An Online Hub for Early Modernists

Standard

Early Modern Resources is going to change. The site has been accumulating content for more than a decade now without changing significantly in its functions or intent. Meanwhile, the Web has expanded dramatically. There are now far more high-quality scholarly resources, especially collections of primary sources. But, just as important, there is also a much larger community of early modernists online.

As I began a very overdue review of links in the EMR database in April 2013, I soon began to feel that it needed something more drastic than another spring clean. Many of my older summaries were too short and unspecific to be at all helpful. Over time (unsurprisingly enough) my editorial decisions have been inconsistent (and occasionally mildly puzzling). Not all the early content had much substance, and some pages, though still accessible, were completely out of date. Conversely, however, some websites that I had linked when they were first established have grown far beyond my original summaries.

I’m not taking down Early Modern Resources “v.1″ for the moment: it can be found at http://earlymodernweb.org/emr where it will be fully searchable, as at present (there might be the occasional broken internal link and, of course, a growing number of dead links to resources). However, I will not be doing any further updates to the site, and eventually it will go away altogether.

Instead, I’ve started building a new website, an ‘Early Modern Hub’, with a number of interconnected areas:

  1. resources will be more tightly focused, emphasising resources for researchers (whether students, academics, independent scholars), especially online primary sources, and sites of scholarship. Hopefully, listings will provide more detailed and useful information, especially about large resources. I will continue to include only content that is free to access.
  2. news and events – this will include the Early Modern News blog which is currently hosted at WordPress.com; it may also add links to external resources that I’ve been unable to include in EMR previously, such as blogs/sites set up specifically for conferences and short term projects.
  3. blogs – I’d like to integrate Early Modern Commons more closely into the site; and think about ways to bring in Twitter links and conversations
  4. people – I’m not quite sure yet what this might consist of, but I’d particularly like to facilitate a network to support postgraduate students, early career researchers, independent scholars and alt-academics. This might involve setting up a network along the lines of MLA Commons, if there’s enough demand for it. At the very least I’d like to have some kind of directory to which researchers would submit their own online profile. (Suggestions welcome.)

This will take a while to come together – watch out for news!

Early Modern Commons Update

Standard

My early modern blogs project, Early Modern Commons, is now more than a year old. Today I’ve posted a major overhaul of the backend (let’s call it v2.0), moving away from WordPress into a purpose-built database.

Hopefully it’ll be lighter and faster loading. A few URLs will be broken, unfortunately, as I’ve had to change some blog IDs, but mostly everything should work.

I’ve also added about 25 blogs (and have a few more to come), taking the count over 200 – probably about 220 by the time I’ve completed the additions.

The most important change is that I’ve added aggregation for blog posts as well as blogs. EMC began with an idea for an enhanced blogroll (growing out of my long-standing dissatisfaction with the standard list-of-names blogroll), and at its core will continue to provide that service. But I’ve been keen to do more with it, and that’s now possible with the backend changes.

The new Recent Posts feature is quite basic at the moment but it will be possible to expand it and to make it more sophisticated, especially with a little help from the bloggers themselves. For example, it could be possible to have a ‘Research Blogging’ feed if bloggers are willing to tag their posts with a distinctive category/keyword to denote research-heavy posts (discussion welcome on what the keyword should be) – a simplified version of Research Blogging. I’ll also be experimenting with the use of keyword filters to create more feeds like the one for CFPs and conferences (and to improve that one; it’s not quite right at the moment).

Feedback welcome, and if you have any ideas for future developments let me know.

EMR Update

Standard

Early Modern Resources has been around quite a while now, and it showed. The site design went back to a more innocent time (c.2001…) when an “olde-worlde” palette wasn’t quite as yawny for a historical site as it is now. And so I’ve given it a complete overhaul; please do feel free to report any problems you encounter. [If it looks strange, try first doing a 'hard' refresh, Ctrl+F5, to clear your browser cache.] Also, I’m very grateful to friends on Twitter who gave me rapid feedback on the new design!

The problem with doing an update of the look of a site is that you start noticing outdated content too. Aargh. I’ll be spending some time going through the site over the next month or two and giving it all a bit of a cleanup. I’ll probably be removing a few old low-quality resources, especially if they haven’t been updated in a long time. Back in the early 2000s there was so little quality early modern material online that I’d often include sites just for the sake of having something on a significant topic. I think it’s time to raise standards a little from those days.

I’ve also noticed some material that used to be freely accessible on university websites but has now become restricted to their own students. A very regrettable development, I think. I’ll be removing anything like this as well.

And I’ll also be doing something about the rather shameful fact that there are at least 80 resources under the label ‘Americas’ which I’ve never got around to subdividing more helpfully!

Finally, I’ve added an important new Primary Sources category, ‘Editions‘. This is specifically for (textual) primary sources that are suitable for scholarly historical research: at a minimum this means full transcriptions and/or scanned images, rather than extracts or selections from original sources, and ideally fully searchable and accompanied by contextual background material and information about project methodology. Compared to those early days a decade ago, it’s amazing just how many of them there are now, and not all are as well known as they ought to be.

Early Modern Commons: an aggregator for early modernists

Standard

For several years I’ve had some kind of ‘early modern news’ page on this site (recently moved to EMR), grabbing RSS feeds from relevant blogs/resources by using a built-in WordPress function or a plugin. Meanwhile, I have a long list of early modern-related blogs in my feed reader on my computer. Recently I started wondering about the possibility of doing something a bit more interesting with all those feeds.

And then I got slightly carried away. Early Modern Commons is the result. I can’t help feeling ‘aggregator’ is a slightly grand term for it, but what the hell, I’m gonna use it anyway. It is much more than just a blogroll: it enables you to see at a glance the latest activity on blogs that may interest you, which are tagged by topic areas. It currently contains around 80 blogs, and I’ll be adding more. (And hopefully readers will help by submitting blogs I’ve missed and don’t know about.)

This may well be a slightly insane and doomed endeavour. As we all know, blogs appear all the time, shift in focus, move around, go dormant and sometimes die. I may find that it’s impossible to keep up so that the site is full of useless, out-dated information. But I want to give it a try. The early modern blogosphere is much bigger and more disparate than it used to be, and it seems to me that this can provide a useful hub for early modernists from different fields, both within and beyond academia.

I should note that, although some very basic quality control will be applied (for relevance and factualness), it’s not a “showcase”. Readers will have to evaluate the quality of blogs for themselves. Also, I haven’t included much of the content of the blogs themselves – it’s confined to the titles of recent posts. I want to send readers to blogs, not pinch their material to boost my own site traffic!

I’ve included links to all the blogs’ feeds as well as to the blogs themselves, so that readers can easily add them to their own feed readers. (At some point I’d like to include links to related Twitter feeds, but that’s a manual job that will need a bit of spare time.)

There are various tools that can be used for this kind of aggregator, such as Planet, and I was tempted to try them out (new toys!) but decided to stick with WordPress, at least for now, as it’s what I know well and it’s more convenient for backend administration (as I’m running WP Multi-site anyway). I’m using a slightly customised version of the WordPress RSS in Page plugin to grab updates from feeds, which itself depends on the SimplePie Core plugin. I’ve also made extensive use of WordPress’s built-in custom fields to retain the feeds’ data structure for possible export and re-use in the future.

Perhaps I should have subtitled this post “I ♥ RSS”.

Four Years is a long time in Blogland

Standard

I forgot about my fourth blogiversary in June. My fourth anniversary at this location (and using WordPress) comes up at the end of July.

Some things hardly seem to have changed at all. There were presidential elections that year too. We’ll have to hope for a better result this time around.

Other things have changed a lot. So many blogs I loved in 2004 that no longer exist or are quite different now.

And there were a lot of history blogs that started up around the same time as me: happy 4th birthday to all of you who’re still plugging away!

So, is there anyone still reading who’s been here right from the beginning? (Can’t say I would blame you if you’d got bored by now…)

Sorry about the downtime

Standard

The webhost has migrated me to a new server. With a slow shitty new control panel that apparently can’t cope with the concept of having the same user name for more than one database. And no phpMyAdmin. (Found it.)

Plus, I can’t currently download emails – and there’s nothing in the announcements to suggest why there would be a problem there. Not that they’ve had the courtesy to email me to tell me they’d started or completed the migration; all I had was an email last week that said it would be taking place ‘over the next few weeks’. [Worked it out. Had to change a + to @ in the account username settings. Like I say, some warning would have been nice.]

Looks like I’ll be needing to look up the suggestions you all gave me last month for new hosts. This control panel is going to drive me nuts.