Coming Soon on thehistoryofyesterday

This is not going to be one of those blogs where the first post is the last one, or where an early flutter of activity leads to months of silence. No, when I decided to start this blog, I was determined that it wouldn’t play out like that. This is one of the reason I didn’t begin posting last year. However, as a retort to those of you who are concerned that a week of inactivity in the blog’s first week does not bode well, I would like to preview, three upcoming posts:

1. Reflections on Peter Tatchell’s The Battle for Bermondsey (1983). I have just finished reading this early ’80s classic and I will be considering its relevance to my own work, to the historiography of post-1968 political radicalism and to the politics of the present day.

2. Community Politics and Political Parties: Then and Now. In light of Ed Miliband’s recent embrace of the “community politics” approach to party political campaigning, I will be offering a brief history of this approach and its origins in the community campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s, on both sides of the Atlantic.

3. The Gentrification Debate: Lessons from Islington. Drawing on my work on the politics of gentrification in London in the 1960s and 1970s, I will be outlining some of the key arguments from that conflict, before considering how they resonate in contemporary debates over housing and planning policy.

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Why I’m writing a blog

I am a PhD student working on a project in contemporary British History. I have just started my second year. I considered writing a blog exactly a year ago when I started the project, but it never happened. Now, I feel I am ready, and (as if to prove my academic sensibilities) I have identified six reasons for this:

  1. I want to write more and get into the habit of writing regularly.  I have done an awful lot of research in the last twelve months, but precious little actual writing. And, although I have done a lot of it in my time — from my school years all the way through to my postgraduate study — I still find writing difficult. This is partly because I am a perfectionist: it takes me a long time to craft what I feel is a good piece of writing and even then I am rarely wholly pleased with the result. All too often, it is only the pressure of a deadline that forces me to start — let alone finish — a piece of writing. As a result, during the doctorate — without the discipline of regular deadlines — I have tended to go for long periods without doing any serious writing at all: I’ll write furiously for, say, a month when I’m working on an assignment, before turning out very little at all in the months afterwards. So, this blog is both an attempt to increase my confidence as a writer and an effort to improve as a writer by doing it more often.
  2. I want to develop my ideas and getting ideas “down on paper” has to be one of the best ways of doing that. There are countless ideas floating around in my head and scattered throughout my many notebooks and files: these are only likely to develop into something more substantial if I try to fashion them into sentences and paragraphs. This isn’t about writing great chunks of my thesis online: rather, I want to see how my ideas look when I expose them to the harsh light of the written page.
  3. My research is almost always thought-provoking. Very often, it is also funny, entertaining and downright exciting. I often leave the archive or library feeling fired up about what I’ve just read and eager to talk about it. However, I don’t have the opportunity to do this as often as I would like. Whilst academics do meet – at conferences, seminar and discussion groups — to talk about our work, it remains a truism that the daily life of the historian-researcher (and especially the PhD student) is an inherently solitary one: we spend most of our time working alone on our personal projects — collaborative working very much the exception — and very few people have an intricate knowledge of what we’re researching. This blog gives me the opportunity to shout out about what I’m researching. If doing so sparks a debate or conversation, that’s fantastic, but I will be happy if it simply satisfies my need to say: “Hey, look at what I just discovered – it’s really interesting!”
  4. I’ll be honest: I dread the question, “so, what’s your PhD on?” I find it almost impossible to summarise my project in a couple of straight-forward, yet meaningful, sentences and my attempts to do so are often comical. This is partly down to the nature of my project and the way I think about it — I sometimes struggle to explain to myself what it is I am working on! — but I suspect it also this is something I share in common with all PhD students: having spent months — and eventually years — researching a topic and exploring all its nuances and subtleties, it can be difficult to explain it in a couple of clear, unqualified statements! This blog, I hope, will give people a better sense of what I’m researching than I am able to convey in those awkward introductory conversations!
  5. On a more serious note, I want to promote my work in the wider academic and non-academic community. I don’t expect to start getting hundreds of hits any time soon — if ever — but the blog marks the beginning of a process of sharing my work with the outside world. If I’m lucky, this will develop into a two-way process and others will share their ideas with me. Further down the line, this could lead to partnerships with other people who share my interests. This is part of my attempt to construct an academic career, but I sincerely hope that what I am doing will also be of interest to people outside the academic world.
  6. Finally, I have spent the last twelve years, in which I have had regular access to the internet, drawing on content provided by other people. I never cease to be impressed by the efforts to which others go to upload information to the public domain. This blog is the first time — outside social media — I have given something back.