Some Thoughts on the History Manifesto

Really interesting take on the Manifesto – especially regarding microhistory. Still need to read it though!


Just over a week ago, Cambridge University Press launched their first Open Access book, The History Manifesto by David Armitage and Jo Guldi. This is clearly intended to provoke discussion, as the book’s webpage has a forum section with the tagline ‘Join the Debate’. It’s been the topic of some excited conversations with the new colleagues I’ve been meeting in Oxford this past week (and with some old friends, too).

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Historical Fiction

Now I am known for my love of historical fiction, however as series two of Reign begins, the academic in me is incessantly nagging and I do begin do see the harm it can do. Historical Fiction is a very touchy issue for anyone with an interest in history and it creates divided opinions.

I have always been a firm supporter, a somewhat controversial opinion for someone who studies history. I am for public history, about making the past as accessible as possible. The everyday person will watch The Tudors but will put off by a documentary tackling the latest historiography surrounding Henry VIII’s reign. Say ten people watch a historical fiction series or novel. Three of them are then interested enough to google a bit more information about the Tudors. Then one actually goes and reads a credible book on the topic. Now more people are aware of the history than before. Even if only one in a thousand actually does this, it still makes a difference. Yes the facts are horrendously skewed and exaggerated, and often hard to find behind all the debauchery usually thrown in, but there is truth behind it. When I sit and watch programmes of this genre with my mum, she is constantly asking questions, wanting to know more. Historical fiction creates inquisitiveness that surely must be encouraged.

The issue is the extent that people realise how fictional the programme is. The lack of historical credibility in Reign is astounding, making programmes like The Tudors and The White Queen appear so realistic that we have jumped in a time machine and gone there our self. Reign is my guilty pleasure. It is a trashy, teen drama that just so happens to be based in the sixteenth century. What worries me is that people may not realise that it is all fake. That they watch it, believing this is what happened. Whereas I can enjoy Historical Fiction whilst understanding to what extent is factual. However I guess the argument is that unless you have studied the period, then you don’t know what is true or false, so therefore it will always have a negative effect on the average person’s perception of the past.

It’s a tricky one. What do you think?


History Podcasts 101

Welcome to my master list of all the wonderful history podcasts I have discovered over the course of my iTunes browsing sessions. There are a lot of history podcasts available, and I by no means have listened to them all. These are just some of the ones that have stood out to me, and that I enjoy listening to in my spare time. The great thing about a lot of these podcasts is that they don’t require you to have a history degree in order to enjoy them!

1. Sawbones
sawbones Sawbones, “A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine”, features the amazing hosting talent of married couple Justin and Sydnee McElroy. Every week they look back through medical history to explore the weird and bizarre practices previously (and sometimes currently) employed by the medical community. Topics range from warts to magnets to corpse theft and never seem to disappoint. The format is simple: Sydnee, a doctor, provides the facts, and Justin provides hilarious commentary. Their newborn baby girl, Chuck, occasionally makes a cameo as well.

Favorite Episode: “Self-Experimentation” – I had tears running down my face.


Slapped in the Face

I’m sat aimlessly scrolling through my twitter feed, a key feature of my procrastinating habits. I spot the little icon of one of my course friends, “third year has literally slapped me in the face”, I laugh, and quickly retweet, favourite, and curse that there isn’t an other option to select which screams “hey, I really relate to that”.

Although not said in the most eloquent fashion, that tweet really summed up my first week back of term. Gone are the blissful days of being eased back into the workload, your first week merely being your new lecturers reciting their course handbooks. Already I’m swamped with course readings and my diary is full of presentations. My regular courses are not the issue however, with only two modules I could easily cope. What is the issue is the dreaded dissertation.

Forever looming in the back of my head, my dissertation is currently the bane of my life. Luckily I am still enjoying (most of) my research, but the pressure put on these 12,000 words is enough to make me go loony. At the beginning of Summer it seemed like I had all the time in the world. Like many a naïve undergraduate, I optimistically thought of how I would breeze into my supervisors office on the first day of term, hand in my first draft, and it be such a bombshell that I would become an overnight academic sensation. Alas, this was not the case, far from it. Instead a few hours after my supervisor casually slips in how she wants to read my first chapter in a few weeks, I waste away my time writing this. The no.1. student faux pas: procrastinating by writing about procrastinating and moaning how much you have to do.

I know that soon my obsessive organising skills will take control and my blood pressure will plateau, but currently I have been slapped in the face, and it is seriously stinging.


Resource: The Professor Is In

Welcome to The Professor Is In – your guide to everything academia-related. Run by Dr. Karen L. Kelsky, “the Professor”, TPII is a great resource for students (of all education levels). Dr. Kelsky covers everything from contacting potential supervisors to mental illness in academia to getting tenure. She also offers paid services if you’re looking for professional advice or coaching. This site is quickly becoming my Grad School Bible.

Venturing into the academic world is a scary thing, but sites like this one make me feel not so alone.

– Lauren

53 interesting ways to communicate your research

The Thesis Whisperer

Sara Shinton is a freelance research educator who works for a range of universities north of the Scottish border. I’ve followed Sara on Twitter for ages and kept meeting people who love her work. After a series of missed attempts to meet during my visits to the UK, I did wonder if we were destined to be academic ships in the night, but Sara made a big effort to come and have breakfast with me when I was in Edinburgh in early June.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 9.56.59 amIt really was a pleasure to finally sit and talk shop with a fellow traveller. At the end of our breakfast Sara kindly gave me a copy of a book called “53 interesting ways to communicate your research”*, an edited collection of advice which features some of her writing.

The book is the latest in the ‘53’ interesting things series, which includes books on…

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The Belle Jar

I think that we can all agree that the main problem with Canadian history is that men are just way too underrepresented. Take our money, for example. I mean, the queen is on all of our coins! What kind of misandry is this? Sure the five dollar bill boasts our old pal Wilfred Laurier, and the ten dollar bill shows everyone’s favourite confederation-loving racist Sir John A. Macdonald, and the fifty dollar bill has séance-holder and dog enthusiast William Lyon Mackenzie King and yeah, fine, the hundred dollar bill is devoted to Nova Scotia’s good ole boy Sir Robert Borden, but I mean, come on. Queen Elizabeth II graces all of our coins and our twenty dollar bill. Every time you open your wallet it’s just ladies ladies everywhere and nary a dick in sight*.

If you’re not seeing the feminist conspiracy that’s clearly at play here, then you must have taken the…

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Going One Step Further

With August approaching, it seems like this summer has flown by. Only one month left until we’re thrust into the madness of university life, and I’m definitely feeling the pressure for this year. With this being my final year in my Undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa, the time has finally come to begin applying to Master’s programs and searching for a potential supervisor. Time to bulk up my resume and bump up my grades. Every year I tell myself I’m going to bring my A-game, and every year I seem to find myself in exactly the same position, just a notch from where I would like to be.

So what makes this year any different?

Honestly, everything I’m about to say could prove to be completely ineffective in my fight to boost my grades and reach my full potential, but if I don’t try, there’s no where to go but down.

1. Lighter Course Load

Over the course of six weeks in May and half of June, I took two summer courses at the University. This move has allowed me to take only 8 courses over the course of the Fall and Winter semesters rather than the usual 10. By no means were the classes easy; deadlines and readings are due twice as quickly, and all your friends are out enjoying the summer sun. The pain was temporary, however, and the classes were over before I knew it. I now have more time during the year to balance my job, volunteer position, and classes.

2. More Specialized Courses

Every year my classes have grown gradually more specialized, culminating in the fourth-year seminars offered by the History Department. These seminars are small, intimate classes of around 15 people, with highly specialized topics that vary depending on the Professors’ areas of expertise. My hope is that these specialized courses will be more motivating and of greater interest to myself, as they offer an opportunity for a more in-depth and research oriented study. Part of me is also terrified of failing miserably and seeing all of my dreams go up in smoke, but I think positivity is key here, and I am keeping these thoughts at bay.

3. Creating Distinct Living/Working Environments

I have discovered over the course of my years at university that productivity is highly dependent (for most) upon the environment in which you work. Attempting to write papers from the comfort of my bed has often proven to be comfortable, yes, but also extremely distracting. I found myself more often than not browsing tumblr and catching up on missed YouTube videos than actually writing papers or doing my readings. Creating a distinction between a place to work and a place to relax can be extremely valuable for time management purposes and can have a huge impact on the outcome of your studies.

When it comes to working from home, having a desk to work from can be a life saver. If you’re like me, however, your desk can quickly become a quick-fix dumping ground. My goal for this year is to really work to keep my desk tidy and avoid working from the comfort of my bed. Working from a dining room table can also be a solution to this issue. The key is not to get your butt into bed or onto the couch!

An even more productive solution, I have found, has been to actually work on campus. I find myself ashamed to even have Facebook open when I’m working on a study floor in the library, which means my time becomes much less wasted. Avoid common areas and couch studying because they can be distracting and noisy.

In Conclusion

There is no sure-fire way to improve your academic performance and time management skills. What’s important is to figure out what does and doesn’t work for you. It’s also going to take focus and perseverance, something I haven’t quite mastered at this point. My hope for the upcoming school year is to change that though, and hopefully you can too!