Thursday, March 31, 2011

Women's History Month ends; this blog blossoms; first request for help

Every now and then, dear reader, I will tell you how this blog is going, recap our collective achievements, outline some of my plans, and ask for your feedback or help. The last day of March, Women's History Month, is as good a time as any to look back, and forward.

I started this blog just over six months ago. My first post read, in its entirety:
On this day 213 years ago, Mary Wollstonecraft died. With this blog, she will live again.
There was a lull over the winter, but the spring has given me, and this blog, new energy.  I have plans, and I'll share some of them with you now.

What it's all for
Women's History Month is an annual festival of forgotten heroines, and serves as a focus for numerous worthwhile educational endeavours. I'm not going to be curmudgeonly about it; I enjoy some of the events put on in its name. But Mary is not just for feminists, a theme that I will keep coming back to. Her political philosophy, working out core principles of human rights and republicanism, is much more wide-ranging. Her travelogue of sensibility pre-dates the Romantics. Her pedagogy was innovative for its day. These contributions have been overlooked or dismissed, perhaps because of her sex, but gradually they are gaining wider critical attention.

I started this blog primarily as a way of creating a meeting place for Mary enthusiasts -- and Wollstonecraft scholars. It is, in effect, testing the waters for a Mary Fan Club or Wollstonecraft Society. Isn't it surprising that neither yet exists? As I said in a recent comment: 
If this blog succeeds in bringing together Mary fans, I am delighted. If this blog succeeds in bringing together paid Mary experts who did not previously know of each other's existence, I am vindicated.

Already this blog has international readers and contributors whose professional lives are entwined with telling Mary's story and interpreting her words for our day. One of my hopes is that I too can make my living,or at least my library fees, from my Mary lore. More immediately, A Vindication of the Rights of Mary will satisfy other intentions:
  • teaching myself blogging, in terms both of content and of form. This is my first serious attempt at a blog for public eyes. I need to keep a reasonable rhythm; I know I can't sustain the previous few weeks of almost daily updates (but so much has been going on!). I want to use this project as a vehicle to boost my technical skills, like capturing the right sort of screenshot, editing and uploading video and audio, catching comment spam, embedding dynamic content I've gathered, analysing the statistics, and improving our Google rankings (the dark arts of SEO, but with the added sunshine of rationalist honesty). 
  • supporting projects, most notably Mary on the Green, the campaign I'm involved with to get her a statue, but also other ventures as I come across them.
  • reaching out, to invite people to join in. From individual blogs, from blog carnivals, from projects such as The Year of Feminist Classics, from Twitter, from Facebook, from YouTube, from official websites of organisations GLAM or otherwise, from academe, from publishing, from education, from politics ...
  • establishing and developing a central repository of material for easy re-use: a list of quotes by and about her, a calendar of dates, a gallery of images, a map, etc.

The first two objectives are well under way. I deliberately haven't done much reaching out, until I felt there was something worth showing, something of substance that the right visitor would immediately want to subscribe to. Now there is, and so outreach will be the next step. The repository can be built up slowly.

I have lots of ideas. There are so many things to write about! I have several series of posts, or themes, in mind. I am wary of being too specific, lest I let you, dear reader, down (and me too). Of course, it doesn't all have to be me: I welcome guest posts and collaborations. Here goes:
  • Wednesday Walks: already published is Somers Town, and written and queued up are St Pancras, Southwark, Spitalfields; in draft form is Paris; and later possibilities are Bloomsbury, Barking, Beverley, even unalliterative Hoxton.
  • Mary & Me, personal essays describing how she came into our personal and professional lives. So far we've had a French philosopher and a Japanese historian; next Monday, though I'm not into huge self-revelation, I will bow to the will of the clamouring throng and tell them a little of how I came to be involved. (Psst! Throng! Clamour a bit louder, would you?) There's also an American novelist and poet who has promised her story. After that, we'll see.
  • I want to showcase creative work, visual and literary, humourous and serious. So far we've had the gentle pleasure of sketches of Newington Green; upcoming, a Mary tattoo, oh yes.
  • There will be regular dollops of research, things I (and others) have found out that are not in the official biographies. A subset of this is Mary's legacy, those people who read her work and found it a turning point, but again, who are not listed as her intellectual heirs. I have quite a few names already. 
  • I want to catalogue and review what is already online, and draw the good sites together, whether they be a personal essay or something more elaborate. There are undiscovered gems on Google Books, for instance. Detailing online treasure troves could be an infinite task, but it ties in well to the outreach. Book reviews could come in here too.
  • It would be a good idea to build in a series of quotes from her, and my reflections, leading I hope to analysis and conversation in the comments.
  • I have a series of essays I want to write, and a more creative project too, though I am hesitant to say more.
  • I want to highlight projects, mine and others', as small as my Twitter biography in #38 days (today, a quarter of the way towards its destination), as big as the launch of Mary on the Green, the campaign to get her a statue. I particularly want to draw readers' attention to time-limited events such as performances and exhibitions, e.g. Shelley's Ghost.
Of course, I can dream of bigger plans:  As I mentioned before, I have aspirations of a Mary Wollstonecraft Museum, or Women's Leadership Centre, or Human Rights Academy. If that doesn't tickle your fancy, what about the Mary Wollstonecraft Girls' School of Kabul? Or Domestic Violence Refuge, or Library for Autodidacts, or Mary's Madhouse for Distressed Gentlewomen? Perhaps this blog will be one step towards these clouds in the air.

Where we are now with the blogstuff
I'm sure this will seem piddling to anyone running a proper blog, but in the last month there have been 775 page views, which astonished me. How did they find it?! Google tells me they've come from all over, not surprisingly predominantly from the UK and the US and Canada, but from many other places, not just Turkey and Japan as one might expect, but from Hungary (!), Russia, France, Germany, the Netherlands (and last year, Morocco). Firefox pips Internet Explorer, by the way, and yes, I did turn on the "Don't track your own pageviews" option. This is the 18th post of March; collectively they have attracted 24 comments from eight people, several of whom I would never have met, online or off, but for this blog. And this is only three weeks in, and without any publicity or outreach.

Within 12 months, I want this blog to come up in Google's top ten, and ideally top five, search results for "Mary Wollstonecraft". It will never knock Wikipedia off its number one spot, but, as I write, the results are, in descending order, the History Guide, lectures on modern European intellectual history; a BBC history page; two from Spartacus; on women's history; a philosophy site; the encyclopedia of informal education; the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Liberal International, "the world federation of liberal political parties"; plus a Google-compiled timeline and gallery of images. No blog shows up on the first several pages. I think we can change that.

A request for help
So, dear double-dozen readers, can you advise me on how to tidy up the blog before I haul it in front of the world?  Does any aspect of it strike you as an infelicity of design? How does it look on your browser? Is there any content missing, something obvious that really should be there? Is there anything that detracts from your enjoyment and understanding of what this is all about, namely Mary Wollstonecraft in her day and in ours? The success of this blog depends on you! 


  1. I am very excited about your ideas, and this blog being a meeting point for MW's fans. Another thing I was meaning to ask you, I was checking out her Wiki page, and I was reading the list of her complete work. Is that all? Are there some missing (I am no expert, just asking)? In addition, the 'Other secondary works' section of Wiki, is that also complete? I am sure there are more academic articles written about her. I think it would be a good idea, whether here or at her Wiki page, to have a complete list of those things.

    Anyway, all of this is very exciting!

  2. Great ideas Roberta. I agree with the previous commenter. Maybe more illustrations?
    Looking forward to future posts!


  3. Roberta: Your blog is mind-boggling. Terrific! Delicious! Odd, but I,too, have lately been mourning the fact that there is no full-blown Wollstonecraft Society. Hopefully this and many other mad-wonderful schemes of yours will come to full fruition. And I like what you say re: Mary being so much more than a feminist. One of her last projects, I read, for example, was to write another book on how to bring up children. Undoubtedly Wm Blake would have illustrated that one, too!

  4. Vertigo, that's an excellent idea, an attempt to make a full compilation of academic articles about Mary -- and, I would add, other serious or substantial contributions. (Not to be interpreted as every undergraduate essay that ends up on the web!) That could be one of the evolving resources we offer the world.
    Åsa, thank you too. I hope you enjoyed yesterday's post on the Hidden photomontage? I have several visual items in the pipeline.
    Nancy, your support has been such a boost to me! I hope this site can feature your work too, over time.

    Everyone else -- more comments always welcome!

  5. I am new to following blogs, but I think this is terrific! I rely on having it delivered to my gmail inbox. All the links work, and I like the tone and Roberta's sense of humour. She has set herself quit a pace - hope it is not too exhausting!!

  6. I love your dynamism, creativity and compelling vision. You go girl!!!