Reboot in 3, 2, 1…

Over the last few years I have been experimenting rather freely with blogging as a medium, trying out various forms and styles and their usability for different purposes. Mostly these experiments have been in Swedish (1, 2, 3), while the short-lived blog here was in English (as well as a Tumblr with an even briefer lifespan). There is always more to learn, of course, but by now I am getting a basic grasp of what I can use blogging for and how. Also, after thinking quite a bit about online identity – what it is, why and how it matters – I am beginning to see how I want to organise my presence on the Web over the longer term.

As a result, I have decided to collect most of my writings and other content related to my activities as a historian and academic here. The new site will have two main sections: a regularly updated blog and a repository of my publications (whenever available), conference papers etc. Both will be bilingual but unevenly so, with most content being in Swedish and a smaller part in English. While this arrangement is rather unusual it will lead to more frequent updates, and for me personally it makes more sense than maintaining two separate websites differentiated only by language.

To accommodate these changes an overhaul of the whole site is required, including a transfer of the domain to a new web host in the near future. During the move the site might not be available at all for a day or two, and for those following the blog via RSS or email you will probably have to re-subscribe once the transfer is complete. When it is, I will restore existing blog posts and update this entry to reflect that fact. I will see you on the other side! :)

Update 2 October: Welcome back! The site is now up and running again, although the domain transfer does not seem to have propagated fully throughout the Internet yet. Over the next few days and weeks I will be organising the website and upload content new and old.

Blogs — a return to seriality?

Speaking of academic blogging, Kathleeen Fitzpatrick just posted a piece on ”Blogs as serialized scholarship”, where she discusses to what an extent and in what respects blogging is a new form of scholarly exchange or reminiscent of old ones:

The divergence between the direct, communal kinds of exploration we undertake in a seminar and the discrete, closed form of the journal article mask their common origins in the letter-based correspondence among scholars in the early Enlightenment. The first modern scholarly journals came into being as a means of broadening and systematizing such correspondence, and in the process, gradually replaced a sense of ongoing exchange with one of formal conclusion.

In this sense, today, when a scholar with a blog writes a bit about some ideas-in-process, receives some feedback in response, returns with further ideas, reiterates, and so on, we can glimpse once again the seriality that has always been at the heart of scholarly production.

Interesting argument. I have worked quite a lot with such 18th century scholarly correspondence and agree that there are obvious parallels to blogging (although the speed of exchange is very different today, of course).

Hello world!

The innocent energy and eager optimism of the default WordPress ”first post” title is irresistible. It is also firmly rooted in computer and programming history, which makes it seem quite appropriate for the introduction of a blog where certain aspects of digital technology will be one of the main themes. Add the fact that I will likely have trouble enough coming up with a good title for the next post, and I will not even try to improve on this one.

I am a reader (associate professor) of history at the University of Gothenburg in Göteborg (Gothenburg), Sweden. This blog is intended to serve as an outlet for writing about a variety of topics that interest me, but with a clear focus on two main areas. The first is my own field of research, which can roughly be described as 18th century Linnaean travel in a global history of science context. The second is the hard-to-define but fascinating set of questions, opportunities and challenges that arise out of the encounter between humanities scholarship (including teaching), digital technology and social media.

My attempts to grasp and learn about the issues related to the emerging Digital Humanities, especially Digital History, gave the impetus for launching the blog and will be echoed in many of the posts here. Another, more practical reason for trying my hand at blogging in English is that it helps me improve my writing skills in a language that is not my first. In my current research project I expect to write a number of articles and book chapters in English, and regular posting here seems like a good way of practising. In other words, any feedback on the spelling, grammar and idiomatic usage of British English is very welcome!

And what about ”useful curiosities, past and present”? Well, to me it sums up fairly well some of the questions and the categories I often work with and think about. I will have to elaborate in later posts, but ”utility” and ”curiosity” is often seen as polar opposites, not least in contemporary discussions about how to prioritize research funding, while in reality the relationship between them is much more complicated. For one thing, what is merely curious today may turn out to be very useful tomorrow – and how do we even start to define what ”useful” actually means?

Many of the early modern naturalists I have written about wrestled with similar distinctions and their consequenses, which is one reason I find these travelers so interesting. For all the risks of applying simple labels I think ”useful curiosities” captures much of what the whole Linnaean endeavour was about, including its inherent contradictions and ambivalences. By studying their struggles we understand our own better, which is yet another reminder that history itself is not only curious but can be very useful indeed.

(Edit 3 Oct. 2013: This was the inaugural post for my English-language blog at the address, which has since been merged with a Swedish blog of mine.)