Twitter has been both fun and useful for me. I don't know if it's going to survive, but it's getting much less fun, it's getting much less useful, and it's definitely getting much too fascist. I'm sorry to lose touch with the people I've made friends with there over the years, but I hope to see them elsewhere. And I'm not at all sorry now to be gone from Twitter.
With Twitter X circling ever closer to the plughole, it's time to have a microblogging alternative. In fact, I already set one up at Mastodon back in November, and spent a bit of time making it comfortable. But the social media landscape has fragmented since then and everyone is fleeing in all directions. There's no longer any one place to go. And so, being as extremely online and extremely indecisive as I am (and also because my day job is in communications), I've settled on… pretty much all of them! So here's where you can find me, in descending order of likelihood:
Twitter/X: @Airminded (no, I will be deleting this)
I'm featured in the latest episode of the podcast Tales from Rat City, which is focused on unusual and sometimes bizarre aspects of the history of Ballarat, Victoria's third largest city (if you've heard of the Eureka Stockade, well, that's where that was). It's run by David Waldron (a historian at Federation University who co-authored the excellent Snarls from the Tea-tree, about Australian bigcat folklore), Tom Hodgson and Katrina Hill. As you can probably guess, 'Anzacs and airships: Australian UFO panics in the First World War' is about Australian mystery aircraft sightings in the Great War period. As well as the interview with me, it's based partly on my article 'Dreaming war' as well as the team's own original research. It's a really interesting scamper through early Australian airminded hopes and fears (ranging well beyond Ballarat and 1914-18). I particularly enjoyed the use of actors to read out the primary source quotations, including many mystery aircraft sighting reports. It's a great way to give back to these accounts of strange apparitions something of their original uncanniness.
Bonus: if you happen to be in the Ballarat area on 28 May 2023, why not go along to the Ballarat Observatory and see David's magic lantern show 'Mystery Airships: A Night of Strange Things Seen in the Skies!'? Details and tickets here.
Wesley is indefatigably thorough, or possibly thoroughly indefatigable: this was his 27th interview for this podcast, on top of 97 regular episodes, and he's still only in the interwar period! (This is after doing 295 podcast episodes on History of the Great War, too: clearly he knew what he was getting into.) So there is plenty more world war content to consume -- including another fiveepisodesoninterwarairpower, and an interview with Alan Allport on 1930s Britain -- and when you've finished with all that you can go read Wesley's sources.
Take off for a discussion of “airmindedness” with contributors to Aviation in the Literature and Culture of Interwar Britain (Palgrave 2020). What did it mean to be “airminded” in interwar Britain? How did airmindedness encapsulate the possibilities and potential dangers of aviation? How was it an expression of military and industrial power as well as aerial theatre? Join Rinni Haji Amran, Brett Holman, and Luke Seaber for a discussion of aviation, Croydon aerodrome, and the work of W. H. Auden, Virginia Woolf, and T. H. White, among others. Rinni Haji Amran is a Lecturer in English Literature at the University Brunei Darussalam. Brett Holman is a Professional Associate of the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research at the University of Canberra in Australia. Luke Seaber is Senior Teaching Fellow in Modern European Culture at University College London and the co-editor with Michael McCluskey of Aviation in the Literature and Culture of Interwar Britain (Palgrave 2020).
Stories from the Space Between is the podcast of the Space Between, a society for the interdisciplinary discussion of studies in the interwar and wartime periods covered by 1914–1945. It's only up to episode 5 but has already covered everything from psychogeography to Poland! You can listen to the airmindedness episode here.
I have a short, non-peer-reviewed article about Trove bots coming out in History Australia as part of a special issue on Trove; the advanced access version has just been published. Here's the abstract:
Like many other historians I use Trove for both targeted searches and exploratory ones, which in itself has revolutionised my historical research practice. However, I have recently been exploring the potential of Tim Sherratt’s concept of ’Trove bots’ – Twitter bots which tweet links to random Trove Newspaper articles – as, in effect, automated research assistants, as well as public engagement tools. Here, I will discuss how I have been using one such bot, @TroveAirRaidBot, in my current writing project, and its limitations and hopefully its potential.
It was an interesting piece to write: partly trying to make a case for experimenting with Trove bots for their curiosity and engagement value, but more reflecting on how useful their directed serendipity can be for serious research too. Also, it amuses me to have a formal publication with a Twitter handle in the title!
It's currently available for free, but I'm not sure how long that will last. In any case, the green open access version is here.
I'm a bit of a podcast sceptic, meaning not that I don't believe in their existence but rather that I don't really get the appeal (which probably puts me in a similar position to a blog sceptic about 15 years ago). Since they aren't actually going away any time soon, I guess it was bound to happen eventually that I would be asked to speak on one...
The podcast in question is Big If True, which is for kids and is about big things -- in my case, airships. It's hosted by Maggie and her mom, Abby Mullen (a naval historian and one of the people behind Tropy, an excellent tool for organising and annotating archival photos). And, of course, despite my scepticism I had a great time talking about airships with Maggie and Abby, who had some great questions. And yes, we did get to phantom airships! So please have a listen if you have a spare 20 minutes or so, and then maybe check out some of Maggie and Abby's other episodes too (such as aircraft carriers, with Carlton McClain, and World War II, with Kim Guise).
Recently I've been playing around with AI-generated images. This is far less impressive than it may sound: there's a small community on Twitter and elsewhere doing this stuff already, many using scripts and tutorials which mean you don't need any more skill than the ability to log in to Google Colab, type in some keywords and hit execute. The particular AI model I'm using is VQGAN+CLIP. The AI doesn't 'know' anything about anything, to begin with, but (as I understand it) it trains from a huge image dataset drawn from the internet (imagenet_16384 seems to work best for me) and uses the associated text metadata to iteratively generate images which could be described by your keywords. You can also try starting from (or aiming towards) a selected image (which I haven't tried yet). I let them run for 500 iterations which seems to be enough to converge to something stable.
The results are usually almost, but not quite entirely, unlike whatever it is that you have in mind: not so much an uncanny valley as a whole uncanny landscape with uncanny hills, uncanny trees, uncanny streams, and uncanny clouds. (Actually it does very well with clouds.) I've got a thread going on Twitter of mostly aviation-related images; here are some that I find interesting.
The first prompt I tried was 'a phantom airship'. And it's pretty good! Like any good phantom airship, meaning is in the eye of the beholder, but to me that looks something like an airship floating over an impressionistic grand house with trees, mountains and clouds.