I started this blog twelve years ago (30th May 2005). At that point I was academically a Magistra, having just submitted my doctoral thesis, but not yet having been examined on it. As for the Mater, my only daughter was then two-and-a-half. Twelve years on, I have a doctorate in history, and a published monograph, as well as a number of journal articles and book chapters. My daughter is fourteen and has just decided on her GCSE options (which do not include history). But the concept of Magistra et Mater, as a place on the internet where I can discuss my research and also its wider interactions with my personal life and political events, has continued.
In my twelve years, I’ve written nearly 500 blog posts, so what follows is a very brief selection, one from each year, illustrating some of the main themes I’ve written about. (The formatting of some of these suffered in the move over to WordPress, but I hope they’re still readable).
Being a novice parent, I often found my young daughter’s behaviour intriguing. And while the parenting books may tell you about the more obvious milestones, they don’t necessarily discuss some of the more intriguing questions, such as: when does a child work out about how to find a hidden person in Hide and Seek? [However I failed to keep a record of my daughter’s further progress in the matter, so you will have to look elsewhere for the definitive answer].
2006: Ban the Bonnet
Unfortunately, this post, on calls to prevent the wearing of religious clothing (specifically Muslim women wearing the veil/niqab) remains all too topical more than a decade after I first wrote it.
I’ve written a lot about medieval masculinity (the subject of my PhD thesis) over the years, and this is one of many in which I informally try to tease out some of the issues, while also getting distracted by the thought of John Wayne in a mitre.
2008: Dead academic walking
In which I talk about my failure to get an academic post. [Ironically, I did finally get a postdoctoral research post a few years after this, but I am now once again in a non-academic job].
During March 2009, I took part in an event blogging about Judith Bennett’s book, History Matters, with a series of posts inspired by reading it. This not only ended with an invitation to contribute to the Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe, but the posts I wrote were also the seedbed which eventually led to my latest project, on the long-term persistence of patriarchal structures.
Most of my time since 2005 has been spent working as a librarian. I haven’t blogged much about librarianship, except in 2010 when I took part in the University of Cambridge libraries “23 Things” Web 2.0 programme, which involved blogging about social media tools. This post was inspired by the programme, and reflects my increasing interest in the digital humanities.
Although I don’t think of myself as primarily a historian of sexuality, it has often been a theme of my blog posts, especially puzzling over what kind of historical categories we might use when discussing sexual acts and identities.
One of the most influential books on early medieval history I have read since starting the blog is Chris Wickham’s Framing the Early Middle Ages. Or rather, it’s one of the most influential books I’ve partially read. In order to work my way through its nearly 1000 pages and keep my bearing, I started blogging the book chapter by chapter as I read it. Although it helped my focus, it has also revealed to everyone, including Chris, that more than seven years after starting reading and blogging his book, I still haven’t finished it.
Having started my academic career researching masculinity, I’m now working more on women’s history and this is one of a number of posts I’ve written picking away at ideas of female agency, domesticity, emotions and patriarchal structures in the Middle Ages.
I’ve often tried to show how my academic research overlaps with my personal life: here I wanted to provide a case study of how my views changed on a particular social and moral topic.
Once again, modern and medieval events collide in my mind in bizarre and resonant ways, here bringing together David Cameron’s Piggate scandal and the ninth-century difficulties of Louis the Pious and Lothar II.
2016: Bigamy and bureaucracy
One great advantage of a blog post is that you can easily bring together very different historical periods and bounce them off one another without having to do extensive historiographical footnotes. Here Victorian novels meet late medieval France, with a bit of Martin Guerre thrown in.
As well as different periods bouncing off one another, it’s also interesting to bounce different cultures off one another. One of the things I still enjoy about blogging is that it will let me play around with ideas in this informal way and keep a record of them, in case any come in useful later.
My blogging frequency has varied a lot over the years, depending partly on what other writing and paid or unpaid work I’ve been doing as well. And I’m conscious that it’s becoming easier for me to repeat myself, especially when I’ve revisiting ideas on gender I’ve been considering for a dozen years or more. But I’m still mostly finding blogging interesting, and I plan to keep on doing it, if not for another twelve years, than at least for a few years more.