It’s ok to live in the past…Hisdoryan, Claire
It was within a community of likeminded women that I found my place in the blogging world. Through carefully chosen hashtags, I was guided towards my niche – one that holds a particularly special place in my heart: women’s history and the women writing it. Lighting up the night sky with a new constellation of bright, learned women, Claire (known by the alias Hisdoryan through her fantastically-performing and wholly-informative blog) founded the #HistoryGirls movement on social media (a supportive community for female history bloggers, connecting enthusiasts all over the world) – and in doing so married the love of old with all that’s new and dynamic. A guiding light in the world of history blogging, Claire creates engaging posts on the latest history books, period dramas and historical travel inspiration. I was fortunate enough to catch Claire on her wave with a few questions that I concocted, the insightful answers to which I hope will encourage others with an interest in history. In the spirit of women supporting women, the accompanying illustrations are hand-drawn and exclusively produced for this feature by my dear friend, Jenny Nixie Dale – based on Claire’s welsh heritage and personal historical interests.
- How did you get to Hisdoryan; what has your journey with history and blogging looked like?
I think my blogging story is a bit of an unusual one. Basically the year before last I had a bit of a mental breakdown. I couldn’t really function and I definitely wasn’t coping with life. I had to take some time off work, and during that time I started church crawling, having been inspired by some great accounts on Instagram. I decided to start micro-blogging on Insta myself, before moving into blogging ‘proper’. As well as enjoying blogging it was a way to challenge my brain and get it working again.
I’ve always loved history though. When I was little I remember going on holiday to Tenby and asking to go to the Tudor Merchants House – not any of the children’s attractions! It was inevitable I would study history at university, and I also taught it for a bit. I do think history is a bit addictive. Once you’ve got a taste for it, you’re hooked!
- From your perspective, what do we need to be talking about more from history, life or otherwise?
I’m going to be totally contrary and say I think we need to be listening more!
People are talking more than ever, and the rise of the internet and social media has enabled lots of new conversations and sharing of information. This is great, but at the same time there are so many voices out there sometimes people just end up shouting to be heard. Sometimes I think we need to stop, listen more and actually have decent conversations.
- Do you find any topics or themes particularly challenging; what would be your advice for approaching these?
I do find topics around race and identity a bit challenging, on the basis that I came from a part of the world that is not very ethnically diverse and wasn’t really exposed to different cultures and stories growing up. I don’t feel informed enough to fully comment on these issues but I do make an effort to learn more and read widely.
That would be my main advice – to read! Make the effort to learn more. And be open to listening to different views and opinions. That’s when the most interesting discussions happen.
- If you were hosting a fantasy historical dinner party, who would be at your table and why?
Great question! I would have to have Owain Glyndwr there, to find out what really happened to him. I’d also invite Oscar Wilde for the wit and banter, and maybe someone like Leonardo Da Vinci as I imagine his conversation would be so interesting. And then the iconic Elizabeth I to keep them all in order!
- What was the impetus behind The History Girls? How has this community grown?
One of the reason I loved micro-blogging on Instagram in particular was the fact I could connect with like-minded people of a similar age who also loved history. I have an amazing set of friends, but no-one who loves history quite like I do! It was great to talk to people about what they thought of the latest history book or period drama.
It started as a hashtag – #historygirls – which grew so much I had to set up a separate account for the activity. It all started last May (2019) and now the hashtag has had well over 5000 uses, which I find mind-blowing. The idea behind it was basic really – the hashtag was an easy way to find and share content from other female history bloggers. The account is just another way to share what we do.
- For you, why is engagement so important; how do you encourage others to pursue their interests?
To me engagement and community is what makes the whole blogging thing worth it. One of my main aims with my blogging is to connect with fellow history lovers – not to make money or anything like that. I think having that ‘target audience’ in mind has totally helped with my engagement. I know who I’m writing for and what they like.
To me, engagement is like anything else in life – you get out what you put in. The relationships and friendships I have gained through blogging mean so much to me, but its taken time to develop those. Its all totally been worth it.
- Following your activity to date, its impressive to see what you’ve achieved within the history blogging niche. Where do the ideas come from and how do you manage these?
I must admit most of the time I don’t feel like I manage. I work a demanding full-time job alongside the blogging, and sometimes something has got to give unfortunately.
It’s going to sound selfish, but a lot of my ideas come about because of something I need or want. For example, there’s lots of book clubs and bookstagram activity on Instagram. I was looking for an online book club specifically for history lovers, thinking there must be one because historical fiction is a really popular genre. But there was nothing. That’s when I decided to set up The History Bookshelf – my latest project. I thought if I wanted to find a book club like that, other people must too.
- Let’s talk welsh history – what should I really know that I probably don’t?
Where do I start?! When I get asked a question like this I really don’t know where to begin!
The first ever million pound deal was made in Cardiff Bay. Thomas Jefferson could speak Welsh. Cardiff hasn’t always been our capital city (in fact, we didn’t have one for a very long time).
- Which historians do you most admire; professional and amateur?
In terms of published historians, I would have to say Nathen Amin and Estelle Paranque. Nathen is THE expert on the Beauforts, but he hasn’t taken the ‘traditional’ historic route. It’s really inspiring for someone like me who doesn’t do history for a day job. I also chose Estelle as her drive and determination is inspirational.
In terms of amateur, I know it sounds corny but I admire all my fellow history girls. It’s tough blogging on top of the day job. Seeing them smash it keeps me motivated.
- When it comes to telling stories in a digital age, which is your preferred platform and why do you feel it has the most potential?
At the moment I am loving my online blog. There’s so much info out there about how to write and structure your content differently across all the various social media channels for maximum impact, but with your own blog you don’t have those restrictions.
If I had to choose a social media platform, I would choose Instagram. It’s where I started out and the visual nature of it makes it easy for everyone to engage with your subject matter. I know everyone curses the Insta algorithm, but the app always has new features which are great to experiment with too.
- You’ve just started a book club, how does it feel to launch new projects and share them with the community?
Very scary. However much planning you do, you can’t make people engage with or participate in your project. You just have to trust that your idea is going to ‘fulfil a need’, and then put the work in in terms of remaining consistent and engaged.
I would say that promotion and consistency is key. I’ve seen lots of bloggers try to launch new hashtags and the suchlike, but then only promote it for a week or so and wonder why it hasn’t taken off!
- To date, which article are you most proud of; how did this come about and together?
Just generally I like comparing my older and newer posts and seeing how my writing has evolved, but if I had to pick one I would pick my post which was an online tour of the popular Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition at The V&A. It won me a blogging prize at the end of last year, so I am particularly proud of it.
- If you could present a history documentary, what topic or life would you choose to explore?
Another great question! I would love to do a programme exploring the history of the British Isles, but making sure that it took a truly British approach and looked at all of the nations, not just England. It would be great to compare and contrast what was happening in different parts of the British Isles at the same moment in time, and use native and local historians, showing different perspectives of the same historical events and periods.
- When it comes to pursuing your interests, what would you say to anyone looking to run with this?
If you are interested in getting into history blogging then my fellow History Girls member Elizabeth has just set up a website called Smart History Blogging which is full of tips – I totally recommend you check it out.
If you would like to learn more about Welsh history I always recommend A History of Wales by John Davies – I call it my Welsh history bible. And Louvain Rees is a Welsh historian who is very active on Twitter and is well worth a follow.
I would personally like to thank Claire for taking the time to answer these questions and can wholeheartedly encourage you to visit her blog, www.hisdoryan.co.uk. If you would like to meet members of The History Girls (including myself!), Claire has put together a blog directory of our community here – those mentioned have featured in her informative newsletter which you can sign up for on her website.