Three months into building this website, and a long way from completion, the question arises ‘why am I putting this together’?
In truth, I never set out to create a website. My original aim was to just write this blog about my research. I believe that historians are enormously privileged to be able to spend their time researching and writing about topics that they love. I’ve been fascinated (obsessed) with the Napoleonic era since I was a teenager reading Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s novels. To be researching it fulltime is a dream come true.
I also believe that with the privilege should come responsibility. If historians are the ‘custodians of the past’, then it is only right that others benefit. Until fairly recently, many historians lived in isolation from the public, writing books that would only be read by a handful of academics.
Fortunately, times are changing, and there has been a move towards ‘public history’ –making history, and historical research, more accessible to the public. As a teacher, parents would often say to me: “Oh, I used to love history when I was at school!” Yet that learning seems to end once people leave school. Public history tries to do something about that.
Writing a blog, then, fitted nicely with that idea. However, the more that I planned the blog, the more I realised that what I was writing wasn’t going to make sense if I didn’t explain the historical context. How were people going to understand (or care) about the siege of Badajoz if they didn’t know how it fitted into the story of the period. I therefore decided to write a summary of the Peninsular War (which my research focuses on). The more that I thought about it, the more detail that it seemed to need, so the idea of a website was born.
However, to understand the Peninsular War, you have to know about the Napoleonic Wars, so the idea started to snowball, and eventually turned into a website on everything between 1789-1815.
There is still a burning question though: ‘Why wouldn’t you just use Wikipedia?’
I am well aware that, if this website was going to be successful, it has to have an ‘USP’. So I decided to turn this website has to be a hub on the Napoleonic Wars.
I want this website to be a place where people can ask any questions (regardless of how simple they think that they might be), knowing that they will be answered clearly and respectfully by experts. I want people to be able to argue about the way that we have remembered and interpreted different aspects of the period. I want people to be able to find out more, kindling and building on that interest by visiting attractions and organisations.
I want this website to inspire, to ignite interest, and develop understanding. Whether you are a researcher, or one of those people who loved history at school, I want you this to be useful to you.
Public history only works if it connects with, and meets the needs of, the public. So please get involved. Join the discussions in the forum. Leave comments. Spread the word.
We should all be custodians of the past.