Scattered Links – 3/16/2009

I’ve been closely following the history blogging roundtable examining Judith Bennett’s History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism. Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar kicked things off with Should politics be historical? Should history be political? Then Historiann kept the ball rolling with Who indeed is afraid of the distant past (and who says it’s distant, anyway)? A call to arms. This week Claire Potter at Tenured Radical posted part three, Teach This Book!, with part four appearing soon at Blogenspiel. I’ve found the series instructive, given my embarrassing lack of knowledge of historiography in general, and feminist (not to mention medieval feminist) historiography in particular. A lively comment-debate about generational issues followed Notorious Ph.D.’s posting, which Historiann expounded upon in part two (and included an interesting suggestion of social history’s potential for comparative women’s studies). Tenured Radical delves into why feminist historians might gravitate towards more recent history, while championing queer history as a partial solution to some issues that Bennett raises. The history/academia blogosphere could benefit from more roundtables such as these.

Deviant Art supplies an amusing cartographic comic on the progression of World War II. My favorite part? “We talked about this before, mon ami.”

Lisa Spiro at Digital Scholarship in the Humanities gives a great two-part wrap-up of Digital Humanities developments in 2008. Part One sounds a triumphant note, including “Emergence of Digital Humanities” and “Community and collaboration,” while Part Two is more sobering, discussing continued resistance to open access and other new scholarly models, along with the erroneous and Grinch-like litigation by EndNote against Zotero.

Scientists compiled a clickstream map of “scientific activity” (along with other disciplines) that creates a visualization of how users moved from one academic journal to another. The visualization shows how different disciplines tend to cluster around one another, and I was impressed at the degree of interaction in the humanities and social sciences (although I would have loved to see more fluidity between humanities and more “hard” disciplines).

It reminded me of Sterling Fluharty’s insightful take on using quantitative methods to rank history journals based on citations, which the clickstream map avoided due to inconsistent nature of citations across disciplines.

Finally, the Economist’s Technology Quarterly profiles Brewster Kahle in “The Internet’s Librarian” and his quest to build “Alexandria 2.0,” a free digital archive of human knowledge.

Scattered Links – 10/26/2008 (Writing Edition)

“Why I Blog” by Andrew Sullivan is a great overview of one blogger’s story. I think he articulates a lot of viewpoints that I share. For one, he talks about the inherent risk of blogging, with the lack of a safety net and vulnerability that comes with voluntarily making your thoughts and words open to the world: “But blogging requires an embrace of such hazards, a willingness to fall off the trapeze rather than fail to make the leap.” I occasionally wonder whether mentioning my blog in grad school applications would be seen as a positive or a negative. Like it or not, there are still a lot of academics who mistrust blogging.

Happy two-year blogiversary to Claire Potter at Tenured Radical. In another “Why I Blog,” she recently posted a wonderful piece about the rewards and challenges of academic writing. One of my favorite excerpts:” Blogging also allows me to write short pieces, work on form, voice, and getting complex ideas across to an audience that I need to entice in order to keep them reading. I sometimes compare it to a pianist playing scales: to the extent that blogging is not, perhaps, the most serious scholarly form, to take it seriously is to become a better writer.” Although comparing blogging to playing scales certainly dampens the enjoyment of the process, it’s certainly encouraging to think that it’s actually good for me as well.

Ian Kershaw wrote a breezy article in the Washington Post musing about how he approaches writing history. He follows a very meticulous routine, which apparently allows him to produce around 2,000 words a day. Impressive stuff. The article also makes me wonder what percentage of academics are regular coffee drinkers. 90%? More than the population at large? Less? Coffee seems to be the true backbone of American higher education.

At Edge of the American West, Scott Kaufman has a great post detailing a talk he gave on a “Blogging and the Academy” panel. The post is noteworthy for both its strong content, but also his choice of posting the paper as he used it to give the talk. As such, it does not read as a typical academic paper: “when I write a talk, I write a talk. I don’t write an essay that just so happens to be read aloud.” Great words of advice, and ones that I wish more academics would take to heart.

Finally, at the Chronicle of Higher Ed, Thomas H. Benton’s “Yearning After Books” discusses academics’ increasing anxiety over the supposed disappearance of the written book. Benton articulates a common nostalgia for the tactility and tradition of a book, especially compared to increasing digitization efforts. At first I rolled my eyes at this antiquated notion, but then realized (after stopping at a used book sale and giddily leaving with four of them) that despite my best efforts, I haven’t yet eradicated the snobbish academic reverence for the bound volume.

Scattered Links – 9/6/2008 (Map Edition)

The Washington Post ran an article on the separate efforts of Dan Alexander Hawkins and Dan Bailey to map historical Washington. In the words of the article’s author, “The two men came to their fascination with Washington’s history by very different paths — pencils vs. pixels — yet sometimes their goals appear nearly identical.” The article is well-written, and offers a real glimpse into the rewards and challenges of historical mapping, whether digital or analog. Also, I really need to get a tour of UMBC’s Imaging Research Center.

Meanwhile, the University of Richmond’s Voting America project has been getting some play in the blogosphere. I have not had the chance to fully play around with it, but Sterling Fluharty at PhDinhistory has reported problems when testing the site for accuracy compared to separately compiled statistics. I’d be interested to see if this issue gets resolved.

Finally, on a non-history note, if anyone likes beautiful infographics and maps, take a look at Aaron Koblin’s Flight Patterns. Koblin’s graphics of North American air traffic patterns appeared in Wired magazine and are very well-done. Be sure to not only look at the images, but watch the accompanying animations as well (my favorite is the 3-D blobular).

Scattered Links – 8/21/2008

Lisa Spiro has posted a great recap of her presentation “Doing Digital Scholarship” at the Digital Humanities 2008 conference. The presentation “focuses on a project to practice digital scholarship by relying on electronic resources, experimenting with tools for analyzing and organizing digital information, and representing ideas through multimedia.” All in all, I think the blog post is a wonderful introduction to digital scholarship, both as an overview and a jumping off point for further ideas. Spiro really displays that crucial trait necessary for a digital humanist: a seemingly unlimited willingness to try new approaches.

Errol Morris has yet another interesting post about interpreting photography and identifying fakes, inspired by the faked photographs of Iran’s missile launch several weeks ago. Also, if you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend his three-part series “Which Came First,” which details his attempt to uncover the truth behind Robert Fenton’s famous “Valley of the Shadow of Death” photograph of the infamous Light Brigade skirmish. What I liked most about it was his microscopic attention to detail and an open willingness to crowdsource, as over a thousand people responded and lent advice, tips, and clues. He even did a recap of these comments, which shows a real embrace of the power of collective intelligence and digital media.

GOOD Magazine has put up an extremely sleek and user-friendly interactive graphic titled “Wanderlust: GOOD traces the most famous trips in history.” Included among these are not only the standard fare of Lewis and Clark, Charles Lindbergh, and Marco Polo, but also fictional accounts such as Pequod from Moby Dick, along with Journey to the Center of the Earth. Although I will point out that it’s phenomenally Euro/American-centric, I do applaud its interface and design. This rivals some of the NYTimes’ recent gold standard information graphics as far as usability, style, and depth.

Finally, if you’d like to get worked up and indignant, read Edward Luttwak’s “A Truman for our times.” His thesis is almost comical: “While anti-terrorist operations have been successful here and there in a patchy way, and the fate of Afghanistan remains in doubt, the far more important ideological war has ended with a spectacular global victory for President Bush.” But what makes me downright irate is his complete hijacking of history. In a characterization that smacks of imperialism, ignorance, and borderline racism, he breezily describes eight hundred years of Chinese history in this pithy statement:

“That describes everything that the Chinese are not, and have never been. The Chinese empire was aggressive and expansionist under the Yuan dynasty and again under the Qing. But one dynasty was established by horseriding Mongols, the other by horseriding Manchus, both the products of foreign warrior cultures. The Han Chinese prefer other pursuits. Perhaps they will change, as cultures sometimes do.

Historical determinism and unprofessionalism at its worst. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if he then pulled a Lawrence of Arabia and ended with “A little people, a silly people – greedy, barbarous, and cruel.”

Scattered Links – 7/20/2008

Bill Turkel wrote a thought-provoking post titled “Towards a Computational History.” I agree completely with his section on collective intelligence. A lot of digital history spells out the methodology of tools and technology, but the more theoretical shift in production and dissemination of information is of course equally important to the future of the field.

Eric Rauchway wrote a great article for The New Republic explaining why parallels between John McCain and Teddy Roosevelt fall flat.

One of the pleasant benefits of taking a break from school and having a 9-5 job (along with a peaceful 45 minute metro commute each way), is that I can read  a ton of books that aren’t assigned to me by a course syllabus. A Pulitzer Prize, along with some interesting blog reviews, have placed Daniel Walker Howe’s What Hath God Wrought onto my short list. For similar reasons, Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher has been added as well.

Finally, Matthias Schulz of Spiegel Online has an interesting article on how the myth of Cyrus II as a pioneer of human rights developed. Schulz attacks this particularly insidious piece of propaganda, and isn’t afraid to take issue with heavyweights such as the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Shirin Ebadi. The historian in me appreciates his revisionism, but would just like to see his sources.