By Emma Fleming
When I sat in my first undergraduate seminar at university, the class was told that a learning diary was compulsory. I couldn’t have been more uninspired, unenthusiastic or determined not to produce a notebook filled with forced wishy-washy scribbles… Needless to say, after four busy years, I didn’t leave with a diary.
When I started my postgraduate public history course at a new university and we were told that it might be a good idea, if we would like, to show our opinions along the way in an online blog, I had a ‘here we go again’ feeling. I genuinely didn’t want to waste my time doing something that wasn’t going to earn me any marks, being a bit of an under-confident worrier. HOWEVER, a year later I am a self-confessed blogging convert. It wasn’t forced, and it did appear appealing; publishing creatively online seemed a much more worthwhile and modern idea to me. I was worried that no one would read it and it would leave me feeling exposed. What I soon found out, however, was that a blog gives a unique chance to share, listen, observe and digest absolutely anything by just sitting down and growing your thoughts. Be it a place, a programme, a person or even an emotion, blogs can be a powerful tool to unpick anything. By the end of my degree, without a doubt making the decision to blog had made the year more enjoyable and my learning a more rounded experience. It gave me a space where I could reflect at my own pace and get feedback in a completely open and honest forum. More than anything, it consistently encouraged me to keep going when both historians and friends who were previously indifferent to history said they had enjoyed reading it. This is my blog:
It’s called YoreHistory (wordpress), named because history isn’t mine, it belongs to the public. History doesn’t belong to historians fond of soft gloves, hiding in dimly lit archives, it belongs to us all. During my degree it was perfect because I was able to go about my usual routines yet at the same time click to thinking, ‘I could blog about this’. My blogs have ranged from emotional reactions to a military cemetery visit, thoughts on remembering, thinking or reflecting on period drama and historical traditions to a simple overview of helping writing a Magna Carta trail for kids. The great thing about blogging is its flexibility, it can be as big as you want it to be and filled with whatever you want. What is even more rewarding is nowadays people seem to love to digest information in personal or informal ways, making it win-win when deciding to blog.
Whilst blogging, I was doing my MA at Royal Holloway on the practical Public History course. They let us carve out our own path into public history, and blogs were the tip of the practical projects we were thankfully encouraged to do. My final, larger project was to create a public history resource: an unrestricted, yet complex idea. I decided to research and design a website, Yore Shoes (can you see a pattern emerging here?!). This is my homepage:
While researching and writing, I was really keen for a shift in the way historians talk about history. It should be with the public instead of at them. I also wanted to create something which encouraged people to consider experiences, emotions and imaginations from the past, as well as facts. Giving a twist on fashion history by focusing just on shoes, my intention was to make both well known and unknown historical stories accessible by looking at them in new ways, as blogging should do too. Both high society and ordinary histories were put side by side, educating but also inviting people to achieve one of the simplest yet most complex features of history; standing in someone else’s shoes. Blogging has helped me develop these ideas.
Blogging is dragging weary education practices kicking and screaming into the future. Students shouldn’t be forced into anything, but encouraging them to at least give it a go and offering light feedback seems a phenomenal advantage to me. Coming from a sceptic before giving it a go, the extra effort is beyond worth it in terms of what it develops professionally and personally. Speaking as a quiet personality too, blogs give a really important space and opportunity (away from the pressures of the classroom) to think more, start dialogues, gain authenticity, and above all, gain a voice.
“If the study of history does nothing more than teach us humility, scepticism and awareness of ourselves, then it has done something useful”. Margaret MacMillan