Perspex Armour

When my writing has been criticized, I retreat behind academic armour. This is partly a ‘positive’ effect. ‘Positive’ not in the sense of being a good thing, but in the sense that it leads to additions. Things like more evidence, or more caveats. Things like more authoritative names. Things like footnotes. Footnotes convey weightiness. They parry, but they […]

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Put Yourself at Risk

Creative writing manuals agree that great writing comes from vulnerability, and conviction. Why should history be the exception? This vulnerability does not have to be explicitly autobiographical, although it can be. In her book The Extraordinary Work of Ordinary Writing, Jennifer Sinor connects her own experience of keeping a diary with her struggle to make […]

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Forgetting the archive

Historians use archives to uncover things that societies have forgotten.[1] This is why the archive is at the heart of how historians think about writing. To read the monumental work of the early-modern historian Keith Thomas, for instance, can often feel like being confronted by a patchwork of documents, carefully cut and stitched back together.[2] […]

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This One Cool Trick

Have you ever had the experience where you only realise what a piece is really about after you have finished writing it? This can feel hugely frustrating, as it often means that the writing you have done must be jettisoned. But it reveals a deeper truth about the writing process: sometimes I do not know […]

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Everyone knows that is Rule #1 of creative writing that you should show, not tell. Let the facts speak for themselves. Avoid narrative ‘exposition’. Show things happening in front of your reader’s eyes. Great advice. Except for academics. One of the most common problems I face reading other academic historians is that I cannot easily […]

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Reading Notes

I have recently started planning and recording my time in 30 min blocks for every day. It’s partly a response to being very busy with teaching, and partly out of a sense that I wasn’t getting what I wanted to do done. On recommendation, I read Cal Newport’s Deep Work, which addresses the importance of setting […]

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