How we find histories in our families

Caitlin Flanagan’s eloquent description of how histories, true or false, operate in families (e.g. Elizabeth Warren’s family):

How many times during my childhood did my father tell me that when his grandmother and her sister sailed to America, they had traveled ‘a class above steerage’? I was a Hula-Hooping child of the atomic age, growing strong on USDA beef and Cocoa Puffs. What did I know about steerage? But I knew my father in the complete and inchoate way that a child knows her parent, and I knew he wanted me to understand something important to him and—somehow—to me. I understood the lesson to be: The Flanagans have been down, but they have not been out. ‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live,’ Joan Didion once wrote. And we tell them inside our families so that something can live within them, some idea or value, some complicated honoring of an elder.

via The Atlantic

On specialization in history

Today most professional historians ‘specialise’. They choose a period, sometimes a very brief period, and within that period they strive, in desperate competition with ever-expanding evidence, to know all the facts. Thus armed, they can comfortably shoot down any amateurs who blunder… into their heavily fortified field… Theirs is a static world. They have a self-contained economy, a Maginot Line and large reserves… but they have no philosophy. For historical philosophy is incompatible with such narrow frontiers. It must apply to humanity in any period. To test it, a historian must dare to travel abroad, even in hostile country; to express it he must be ready to write essays on subjects on which he may be ill-equipped to write books.

Hugh Trevor-Roper, quoted in Norman Davies, “Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations”

Briefly Noted for November 15, 2010

Open Access Week 2010 talk available — The full audio of Mason’s October 20, 2010 Open Access Week panel discussion is now available via our library’s institutional repository. Cliff Lynch of CNI kicks it off at about 4:55. My talk starts at about 31:30 with a shout out to Paul Fyfe’s Open Access Week talk from the day before.

JSTOR Mobile — In case you missed it, JSTOR has released a mobile site. It will be hard to view full page images on the small screen, but the handy “email reference” and “save reference” buttons should make it useful for work in archives and on the go (via ResourceShelf).

Facebook to integrate MS Office Web Apps — The big buzz today is about Facebook’s new messaging service, but what could matter more to teaching, learning, research, and campus life in general is the announcement that documents, spreadsheets, and presentations created in Microsoft Office Web Apps can now be shared and viewed directly within Facebook. Many campuses are considering or have already chosen to sign on to Google Apps. Combined with fact that most campuses IT outfits already know, trust, and use Microsoft products and most students and faculty are already using Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, Facebook integration should make Microsoft’s Live services just that much more attractive and give Google a real run for its money.

Briefly Noted for November 9, 2010

@kfitz and @amandafrench at Bryn Mawr — Friend of CHNM, Kathleen Fitzpatrick and our very own Amanda French will be at Bryn Mawr this Thursday, November 11, 2010 to anchor the National Undergrad Symposium on Digital Humanities. The symposium aims to explore the ways in which “digital publishing can create new openings for undergraduates to enter significant academic conversations.”

Masters Degree in Digital Humanities at UCL — University College, London is offering a new MA/MSc in Digital Humanities. As there are very few degree programs in digital humanities, this is an experiment to watch. According the organizers, the program “will allow students who have a background in the humanities to acquire necessary skills in digital technologies, and will also make it possible for those with a technical background to become informed about scholarly methods in the humanities.” Students will also take advantage of UCL’s location through work placements with libraries, archives, cultural heritage institutions, and digital culture organizations based in central London.

Tenleytown Heritage Trail — I was very happy to return home this week to find nearly twenty new illustrated narrative historical markers in my neighborhood. The Tenleytown Heritage Trail provides a self-guided tour of the “top of the town,” Washington DC’s highest neighborhood. Beginning at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Albemarle Street near the Tenleytown-AU Metro stop, the trail chronicles Tenleytown’s history from its origins as a colonial anchored by John Tennally’s taven, through its key strategic value in the Civil War, to its rich and diverse 20th century history. I hope to get some time to walk the trail before the cold really sets in.

Briefly Noted for November 4, 2010

Jason Scott at MITH — I am extremely bummed I won’t be in town for this. Next week our friends at the Maryland Institute for Technology and the Humanities (MITH) are hosting a two day visit by Jason Scott, computer historian and documentary filmmaker. On Monday November 8th, Scott will introduce a screening of his latest film, and on Tuesday November 9th, Scott will deliver a talk as part of MITH’s Digital Dialogues series. Please see the full announcement for more details. The events are open to the public (that means you).

Geoffrey Rockwell on Method and Theory — In this post about a recent spate of “cluster hires” in digital humanities at places like the University of Iowa and Georgia State University, Geoff Rockwell notes: “The digital humanities, in part because of the need for practicioners with extensive skills, tend to look undertheorized, and it is. It is undertheorized the way any craft field that developed to share knowledge that can’t be adequately captured in discourse is. It is undertheorized the way carpentry or computer science are. To new researchers who have struggled to master the baroque discourses associated with the postmodern theoretical turn there appears to be something naive and secretive about the digital humanities when is mindlessly ignores the rich emerging field of new media theory. It shouldn’t be so. We should be able to be clear about the importance of project management and thing knowledge – the tacit knowledge of fabrication and its cultures – even if the very nature of that poesis (knowledge of making) itself cannot easily (and shouldn’t have to) be put into words. We should be able to welcome theoretical perspectives without fear of being swallowed in postmodernisms that are exclusive as our craft knowledge. We should be able to explain that there is real knowledge in the making and that that knowledge can be acquired by anyone genuinely interested. Such explanations might go some way to helping people develop a portfolio of projects that prepare them for the jobs they feel excluded from. Put another way, there is nothing wrong is valuing thing knowledge as long as we also recognize the value of theoretical critique.”

@alexismadrigal unpacks the Google Books search algorithm — Writing for the Atlantic Monthly, Alexis Madrigal provides insights into how Google indexes book data and uses (or misuses) library metadata.

Briefly Noted for November 3, 2010

@sramsay goes on recordSteve Ramsay argues against anonymity online, asking faculty “to consider whether it’s appropriate for someone who is paid to be a teacher and an intellectual to behave like an Anonymous Coward on Slashdot” and reminding us that we “are not political dissident[s] fearing reprisals from a hostile government.” Something good to keep in mind whenever we start to take ourselves too seriously.

What’s a bigger deal than a $300 smartphone? A free smartphone — T-Mobile is offering the LG Optimus T, a more or less full featured Android device for free with a two year contract. This could really change things, not only for Android, but for those of us building mobile websites and apps for teaching, research, and cultural heritage. For just the price of a monthly contract ($79 for 500 talk minutes and unlimited SMS and Internet), we’ll soon see smartphones in most of our students’, colleagues’, and visitors’ pockets.

Tomboy Notes — It’s the little things that make good software. One of the best little things about Linux/Gnome/Ubuntu is Tomboy, a simple little note-taking package that just plain works. I’m only running Linux about half-time these days—alas, I’ve been forced back to dual-booting Windows for MS Office, easy projector support, etc.—but I’m still running Tomboy full time and syncing across platforms with help of the gtk-sharp and Ubuntu One. There’s a Mac version too. If you’re searching for a good note taking tool, I highly recommend dipping your toe into the Linux bathtub and giving Tomboy a try.

Failing Quickly at Google — James Fallows’s much discussed Atlantic Monthly article on Google and the future of journalism contains this little gem from Josh Cohen of Google News: “We believe that teams must be nimble and able to fail quickly.” Something for managers of teams working in digital humanities and cultural heritage to remember.

Briefly Noted for May 13, 2010

Yet more evidence big associations have lost the plot: watch nine sessions of AAM online for only … $300?!? — The American Association of Museums (AAM) has announced that it will host its first “virtual conference” during this year’s annual meeting in Los Angeles. I understand AAM’s motivation here. They’re surely hoping to recover some of the revenue all big associations have been losing in recent years. AAM is an important institution, so that is an important project. But maybe someone can explain the value proposition of this particular solution to me from a consumer’s perspective. Why would I pay $300 for live web video and chat (when I know can get plenty of that at zero cost through Ustream or plus Twitter) or for post-conference access to recorded video (when YouTube and iTunesU offers content of similarly high quality for free)? I’m not saying the content of the live conference program will be anything but excellent and well worth any time spent on it. But in an age when all of this can be (and is being) done for free, why shell out $300 bucks for it?

Briefly Noted for May 6, 2010

Two Reviews of NARA Civil War Exhibit — Last week The Washington Post and The New York Times each reviewed the National Archives’ new Civil War Sesquicentennial exhibit, Discovering the Civil War. I haven’t seen the exhibit yet myself, but I’d characterize both reviews as “mixed.” Hat tip: Lee White of the National Coalition for History.

The Economist Weighs in on CopyrightThe Economist newspaper makes a very nice, very concise case for copyright reform in a recent leader, arguing for a return to Queen Anne’s statute of 1709-10, “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned.”

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.