Island Monographs’ became an excellent means for us to bring new contributors to the monster, allowing others to showcase their expertise in guest authored blogs. The series asks an expert ‘what 5 history monographs would you take with you to a deserted island?’, so the posts are effectively starter reading lists for a variety of themes, including early modern social, economic or medical history, the English Reformation, or the histories of femininities and masculinities. Latterly, as we have all found it harder to free up time to write for the blog, we have more deliberately sought guest contributions as a way of breathing new life and bringing fresh perspectives into the monster.
Another monstrous feature we are particularly proud of are our ‘Online Symposiums’, a format that we pioneered and which has happily proven very popular. The inaugural event was ‘The Future of History From Below’ in 2013. The concept is simple – the monster publishes a series of research posts or think pieces, each by a different scholar, speaking to the symposium theme. In many cases these posts were written after an in person conference or workshop, extending conversations held there to a broader audience and providing the opportunity for further reflection and discussion. They are an easier and cheaper way to bring together scholars from across the globe (with a small carbon footprint), and they can reach out to those on the margins of professional academia, be they students daunted by hierarchies, distance learners with physical obstacles to navigate, or scholars not officially attached to universities and therefore denied access to many of their resources. We have found that online platforms can provide a permanent and stable space to develop a research community or conversation, something that a short-term contract and fleeting affiliation with a Research Centre does not. Other symposia hosted on the monster include: The Voices of the People and After Iconophobia.
Our laid-back approach has also allowed us to be experimental and creative, particularly in how we write our material. With minimal footnotes, plenty of jokey asides, listicles, and even book reviews written in diary style we have cast aside the fetters of the style guide to maraud happily through the digital landscape.
Finally, we can also respond quickly to developments and publish responses while timely topics are still relevant. Most recently we ran #SchOnline: Scholarly Communities Online writing and asking others to reflect on how best to handle the ‘pivot’ to online teaching and research during the pandemic lockdowns.
After ten years, the monster is now a well-established beast. It currently averages around 4,000 views a month, rising to 5-9K when we host symposium and events. We have published 376 posts, and have received more than half a million views. I might be wrong, but I don’t *think* our latest journal articles had quite the same reach. This is the first in a series of posts to mark and reflect on the 10 year anniversary of the many-headed monster, but as well as reflecting on how we got here, we will also be talking about where we want the blog and it’s readers to go next – we hope you will stick with us as the monster enters its teenage years.
the many-headed monster is 10: a history of a history blog
July 2012: Brodie and Mark announce the birth of the many-headed monster to the world. Why do they hate Henry VIII’s wives so much though?
September 2012: the monster hits 1,000 views after a month and a half. After blogging about this milestone, by 12 September this had doubled to 2,000!
September 2012: two new monster heads sprout as Jonathan and Laura join as new authors and the monstrous dream team is complete.
April 2013: nine months since launch, the monster was viewed for the 10,000th time. Drawn from 74 countries, these readers had viewed 53 posts and left 205 comments.
March 2014: just under a year later the monster published its 100th post. It had now been viewed more than 40,000 times and 541 comments had been left. The most popular posts were on the future of history from below; 17th-century drinking songs; John Dee’s conversations with angels; a medieval mistress; and, er, a review of David Starkey’s ‘Music and Monarchy’.
June 2015: Brodie’s post on a missing child and a suspicious meat pie was featured on ‘Hacker News’ and the post received an astonishing (for us) 4,857 views in just one day! It remains our best day ever. P.S. If anyone can explain to us what Hacker News is we are still in the dark.
June 2015: just before its third birthday the monster devoured it’s 100,000th viewer. The post celebrating this milestone revealed some of the more entertaining search terms that had directed people to the monster. Our favourite is ‘a naked monster alone showing long panni erected’.
February 2016: the 200th post was published. It’s amazing to think that in earlier years we were publishing at an average rate of one post per week…
July 2017: the monster celebrated its fifth birthday. It had published 260 posts that had been viewed over 236,000 times by 123,000 visitors, who left thousands of comments.
July 2019: the monster celebrated its seventh birthday. We were delighted when the Royal Historical Society invited us to reflect on being ‘one of the longest-running and most successful of academic historical blogs’ for their own blog.
November 2021: the monster heads hold their first editorial meeting. We are considering having another, perhaps in 2031.
July 2022: the monster turns 10! It currently averages around 4,000 views a month, rising to 5-9K when we host symposium and events. We have published 376 posts, and have received more than half a million views [!]. Fittingly, our most popular page by far remains the landing page for the ‘History from Below’ Symposium, which has received 21,800 views to date.