part-time musings

Tag: History

A lesson in writing simply. Also hoopoes

Things have moved on a little since you last caught me moaning about the horrors of taxes and January gloom. It’s now February which is slightly less gloomy and I’ve progressed from editing one mega-chapter to editing a different mega-chapter. There are some days when only genuine fear of the General Editor keeps them from merging into the same thing in my mega-chapter-befuddled brain. I feel I may be rambling. Which is a not altogether inaccurate reflection of my current writing style.  Anyway, there are some things I should tell you about the current mega-chapter:

1. The hoopoe Yes, it may surprise you to hear that this chapter in the field of Business History featured a hoopoe.  This is what a hoopoe looks like in case you’re wondering:

For reasons that are obscure even to myself, I accepted a dare from some of my colleagues to try to sneak a hoopoe past the amassed ranks of senior academic editors who hold the mega-chapter even closer to their hearts than I do. I succeeded for a while through the use of an extended although fairly strange metaphor about King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, and a distant land that may or may not have been Equatorial Guinea.  However we all eventually grew tired of the hoopoe and he had to go.

2. Simple. The hoopoe-hating senior academic editors managed somehow to persuade an eminent historian to comment in detail on the mega-chapter.  No doubt this was the highlight of his working week. I’ll spare you the full horror of the dissection and give you a generalizable snippet of advice that I gleaned from the experience:  write more simply. The eminent historian made a large number of suggestions about changing complicated language (I try) to more simple language. Such as negatively affected to harmed, and provide an account to describe. There’s some useful point there somewhere about writing, meaning, and confidence. If you know what it is maybe you could let me know in nice simple language.

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UK Legislation website

As an historian who mostly works on Africa, I sometimes look enviously at the resources available to historians working on Britain.  The new online archive of UK legislation from 1267 to the present is pretty envy-inducing. Hosted by the National Archives, it’s fully searchable as well as having this great ‘browse legislation by year’ feature, which is useful for tracking legislation across a time period and certainly beats wrestling with Blue Books and the Government Gazette.  And it produces nice shiny graphs that are lovely to look at, like this.

Great Resource for Historians. Australian Newspapers online 1803-1954

Historians working on Australian are doubtlessly aware of the great online archive of Australian Newspapers managed by the National Library of Australia –  http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper – but it’s worth considering even if you’re working on a non-Australian topic.  I’ve, for example, had real success recently using the archive for some research on South Africa in the 1940s because newspapers such as the Canberra Times and the Melbourne Argus sometimes carried fairly detailed reports of events elsewhere.  The site’s search facility works pretty smoothly, and it’s possible to save articles in lists or as PDFs.  Scanning hasn’t yet been completed for all newspapers for the entire period, but the period is covered overall if you’re not concerned with sticking to one particular newspaper.  The aim ultimately is to scan all the papers completely, and an overview of progress can be found here http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/about