By Bram de Jong
Ship logs from the 17th century and contemporary weblogs both struggle(d) with possible shallowness. two ways to cope with this are to brush up- or to make the text more interesting using stratification.*
How can blogs and ship logs be compared?
In Europe ship logs were popular, because they, amongst other things, gave the reader access to another realm, another world. Nowadays we have the weblog where the reader can crawl through in order to reach and experience a broad gamut of experiences himself. These two documents are supported by human experience. The terms therefore are collective and therefore underneath blog and ship log many a text can be placed – almost every text that is placed on a frequently changing forum (in a broad sense). ‘Ship log’, just as ‘blog’ has an overarching function (article in Dutch), but it will always concern a similar kind of text resembling a journal entry. What both terms thus have in common is the common and the daily.
Here I use a ‘do’s and don’ts’-version of the blog. For the ship log I will refer to one of the most famous journals in Dutch history: the journal of Bontekoe (Dutch). The blog gives some tips for people conserving an English country house (although it could be extrapolated easily, considering the recommendations are quite universal). The journal is, at first sight, more sensational also because it is a account of a couple of journeys undertaken by the skipper Bontekoe. How can we name such a specific blog, and what kind of function does it hold? And, what can be said of the ‘shallowness at first sight’? About the journal of Bontekoe there has been a long academic row about the right description: as a journal or as a itinerary. The name-calling is in my opinion not the most important, but what is important however is the manner in which the content is written.
The journey and the ‘re(-)creation’
Both stories speak of a journey, be it a sea voyage, or a train of thought, or an experience. This blog tells that story from a seeming shallow position: “we have the following to advise you.” The format is quite simple, but what is tucked away behind these tips is a lot of knowledge. The layers behind the text are more well considered than it seems. On the other hand, Bontekoe’s ship log was (and is) read by a lot of people as a beautiful itinerary (and it does read as being just that), but probably parts of the story were dressed up with extra information from other sources. Some journals were even completely made up, think of Robin Crusoe (Dutch link) for example. These imaginary itineraries however came on as if they were sincere, so much that they turned fiction into reality for the reader.
A journal therefore can be brushed up: ego-documents (about the self) in general are subject to a high degree of interpretation. We write how we see ourselves and our experiences. In the blog I refer to here the shallow character is nullified by the addition of layers. the journal of Bontekoe it is almost the other way around, there shallowness is sometimes covered by a cloak of style.
A successful blog has, just like every text, the possibility to take hold of the reader. Just like the journal of Bontekoe they make you curious of what is described, they make you want to experience it yourself. English Heritage has provided a possibility with this blog for other people working in conservation to learn something of their long expertise. In addition, Bontekoe’s journal has been published and read many times, there was a lot of interest for this text then. The readers of both texts recreate when reading a journal or blog, and want to re-create what they read. The blog/ship log serves as a pastime and as an accessible source to a New World.
The horr… superficiality?
This blog’s do’s and don’ts seem to be obvious (as in relatively superficial). All in all they are what they are, just some tips to conserve a country house, how niche can one be? But when reading carefully the reader finds the different passages harbor an intellectual and experiential path behind them. The blog gives evidence of a skilful team that operates behind the scenes when, for example, the text treats the restoration of furniture: never trust a local makeshift repairman… In the text we only see the results, but the text is about more than just that. To complement on that, the ship log could also be perceived as ‘evident’ (that is the text can seem not so complex at first). Nonetheless there is a lot to find behind the itinerary of Bontekoe, even if it only is the sailing techniques that can be read implicitly for example.
Products about the human experience can be covered by triviality. It is the task of the reader to search for something more behind this in my opinion, ideas always come from somewhere and in different relations. What an author puts on paper has always a history and a background, a context. the question is how the author acts when he notices superficiality. These examples show that this response can come in at least two forms. One is to make it more interesting or layered, the other is to brush it up. Assumed superficiality of a blog or a ship log can be countered in different ways. In the case of Bontekoe the text was intriguingly written and some good editorial work has been done. In the case of the blog of English Heritage the choice was made for stratification by showing what is behind the text.
Some post-blog explanation:
(Or pre-blog. Depends when you decide to read this)
The link to the article of Davis and Moore about stratification (in this case on a social scale) serves two purposes. The first is to show the possible relations that different layers could have with the corpus. The second is to show that stratification comes in many ways: for example natural, social, but also, as described above, textual. The article, in short, is meant to orient you a bit. Do not however read the article literally, decontextualizing is of course not done.