One Out of Three Ain’t Bad (News)

Or, Friday Fun Times

One scientist drowned and another was eaten by hyenas
Serena Golden, “‘The Warcraft Civilization,’IHE, 12 Feb 2010

An interview with sociologist William Sims Bainbridge, about his new book on, yes, WoW. Very smart stuff:

Q: You also argue that virtual worlds merit attention as an area of study in themselves – and of course The Warcraft Civilization represents a step in that very direction. Why should we study virtual worlds, and what might we hope to learn?

A: Many reasons, but here are mine. Each well-designed virtual world is based on a coherent theory of human society, history, and our options for the future. Thus, this is like an entirely new field of literature or a laboratory that develops and tests social theories with actual human beings, somewhere between philosophy and social science but also with utopian qualities. For example: Pirates of the Burning Sea is set in the Caribbean in 1720 and reflects a general view of society often called political economy. A Tale in the Desert, set in a kind of utopian ancient Egypt, illustrates principles of industrial supply chains, and fits theories of technology as ritual originally proposed by anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski. Star Trek Online (which opened only two days ago) is based on the cultural relativist principle “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.” Tabula Rasa expressed a well-developed ideology of space exploration, and our avatars were actually taken up to the International Space Station. Of course The Matrix Online was built on European theories of false consciousness. In the 1960s I started studying utopian communes and relgious movements, because I saw them as valid if risky experiments on new directions for humanity. That’s what virtual worlds are today.

An iPad is a glorified web kiosk.
David Parry, “The iPad and Higher Education,” ProfHacker, 8 Feb 2010

Aka, Good reasons to loathe the iPad, Apple, etc. Relevant excerpts:

For me, this is the real crux of the matter with the iPad: it is designed as a beautiful, wonderful, easy to use media consumption device. But I don’t want my students to be only media consumers. To be successful engaged citizens with control over their own life path, they need to be critical consumers and creators of media, not passive consumers. This device is designed for passive consumption.

But let’s be clear: these are locked devices… educational appliances, not educational computers. …what makes them revolutionary is that they are in fact a step backwards from the way that the web has operated.

And finally, for all those new profs, old profs, and wanna-profs
Thomas H. Benton, “The Big Lie About the ‘Life of the Mind’,” CofHE, 8 Feb 2010

A humanist from the Chron of Higher Ed keeps it real. This one goes out to all my colleagues who believe what their teachers tell them:

If you are in one of the lucky categories that benefit from the Big Lie, you will probably continue to offer the attractions of that life to vulnerable students who are trained from birth to trust you, their teacher.

Graduate school in the humanities is a trap. It is designed that way. It is structurally based on limiting the options of students and socializing them into believing that it is shameful to abandon “the life of the mind.” That’s why most graduate programs resist reducing the numbers of admitted students or providing them with skills and networks that could enable them to do anything but join the ever-growing ranks of impoverished, demoralized, and damaged graduate students and adjuncts for whom most of academe denies any responsibility.

Image cite: slayerphoto, “Venus flytrap,” Flickr, CC License


Frayed Friday Fastenings

Or, Some Stuff I Found

Some links to take you through the weekend:

Kate T., “NARA calls for public comments on how it can be more ‘open’,” ArchivesNext
The U.S. government’s main record keeping body wants input on their “Open Government Plan,” a transparency initiative. Due by March 19th. Official press release.

Priyah Chhaya, “Historian 2.0: Find the Past Through Social Media,” PreservationNation
Social media habitus of an historian. Gratifying to know that others are online as much as me.

Steven Vider, “The Divided States #1: Pennsylvania Mania!The Lazy Scholar
In the spirit of the WPA guidebooks and Sufjan Stevens, the Lazy Scholar is going state by state to identify digital archives that express the character of that state. He’s up to two states so far.

Jonathan Stray,”Jürgen Habermas not on Twitter,” Information, Culture, and Belief
Self-explanatory.  Stray also has smart things to say about the internet and journalism:

I think a news organization has to do original reporting in some form to be worthy of the name. To develop authority and convince its audience to listen, it probably has to let its reporters expertise shine through. What newsrooms don’t seem to understand yet (and Google does) is that filtering is just as useful, if not more so. Running or rewriting wire copy does serve to inform the reader, but linking is far more efficient for the newsroom and far more useful to the reader. Any organization that wants readers to come to its site first can ill afford to pretend that the reader doesn’t want the rest of the web too.

Massimo Pigliucci, “Podcast Teaser: Can History Be a Science?, RationallySpeaking.org
Aaaaargh. argh argh argh. Note that it doesn’t occur to them to actually talk to an historian, instead of a Hari Seldon wannabe. That would only be, like, rational. I mean, it’s not like we’ve thought about this problem or anything. Maybe they will in the podcast itself, we’ll see. So far, I’m not impressed.

And a couple of smart ProfHacker posts:

Erin E. Templeton, Silence is Golden,” ProfHacker
Great advice on how to get students to talk in seminars (or how to deal with their silence constructively).

Billie Hara, “Reflexive Pedagogy,”ProfHacker
A smart, short piece on how to lead students to make meaning out of what they have learned, to own their educations. I especially liked the suggestions for how to improve end-of-semester evals so that they help students, too.

And to finish things off, some NPR Fanfic (no, seriously):
Nestra, “Wait Wait Don’t Eat Me,” Archive of Our Own

Image cite: Flickrohit,Rivets,” Flickr, CC License


An Historian’s History of Howard Zinn

Or, Still Starting in on the Bibliography

I never spoke to Professor Howard Zinn, though I did hear him lecture once, in college.

It was a disappointment; I felt I had grown since getting fired from my first job at fourteen for reading The People’s History at work (his books among others, hiding in a stopped elevator between floors), but that he had not grown with me. His arguments were still the same, the world still very simple.

Even more boring were the sad attempts at rhetorical fireworks my fellow audience members made, kowtows with nine syllables instead of nine bows. I’ve only grown further apart from his work as I’ve continued to hoe my own row in history, for reasons that Michael Kazin’s 2004 piece on it in Dissent, which many have cited this week, explain better than I could.

But that doesn’t mean his work — especially A People’s History — isn’t important, either to me or to the profession or to the American public. If you’ll excuse my borrowing yet another writer’s words to explain myself, I think Scott Eric Kaufman’s take is entirely the right one. Zinn’s book “…isn’t meant to replace traditional histories so much as supplement them.” Kazin’s right in a thousand ways, but despite his strident totalizing tone, Zinn is really only one ingredient in a big stew; at least, he explained himself in those terms occasionally.

Furthermore, A People’s History:

…represents a stage in one’s intellectual development.

It was never intended to arrest it.

Unlike, say, Ayn Rand.

And that — even more than the content of the work itself, though that too is important, if incomplete — is what makes Zinn such a great writer of history, to me and so many others.

Rest in peace, Prof. Zinn. And thank you.

Image cite: Austin Kleon, “‘If you don’t know history…’,” Flickr, CC License


Sweet Steam Powered Digital Curation

Or, I read the web today, oh boy

Update: Here’s a link to the orig. post for FB readers.

Some links:

  • Nick Bilton, ” ‘Controlled Serendipity’ Liberates the Web,” Bits, NYT

    Curating finds on the web is the new black. Everyone’s doing it.

  • Cathy Davidson, “Why is the Information Age Without the Humanities Like the Industrial Revolution Without the Steam Engine?,” HASTAC*, 24 January 2010.

    Steam engine references are like catnip to me, so of course this one I couldn’t let go. The analogy here doesn’t quite work — steam doesn’t help us understand the meaning of the industrial revolution, and anyway it’s arguable that steam wasn’t what the IR was about, per se. But the claim that the Info Age doesn’t make any damn sense without the tools the humanities offer is one that rings true.

  • Fabio Rojas,”how to save the humanities,” OrgTheory.com, 24 January 2010.

    An interesting piece, if a tad condescending and a bit fuzzy on what “the humanities” are. Suggestions 1 (“slash doctoral programs”) and 2 (“increase masters programs”) are good as far as they go, but what exactly is going to get universities or departments to act? And get enough of them to act in concert to have an effect? Has an orgtheorist really forgotten about incentives? Suggestion 3 is less helpful, as a commenter (more kindly) points out, because it is ill-informed about the problems with the idea of reclaiming ‘the canon.’

  • Finally, here’s the best mnemonic device for the Presidents I’ve heard so far:

I love, love, love this acronym, it’s the first non-French-yet-cool-and-military-industrial-complex sounding humanities org I’ve heard. Sadly, it’s pronounced “hay stack,” instead of rhyming with a primary component of the Goa’uld fleet, which — and trust me on this — would make it way cooler.

Image cite: ian murchison, “59:365 Hot steaming cup of awesome,” Flickr, CC License