Blogs – between negligence and palaver

During the semester I followed two blogs, which cover subjects I did some research on: urbanism and the history of psychotropic drugs.


The Old Urbanist is a blog by Charlie Gardner. He breaks down various phenomena of urbanism into pieces short enough to read en passant, yet they are thoughtful, mind-provoking, and often well illustrated. Gardner does a good job in enriching his texts with graphs, tables and pictures. The posts mostly tackle contemporary problems of urban planning and zoning. Personally, I was most interested in his reflections on historical examples of urbanism like the use of bridges or the grid raster. I was initially attracted by this post on the history of patterns of urban planning in Europe and the US. The comparison of Berlin’s typical Mietkaserne neighborhoods, and various American block styles was interesting, and it left me hungry for more on. Unfortunately the post from June is still the most recent on The Old Urbanist. When Gardner started the blog as a grad student of Urban Planning in December 2010, he published almost weekly. By now, new posts appear in monthly or even half yearly distance. This points to a common problem with blogs – the frequency of posting usually declines within a few months.

While I stumbled over The Old Urbanist through a google-search, I visited Joanna Moncrieff’s blog after I read her study on psychotropic drugs for a research project on the history of a pharmaceutical company. As the title “The Myth of the Chemical Cure” suggests Moncrieff is a outspoken critic of big pharma, stating that the industry constructed terms like depression, or bi-polar as a disease. The blog is part of her personal website and appears a realm to publish personal reflections; roughly she does so every two to three months. Her posts contain footnotes and almost exclusively text. A trained psychiatrist herself, she dedicates most posts to subjects like drug effects and health politics rather than the history of psychotropic drugs. Two exceptions are a review on Gary Greenberg’s readable “Manufacturing Depression: The secret history of a modern disease,” and a post on the origins of the English mental health asylums. She’s not a trained historian and the texts are packed with bias but still worth reading. 

Dan Cohen’s “The Social Contract of Scholarly Publishing” left me thinking about the value I personally attribute to blogs compared to printed publications. I certainly didn’t conceive the blogs as serious as a journal paper, but the posts seemed to be valid as a way to let the public participate in a “work in progress”. The writing of a blog post might help a scholar to sum up his research in a compact form, while the comment section force to rethink and reevaluate interpretations. Blogs likely work best as a form of palaver: a prolonged discussion.


1st year MA student in Public History, Northeastern University

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