Good memes

Thinking Blogger Award

It turns out that memes are like buses ... none come along for a year and a half, and then I get tagged three times in about a month! Firstly, William Turkel of Digital History Hacks tagged me with 5 Things. Then Dave Davisson, the Patahistorian,1 independently tagged me with the same meme. Finally, Kevin Levin of Civil War Memory very graciously tagged me with a Thinking Blogger Award. Well, it's sort of a cross between a meme and an award -- the award bit is that I get a little badge thing to display here (above) and the following citation:

Brett Holman's Air Minded focuses on British history between 1908 and 1941 and while that may seem like a fairly narrow focus he somehow manages to comment on much broader issues related to war, society, and technology. The upshot is that I end up learning a great deal about a period in history that I know little about.

The meme bit (which originated at the thinking blog) is that I have to tag five other bloggers who I think fit the description of "thinking bloggers" (which I don't think is meant to imply that everyone else is an unthinking blogger!)

William's tagging came with an injunction too, that I 'hack the game', just as he modified the 5 Things meme that he was tagged with, from being "5 things people don't know about you" to "5 things a future digital historian might think about memes". So I thought that, as Airminded is a PhD research blog, I'd do "5 things about PhD research blogs". Obviously, this is just my take, written from my experience: YMMV.

  1. What? Well, it's the obvious: a blog that is about, or at least related to the PhD (or MA) research that one is doing. This could involve anything from papers or chunks of your thesis (dissertation), to discussions of historiography, to wild speculation, to interesting things you've come across in your research but don't really have a use for. Or even the occasional meme :)
  2. Why? Several reasons. One is that having to explain your research to others often helps you understand it better yourself. Another is that you can test out new ideas in public, without having to wait for a conference slot to come along. Yet another is for the social networking opportunities blogging presents: I've made many contacts that I would not otherwise have, had I remained an anonymous PhD student toiling away in obscurity. That's good for my career prospects (ha) and so on, but making friends online helps alleviate the isolation of living in a PhD bubble. In general, keep in mind that the purpose of a research blog is to help you with your PhD in some way.
  3. When? About 2 or 3 times a week works for me. Some people manage more! But obviously, this depends upon what other things are going on in your life, and even more obviously, the thesis itself is one of those things, which ultimately is more important than your blog. Time spent writing blog posts is time that could be used for thesis research or writing, after all. But since I've found (as noted above) that writing for the blog helps with the thesis itself, I don't worry too much about this.
  4. Who? I've said before that I'd still blog even if nobody read it or commented. But it's obviously better if somebody does (particularly in terms of most of the benefits listed in 2 above). I think it's advisable, then, to make the blog accessible to a wide audience -- other specialists; academics and other students who may be interested in your research, but aren't themselves expert in the area; interested laypeople; random surfers (who can often have valuable knowledge on specific topics). Correlations have been demonstrated between posting frequency and number of readers, which is something to bear in mind in terms of 3 above.
  5. Why not? There are potential drawbacks. Firstly, it's hard to be anonymous and keep a research blog -- doing so would limit the benefits, but anyway, the more you talk about your own research, the easier it will be for somebody to eventually figure out who you are. Secondly, there is the possibility of a Tribble effect. I don't know that there is any strong evidence of this, but I figure that a research blog minimises the risk, since political opinions, sexist jokes, Friday cat blogging and other things likely to offend a job search committee are kept to a minimum. Finally, there is the chance of plagiarism -- not so much by students (though I would not be at all surprised if bits of my blog have appeared in essays, given some of the search strings people use to get here) but by other historians working on the same or closely related topics. I have self-censored before because of this concern. It can be argued that at least by putting something on a blog you've established priority, but given the current low academic standing of blogs, I think it's risky to put everything in the shop window, so to speak.

I'm tagging George Simmers of Great War Fiction, Jack MacGowan of Smashing the Window and Christopher Knowles of How It Really Was, all great examples of PhD/MA research blogs. They can do the standard 5 Things meme, or hack it some more, as they wish!

Now, for the Thinking Blogger Tags -- I mean Awards:

  • Alun Salt of Archaeoastronomy: the very first person who came to mind when the phrase "Thinking Blogger" was mentioned. Sometimes I think I know where Alun is going with his posts after a paragraph or two, but I'm usually wrong, because he takes things back to first principles and rigorously questions assumptions, his own and those of others. A true sceptic in the best sense of the word.
  • Gavin Robinson of Investigations of a Dog: he's only been history blogging for a few months, but Gavin has already won a lot of fans. This is hardly surprising given the breadth of his interests and the depth of his writing, sympathetic to both empiricism and postmodernism but a slave to neither. A British Mark Grimsley?
  • Paul Gilster of Centauri Dreams: if there is one thing I would like to see happen before I die, it would be the launch of the first interstellar flight. World peace would be nice, sure, but it might not last and it won't help us when the Sun turns into a red giant. Paul's blog (and his book of the same name) is essential reading for those of us who would like to see humanity put its eggs into more than one basket. And as somebody with a rapidly fading background in astrophysics, I'm constantly in awe at Paul's ability to monitor and redact complicated scientific literature on a daily basis -- given that his own training was as a medievalist!
  • David Tiley of Barista: to me, David's thoughtful posts on an eclectic range of topics exemplify Terence's epigram: 'Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto' -- I am a human being, so nothing human is strange to me. A fellow Melburnian, but also clearly a citizen of the world.
  • William Turkel of Digital History Hacks: because his posts on applying digital history methods always make me think, 'Why the **** aren't I doing that???'

The rules for the Awardees can be found at the thinking blog. Basically, you have to select five more blogs which make you think, and link back to that post as well.

Memes, go forth and multiply!


  1. I think there's still only one. Either that, or We Are All Patahistorians Now. 

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14 thoughts on “Good memes

  1. Thinking? It's all lies! I'm a committed Dadaist and my posts are all written by monkeys using potato printing. If any of them appear to make sense it can be explained entirely through probability theory.

    Having previously argued that memes a) don't exist and b) are a waste of time, I have to admit that this is a really good one.

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  3. Chris's monkeys

    "Fairly narrow"? 1908 to 1941 seems like a lifetime's work to me - even before we get to the Vicar of Stiffkey or Mrs. Pace.

  4. Post author

    Well ... I assume he left out an 'airpower' from somewhere in that sentence, which would then be perfectly accurate.

    But at the risk of revealing my boundless ignorance and being blackballed from the Imperial League of British Historians, I'm forced to admit that while I'm familiar with the good Vicar from undergraduate days, I don't believe I can say the same of Mrs. Pace!

  5. Chris Williams

    Topped her husband in 1928, but then got off on the grounds that he was a basta^h^h^h that she was clearly innocent. Emotional scenes outside the court, questions in Parliament, the works.

  6. Chris, I too have never heard of Mrs. Pace, but I'm very interested as one of the things I'm looking at in my dissertation are incidents of men (and occasionally women) killing their spouses after returning from WWII. Are there any published accounts of her story and trial that you know of?

  7. Chris Williams

    No, but my mate John [http://obscenedesserts.blogspot.com/] is working on one as we speak. Another of my colleagues is also working on the issue of the panic over brutalised ex-servicemen in the era after WW1. Short and tentative working summary: panic present in France and UK, but not Germany. Panic doesn't appear to have been objectively justified.

  8. Post author

    Seems like a popular area these days ... a friend of mine did her PhD a few years ago on domestic violence and Victorian returned soldiers in the post-WWI period.

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