Archives for category: research
gustave-dore-new-zealander

Gustave Doré, The New Zealander 1872

In an academic world where we all need a tagline, I find myself hard to categorise. Writing the little blurbs for websites or talks is excruciating. British or imperial? International or Global? Cultural or social (or political)? Nineteenth or Twentieth century? And now, increasingly (and slightly surprisingly, even to me) the United States or the Sea? Since moving to Sydney I’ve ended up writing about Australian history too. What sort of historian am I?

At the heart of all my work is an interest in universities and the institutions and spaces of knowledge production, but embracing the label of ‘university historian’ leads pretty directly to eyes glazing over at dinner parties and almost certain career death.

This seemed a worry too, for the presenters who gave papers at a workshop on British History in the ‘Antipodes’ in May 2015. Despite working with British sources, almost all of them seemed reluctant to adopt the label ‘British historian’.

In my contribution to the special journal issue of History Australia (13:1) that grows out of the workshop, I try to think about this disavowal in the context of recent developments in both transnational history (and its global, international and new imperial iterations) and the continuing robust life of more insular national approaches.

Australia and Britain were (and are) made both by cross-border processes (such as the tendrils of capital, the routes of imperial and transnational migration, the regimes of land, labour, trade and consumption), and also by local efforts to create, resist and direct these forces.

As scholars we too are made by and in these dual processes. We are conditioned and enabled by thick networks of connection, and by variously resourced and located institutions. We work in the midst of specific currencies of legitimacy and we are fashioned by distinct intellectual and economic geographies that, in the case of the ‘Antipodes’, still reflect our particular connected history as part of the English-speaking former British empire that now buys us good access to the international universities, overseas students, archives, journals and funding opportunities that are so crucial to the contemporary (neo)liberal intellectual order.

In the article I suggest that our task as historians might be, not to disavow, but instead to claim these multiple labels (though I would say that wouldn’t I?)

It might be to situate our histories within the supply chains (of commerce, governance, labour, belief etc) that stretched across the globe, and also within the particular polities that sought to locate and contain these in various contexts.

These multiple geographies not only shaped the lives of our historical subjects, they also (if in a somewhat different guise) continue to shape our own.

***

Here is the free-to-download full text pre-print version of the article.  For the subscription version visit ‘Afterword: What was Britain? Where is its history?’ History Australia 13:1 (2016), 153–159.

The full issue is here. It includes pieces by James Vernon, Leigh Boucher, David Blaazer, Kate Fullager, Kirsten McKenzie, Andrew J. May, Tanya Evans, Charlotte Greenhalgh, and Shurlee Swain with a brilliant bonus meditation of a life in history by Wilf Prest.

 

keyboard

Last week I gave a talk on social media to post-graduates from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Foolishly (but only fairly) I promised to practice what I preached. So here are the salient points (and links) as I remember them.

Why you should think about the social media

Increasingly scholarly conversation is happening online – in curated and individual blogs, on twitter, and through other electronic forums. If you are not engaging with these forms of publication you are likely to be missing part of what is happening in your field.

Participating in the world of social media helps generate a bigger (and more diverse) academic audience for your research. Much of this will be  in aligned disciplines, or in different national contexts. If you are not engaging online, you’ll be missing part of your potential audience.

Social media also helps generate a broader non-academic audience, especially with those industries to which your thesis may connect. Try to consciously develop and promote your “shadow expertise”; that aspect of your work that might inform a non-academic sector. It’s tough in the academic job market, and this could well be where your post-phd career ends up going.

And finally, social media is increasingly a factor in every employment sector. Engaging online gives you skills that will serve you well, wherever you work.

But always remember the golden rule

NEVER LET YOUR MOUTH EXCEED YOUR VOICE.

This is Stefan Collini’s advice to public intellectuals in Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain and it should be etched onto the computer screens of every academic who reaches for the internet.  Have something to say that is well founded and established, and well supported. Be respectful of other people’s work and opinions and give them due reference. The last thing a junior (or indeed any) academic needs is to have a ruined reputation all over the internet.

If there is a second rule, it might be this: VALUE YOUR TIME – blogging & tweeting can be very rewarding because unlike most other parts of academic life you get direct feedback. But it’s a drug. Keep your main game in view and remember: your authority to speak will in 98% of cases come from your research. So respect it, foster it, prioritise it.

How to start

See how other people are doing it. Set up a twitter account and follow scholars you admire (and those you don’t!) Read the relevant blogs in your field – some of these are likely to be co-authored. If you are totally lost, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog page is as good a place as any to begin (and you have discovered this blog so you’re not doing too badly!)

People disagree on the merits of maintaining an individual blog as against contributing to established co-authored or other forums such as The Conversation, but my view is to go for both:

  1. Set up a blog site for yourself that will act a bit like your online CV:
    • use it to a) experiment with writing pieces and b) as a place to collect any material you publish on other platforms. WordPress is easy to use and integrates well with other social media.
  2. Generate content:
    • Work in progress & the process of working (see for eg. the Thesis Whisperer or Trickster Prince).
    • Communicate research you have published (eg https://t.co/UCbgE8RslC)
    • Wait for news item & apply research
    • Provide context through your “shadow expertise” – are you writing a Phd on the history of fashion? Contact fashion magazines and pitch articles to them.
  3. Maximise your reach
    • Connect to other people’s online content through using links, and cross-promote on twitter (using #hashtags), facebook, linkedin and academia.edu.au, among other social media outlets.
    • Write for established platforms, such as co-authored blogs, The Conversation, print outlets, your university, industry publications. The internet is a big place with a lot of shouting people on it, and you need to find a way to be heard. Established sites offer you support and a readership that is invaluable.

Parting comments

Academic research usually takes a long time to produce. It frequently works with complex information and tells stories that complicate what we think we know. The interwebs do not thrive on such complexity. This doesn’t mean you should go for simplifications , but it does mean you need to work with people’s attention spans. Put your argument up front, rather than at the end; try to stick to 500-800 words maximum. Inject some personality. Too often wonderful academic research is communicated in ways that do not make it easy for people to access or connect with. Paywalls and professional convention carry part of the responsibility, but as scholars we can do a lot more too to reach out to a public that has demonstrated a robust appetite for ideas.

Reading list

Prof Patrick Dunleavy’s Shorter, better, faster, free: blogging changes the nature of academic research, not just how it is communicated and How to write a blogpost from your journal article

LSE public impact blog and in particular their twitter guide and reading list on using social media for research and the 5 Ws of communicating your research.

The Times Higher Education magazine’s Tips for academics on Blogging and Social Media

 

 

Milky Way in the Bush, Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia

We are going great guns with this podcasting caper and #3 is now live. You can subscribe via iTunes to the whole series, or subscribe to this blog for future episodes from me.

Speaking with: Duane Hamacher on Indigenous astronomy

Listen online

Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people have between 40,000 and 60,000 years of pre-colonial history that includes stories of constellations they observed in the night sky and traditions that align with the stars and the moon. But until recently, these stories were largely dismissed by the scientific community.

Researchers are now finding that Indigenous oral traditions contain vast environmental and scientific intelligence. These complex knowledge systems have helped Indigenous people survive Australia for tens of thousands of years.

I catch up with cultural astronomer Duane Hamacher about Indigenous astronomy and its complex relationship to history, culture and applied scientific knowledge.


Subscribe to The Conversation’s Speaking With podcasts on iTunes.

Image: flickr/Ben Ashmole

Music: Free Music Archive/Chris Zabriskie

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.