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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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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.


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From the BBC:

“The study says the ageing population in the UK “offers higher education institutions a serious challenge”.

It says universities should set up centres in areas where there is a high density of retired people.

They should offer a range of courses such as moving from full-time to self-employment, ageing healthily, human rights and environmental citizenship.”

***

I’m not sure about the particulars, but even beyond the older generation this article provokes thoughts about the role of the university in local life. Oftentimes, it seems, universities are viewed as transcendent institutions with little direct connection to the cities in which they are located (major sports not included); however, this article makes the point that universities could, in fact, provide a very tangible local service as  civic institutions. During my own time at IU, the university library department offered technology classes for anyone who wanted to take  them; I think initiatives like this are excellent media through which to connect to local society and establish universities as intimately connected with their geographic locations.

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I received an email from a brand new tour company in Surrey a few weeks ago; Tours Unbound offers various expeditions through Surrey, exploring several thousands of years of history from the Stone Age through Henry VIII’s actions against monastic houses. The owner of the company asked if I would be willing to spread the word about this startup – since they’re dedicated to letting clients experience history firsthand, I’m more than happy to do my part to publicize for them. If you’re in the UK or have plans to travel there, I’d recommend you give the company a look and maybe take one of their tours through the area. Check out the website at the above link and tell them you’re coming via British History 101 :)

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Mark your calendars!

Just in from the Beeb:

TOLKIEN FESTIVAL PLANNED FOR TOWN

“The influence the Welsh language had on books by JRR Tolkien is to form part of a major new festival in Powys to honour the author.

The Festival in the Shire will celebrate themes inspired by Tolkien, whose novels included Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Fans of the writer, leading academics and illustrators are expected to attend the planned event in Machynlleth.”

Read the rest of the article on the BBC Wales site (for some reason, the blog won’t allow me to link it). You can also check out the official site at http://www.festivalintheshire.com where you will find that the festival is planned for 13-15 AUGUST 2010. Mark your calendars – I expect to see ALL of you there!

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From the BBC today:

NEW BATTLE OVER BOSWORTH’S SITE

“Today the spot where he [Richard III] is supposed to have met his end – a victim of treachery rather than military genius – is marked by a roughly-cut stone memorial in a quiet grove.

The plaque upon it reads simply: ‘Richard, the last Plantagenet King of England, was slain here 22nd August, 1485.’

Except that he was not.

According to a team of battlefield experts and historians the location of the battlefield was two miles to the south and west. At the moment they are being no more precise because they fear the activities of illegal treasure seekers.”

 

Bosworth Field

Source: BBC

Rather interesting news. I believe several historical reenactments have taken place up near Sutton Cheney, so this is obviously a major change. Personally, I think this is a matter more important for archaeologists than historians, but still fascinating.

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Graduate studies are well underway for the fall term, and it’s been a whirlwind so far (especially last week). Every once in a while, a nice, quite day will sneak up on you, but not often – usually, there’s plenty of reading and discussing to be done. I must say, though, that even with the heavy load, I’m still incredibly lucky – after all, I get to “do” history all day, every day, in a small, intimate atmosphere with some very interesting people. Sometimes (rarely), an undergrad will even show up for assistance, so a small element of teaching (my ultimate goal) is thrown in there, too.

Do I wish I had time to work on the podcast every single day? Yes, very much so. I don’t think a day passes when I don’t think about how much fun it was when I was able to put out a show every two weeks or so and hear from listeners in the following weeks. I am thinking especially of those people who have supported me through the long term and given me encouragement all along the way – TB from TX, WN from UK, and more. Contrary to what you may think, though, I do still spend no small amount of time pondering the show and what I can do with it now.

I’m currently working on a project that’s not strict historical research on my own part, per se, but I think it will still be interesting when it’s completed (and when I’m legally allowed to post it here) and am pondering putting out an audio version of it. I was also offered an incredible opportunity this morning for an event in London on Tuesday 20 October, but, being a lowly graduate student, the finances simply aren’t there to be able to get to London and stay there for a few days. Still, though, receiving invitations remind me of how rewarding British History 101 has been to me, and I sincerely appreciate all the kind words that have been sent my way. I’m still thinking of all of you, and we will have to gather ’round the microphone sometime soon – if for no other reason than to avoid TB coming after me with a large stick to “motivate” me!

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