Introducing Rainbow Stumps

The lovely people at Stonewall UK have made huge strides in combating homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in football through their Rainbow Laces campaign. However, that’s just one sport among many. I’m much more interested in rugby (where Gareth Thomas and Nigel Owens have already done great work) and cricket. I’m delighted to report that Stonewall’s new cricket-related campaign, Rainbow Stumps, launched today.

The plan is to have representation at T20 matches around the country all through this week. There are both men’s and women’s matches taking place. The good folks at Sky Sports are also on board. Look, here’s Bob Willis:

(For the benefit of non-cricket people, he’s always that sour.)

Athers, Bumble and Naz have also got in on the act.

Of course the whole point is that LGBT+ people want to be involved in sport too. That meant that Stonewall needed to find people with a passion for cricket. How could I refuse? Here’s my contribution.

The timing is rather unfortunate. I would love to be down at Taunton on Saturday to cheer on Somerset and Western Storm, but there is a small matter of a Worldcon keeping me here in Helsinki. Sorry folks.

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Beware Fake Hugos

I understand from Kevin that there is an event being promoted on Facebook that offers a link to live streaming of this year’s Hugo Award ceremony. This is fake, and will probably lead to a site loaded with malware. Details of how to follow the text-based coverage that Kevin and I will be providing are here. There is no official link for the convention’s video-based coverage yet, but when it is available it will be posted on the Worldcon 75 website.

Update: the official live stream will be via YouTube at this address.

Posted in Awards, Conventions | 1 Comment

Toilets in Helsinki

One of the things that worries people most about visiting a foreign country is making sure they use the correct toilet. As you will have noticed from my videos, major venues such as the airport and Messukeskus doing the usual signage thing, which is fine unless you come from a country where men traditionally wear skirts and/or women trousers. However, bars and restaurants around the city may use words instead of pictures, or just have letters like they do in St.Urho’s, the fannish pub. So which door should you use?

Persons who are male-identified should use the door marked M, or Miehet. You may also see H or Herrar if the venue’s preferred language is Swedish.

Persons who are female-identified should use the door marked N, or Naiset. You may also seen D or Damer if the venue’s preferred language is Swedish.

Gender neutral toilets are very rare here.

Of course some places may try to be cute and use other terms, in which case the best advice I can give is to lurk and watch who uses which door.

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Friday Night is Cruising Night

On the first Friday evening of each month proud car owners in Helsinki bring their beloved vehicles to the harbor where they can be admired by others. Otto and I took a trip to see the show. Here are some pictures.

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Jukka Rintala Exhibition at Didrichsen

Didrichsen is an art museum in a wealthy suburb of West Helsinki. It was originally the home of Marie-Louise and Gunnar Didrichsen who collected art and cultural artifacts. As they got older they decided to turn their home into a museum so that everyone could enjoy the things they collected.

The particular passion was sculpture, and the museum has several Henry Moore pieces as he was a personal friend of the Didrichsens. There is also work by Eila Hiltunen who is most famous for the Sibelius monument in Helsinki. Much of the sculpture is in the garden. Inside there are some paintings, including one Picasso. There is also a small collection of ancient items from Latin America and the Far East.

However, the main item in the museum right now is an exhibition devoted to the work of artist and fashion designer, Jukka Rintala. He’s made a lot of dresses for models and actresses, and has also done quite a bit of theater work. Here are some photos. Enjoy!

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Pasila Station and Messukeskus – the Worldcon 75 Venue

Four years ago, when Helsinki was first bidding to hold Worldcon, I did a video tour of the venue. You can find that here, but a few things have changed since then so I thought it would be worth re-visiting the venue. In particular you may have heard scare stories about construction work. Thankfully that turns out to be pretty much a non-event as we don’t need to go near the parts of Pasila station that are being dug up. Of course the room allocations that I mentioned in the older video may have changed too, but I didn’t have facilities staff around today to explain things.

Here is the latest video, in which I manage to mispronounce Messukeskus in a variety of spectacularly wrong ways.

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Camille Auer Exhibition – Trans in Finland

Today’s Helsinki Sanomat had a huge feature on Finnish trans artist, Camille Auer. Her photo took up the whole of the front page of the culture section, and there was a big article inside which is reproduced on their website (in Finnish, obviously). Naturally I had to visit the show.

The exhibition is fairly small, and is mostly installations, which may or may not be your cup of tea. The two biggest are both about the process of medical transition. One is made up of empty packaging from the vast amounts of medication that trans people have to take. It might not seem much on any one day, but it builds up quickly through your life. The other is made from (heavily redacted) letters from various medical people. They are all in Finnish, but I knew the sort of things they’d say.

Trans medicine is evolving slowly, and these days most Western doctors don’t think that merely being trans makes you insane. However, in order to get treatment, you have to prove that you are mentally disturbed because you are unable to live in your assigned gender. It is a degrading process.

In Finland things are worse on at least two counts. Firstly the country has naming laws, so if you want to change your name you have to apply for permission. Secondly, because Finland’s law about changing your legal gender is very old, it is necessary to prove that you are infertile before you can do so. That’s not necessary in the UK because our law is more modern (though still very much lacking compared to the newer Irish law).

Any trans people passing through Helsinki for Worldcon might want to pop in to give Camille some support, but mostly I hope that lots of Finnish people check it out. Their laws need an overhaul.

The exhibition, rather delightfully titled Antiphallic Dick, is at the Project Room at Lönnrotinkatu 35. It is open from 11:00-18:00.

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Helsinki – Airport to City by Train

A whole lot of you will be flying into Helsinki for Worldcon over the next few days, and will be wondering how you get from the airport to the city. So I made a video of what I did when I arrived. For the princely sum of €5 you can get a train from the airport to either Pasila, the station by the convention center, or Helsinki Central. The full journey takes just 28 minutes, and the trains are very frequent. Here’s how it is done.

Update: In answer to Lynn’s question in comments, the schedules are available online here. The trains have a gap in service between roughly midnight and 5:00am, but there are a number of bus services that full the gap. The 615 is half-hourly through the night.

Posted in Conventions, Finland, Travel, Video | 2 Comments

Sheffield Uni Does LGBT History

The History Department at Sheffield University has a great blog called History Matters. Right now they are doing a series on LGBT history and there is some excellent content already available.

In “The Past is not a Straight Line” Bodie A. Ashton makes the case for history being far more queer than most people think.

In “Tim Farron, the Bible and Queerness” Jo Henderson-Merrygold takes issue with the former leader of the Liberal Democrats over what the Bible actually says about gay people.

And in “Earinus: A Roman Civil Rights Activist?” I talk about one of my favorite Romans, a young eunuch whose sense of his own masculinity was so strong that he may have persuaded the Emperor Domitian to ban child castration.

Much more great content will be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

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The Emma Newman TV Clip

I promised you the clip of Emma Newman and I being interviewed on the Crunch the Week show on Made in Bristol TV. Here it is.

I think Emma did a fabulous job. Also you get a great view of my octopus necklace. Thanks as ever to Steve LeFevre for making us so comfortable.

Of course Emma didn’t win the Clarke, but being a finalist is a huge achievement and there’s no shame in losing to a book that has already won a Pulitzer. I am continuing to keep my fingers crossed for the Hugo.

And while I’m here, my radio interview on BBC Bristol is currently available on Listen Again. You’ll be able to find it here for a few days.

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Inside Transgender Pakistan

That’s not my title, it is the title of an episode of the Crossing Continents series on Radio 4. In it, BBC journalist Mobeen Azhar talks to a variety of trans-identified people in Pakistan. They include Kami Sid, a well known trans model, members of a traditional Khwaja Sira group (similar to India Hijra), and Mani, a trans man.

The most interesting thing to me about this is the contrast between trans debates in Pakistan and those we have here. In Pakistan the Khwaja Sira tradition dates back at least as far as the Mughal Empire (1526-1857), probably a lot further. Though they may live as women, Khwaja Sira identify as third gender, in a large part because their definition of “woman” is based on the ability to procreate. As the radio interview shows, modern Khwaja Sira take a dim view of Western trans people who identify within the gender binary.

In contrast, in the West, what little tradition we have is based in a highly medicalized view of trans identities in which only those people who identify as men or women have been seen as valid. These days we are seeing a lot more visibility in the West of people who identify outside of the gender binary. Some binary-identified trans people, such as TV presenter India Willoughby, look down on non-binary people in very much the same way that older Pakistani Khwaja Sira look down on binary-identified trans people.

The lesson from this should be obvious. Trans people come in many different types. How they identify can vary enormously, and may in part be determined by the culture in which they have grown up. One person’s view of their identity should not invalidate anyone else’s identity. There’s enough room in this world for all of us, and goddess knows we have enough enemies without fighting among ourselves.

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Radio Tomorrow

Tomorrow morning my colleague, Berkeley Wilde, and I will be on BBC Radio Bristol with Dr. Phil Hammond. We’ll be talking fairly generally about the work that The Diversity Trust does, and more specifically about LGBT+ things that are in the news. I expect to get asked about Trump’s attempted ban on trans people serving in the military, and about a recent vicious attack on a homeless trans woman in Bristol.

The show begins at 9:00am and I’m expecting to be on at around 9:45. You can listen online, and the show should be available through the Listen Again service for several days after broadcast.

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World Fantasy Award Finalists

The finalists for this year’s World Fantasy Awards have been announced. Locus has the full list.

I’m very pleased to see Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country on the Novel list.

The Long Fiction list looks very familiar. Huge kudos once again to Lee Harris and his colleagues at Tor.com for some amazing output. I am, of course, rooting for Seanan.

The Short Fiction contains a name that was new to me: G.V. Anderson. However, the excitement on Twitter soon revealed that she is local, living in Dorset. Not only that, but she had been at BristolCon last year. In fact she had attended a writing workshop with Gareth Powell. Her story, “Das Steingeschöpf”, is her first professional sale.

Clearly we have an emerging talent here. I’m keen to get her to Fringe at some point, though we are booked up for this year. Maybe I’ll get to chat to her on the radio as well. I need a recommendation for the best spicy pizza in Bristol.

Finally it is great to see Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction by Michael Levy & Farah Mendlesohn getting some recognition. As many of you will know, Mike succumbed to cancer in April of this year. He was a lovely bloke, and I’m very pleased to see his work being honored in this way. Very best wishes to Farah too. When you write a book with someone you get to know them very well.

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Me v Trump

This afternoon Bristol 24/7 asked me if I would write something about the current fuss over trans people serving in the military. So I did.

Somehow I doubt that I’ll have any impact on US politics, but it is useful to point out that trans people are being used here. We make up only a very small percentage of the population. We cost the countries in which we live very little, and we try very hard to be law abiding because we know we’ll be punished far worse than non-trans people would be if we get caught breaking the law. And yet we keep having these media panics about how powerful, dangerous and expensive we are. The reason for this is that we are one of the current most popular media bogey groups. Some day it will be better, but doubtless only because some other luckless minority group finds itself in the spotlight. We need to become better human beings and stop falling for this nonsense.

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Bristol Together For Grenfell

By August 4th I am going to be in Finland, but the good people of Bristol have chosen that day to show their support for, and raise money for, the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. It should be a great night. Ujima is busy promoting the event and our Station Manager, DJ Style, is one of the acts giving their time for free to help the appeal. Tickets are available here.

If you can’t make it to the event, you can still support the main Grenfell appeal.

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Time To Destroy Science Fiction Again

As if the poor thing hadn’t been destroyed enough already…

Who is at it this time? Why, it is Disabled People. Yes, that is a Kickstarter link. The whole thing is being managed by Uncanny magazine, who have an excellent track record in this sort of thing. Because of that, they are already almost half way to their goal after one day. But don’t let that put you off, because of course there are stretch goals.

Fly, little Space Unicorns, FLY!

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BristolCon Fringe – July Readings

Our July event began with our good friend, Justin Newland. He gave us excerpts from two separate works.

The first excerpt was from his published novel, The Genes of Isis. This is from a section later in the book where the Apocalypse is well in progress and our heroes have fled Egypt for sanctuary in Babylon.

Excerpt two is from the start of a work in progress, the novel set in Ming Dynasty China from which Justin read the prologue at the Open Mic.

Headlining July was a new name to most of us: Virginia Bergin. She is a Bristol-based writer of YA science fiction. Her third novel, Who Runs The World?, has recently been published by Macmillan. It is set in a world in which a virus has rendered human males all but extinct and the world is run by women. Naturally it is a far better place. Or is it?

The Q&A went on rather a lot because that’s what happens when I get to talk with someone about feminism. I certainly found the discussion with Virginia interesting, and I’m looking forward to reading her book. Hopefully she’ll be on my radio show in the autumn and we can dig into the issues a bit more deeply.

There was discussion of apocalypses and their attraction for readers, particularly teenagers. Given that the announcement that The Doctor would be regenerating as a woman had been made the previous day, we also discussed whether science fiction had been ruined forever and the world of Virginia’s novel was now inevitable. For reasons that will be obvious once you have listened to the podcasts, there was also some discussion of pornography.

In the announcements we congratulated Jo Hall, Roz Clarke and Pete Sutton for their places on the British Fantasy Awards short lists, and wished Emma & Pete Newman best of luck in the Clarke and Hugos.

We had a new voice recorder for this event. It has a better directional microphone and therefore should do a better job of eliminating background noise. Of course we do need to get used to it, which is why the sound on the first of Justin’s readings is a bit off. Hopefully we’ll be better in future.

The next Fringe meeting will be on August 21st. It will feature Lucy Hounsom and Dolly Garland.

Posted in Feminism, Podcasts, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

Free African Science Fiction

The fabulous Geoff Ryman has persuaded the Manchester Review to do a major feature on African science fiction. It came out over the weekend, but I have saved it to blog about until today so that more of you will notice.

The feature is in two parts. The first is an anthology of 21 stories published in the Manchester Review itself. The other is a collection of links to 21 other stories already available for free elsewhere online.

This is a splendid collection, and well worth your time.

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World Champions


Picture from Cricinfo

There is a hashtag that is familiar to all fans of the San Francisco Giants. That hashtag is #torture, and it refers to the way in which the Giants, three times recent World Series Champions though they might be, have tended to strew their path to victory with agonizingly tight games. England’s journey to triumph in this year’s cricket World Cup has had strong elements of that too. There was the hard-fought defense against Australia, and the last-gasp run chase against South Africa. Would the final against India produce a similarly dramatic game? Neutral fans of cricket all over the world were hoping so. The rest of us were just hoping that we’d still be breathing by the end.

Lords, I’m pleased to say, was packed. Or at least it was save for the Members’ Pavilion. Tickets available to the public were sold out, but a large space of prime viewing area is reserved for members of the MCC. There is a massive waiting list for membership, and as a consequence the majority of members are old men. They didn’t seem interested in women’s cricket. More fool them.

It was clear from the start, when the first ball from Jhulan Goswami barely managed to limp its way into the waiting gloves of Sushma Verma, that the final was not going to be a run fest. It was overcast at Lords, and while the general agreement was that Heather Knight was correct to bat first on winning the toss, Ian Bishop’s pitch inspection held out hope of conditions that would favor bowlers.

England got off to a slightly rocky start, losing three wickets for just 63, but they bat deep. Sarah Taylor and Nat Sciver, both of whom have registered big scores in previous matches, began to build a partnership. There was a brief period of rain that had the Lords ground staff looking nervous, but the umpires commendably kept the players out having been told the shower would soon pass. Then, 83 runs into the partnership, disaster struck.

Or rather, Goswami did. Taylor aimed to flick a ball off her pads, but got only the lightest of touches and the ball dropped neatly into the waiting gloves of Verma, now standing much closer to the stumps. Fran Wilson had been the batting hero of England’s loss to India in the group stages of the tournament, but Goswami was determined that wasn’t going to happen again. First ball she send a swinging yorker in that rapped Wilson on the shins plum in front. Catherine Brunt produced a dramatically solid forward defensive to prevent a hat trick, but the damage was done. Brunt, Gunn and Marsh provided some useful runs, but England could only limp to the end of their innings rather than charge.

The team talks over lunch must have been fairly straightforward. England’s total of 228 was short of what was achievable on this pitch, and rain was forecast for later in the afternoon. They needed to take wickets. India had to make sure that they stayed ahead of the Duckworth-Lewis target just in case the game was cut short. For a long time both teams failed to do what was required. England got two early breakthroughs when Anya Shrubsole bowled the out of form Smriti Mandhana for 0, and Mithali Raj was needlessly run out, but Punam Raut and Harmanpreet Kaur steadied the ship. The trouble was that they did it slowly, and the required run rate was beginning to climb. Jenny Gunn, who conceded just 4 off her first four overs, was a major factor in that.

Fortunately for India, Kaur is the most destructive batter in women’s cricket, as her 171 against Australia had shown. Eventually she felt confident enough to start to cut loose. But, as so often happens, a milestone undid her. Shortly after reaching 50 she smashed a ball from Alex Hartley straight into the waiting hands of Tammy Beaumont. It was a glimmer of hope for England. From then on the match was down to who had the most belief.

A strong partnership between Raut and Veda Krishnamurthy took India to within sight of victory. Heather Knight rotated her bowlers, hoping that one of them would have that spark of magic that could create another breakthrough. Eventually she found one in Shrubsole. The first two balls of her comeback over were dispatched effortlessly to the boundary by Krishnamurthy. Then there was a single. And then a ball that rapped Raut on the pads. The Indian batters took too long to decide to ask for a review, but it wouldn’t have mattered as the umpire’s decision to give Raut lbw was sound. India needed just 37 runs. They had plenty of time, and six wickets left, but England, or rather Shrubsole, sensed victory.

Krishnamurthy tried to go deep against Shrubsole, but only found Nat Sciver on the mid wicket boundary. Verma lasted just two balls before being bowled by Hartley. Shrubsole took revenge for her Western Storm teammate, Wilson, by bowling Goswami first ball. Shikha Pandey’s run out showed that panic was setting in among the Indian batters. Their one ray of hope was 19-year-old Deepti Sharma. She looked calm and collected amidst the chaos. When she refused an easy single to keep the strike next over it looked like the act of a mature batter taking responsibility. Shrubsole, however, has way more experience and knew what to expect. A slower ball fooled Sharma who was early on the shot. Nat Sciver gratefully pouched the catch.

Even then the drama wasn’t over. India needed just 11 runs to win. They still had 11 balls in which to do it. Poonam Yadav blocked the next ball. The one after she chipped to mid off and Gunn, unbelievably, spilled a simple catch.

Shrubsole remained calm. Rajeshwari Gayakwad doesn’t bat 11 for nothing. All it needed was one good ball, and by now Anya was in the groove. The ball was delivered, Gayakwad’s stumps went flying, and the stadium erupted.

Figures of 6 for 46 easily earned Shrubsole the Player of the Match award. I may have noted that she was born in Bath and plays for Somerset and Western Storm. Tammy Beaumont, having the biggest run haul, was voted Player of the Tournament. Heather Knight, in her first major tournament as captain, got to lift the trophy.

For India it was a case of so near and yet so far. They have twice got to the World Cup final, and lost both times. For them the key moment was their heroic demolition of Australia. That got the attention of the media back home, and was a major reason why the TV audience for the final was 50 million. Here’s hoping that the BCCI now invests in the younger members of the squad (Raj and Goswami will both be retiring soon) to ensure that they are even better prepared next time.

If you would like a far better report than mine of the day, I warmly recommend Melinda Farrell’s piece for Cricinfo.

So there we have it. Women’s cricket has proved conclusively that it can deliver top class entertainment and superb skill. The Kia T20 league will be starting soon, though sadly I will be in Finland for much of it. Here’s hoping that the media continues to take interest.

Of course in all such things we have to remain vigilant. England’s women rugby players are also world champions. Doubtless they too expected life to be onwards an upwards from then on. But today the news broke that the RFU has cancelled all of their contracts. Apparently they think they don’t need to pay their players between now and the next world cup. For all the glory that women on the pitch might garner, it can mean nothing if that doesn’t result in more women in management.

Update: I am reliably informed by someone who was at the match that the Members Pavilion at Lords is inhabited primarily by the older (mostly over 60) MCC members. There is also a Members area in the New Warner Stand, and this is inhabited by the younger (mostly in their 50s) MCC members; the sort who might take their families to a game. This area was very well populated, so clearly there is hope for MCC in the future.

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Creative Histories Revisited

I was so busy on Thursday, and so tired on Friday, that I didn’t cover the Creative Histories conference very well. Therefore I’m going to look back over days 2 and 3 so I can highlight some of the great presentations we had. (I looked at Wednesday in more detail here.)

Thursday opened with Ronald Hutton who is the UK’s leading authority on the history modern paganism. I was particularly struck by what he had to say about how even being suspected of having pagan sympathies was sufficient to damage his academic career, and make it difficult for him to taken seriously as an expert witness on the subject. This is very reminiscent of how trans academics are treated when we try to say anything about trans-related issues. I’ll have a lot more to say about this in a post I’m writing for Will Pooley’s blog.

The other morning session on Thursday was all about creative writing. Nick Barratt, who is one of the historians who works on the hugely successful TV ancestry series, Who Do You Think You Are?, talked about the tension between entertaining the public and doing good history. We also had presentations on story structure and performative story telling. This is a very long way from the traditional structure of academic writing, but of course an essential skill if you do want to tell a story rather than present an argument.

After lunch I headed out to the Other Lecture Theatre, which involved a trek through the zoo. We had a couple of papers on maritime history, and got to see an amazing quilt made from very small squares so as to reproduce a pixelated image of a portrait of Nelson.

The final session was mine, but I was preceded by two excellent papers. Sonja Boon talked about the difficulties of writing about the history of slavery when some of your ancestors were slaves. Obviously that connects with my comments above about doing pagan and trans history. Joe Krawec is researching 20th Century British industrial history, but as a comics fan she is keen to use sequential art in presenting her research. Her paper was about telling history through comics, and the process of learning to produce them. The title of her paper, “Punching Hitler: comic books and their uses for the historian”, will take a lot of beating.

Friday opened with a session on criminal history, though it might not have sounded like it from my tweets. The first paper was about the Digital Panopticon, a project to make a huge number of 18th and 19th century criminal records available online. The second paper was all about how the techniques of journalism can be used to tell stories from history. And paper three told a fascinating story about how a man convicted of murder in Shanghai later became a minor celebrity in London.

After lunch we had a guest presentation from biographer, Julia Blackburn. She talked about how she writes her books, but also in some detail about her latest subject, artist John Craske. He certainly makes for a fascinating story. Here’s Blackburn talking about her subject in The Guardian.

After lunch we had a session on digital projects, which included the OutStories Bristol LGBT History map. The other papers were about the Many Headed Monster blog, which looks great but is not my period, and about Experiencing Arcadia. The latter is a lovely project about an 18th Century garden that has been let down by some poor IT choices. Historians, of course, are generally not well informed about IT issues, and can easily go down the wrong path.

I need to spend more time writing apps, but I have no time.

There were, of course, many other sessions. The conference had either 2 or 3 streams most of the time. Some of the other sessions looked very interesting. I’m still working on bi-location.

The final session of the conference was a round table looking back on the themes of the conference. There seemed to be general agreement that it was a good thing that historians should be more creative when presenting their work, though admittedly the group was very much self-selected. I’m rather surprised that the idea of a PhD By Published Work doesn’t exist in history. Nicola Griffith has just done a really interesting blog series about her journey towards getting one of those.

The big problem from the historians’ point of view is that being creative is all very well when you have an established reputation, but for anyone starting their career it is a major risk because you will get called out for not being “objective”. For us non-professional academics, being creative is a lot easier, but we run the risk of not being taken seriously by historians who are in academia. Ultimately it is all about hierarchies and gatekeeping. People make rules about who is allowed to do what history, and how they are allowed to do it, to try to limit the types of stories that get told. Conferences like this kick back against such strictures, and I’m delighted to see Bristol University taking the lead in doing that.

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