Archive for February, 2010

When is a blog a book?

25 February 2010

By Juliana Adelman

Unsurprisingly the proliferation in blogs has lead to many of them morphing into paperback form.  So far we have had Stuff White People Like, Animal Review, and Postcards from Yo Momma among many.   The last is probably most obviously amenable to the process of ‘bookization’ being a kind of record of correspondence, however flippant the title.  Mutation between literary forms is of course nothing new.  In the 19th C lectures moved into the printed sphere often first as newspaper reports, then possibly became the basis for a journal article, then the article was cut and pasted into lots of cheaper journals, and then sometimes the speaker might have published a book or pamphlet based on the lecture.  Then the same essay might have appeared in a collected works after the author’s death.  And on it went.  Suddenly a few thousands words are available in a myriad of formats to different audiences.  Anyway, I was thinking of this when I was reading Mary Beard’s It’s a don’s life which is a book version of her blog.  I wondered what publishers expect the audience for a book-of-blog to be: readers of the blog? or people who need technology brought to them in paper form?  I suppose I answered my own question by buying the book as both a reader of the blog and also a person who likes things on paper. Read more

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Thank You!

24 February 2010

A few days ago, we posted the responses we received to our survey and were delighted to report that a majority of the readers who took the time to complete the survey were generally happy with Pue’s form and content. Our response was a momentary pat on the back followed by a now-continuing consideration of the ways in which we can tweak, transform, and generally impove Pue’s to best reflect the demands and desires of you, our readers. This week we’ve had cause for further celebration and renewed dedication to our commitment to making Pue’s the best it can be: we’ve been nominated in three different categories – Best Arts and Culture Blog; Best Group Blog; and Best Newcomer – for the 2010 Irish Blog Awards! Judging begins next week, but even if we don’t win anything, we’re absolutely thrilled to be nominated as such a relatively young blog. As you’ll see from the nominations list, we’re in extremely good company, with an incredibly wide range of blogs, some of them very well-established. It’s going to be a real pleasure exploring the blogs – some new, some old – nominated alongside us, and we encourage you to do the same. Also, check out the sponsors who fund and enable these awards, including Poetry Ireland, Red Fly Marketing, and LastMinute.com. Most importantly though, give yourselves a big pat on the back for making this possible for Pue’s. We’re incredibly grateful to you not only for nominating us for the 2010 Irish Blog Awards but also for your continuing support, readership, and loyalty! Thank you!!

When history on Wikipedia leaves you snookered

23 February 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

For those of you wracking your brains for a quick answer to some vital issue this Tuesday morning, here’s a friendly reminder that Wikipedia, while a useful way of pooling knowledge, getting a potted history of the latest cretin to get their big break through reality tv, or of putting yourself in the frame on some obscure issue, is a coloured research tool. My cue for saying so? Read on….

Top Five with a bullet: history of Western science

22 February 2010

By Juliana Adelman

I decided to limit myself to Western science, mostly because I don’t know enough about other scientific or natural traditions to be able to pick a top 5. There is also a serious bias in favour of books written in English which means I have most likely NOT picked the best book about French or German or Dutch science. I’ve kind of mixed best with ‘most important’.


Thomas Kuhn, The structure of scientific revolutions (Chicago, 1962). This book is really philosophy of science, but it has had an enormous impact on how historians of science view scientific knowledge. Kuhn, a physicist, received much criticism from the scientific community because he presented science as a social process and scientific knowledge not as inevitable ‘truth’ but negotiated consensus. Not all the ideas in the book are still embraced by hisorians of science, but it is a good starting point. Read more

Results of our survey

19 February 2010

I found the image above, of what appears to be an utterly meaningless rating of the prevalence of freedom in the world, on Wikimedia Commons.  I suspect most people interested in human rights would find this graph of accelerating freedom to be strange at best.  Perhaps this was from a Pentagon power point presentation?

Back to our survey…We wanted to thank those of you who completed the Pue’s reader satisfaction survey and let you in on the results.

A summary of the quantitative questions:

1. I read the blog…65% of you read it most days, 24% read it once a week, 8% read it several times a month the last 3% read it once a month

2. The number of posts per week is…Most of you (65%) thought the number was just right. 22% thought there should be more posts and the rest (14%) didn’t have an opinion.

5. Overall, the writing is...The overwhelming majority of readers (95%) thought that the writing is accessible while 5% thought it was too populist.

The qualitative questions are a bit more tricky to summarize, but here’s a general flavour:

3. My favourite part of the blog is…Many of you mentioned the longer articles, the PhD diaries and the interviews. There were also a few votes for the events pages and the pictures!

4. My least favourite part of the blog is…Interestingly, here the PhD diaries and interviews came up again. There were a few suggestions on altering the interviews to make them a bit more substantial, which is something that we are working on so watch this space. And to pat our own backs, fewer people answered this question than number 3, and several of you to say ‘none’!

6. Any features you’d like to see or suggestions you’d like to make? Much to our surprise many of you want LONGER pieces! Suggestions were diverse but a few of the ones that we hope to act on are as follows: more perspectives from outside of academia and outside Ireland, more early Irish history, a little more humour and podcasts.

Thanks again to those of you who took the time to fill out the survey, we appreciate it and hope to incorporate the suggestions and criticisms in the coming months.

Unravelling the past: A very brief history of knitting

18 February 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

I am not very good at sitting still so when I came down with a bad cold before Christmas I was very grateful to discover a ball of wool and some needles in my house. I had something I could do to escape bad daytime tv. Since then I have made a scarf for almost everyone I know and I am trying to graduate to something more difficult- socks. Trust me- they are difficult! In an attempt to fix some of the hourly problems my pattern has presented I turned to my knitting books and went online. While the problems with my socks still remain, I discovered some interesting things about the history of knitting that I thought I would share with Pue’s readers.

The earliest known knitted socks were discovered in the middle east, archeologists date them to about the thirteenth. While there are undoubtedly male knitters, there has always been a strong association of women and knitting. In the fourteenth century several Italian painters painted the Virgin Mary knitting with four or five needles, possibly knitting socks! By the late sixteenth century it was an established craft throughout Europe .

An extensive cottage industry grew around the practice of knitting and it became an important source of income. But knitting was not just confined to the domestic sphere and it was one way women could become involved in international events. Read more

Fine Gael: a family at peace?

17 February 2010

Contributed by Ciara Meehan

Last week was a bad week for Irish politics.  George Lee – the man who was supposed to change politics – announced that he was quitting after only nine months, while days later Green Party Senator Deirdre de Búrca accused her party of losing its way in government and resigned in protest.  The former was easily the more sensational of the declarations.  Lee’s departure brought to the fore questions about Enda Kenny’s leadership.  However, when the frontbench met Kenny’s position was never seriously in question, as his deputies united in their anger with Lee.  The parliamentary party subsequently gave their endorsement the following day.  And so it would seem that, for the time being at least, Fine Gael is a family at peace.  But, members do not need a long memory to recall the devastating affect that in-fighting and leadership heaves can have on a party.

The state of Fine Gael in the 1990s was colourfully captured by Olivia O’Leary: ‘it is a real sign of a party in freefall when it becomes a serial leader killer’.  But the tendency to blame the leadership meant that many of the fundamental, self-searching questions were never asked.

Garret FitzGerald had energised the party, but on his retirement it was suffering from an identity crisis and had ten seats less than when he took over.  His successor, Alan Dukes, was considered by many members to be aloof and his Tallaght strategy – the offer of support to the Fianna Fáil minority government for responsible economic policies – was questioned by some. Read More

A glimpse of the Wicked Earl

16 February 2010

Contributed by Patrick Maume

When historians discuss whether nineteenth-century Irish landlords were really ‘bad’, William Sydney Clements, third earl of Leitrim (1806-78, succeeded 1854, shot 2 April 1878) is a leading exhibit for the prosecution.   His management of his Leitrim and Donegal estates was authoritarian; he was disliked even by police and Dublin Castle officials, with whom he constantly quarrelled; relatives called him insane.  It is widely believed that he coerced tenants’ daughters sexually by threatening evictions; his killers are Donegal folk-heroes.

Not all aspects of this portrayal are universally accepted, but Virtues Of A Wicked Earl, Dr. Anthony Malcomson’s recent biography, is a daring attempt at rehabilitation.   Malcomson argues that Leitrim was an efficient rationaliser of an indebted and mismanaged estate, and the image of Leitrim as sexual predator was fabricated by tenant and nationalist enemies. Leitrim’s relatives’ accusations of insanity derive from a will dispute; clashes with police derived from old-fashioned belief that local administration should be controlled by landlords rather than state officials.

This interpretation is certain to be contested; the dry wit Malcomson celebrates as one of Leitrim’s attractive characteristics was described by contemporary critics as having a sadistic edge.   This post, however, offers to fill a little gap in Dr. Malcomson’s portrait. Read More

PhD Diary: Colm Flynn, TCD

15 February 2010

Contributed by Colm Flynn, TCD

Do you consider your PhD to be a job or a vocation?: I have distinct memories of a celestial voice imploring me to share my historical insights with the world… so, vocation then, I suppose. Also, jobs pay so it’s not one of those.

In 20 words or less tell us why you decided to do a PhD: I dearly want to live in an Ivory Tower (I also enjoy my topic and the challenge the research presents).

Colm’s Diary: Writing a PhD is a lot like making love to a beautiful woman – sometimes you wish you were writing a different PhD. It’s the nature of the beast (you may have noted that we’ve now moved on from the beautiful woman analogy) that, no matter how interesting your topic of research, there will be occasions where one’s academic drive and vim deserts one. My answer to the ubiquitous question, ‘you there, what is you PhD in exactly?’, usually elicits a very positive and interested response. Upon discovering that I work on 12th century crusader artillery most people display what seems like genuine interest and have follow up questions even though they might be vague or Lord of the Rings related. It seems, however, despite my proud ownership of a topic that breeds such interest (and I do own it, so back off), it is impossible to complete four or so years (three and a half with any luck) without several of those weeks – the ones wherein one single-handedly doubles the number of hits on the Guardian’s website, the paucity of articles on Medieval artillery in that particular newspaper notwithstanding.

The further I progress into my research the more convinced I am that there are two principle challenges to the completion of a PhD Read more

Freeeeeee Nelson Mandela

12 February 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

I woke up this morning with a song in my head. ‘Freeeeeeee Nelson Mandela. Free. Free. Freeeeee Nelson Mandela.’ Twenty years and one day since the ANC leader left prison? Now there’s an anniversary worth celebrating. Too often in recent times we in the West have been quick to criticise the rainbow nation. Has violent crime damaged the reputation of a diverse and massive country, confusing Cape Town with Durban or Johannesburg in the minds of Westerners? Yes. Will the World Cup be ruined by the noise of the vuvuzela? No. Did Thabo Mbeki talk a lot of nonsense about HIV/AIDS? Undoubtedly. Has the polygamous Jacob Zuma sent out a stereotypical message about African men? Probably. Could both have done more to halt Robert Mugabe’s destruction of neighbouring Zimbabwe? Yes. Has the concentration of economic power in the hands of a small group of businessmen caused difficulties for the country’s continued growth? Possibly. Is positive discrimination hindering economic and social development? Maybe. Was it better under apartheid? Eh, no.

There have been thousands of column inches, a film, and much hot air expended on the Mandela anniversary, but there’s one interview that stands out as the most interesting thing I’ve read, seen or heard in the last two weeks. On 22 January the Financial Times published a chat over lunch with FW de Klerk, the man who as South African President made the decisions to lift the ban on the ANC, release Mandela from prison and begin the process that led to majority rule after the first free elections in South Africa four years later. By then de Klerk had won a Nobel Peace Prize (1993) for his initiatives. But did he, in 2010, believe that apartheid was wrong? Read More