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Archive for June, 2011

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.

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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?

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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.

 

 

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