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Engaging in history as a hobby – any area, be it topical or geographic – usually requires plowing through books. This is often an enjoyable and rewarding task, but it can also be a real pain in the backside if the author isn’t particularly good at researching and/or writing.

So what else is out there for the history buff that wants to move beyond the book? For one, there are any number of podcasts out there that can be listened to just about anywhere. They’re convenient, portable, and often offer a certain degree of community involvement that can make listening a social experience. The downside to podcasting is that in most cases there’s little in the way of outside editing or vetting that goes on before the shows are published. I’ll be the first to admit that some episodes of British History 101 are better than others; if I had a production staff and studio, a lot more polishing could be done. The relatively amateur status of podcasting thus becomes an advantage and a disadvantage to the listener. The biggest advantage? Most of them – the ones with their heads in the right place, anyway – are free.

There is also a number of magazines that you can find at your local bookstore or by subscribing online; the one that comes to mind immediately is BBC History. I’m not a regular reader but I enjoy it when I do pick it up. One problem of the magazine is that it’s expensive - I think something like $9 per issue here in the US (which is hard to justify, considering you can still find paperback books for $7 or $8). I’ve also noticed quite a few other history magazines but haven’t spent much time going through them to see which ones are worth your time and which ones aren’t – something tells me that with such a large selection, there are bound to be a few lemons in there somewhere.

TV…well, the History Channel (sorry – they’ve gone all modern and dropped the “the”) used to be something worth your time. But with some of their latest programming including Swamp People and Ice Road Truckers, I’m not so sure anymore. Given a limited number of hours to watch TV, I’d wait for something interesting to play on PBS (Ken Burns, anyone?).

If you want to get into more detailed explorations (and I do mean more detailed – sometimes mindnumbingly so), check out your local academic library (if there’s a university or college near you that will allow access to non-students). What you’ll find there is often quite different from what you’ll find at a commercial (or even small-town) bookstore; academic authors rarely make it onto the shelves of Barnes and Noble or Borders, for a variety of reasons. Of special interest can also be the journals which those libraries either hold or offer online access to; these are very, very narrow channels into certain areas of history, but can offer a much clearer picture of a given situation, person, or timeframe than a book can. Two that I would recommend for British History 101 listeners are the Journal of British Studies and the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. You have to be picky with these, too, as some of the authors are really only writing for an audience of maybe 10-20 fellow experts in the field, which means that not every article is going to be a superstar.

Of course there’s always the Internet (which is crucial for a person like me trying to reach an audience). There are a number of websites out there that you can access for free (some have limited for-pay content) that have a ton of interesting information and sources to peruse. A quick three that I would recommend include the BBC’s British history section (not the magazine), which is good light reading divided into time periods with other sections devoted to bigger events and people. There’s also Britannia History, which looks like a good resource on specific subjects but may lean more towards the subjective than otherwise. Finally you can check out British History Online, which is a database of all sorts of primary source goodies – if you want to take a look at some firsthand materials, this is the place to do it if you can’t travel.

If you want to dive into British history, don’t think you’re constrained to shelling out a ton of money for books or hoping your local library has something published within the last 30 years. There are plenty of other avenues of learning available (many of them free), and this is an excellent way for folks with an interest in history, no matter how serious, to get involved.

Part of my immediately previous post spoke to the community aspect of British History 101 – getting to hear from listeners and having some sort of communication between myself and everyone else. This is an enjoyable method of interaction, but I also appreciate the chance to have a more broad-ranging set of connections between people. In terms of the Internet, I’m referring to fora or message boards. I participate in a few different ones myself, although none of them have to do with British history. This is a situation I would like to change, but I’m having trouble finding a forum dedicated to history (one that isn’t blatantly extremist for some insane perspective, at any rate). Does anyone out there engage in this sort of online exchange, or are we more or less out of luck when it comes to getting together with like-minded historians and history buffs?

Last night, I decided to email the folks from whom I have gotten messages in the past regarding the podcast. British History 101 has always been on my mind, perhaps especially so since I’ve not been able to produce an episode. It’s been increasingly at the fore of my thoughts for the past few months. The creative process was always a great deal of fun, but I particularly enjoyed putting the finishing touches on a podcast and the interaction with listeners that usually happened afterward – emails, Skype messages, and Facebook postings with comments, responses, or requests for certain material on the show were always a joy to receive, and I’ve missed that.There was also a period when the hosting for the show was supported directly with contributions from listeners, and that was a deeply humbling experience – for about a year, British History 101 maintained a presence on the Internet entirely on listener support. Thanks, ladies and gentlemen. I really do appreciate that, especially as people were contributing during the darkest days of the recent economic decline.

With that in mind, I would like to remind whoever is still out there of a few channels of communication to watch in my efforts to rebuild the British History 101 community and get this thing off the ground again. Keep an eye on this space and subscribe to the posts (there’s a link in the top right corner of this page) – the blog is a place where I can get at least some level of conversation going, especially when I only have a few minutes here and there to write a blog post but in which I can’t do more substantial research or writing. I’ve also just opened a dedicated Twitter account for the show; sadly, Twitter wouldn’t allow “BritishHistory101″ as a handle, so you can find me @BritHist101. No, it isn’t perfect, but it’ll have to do! I’ve recently gotten back into Facebook, and will need to explore my options there. I understand the app environment has changed to some degree since I was last a member of the site, so perhaps there will be a better way to have a show page there. The Skype account BritishHistory101 is still alive, too, so feel free to send me a message or even give me a quick shout out there. And, as always, I can be reached via email at BritishHistory101@gmail.com.

I’ll be honest – I love British History 101. The interaction I had with listeners when the show was still up and running on a regular basis was fantastic. To a certain selfish degree, I would like that sense of community back. I can only do half of it, though, and making it work requires the audience, too. I sincerely hope there are at least a few of you left out there who can help me make it happen.

 

 

Every once in a while (not nearly often enough), two of my interests intersect in a satisfying way. Thusly was I entertained when I read that there’s a cheerful little debate on over in the City of Newport, Wales, regarding the Ryder Cup golf tournament and a rather disheveled building located on the grounds of Celtic Manor. (On a side note to Sir Terry Matthews – could you really not come up with a better name than “Celtic Manor”? There’s a term for that, and I think it’s something along the lines of “selling yourself out to an international audience who think anything ‘Celtic’ must be magical and full of leprechauns.”) In any case, it would appear that the Little Bulmore Farmhouse, next to the course clubhouse, is a bit of an embarassment to tournament organizers. They want it restored and put back in proper order, but Sir Matthews doesn’t think the local counsel is letting him go far enough – while he has agreed to remove the extraneous ‘modern’ additions to the building, he wants permission to move the entire thing and rebuild it properly, somewhere else (here’s a hint why they don’t want to let him do so – it’s Grade II listed). While I would admire his willingness to properly reconstruct the property, the cynic in me won’t quite let his motives out of mind – he is “sensitive to the architectural merit of the farmhouse and the surrounding environment, to deconstruct, move and restore this derelict building and enhance the appearance of the entire landscape around the Twenty Ten Clubhouse in time for October’s Ryder Cup.” Translation: People don’t want to look at it, and it’s going to cost me money.

Here’s how it appears now:

Little Bulmore Farmhouse

The Little Bulmore Farmhouse. Source: BBC

I think it’s rather rustic. Surely there’s a way to incorporate it into the course proper and not be quite so afraid of it?

It’s rather interesting that we tend to get all excited and feeling romantic over ruins – but only those that are of a certain age or older. “Ruins” from the time period that marked the external additions to the Farmhouse are simply unsightly to our eyes – I wonder why?

Castle crashers

The castle

If you were in the Herefordshire area Sunday, there was a great opportunity to step into a piece of the past with the one-day-only opening of the Brampton Bryan castle. The castle was mentioned in the Domesday survey of William I. The castle’s other claim to fame is the holding off of two sieges by the – <gasp!> - Parliamentarian Lady Brilliana Harley during the Civil War. This was yet another inspiration of envy in me, as any sort of historical record from the comparable time period in my part of the States has long since disappeared, thanks to the rather – ahem – vigorous enthusiasm of our European ancestors upon arrival in the area…

Answering criticism

Constructive criticism is, of course, crucial to any creative endeavor – to refuse to accept criticism is to assert one’s own superiority in an arrogant manner. I welcome criticism to the show, and sincerely take to heart the things people say about British History 101. However, it should be noted that there is a vast difference between constructive criticism and pointless whinging on the part of some listeners. I specifically want to address a few points from iTunes reviews, from both the helpful and non-helpful categories. I doubt that anyone who takes the time to read the blog would ever say some of the more ridiculous things that come across the reviews, but just in case:

Helpful:

“Good podcast, but I haven’t seen one for over 3 months. I agree with other reviews that the podcast is drifting. That is a shame since I really enjoyed the earlier podcasts.”

This is good, and I can completely understand why the reviewer says this. Unfortunately, life tends to intervene, and I can’t put the show up as often as I’d like. However, it is extremely encouraging to know that people enjoy what episodes do exist, and this is a strong motivator.

Not helpful:

“I hate it when Americans do history of other countries.”

It’s hard to know where to begin with this. This comment conveys either absurd American ultranationalism or absurd non-American xenophobia, not to mention academic close-mindedness. I am open to suggestions, but I fail to see how it could possibly be argued that Americans should only interpret American history. And on that note, how exactly does one “do” history? One does yardwork. One does the dishes. One does homework. One does not “do” history.

Helpful:

“This is a good history podcast. However, I would have liked dates in the titles so I could have listened to the history chronologically. I did enjoy every topic except the personal sidenotes sometimes thrown in.”

It makes sense that a person would like to enjoy history chronologically; while this show’s stylistic approach doesn’t cover history in that manner, I can understand why someone would say the above. I can’t say that I’m particularly moved to change that, but I know why the listener would think that way. I have taken the comment about personal sidenotes into consideration; if not outright removed, they can certainly be moved to the very end of the show so that listeners can stop listening as soon as the history ends. A completely valid (and useful) criticism.

Not helpful (towards the end):

“i will say that mr. anthony puts forth some effort into the podcast, but i get a feeling that the author really knows little about british history, or history in general. also, the mis-pronunciations are difficult to stomach. wouldn’t bother downloading this one. would love to see a good british podcast come around though.” [sic]

I will admit that I am not sure which part of my podcast conveys my ignorance of British history. This criticism would make sense if I made a whole slew of factual errors (and I do know I make the occasional mistake), but I don’t believe the show is full of false information. However, I will make sure to inform the history department of the university that I will immediately withdraw from the program due to my ignorance. Now, regarding the mispronunciations: living in southern Indiana, I am not exposed to too terribly many British-accented English speakers, and the podcasts from the BBC to which I listen don’t tend to speak the words that I have trouble with. Unfortunately, the language barrier that divides British from American English speakers is substantial, and so words that come naturally to British English speakers are difficult for me to pronounce. I apologize for these mistakes, but surely anyone listening to the show when I say a word incorrectly at least knows what I’m talking about, and those with a few seconds of free time are more than welcome to email me and let me know how it should be pronounced.

Helpful (blunt, direct, concrete):

“Hi –

look, I appreciate the work you put into this, very much, and I find what you come up with worthwhile — otherwise, I wouldn’t be listening. I am also pretty sure that the majority of your other listeners feel this way.

Therefore, as a piece of honest and well-intended advice: you absolutely need to stop apologizing and/or discussing your tech problems at length, over and over again, all through your podcast. There are few things more annoying than having an interesting bit of history interrupted countless times by you talking about yourself, often questioning your own expertise. Seriously: nobody cares, or they would not be listening. If you do feel the need to add caveats of whatever kind to what you are recording, please do so once at the beginning, if you must, or the very end, but please, please do stick to the history in the in between. That’s what we’re interested in. I don’t mean to sound inconsiderate, but you are not doing yourself or your podcast any favours by obsessing about its (real or imagined) deficiencies all through the program – you’re just putting off your listeners.

Thanks, and keep them coming.
A.”
[sic]

This is extremely useful to me. Why? Because the commenter is A) polite B) blunt and C) concrete. They offer real solutions – “Add caveats…once at the beginning, if you must, or at the very end,” and this is only after they have clearly said that they are offering “honest and well-intended advice.” They don’t pull any punches, but they’re polite about it. That is information I can (and will) use to improve the show.

*****

I don’t mind criticism – I really don’t. It is a delight to get an email from a listener who says “Listen, old boy, good effort, but this is just not working correctly, and here’s why…” Comments and emails which say something to the effect of  “Americans are too bloody stupid to say our words right” or “Quit talking about anything not related to history” are not helpful, and quickly find the inside of Gmail’s trash system. In all frankness, I would remind some listeners that the show is offered free of charge (any money collected from listeners is done so on a purely at-will basis), and those not wishing to listen are more than welcome to go elsewhere. iTunes is chock full of high-quality podcasts (see especially Dan Carlin’s work), all of which would welcome a new listener. To those of you who are always faithful listners – thank you! To those of you who have offered your assistance and gentle guidance and suggestions – thank you! To those of you who simply can’t stand the word “Magdalen” pronounced as “Mag-duh-len” – I think you know where the “skip” button on your iPods is.


A dramatic interpretation of a rare treat – a primary source from Edmund Burke

MP3 File

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