For all the ghastliness everywhere else, it’s felt like a good year for blogging. Partly this is because I’ve managed to keep up with this blog rather better than in previous years, and have written some things that I’m really rather proud of; increasingly, I’ve come to understand posts (and articles for online publications, of which I’ve also published a few this year) as valid outputs in their own right, rather than as either advertising for or shorter versions of ‘proper’ academic publications, or as a mere distraction from ‘proper’ research (though there have been times this year when blog posts are the only things I’ve felt capable of writing). Even more, however, it’s been the insights and ideas of other people, which I’d never have found or bothered to read without the internet (and, to give credit where it’s due, without the much-maligned Twitter), that have been most informative and inspiring – and this year I’ve remembered, most of the time, to keep a note of the posts that made the biggest impression and are certainly well worth reading if you haven’t yet seen them.
January: I’ve spent a fair proportion of this year meaning to get around to writing a response to the very nice discussion of ‘Thucydides, Canon and Western Civilization’ by Emily Rutherford on the JHI blog. I strongly suspect that this is never going to happen, as I have some higher priorities for ‘things I really ought to get round to writing’ – and perhaps it would be unfair suddenly to launch a critique of such a post a year later – so the least I can do is point you towards it.
February: Crooked Timber book seminar on Jo Walton’s Thessaly novels: yes, I’ve wondered about including something in which I was a participant, but these are always great events, and this one was especially good. Particularly brilliant contributions: Ada Palmer, Belle Waring and Jo Walton‘s own response to the discussion. I’ve finally got round to starting the third novel in the trilogy, and will post some thoughts in due course – and look out for the next CT seminar on a SF author, Ada Palmer herself, coming up in the spring…
March: another Crooked Timber piece, Maria Farrell’s National Hero, offering a very personal as well as political reflection on the Easter Rising. It’s not that I don’t read any other blogs, but it is the case that I check CT regularly rather than relying on recommendations from elsewhere, as its roster of regular contributors includes some brilliant and insightful writers, and the quality of the discussion remains high by current standards, for all that the management have felt compelled to change the comment policy.
April: I don’t follow a lot of proper classics blogs (or at least not qua classics – there are a couple of really thought-provoking commentators on academia and ECR life, Ellie Mackin and Liz Gloyn, who happen to be classicists but that’s not really why I read them) but since I discovered Katherine McDonald’s writings on Latin, linguistics and science fiction, it’s been a regular stop. This was the post that first led me there, on translating the Song of the Ood in Doctor Who – which also provoked an interesting discussion on the Twitter about the erratic performance of the Tardis’ translation circuits. Amazing that we’re now colleagues.
May: two excellent posts from The Tattooed Professor, Kevin Gannon, this month, and I can’t choose between them: ‘Objective history is impossible. And that’s a fact’ does what it says on the tin, offering a succinct run-down of the age-old debates on the so-called politicisation of history and the power of the myth of historical objectivity, while ‘Let’s ban the classroom technology ban’ was a sane and sensible (and very funny) response to this year’s spate of “laptops are making our students stupid” thought-pieces, that has inspired me to tell my students quite explicitly that I’m happy for them to live-tweet my lectures, and if they want to muck about on social media that’s their problem.
June: I’m tempted to ignore June partly on the basis that the whole thing was both unedifying and deeply depressing, and partly because so much of what was written was focused on the immediate circumstances and has largely been falsified by subsequent events, but in the interests of the historical record… Freddie Foks’ ‘The UK is in the middle of an all-consuming constitutional crisis’ was well worth reading at the time, and gets a reasonable number of predictions more or less right, while ‘How fascism came to Britain’ at Feminist Philosophers was right about a depressingly large number of things.
July: Crooked Timber again, Maria Farrell again, and maybe I should be trying to cover as many different outlets and writers as possible, but ‘#asamother’ is a tour-de-force: taking its cue from immediate political events (the short-lived Tory leadership contest and the entertaining candidacy of Andrea Leadsom) but using this as a springboard for a wide-ranging discussion of the timeless question of whether parents have a bigger stake in the nation’s future.
August: really interesting discussion of the often complex and resentful relationships between academic, public and popular history by Catherine Fletcher, ‘On academic ambivalence’; includes issues of gatekeeping and the status of ‘historian’ (themes which have recurred several times this year, including the Arron Banks v Mary Beard controversy).
September: arguably, some similar issues – at any rate as concerns popular and media misconceptions of what academics actually do, crossed with general anxieties about political correctness and the like – in a post about combat archaeology at The People’s Republic of Mortimer.
October: I had a slightly odd feeling in reading Kelly Baker’s ‘Cruelty and kindness in academia’, almost certainly bound up with the fact that I’d been working for just over a month in a department that occasionally feels almost Stepford in its niceness (no offence intended, dear colleagues, I’m just not used to such things); at the time, it didn’t feel as if this had much connection with my own experience, but in retrospect I can think of more and more examples of the behaviour described, which makes me even more thankful to have the colleagues I do have, and even more determined to be kind myself, even if largely in a distracted, absent-minded sort of way… I also have to put in a shout for the ongoing Thucydides Roundtable at zenpundit.com, now only a month behind its original schedule – which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned, as I haven’t managed to keep up with all the posts (so how they expected people to keep up with writing them…).
November: Donna Zuckerberg in Eidolon, ‘How to be a good classicist under a bad emperor’. It was a pleasure to contribute to this online journal earlier in the year, as it’s published a series of really interesting and important essays; more formal than a blog post, but operating to high editorial standards and with a clear identity. This piece is important and provocative, a call to arms for humanists – and whether or not you agree with every point, the appalling online abuse directed against its author makes it clear that there are cultural battlelines, and that refusing to take sides and claiming that the classics are above politics is itself a political position.
December: a case study in Why Twitter Is Still Great Despite Everything: it’s how I came across T. Greer (@Scholars_Stage) and his fascinating writings on Chinese strategy and thought, which led me to the zenpundit.com roundtable and to various people working in the field of military and strategic studies whom I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered, including Pauline ShanksKaurin (@queenofthinair), without whom I’d never have heard of Angry Staff Officer (@pptsapper) or this excellent post ‘Stop Calling Us Warriors’, on how the military profession is conceptualised and why the Spartans are a terrible role model.