Briefly Noted for April 8, 2008

Friend of CHNM, Stan Katz provides some perspective on The Emergence of the Digital Humanities in his excellent Chronicle of Higher Education “Brainstorm” column. presents 1000 years of British history through a series of film clips organized along three parallel and interlinked timelines, one each for social, political, and national (English, Irish, Welsh, Scottish) history. Very high quality content (originally filmed for the BBC) distributed in a very popular format (the timeline). And a pretty slick website to boot.

Open Source Decade. Ars Technica recalls Tim O’Reilly’s 1998 “Freeware Summit” where “open source” first emerged as a term of choice in the free, open, libre, etc. software movement.

Briefly Noted for March 11, 2008

How to make a Leyden jar out of a two-liter Coke bottle, from MAKE Magazine.

Top Ten Moments in Sitcom History. I think you’d have to put Lucy and Ethel’s stint at the conveyor belt at the top of the table, but a good list nevertheless. (Thanks, Jerm.)

Prolific “junior ranger” Chance Finegan on the history of Mt. Rainier National Park.

Keeping with my management kick, here are 14lessons from 37signals for good digital project management and organizational development.

Netscape RIP

So long Netscape. You were a good friend (for a while). Though official support for the first widely used web browser ends next week, Netscape’s hapless stewards at AOL have kindly left us a lasting(?) memorial. The Netscape Archive offers a brief history of the browser and a download page for discontinued releases of the software. But even the Archive’s creators acknowledge that you’re better off downloading Flock or Firefox.


Mark Fortner, an open source web developer who blogs at IdeaFactory, has stumbled upon a potentially useful new analytical construct for historians. In a post entitled “WTF Moments in Java History”, Fortner introduces the concept of the “WTF moment” in which contemporary observers and later analysts of historic events can only exclaim “WTF.” He writes:

History is littered with WTF moments — the last election, the day Al Gore invented the internet, and the day I learned that teen aged dinosaurs had been having sex. The History of Java development is littered with such moments.

Unless you’re a hard-core Java geek, you many not find the rest of Fortner’s post particularly interesting. And I’m sort of joking that the “WTF moment” could really be useful to practicing historians. Nevertheless, I do think Fortner is on to something. At the very least, he has put his finger on one way by which ordinary people remember the past.

Happy Birthday "Blog"

Yesterday was supposedly the tenth anniversary of the coining of the word “blog.” These kinds of anniversaries (of terms, practices, social phenomena) make for very easy newspaper copy and very bad history. It’s obviously impossible to date the first time a word was spoken.

But to the extent that these bogus birthdays get history into the papers, I think they’re probably OK. Newspapers and magazines cover events not movements or conventions, and these artificial anniversaries serve to turn complex stories of (often gradual) change over time into something more clearly newsworthy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as writers use the anniversaries as hooks to draw their editors and readers into a larger narrative and don’t claim too much for the events themselves. Most of the time, I think they do a good job. Once you get past the headlines, you can find a lot of decent history in these happy birthday cards.

After 10 Years of Blogs, the Future’s Brighter Than Ever.