By Kevin O’Sullivan
It’s a funny thing this, sitting down to reflect on a life with Pue’s. Being an historian, two years doesn’t really seem that long. But then we didn’t really know what to expect when we started out twenty-four months ago, scribbling ideas on a notepad, wondering what template and what colours to use, noting what we did and didn’t like in a website, and going through the arduous process of finding a suitable banner image. (Note to Juliana, Lisa and the people we dragged in with a loaded request for their opinion: remember the hours we spent discussing this?) Don’t get me wrong, we had a feeling the blog was a good idea – we’d have been fools to start it if we didn’t. And we reckoned that we might get one or two of you to drop in and say hello from time to time (you did, and thanks). But we had no idea how long it would last. Or what form it would take if it did. Or how you would respond to it.
When we started out just over two years ago – we had a month of what you might call foostering about (we’d call it creative freedom) before we hit the button and went ‘live’ – we came with the idea of doing something different, something that would constantly evolve rather than remain static. To paraphrase something Karl Whitney said to me about Pue’s around the time of our first anniversary: we started as a blog, moved to a pseudo-magazine format, and have now, I think, moved back to the middle ground, somewhere between the two. The Pue’s family has grown too (in more ways than one – see our ‘Pue’s Queries’ page for evidence). We began as three, realised we’d be better as four, and knew we’d found a kindred spirit in Tina’s contributions on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century fiction. Some features we’ve liked, others we’ve not, still others we found good but far too difficult to maintain (here’s looking at you, ‘history on tv’ slot). But we’ve always – and I hope, and believe, that this is reflected in what you read on Pue’s – tried to test the limits of what history blogging can achieve. Our monthly (using the term loosely) editorial meetings have been a lesson in this. If it’s a good idea, no matter how ambitious, it swims. If it’s bad, it floats for a little bit, meets quiet frowns and plummets to the depths of the digital ocean. Conversations by e-mail, of course, are a little different. I shudder to think how many of my bad ideas the others conveniently forgot to mention when hitting ‘reply all’, so that they wouldn’t be inflicted on any other poor souls.
But above all those meetings have always – perhaps surprisingly for four academics sitting in a room (albeit generally a room with tea, coffee and pastry dispensing capabilities; i.e. a café) – been fun. How many other hour-long meetings do you go to where you’re happy to go and share food or a drink with the same people for at least the same time afterwards? This will be repeated across the posts from my fellow editors I’m sure – and reviled as overly-saccharin by some of you readers – but it’s great to work with three people who consistently think outside the box and test the boundaries of what we can achieve in such a small digital space.
Pue’s has also been about a much wider community, in ways that I don’t think any of us imagined when this began. To all of you who we’ve interviewed, who we’ve asked to write pieces, and who have given up your time to write and send us your material, we are eternally grateful. To those of you who came along to Blogging the Humanities (June 2010) or Honest to Blog this March, we hope they were just the start of what’s been a great conversation so far. When I wrote disparagingly about Twitter back in June 2009, little did I realise how important it would become to Pue’s (I still reside outside the Facebook community though): in 2010 we became part of a growing cohort of #twitterstorians, and in March tried our hand at live tweeting for the first time at the Honest to Blog conference.
And here’s the point: having a digital presence has led, more often than not, to some surprisingly human interactions. It’s still a thrill (and sometimes bizarre) to meet people who read the blog, or to have discussions with colleagues about something you’ve written that morning. I’ll admit, too, to being a bit of a stats watcher – what blogger isn’t? – so it’s been brilliant to see you stick with us and to watch our numbers grow over the last two years. But all of that would be nothing without the joy of reaching beyond the articles and into the realm of public debate. Reflecting on Garret FitzGerald’s death last Thursday, I was drawn to something Martha Nussbaum wrote recently about the humanities: that it teaches people that differences in opinion and the ability to discuss them are the lifeblood of democracy. For me, that is the real essence of Pue’s – not posting 600 words to the digital ether and admiring it from afar, but watching, reading and responding to your reactions. Here’s to another two years.