Briefly Noted for April 29, 2010

IMLS UpNext Wrapping Up with Discussions about the Workforce and What’s Next — The IMLS UpNext project has entered its final two weeks with open forums on two new topics. In the first, Joanne Marshall of UNC leads a discussion of the shape of 21st century library and museum workforce. In the second, Larry Johnson of The New Media Consortium considers how the conversations started this spring at UpNext should move forward in the weeks and months ahead and encourages each of us to be the change we wish to see (my words—actually Gandhi’s—not Larry’s). Join in to let IMLS know where you think the museum and library fields should be headed.

Paleofuture on NPR — Anyone interested in the history of science and technology, cultural history, science fiction, or the crackpot fantasies of generations past should subscribe to Paleofuture. To get a sense of what you’ll find there, have a listen to this recent segment of NPR’s All Things Considered with the blog’s author, Matt Novak.

Flash Support Coming to Android — It seems the death of Flash has been greatly exaggerated. Apple’s refusal to support Flash on the iPhone and iPad have been cited by some as signaling the demise of Adobe’s much loved and hated web development and display environment. Now comes news that the next version of Google’s quickly growing Android mobile operating system will fully support Adobe Flash. This is not only the latest salvo from Google in its tiff with Apple (though the timing of the announcement just after Apple’s announcement of iPhone OS4 is certainly intended to tweak the folks in Cupertino). It’s also important news for the hundreds of educational and cultural websites built in Flash and currently inaccessible to users of the latest generation of smartphones. I’m not a great lover of Flash (in fact quite the opposite), but I also find Apple’s refusal to support the technology on the grounds they are defending open standards more than a little specious. Moving forward, I’d rather see dynamic websites and video delivered via open technologies like HTML5. But for now I’m happy I’ll be able to visit the many educational and cultural websites already built in Flash on my Nexus One and that those institutions may not feel compelled to choose between a hasty reworking of entire swathes of their content or being lost to the growing numbers of mobile web visitors.

Briefly Noted for April 28, 2010

On "Uninvited Guests" — As I tweeted when it was first posted, Bethany Nowviskie’s “uninvited guests: regarding twitter at invitation-only academic events” is “*the* must-read Twitter-at-conferences post.” But it’s more than that, of course. It’s also a nuanced unpacking of the ways in which new, technologically-driven modes of scholarly discourse are colliding with older, analog modes—in particular how Twitter disrupts closed academic gatherings and how closed academic gatherings disrupt the ethical assumptions and practical expectations of the Twitterverse, which by default takes all discussions to be open, public, and distributed. Unusually, however, Bethany doesn’t take a strong side in these disputes, treating seriously the concerns of both traditionalists (who cherish the intimacy, privacy, safety, and efficiencies of closed meetings) and the Twitterati (who often view closed meetings as elitist, counter-productive, and just plain suspicious). This is refreshing. What bothers me most in most discussions of these issues is the righteous indignation of both defenders of private meetings/opponents of Twitter and defenders of Twitter/opponents of private meetings. Issues of public v. private and discussions of who’s in and who’s out are always very complicated, and indeed are made more complicated by new media, and anyone who claims to know the “right” answer is just full of it. So how’s that for righteous indignation?

Briefly Noted for April 27, 2010

Be Your Own Privacy Settings — Recent missteps at Facebook and Google Buzz have put privacy on the front burner of conversation among internet watchers and digital humanists of all stripes, including this one. To be sure, there is lots to criticize in the way big social media companies have handled their users’ supposedly private information of late. But @vambenepe makes a very strong case that the energy directed at shaming Facebook and its peers into shaping up would be better spent on reforming our own social media habits (and, I would argue, those of the students in our charge). He writes, “Yes you should have clear privacy settings. But the place to store them is in your brain and the place to enforce them is by controlling what your fingers do before data gets on Facebook. Facebook and similar networks can only leak data that they posses.” Good advice.

"Twitter Archive is Nothing Without Tools, Funding"Digital Campus listeners will already know my take on the Library of Congress Twitter announcement. But for those who missed our most recent podcast, I was also quoted on the matter in an article in Read Write Web entitled “Twitter Archive is Nothing Without Tools, Funding.” #shamelessselfpromotion

Open Source Community and the Omeka Controlled Vocabulary Plugin

I love open source. Why? Here’s a fairly representative example.

Following Patrick Murray-John’s excellent post and bootstrapping of a new AjaxCreate plugin for Omeka, I speculated on the Omeka Dev List about whether some related technologies and methods could be used to power a plugin to handle controlled vocabularies and authority lists, something Omeka currently lacks and our users (including internal CHNM users) really want. After some back and forth among developers at three institutions—and some very important input from a non-technical but very smart (and very brave!) member of Omeka’s end user community—we were able 1) to determine that AjaxCreate probably wasn’t the right vehicle for managing controlled vocabularies, and 2) to lay out some informal specs for a separate, lightweight ControlledVocab plugin. Patrick then set to building it and today introduced an alpha version of ControlledVocab to the dev list.

All of this happened in less than a week. Through the combined efforts of developers and users, the Omeka community was able to identify, describe, and make some ambitious first steps toward pluging a hole in the software. The moral of this story is get involved. Whether you’re a developer or an end user, go download some open source software (Omeka would be a nice choice), test it out (how about the ControlledVocab plugin?), post bugs and feature requests to the forums or dev lists, and see what ensues.

Often it’s something marvelous.

Briefly Noted for April 23, 2010

An Asset Bubble in Higher Ed? — Michael Feldstein (currently of Oracle and formerly of SUNY) argues that we may be seeing an asset bubble in higher education of the kind that recently burst in the housing market. Taking Anya Kamenetz’s observations about the problematic economics of higher education one step further, Feldstein argues (with substantial facts and figures to back him up) that the price of a college degree may well have risen “out of proportion with the rise in its intrinsic value,” the defining characteristic of an asset bubble. More frighteningly, he posits the possibility that the bubble may burst, leading to “large and painful contractions in college budgets leading to layoffs, cuts in services and the closing of a significant number of colleges.” Scary.

Steven Johnson on "The Glass Box and the Commonplace Book" — Writer Steven Johnson has an interesting post comparing the well-regarded early modern intellectual practice of “commonplacing,” which he describes as the habit of “transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations,” to the early blogs of a decade ago, which were similar compendia of serendipitous inscriptions and insights. He contrasts this kind of annotative reading to the kind that can be done on Apple’s new iPad, a “glass box” which does not allow for easy clipping, moving, and reworking of text. We’ll see how the iPad changes reading and blogging, but I have noticed that the more I use my fairly “glassy” and keyboardless Nexus One for web browsing, the less likely I am to blog or email or bookmark what I find there. It also occurs to me that this whole “briefly noted” thing I have going is a little like commonplacing, and I should probably do more of it.

Briefly Noted for April 21, 2010

edUi Call for Proposals — edUi has posted the CFP for its November 2010 conference in Charlottesville, Virginia. edUi provides a forum for user interaction and experience designers to talk about designing for institutions of learning including higher education, K-12 schools, libraries, and museums. Full disclosure, I’m on the speaker selection committee. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a great event.

Oxford Bibliographies Online — I shutter to think that this is what counts as innovation in today’s university press. Tell it George Sarton, who started publishing the Isis Current Bibliography of the History of Science in 1913. More from Ars Technica.

Digital History and the Public History Curriculum

A knowledge of digital history theories and methods is quickly becoming essential for public historians. More and more, digital history is a required part of the public history graduate curriculum. A panel at the (now-not-so-recent) meeting of the National Council on Public History featured public history students engaged in this new digitally-infused curriculum.

Organized and chaired by our very own Jeremy Boggs, the panel included one student from American University’s M.A. Concentration in Public History, Leah Suhrstedt, and two students from New York University’s M.A. in Archives and Public History program, Adina Langer and Lauren Gutterman. I was lucky to be asked at the last minute to provide a brief comment on what turned out to be three inspiring presentations. Two things stood out in each talk, both of them relatively simple but important insights for faculty and administrators organizing public history courses or programs.

First, it was clear from the students’ experiences that teaching and learning digital history involve good measures of risk and trust on the part of both faculty and students. In teaching something as new, changeable, and diverse as digital history, faculty have to give students freedom to try new things and make mistakes, to challenge traditional modes of work, and experiment with new kinds of knowledge creation and dissemination. At the same time, students have to accept this risk and trust themselves and their potential to engage new technologies and master new skills. To paraphrase Langer’s presentation, “Its about leaving the gate open, about teaching students how to teach themselves.” In fact, this should be a comfortable role for seasoned public history instructors. As Suhrstedt suggested in her presentation, as professionals working in mostly small and underfunded organizations, we have all been asked at some point in our careers to do something for which we were completely unprepared by our graduate training. Public historians are already scholars, public intellectuals, fundraisers, teachers, community activists, therapists, and on and on. Becoming a digital public historian is really just adding another hat to the rack.

Second, teaching digital history is not just about teaching students how to build websites. New modes of publishing and the technologies and programming languages required to mount history on the web are important parts of the digital history curriculum. But teaching students to be digital public historians means teaching them when and how best to use digital technologies in all aspects of public historical work. It’s about teaching new pathways for the entire public historical endeavor, including exhibiting history online, but also how to use digital media for community outreach, fundraising, project management, and even advocacy, something Suhrstedt demonstrated in presenting her work with the National Trust’s social media campaign. Tellingly, Gutterman’s presentation of her work with was almost exclusively about outreach. The lesson of these projects is that the digital should be taught not just as new mode of dissemination, but a new mode of engagement.

Both of these thoughts have rattled around in my brain for some time, but it was only with the help of Langer, Gutterman, and Suhrstedt that I can put them to paper (or pixels, as is really the case). Fortunately for public history faculty faced with incorporating digital history into their public history curricula, both insights point to digital history not being all that different from traditional public history. Risk, trust, and engagement are all very familiar concepts to veteran public historians, something that should give us confidence in weaving the new digital history more tightly into our programs.

Briefly Noted for April 8, 2010’s New Look — If you haven’t visited recently, take another look at CHNM’s National History Education Clearinghouse (NHEC) at The NHEC team has spent several months completely redesigning CHNM’s one-stop history education portal. The result is easily one of the best websites we’ve ever built. Congratulations to all!

CHNM to Build Transcription Crowdsourcing Tools — Congrats to Sharon, Jim, and the Papers of the War Department 1784-1800 team on NEH’s recent award of a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant to support the design and development of software for crowdsourcing documentary transcription. A much needed tool and the right people to build it.