O brave new media-world that has such synergies!

Monday, 3 May 2010

I don’t know what Kathy was talking about a few posts back: everything that I do is sexy — not least of which is data entry. One of the truly fun things for me as I went along, transferring data from the paper site forms to the digital database, was that I got to relive my field experiences from 2008, and even, on occasion, learn about new Munsell soil colors that I didn’t even know existed.

Well, so “10.5YR” probably wasn’t the intended hue in the Munsell system, and it remains a mystery as to what the recorder actually meant by it in reference to the color of the soil matrix in a certain stratigraphic unit (SU). Apart from that peculiar situation, however, I have been able to clear up various scribal errors encountered along the way (“sandy day loam” might be a good name for a cosmetic) and, in doing, call back to memory many a scene at Pyla-Vigla. Now we are finishing up the 2009 data, but it was fun to visit a bit with those forms before they move on down to the ol’ genizah. Actually, if I understand correctly, they might be making their home in the UND Chester Fritz Library‘s special collections.

Speaking of the good ol’ CFL, Dr. Caraher recently gave a talk there about archaeology, inter/trans/cross/post-disciplinary “synergy“, and the implications of the “New Media“. For me, at my vantage point as a MA student, much of the “new world” that Bill is heralding is hardly odd or novel to me. Sure, some of this is a function of my proximity to Bill, but I was already becoming acculturated into this world before I even met Bill Caraher. I am really no more tech-savvy than my colleagues, Sara and Kathy, but I have not known archaeology prior to the use of computers for data recording, storing, and processing. Sure, I wasn’t necessarily the one “doing” it, but digital media was always a companion, even in the gritty, windswept wastes and sage-choked gullies of North Dakota.

Sure, back in the day, they didn’t have computers. I get that. I even have some idea of how they did archaeology in the absence of digital technology.

But I didn’t think, at the time, that it needed any more persuasive explanation than what could be given for any other tool in the archaeologist’s methodological toolbox. As an educated member of the “Millennium Generation”, my response to the question of whether or not there could be a beneficial rapprochement between scholarship and digital technology would have been something along the lines of:

duh!

But, for all of the audience members who might still have been wrapping their minds around the idea of such a rapprochement (I doubt that any current faculty members actually were), that wasn’t the point of Bill’s talk, per se.

To be honest, I paused for quite a while after typing that last sentence. Since then, both Bill and I have attended panel discussions on the already decades-old “new media” at the UND Writers Conference featuring such artists and luminaries as Stuart Moulthrop, Mark Amerika, Scott T Miller, Deena Larsen, Cecelia Condit, Frank X Walker, Saul Williams and Art Spiegelman. Bill has shared his musings on the conference presentations, here. (I attended the same panels as he did.)

I get what the hubbub is about. I’m just having a hard time mustering the patience to join the hubbub for any length of time. Yep, it’s crazy. I can write an article on this website which people can read on their telephones next door and in Singapore — at the same time.

Crazy.

OK, moving on …

As relatively “at home” as I am with this medium, it really comes more easily to Kathy to notice and to articulate the peculiarities of it. Even Bill has to work harder, I think, although he makes up for it in the time and energy which he has put into considering the matter over the years. I’m pretty sure that Homi Bhabha wrote something about this phenomenon somewhere. In effect, Sara and I are more indigenous to this “culture”, that is, this collection of signs. Oddly enough, even though I had no real experience with the internet prior to my freshman year at the university, I have still taken to it quite readily. I was eased into it in many ways. It expanded on and synthesized many other languages to which I had already been exposed. All I needed was an occasion to “speak” the language, and its relationship to the other languages already conditioned me to find occasions and to seize on them without waiting to puzzle over them.

We are all multilingual, even if we do not think of it in those terms. And, as with conventional languages, there aren’t really hard-and-fast boundaries between languages more broadly considered, despite attempts to demarcate and to standardize. I learned to write with a pencil and with crayons. I first encountered language as sound filtered through the flesh of my mother’s belly, and I have no recollection of when I first recognized that sound as being related to a conscious effort to communicate thought. I’m pretty sure that I was more concerned with my physical dependency on a world external to myself to keep my body from protesting at the lack of nourishment. If I had to guess, I would guess that my earliest cognisance of language was tied to that very practical concern.

And so began my adventure in semiotics.

(I know that it is considered to be bad style in English written composition to begin sentences with conjunctions.)

(But I’m blogging, baby!)

As fun as metanarrative can be, however, it is also a good way slip into the pond and completely lose one’s train of thought. I had hoped to write something profound about the synergistic possibilities of the “new media”, but I got bored and a bit perplexed with all of the new media hullabaloo and I still have a hard time not thinking in terms of synergistic research. Can someone please help me? I’m not really Miranda in this story, nor am I Caliban, nor am I the castaways. To use one of Kathy’s favorite concepts, I’m not hubristic enough to claim to be Prospero. Maybe I am one of the spirits, the cultural hybrids. Publishing and the new media, peer-review and the new media, authority and the new media, class and the new media, professionalism and the new media, profit and the new media … I get it, I think. Perhaps it is the perceived rigidity of these older concepts which constitutes the “brave new [old] world” for me.

Maybe I am Miranda.

Miranda: … O brave new world that has such people in’t!

Prospero: ‘Tis new to thee.

William Shakespeare, The Tempest; Act V, scene I.

Prospero and Ariel

"Prospero and Ariel" by Eric Gill. BBC Broadcasting House

PS: I think that there is one point, at the very least, which ought to be clarified. The “sandy day loam” was a typo and that means that it was typed and that, in turn, means that there has been another step in this process — other elves at work — besides the steps with which the UND spring 2010 team have been involved. At least one of Dr. Pettigrew’s students at Messiah College in Grantham, PA has done some work in preparing the PKAP data from 2008-2009, most notably by transposing the prose portions of most of the site reports onto a Word document. This has been of immense help to Sara and myself.


Global Community

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

In his book, James May’s 20th Century, the author writes, “The Model T was designed and built ‘for the great multitude….’  It pioneered the moving production line, and put the planet’s most forward-thinking people on wheels….  What it didn’t pioneer…is the standardized system of car control we now take for granted.”  (29)  In this same chapter, titled “Shrinking the World,” he lays out the history of the Volkswagen “Beetle.”  May notes that what started out as “the people’s car” under Hitler never took off at that time.  Few were produced, and those for Nazi officers.  The factory was eventually turned into a munitions plant, bombed, left in ruins and, post-war, offered to American car manufacturers, who mocked the possibility of ever mass producing what Henry Ford himself called a (insert blasphemous word here).  A British army officer named Ivan Hirst decided that resurrecting the little car, and the town with it, was worth a go.  May indicates the satire in the fact that the car eventually did become, “the peoples’ car.”  It just happened to do so with a completely different set of people.  (He also notes the irony in that, though it started out as a vehicle for the Third Reich, it became the quintessential peacenik car and an icon for hippies everywhere.)

“Global standardization” of cars is a reality and has been for generations.  Cars beginning in one country but ending in another, uniting a fractured planet.  The world-wide web.  A “global community.”  I plugged those words into google.  With parental controls engaged,  2,260,000 hits popped up referencing that phrase in less than half a second.  Obviously people believe in and discuss a “global community.”  But what does that mean?

I sat with my advisor and colleague today discussing “communities.”  The three of us met in a room which has the unwieldy moniker “University of North Dakota Working Group in Digital and New Media.”  It is an interesting room that, in itself, represents the layers of the discussion.  The room is not intended for graduate students in history alone.  Truthfully, I have no idea exactly which groups of people use that room beyond my colleagues and myself.  I know people do as they come and go in it just as I do.  We smile politely at each other and go about our business.

The room is filled with wonderful techno-gadgets to include some nice computers.  It is there that I sometimes jump into the world-wide web, access Omeka, and input data.  I become more linked with the program, (which, in turn, links to “the world”), than with those who inhabit my space.  Unless, of course, the interns are meeting with our professor, which we do on Tuesdays.  During that time we sometimes delve into programs together either learning something new, or helping each other (which generally means my peers helping me) explore strange new worlds, or parsing readings and et c.

I do know that everyone who has access to “the lab” is in some way connected to the university.  In some respects, we are connected to each other because we all use the same space.  Students come and go, not just on a daily basis, but semester to semester, year to year.  Neither the environment nor the population remains stable, but always in flux.

Airports function in much the same way.  They are points of departure, arrival, and/or transiency.  They are, like the proverbial rushing river, never the same from moment to moment.  When my spouse left for the Middle East last year, he departed from the local airport.  When he arrived home eight months later, I met him on the same spot.  Yet neither of us were the same.  Time had wrought changes in us, physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Nevertheless, airports represent community to me.  All the people in them, whether passengers, pilots, attendants, ticketing agents, baggage checkers, security officers, janitors, or food workers recognize this as a place of transiency.  We are connected by our understanding of that space, despite the fact that the space is in a continual, unstable state of flux.  Perhaps this notion of “community” evolved from my own upbringing.

My family of origin was, in effect, nomadic.  As I’ve stated before, my father was military.  As a result, we moved, on average, every year.  Despite the bad press often given to the military lifestyle, I never knew any families that were “unstable.”  Moving was a way of life.  It had purpose.  Friendships came and went.  Some remained and continue to do so.  They were not then, nor now, based on location.  We learned early on that the planet was a fairly small place and easily traversed.  Even before cell phones and personal computers we knew how to stay in contact and nurture our unions.  This, to me, is “community.”

My advisor approached the term “community” from a different vantage point.  He chose what was, to me, a shocking polarization.  (I am quite sure I came across the same to him.)  He used the examples of boundaries that metaphorically surround neighborhoods in larger cities.  (Understand, please, that this was for comparison only and to help illustrate his point.)  If I understood him correctly, he argued that things like ethnicity, time spent in a particular location, and ties associated with rituals (such as a long-standing member of a neighborhood restaurant shutting down their place of business for one of the “local family’s” son’s engagement party) all contributed to the definition of community.

I found this understanding of the word uncomfortably limiting.  Community, to me, is a state of being and not tied to a place.  It is, in truth, an “imagined” space that links people based on shared experiences and world views.  It allows for flux and change.  It understands that, as airports are places that bring happiness, sadness, or ambivalence, so does community.  The importance of the “space” is not the time that has passed nor who is there, but that the experience is shared, even if at different times.  It looks for the “tie that binds.”

The idea of local, closed communities that must share time, space, and history is too confining for me.  Perhaps that is because, (and I do not mean to overstate this), I have experienced such “communities” as an “outsider.”  I did not label myself as such, but was labeled.  Seeing “community” in the way that I do, I have never understood people who remain so guarded and inclusive that they eschew the new.  I have always assumed a certain amount of insecurity, selfishness, or cultural hubris on their part and, since I moved so often, certainly did not waste the friendships I could be establishing there on people that chose to remain sequestered in this way.

I compare  my spouse’s upbringing with my own.  He lived his entire life in a rural community of less than 1,000 people.  Stereotypically, this town should be a small “community” of people who, because they spent copious amounts of time together in limited space sharing daily, monthly, and annual rituals, (the “Corn and Clover Carnival” comes to mind), should be nearly inseparable.  Yet my spouse claims few actual ties to this place.  Those friends he continues to share “community” with do not live anywhere near it.  He has fond memories of his past and the townspeople.  He is liked, well-respected and recognized on those rare occasions when we drive through, but this place is simply a part of his life, and our lives have lots of “parts” which constitute the whole.  It was one more airport on his journey, so to speak.

What, then, does “community” actually mean?  My colleague in the lab googled the word and got a myriad of definitions, most of them quite limited.  Finding that unsatisfactory, I once again turned to Oxford for the roots of this word when I arrived home.  (Everyone really should own an excellent dictionary.)  To my delight, I found that “community” comes from Middle English and originates from “the quality of appertaining to all in common.”  Its use can be traced to 1561.  By 1587 it had come to mean “common character; agreement; social intercourse; communion.”  It is not until much later (1727) that we find “a body of persons living together, and practicing community of goods” (ie. sharing “physical space”) to be used as the norm.

If you’ll look at the opening paragraph of this blog, you’ll note that Mr. May, whose book is for sale on the world-wide web and therefore capable of reaching anyone on the planet, has addressed standardization in cars that “we,” as in “the global community” take for granted.  World-wide standardization is happening.  Selling books, and most anything else (both fortunately and unfortunately), is global business.  Authors are “speaking” to the world.  More profoundly, Mr. May recently had the opportunity to be one of those few blessed individuals who flew to the very edge of our atmosphere in a U2 spyplane.  He recorded his venture.  Hovering on that thin, frail, outer edge of the bubble that surrounds our planet, the blackness of eternity above, looking down at the sky below, seeing our world from that vantage point, he recognized that we are, indeed, one singular group of people.  I am not naive enough to believe that we will ever all get along, or that we can share every experience.  But, like Mr. May, I believe that if we could all but look down on this place we’ve named Earth, we would indeed comprehend that we are truly a global community.  The world is my backyard.  Hello, Neighbor.

(With many thanks to Mr. James May and BBC2 for the following preview.)



On Historionomy

Thursday, 1 April 2010

 

“Historionomer:  One versed in the laws which regulate the course of history.”  So it is written in my wonderful 1955 Oxford Universal Dictionary.  I have to admit that, prior to looking at the many definitions for “history,” I had never heard the word “historionomer,” but I love it.  I love it because it so mirrors the term “astronomer.”  Both are professions which claim to be versed in laws which regulate the course of something, suggesting that we humans have the power to accomplish such a phenomenal task!  Of course we do not regulate either the past or the universe, but we do impose certain laws upon both.  The question is, “Why?”

It is a rather big question, which I will not answer here, or anywhere else, in full.  But I will address it.  I think it is because we see patterns in both and so attempt to order them so that they make sense to us.  Different people see different patterns, so they write about different things and create different laws.  We call these patterns “theories.”  Academics, and, (to my way of thinking), especially historians, love to debate theories.  In many ways, this is easier to do if you are a scientist, such as an astronomer, because the theories are testable.  Gravity, for instance, has worked pretty much the same since we gave it the name of “gravity” centuries ago.  History is more fluid and slippery than that.  It follows, then, that theories of history tend to be a bit more fluid and slippery as well.

I’ve recently read a theo-historical article titled “Christians and Postmoderns” by Joseph Bottums.  Written in 1994, the author dizzyingly discusses how postmodernists, because they were born, bred, and/or influenced in the era of modern theories, cannot divorce themselves from modernist thinking.  The new theories erupting from the union of the modern/postmodern union strikingly resemble medievalist, or premodern, thinking, sans God.  Yet, the author notes,  because time does not flow in reverse, this “new” thinking is not medieval at all.  My brief and naive description of this article is merely a teaser that barely addresses the nuances of its many complex themes.  Nevertheless, it helps to illustrate the debates that swirl around the numerous historical theories that exist.  As the author duly notes, the terms themselves become convoluted when writers use them not as they are intended, (to describe the history of ideas), but as eras.  Thus, even those who create the theories and laws sometimes break their own rules, or as Foucault would say, “rupture the discourse.”

I, too, enjoy the debate.  I enjoy discovering patterns as I read the translated letters of Paulinus of Nola.  I love the thrill of ordering these patterns so that they fill some gap left in the historiography of Late Antiquity.  I roll my eyes at some historians’ interpretation of the same readings, feel dejected when I find that one of my “discoveries” was made two decades ago, and relish the thrill of victory when a current expert in the field writes, “More work needs to be done on this topic,” when that is the very topic I am exploring.  Sometimes, however, it all swirls into a confused mass in my brain and I want to walk away and clear the fog.

This internship helps me to do that while still making meaningful, if not quiet, contributions to the field.  The Lakka Skoutara slides and digital pictures are all now downloaded into Omeka and I am helping to label them.  This work reminds me of gardening for many reasons.  The first is that I’m no great gardener and, as past blogs will tell, I’ve not exactly mastered the computer.  The second is that you can really see progress when you garden.  What was a mess of a flower bed after a long fall and winter, strewn with rotting leaves and the dead stems of last summer’s flora, easily becomes a blank canvas for this year’s masterpiece.  All it takes is pulling, raking, bagging, and preparing the soil.  In the same way as there are a  finite number of leaves and stems, there are a finite number of slides to label.  Every time I input data, I see progress.  I also know that I am “prepping the ground” for future generations who may look to these slides for their own research.  Their research, in turn, is meant to enlighten and stimulate more debate, perhaps even changing the laws of history as we know them. 

Does that, coupled with my research, make me a “historionomer?”  I think so.  As a small example, I offer that I am agreeing with both a certain data base and my advisor that these slides should be ordered “just so.”  We are placing them in a pattern that makes sense to us in order to retrieve them in similar ways.  These “ways” are inherently fraught with meaning.  What works for us might not work for others.  At this moment, I am unconcerned with that.  Future generations, however, may find that our way of ordering things is incongruous with theirs.  They will change the laws.  The great debates, then, will continue.  One could even argue that, in this way, history will repeat itself.  Of course, time does not flow backward, so that’s not possible.  Since there is an ongoing argument among astronomers as to whether or not even that is true, however, well….


Sentient Beings

Friday, 26 March 2010

 

My nine-year old son asked a thought-provoking question as we sat at the table the other day.  He wondered if there were not only other sentient life forms in the universe but, more intriguingly, whether or not it was possible that some lived among us in microscopic form.  I countered by asking him whether or not it was possible that we were microscopic life forms that lived in someone else’s much larger world.  I’ve thought about that more than once in my life.  If so, are they aware of us, benign keepers creating an environment in which we thrive?  Or are they as yet unable to discover us?  Do organisms exist in infinite sizes, like the images in mirrors reflecting upon each other?  I suspect the question originated from a box of butter my son saw that had an image of someone on the packaging holding the identical box of butter in their hands, thus creating an infinite series of butter bearers. 

Whatever your own political, religious, or other stance on the topic, this conversation would most likely not have happened if my son and I did not make time to be together and interact.  Notice that I had to qualify that.  He and I spend plenty of time together.  We cohabitate, and I drive him to many of his activities.  A great deal of his time is spent doing things like going to school, practicing the piano, homework, playing hockey, chores, and hanging out with friends.  My time is also often spent otherwise engaged.  I, too, go to school, have homework, play chauffeur, perform chores, and address a myriad of other roles in my life.  On the occasion of his question, however, we chose to use our time to interact.

I’ve noticed that the word “time” is used a lot in the circles I run in.  Mostly I hear people saying, “I wish I had more time,” “I don’t have time for that,” or “When did time get to be so scarce?”  Interesting idea, isn’t it?  There is no scarcity of time.  It exists as it always has.  It is only our perspective of time that defines how we use it.  No.  Strike that.  It is our perspective of what is urgent and/or important that defines how we use time.  Then again, perhaps it is our perspective of what is urgent and/or important that defines how we misuse time. 

Somewhere along the way, Charles Hummel’s Tyranny of the Urgent (1967) became a mainstream reality.  I boldly aver that to be a mistake.  It seems to me that we have, as a culture, somehow mistaken the idea of “leisure time” with a “waste of time.”  By “leisure time” I mean personal interaction as the main focus of an activity.  The personal interaction may be the focus, or dinner, throwing a baseball, potting plants, fishing, whatever works best for you.  It means time where one’s thoughts and attention are primarily focused on the person/people who you are with.  It can also mean time alone, but time alone to think, not to be bombarded with stimuli.  Leisure time does not mean spending time with someone while something else competes for your attention, such as video games and television.  If your eyes, mind, and hands are engaged with the Wii, they cannot primarily be engaged with your companion.  Yet, somehow, we seem to think that if we are not overstimulated or engaged with electronic devices, we are being ineffective or under productive. 

Why?  When did we, as a culture, begin to embrace the idea that non-technoligically based interaction or time alone is somehow distasteful?  This question befuddles me.  It carries with it as much naive hubris as does the title to a conference panel I recently saw listed:  “Are Books Obsolete?”  The most basic premise of the question is absurd.  Of course books are not obsolete.  People have been writing them for generations.  Prior to that, codices, prior to that, papyrus and carving stone tablets.  All of these have, at the very least, historical value.  At the very most they are inspirational, meaningful, educational, and thought-provoking.  Besides, as long as there are humans that want to express themselves, they will write “books”  whether on laptops, coffee shop napkins (a nod to J. K. Rowling), or reams of notepads, they will.  The question, really, was whether or not paper books are obsolete.  I still maintain the question is absurd.  Obsolete to whom? 

The question is directed to those people with a steady and prolific stream of access to technology.  That excludes most of the world.  The scoffers might say that it excludes the most uneducated masses.  Perhaps, at least the formally uneducated masses.  But that does not mean that it excludes the ignorant.  Bright minds that do not have access to technology are still bright minds.  They take in the world around them, (sometimes through paper books which, thankfully, they still understand the value of), process it by whatever means they develop, and imaginatively create solutions to the situations they encounter.  Some countries that have a steady and prolific stream of access to technology make the conscious choice to walk away from it regularly.  They value their right to do so, and they value their alone and interactive leisure time.

Is there something they know that we don’t?  Am I making the best use of my time, the time I have in this life before I expire, by spending countless hours searching innumerable tomes for answers to questions in my research?  Am I crowding out ground-breaking, inspired ideas by focusing my brain on the many different avenues I can explore via the so-called “world-wide web?”  Is instant access to seemingly everything the best option?  There’s the key.  We do not have instant access to seemingly everything.  Our laptops, our televisions, and our Wii’s cannot replace for us the world of real experience.  They can tell us what it is like to do something, but that does not replace the actual encounter.  I cannot use my laptop to climb a tree and peer over the leafy top to the land beyond.  Inundating my time to the exclusion of personal reflection leads to no original thought.  Further, technology cannot help us to do things like soak in the nuances found in the body language of the people we sit and talk with.  I know this for a fact.  My husband spent over half a year on the other side of the globe.  The longer we talked “face to face” over Skype, the more my laptop became like Rowling’s “Mirror of Erised.”  I could see my heart’s desire through it, but I could never reach it, touch it, endure the richness of its presence in my daily life.  Rowling was wise to note that anyone sitting in front of that mirror, anyone who allowed their thoughts to be drawn to it all hours of the day and night, would eventually go insane.

Technology is a tool.  Time is a gift.  How we fill our time, and the choice of which tools we use to make that happen, is important.  Lewis Carroll was inspired to write his Through the Looking Glass (Alice in Wonderland) story while boating down a whimsical river in Oxford near the university.  I can understand this.  Because we spontaneously decided to pull over along a road in Icklingham and walk together as a family, we discovered the most delightful trees, (below), the kind which I imagine provided inspiration for the Ents in Tolkien’s work.  Precious time allowed our minds to become uncluttered and experience the world for what it had to offer us:  exponential, imaginative growth in our brains, shared experiences of wonder, and healthy peace.  I do not experience the same with my family when we are watching a movie “together” or playing video games.  Those activities have their place, but so does our time without such distractions.    

I’m not suggesting we eschew surfing the web or that we completely remove technology from our life.  I am proposing that we take control of the time we have, commanding our own destinies.  I am not convinced that we do our best work while spending the majority of our time wired.  I think using our time wisely, to include a large, healthy dose of being unplugged, will ultimately prove more productive and imaginative, and will propel us more quickly into new and exciting ways of thinking.

In doing so, we might even have time to figure out whether or not there’s an endless stream of infinitely large and small symbiotic sentient life forms who are as yet unaware (or are they?) of each others’ existence.  Just something to talk about the next time you’re actually with friends, or to think about the next time you find yourself alone.  Let me know what you discover.

Related Link:  http://www.becomingminimalist.com/2009/08/25/minimalism-blackberries-and-the-tyranny-of-the-urgent/       

      

 

 


Who Gets to Choose?

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

This internship continues to cause me to rethink the phrase “public history.”  As I’ve written before, I define public history as both a very tactile and intellectual experience that involves a journey.  History classes, likewise, fit certain parameters in my mind, including both “reading” and “writing” components.  This usually entails what seems like readings of never-ending tomes and innumerable hours of putting thoughts onto paper during any given term.  This internship extends, or perhaps redefines, these ideas.  True, our reading component involves some text, but text that examines the many faceted implications of digital technologies.  Hardly your “standard” history fare, (if, indeed, such a thing exists).  The writing component is even less conventional, which you can attest to since you are reading part of it at this moment.

Our latest readings discuss blogging as a writing component.  In order to illustrate the arguments I find most intriguing about this topic, I’m going to provide you with a few excerpts from a review essay titled “Blogging Anthropology:  Savage Mind, Zero Anthropology, and AAA Blogs.”  (American Anthropologist, Vol. 112, Issue 1, pp. 140-148)

“The fundamental value of seminars and salons has always been their opportunity to move beyond conventional limits by tentatively exploring new ideas in ways drawing on the freedom provided by the provisionality of the setting; the best blogs draw on these same dynamics….”

“Writing quickly without editors…increases incidents of logical fallacies, but the opportunities to explore ideas and arguments, share knowledge, and develop writing voices in a public arena without the controls of consensus and the gatekeeping of traditional publishing outlets make blogging an effective testing ground….”

“…blogging also presents opportunities to engage [non-practitioners in any given field] by directly sharing findings and analyses with the public, making it an important venue for expanding [a particular field’s] audience and for those interested particularly in [that field].”

So where, then, does blogging fit in regards to scholarly writing?  That’s a real puzzler for me, and that puzzle is at the heart of my having to reassess my understanding of public history.  I have, in my own head, dubbed this a “crises of standards.”  I do not believe any argument to be truly two-sided, but for the sake of simplification, I will move forward in that vein.  On the one hand, blogging does provide an open forum for discussion and a place to discover and integrate new methods of understanding and doing.  I like this idea.  It’s “old school.”  It was this sort of idealism, at least nostalgically, that created a culture which inspired people like Thomas Edison to take pieces of things and put them together out in “any person’s” shed until electricity was harnessed.  It is an experimental, inclusive, messy, dynamic approach to learning.  There is a sort of “reckless abandon, we won’t know til we try” vibe to this that speaks to my adventurous nature.  For the most part, that’s what I read in the first paragraph quoted above.

I like the third paragraph as well.  I am naturally curious and always appreciate when I stumble upon ideas and arguments that someone has thoughtfully thrown out there for anyone to mull over.  I see the world as one big, fantastic puzzle that every human can have fun trying to piece together during their time here.  The more I learn, the more I want to learn.  Blogging is an excellent means by which to throw things “out there,” as I am now, for someone to discover and ruminate on.

On the other hand, there is a single word that disturbs me in that first paragraph:  “tentatively.”  I suspect that the author inferred “thoughtfully,” “responsibly,” or perhaps “respectfully” by making use of it.  The second paragraph argues that the inevitable logical fallacies that will ensue from a completely open forum pale in comparison to what is gained from such an exchange.  “Perhaps,” one side of my brain responds.  “Perhaps not,” the other retorts.

The problem with a completely open forum is that, by definition, it contains no set standards, academic or otherwise.  Yet, as Foucault would tell you, some sort of consensus must be arrived at in order to develop a discourse through which blogs and/or the blog topic can be defined.  In short, who gets to choose what is legitimate in a blog and what is not?  The essay addresses this to some degree, noting that some blogs have reviewers who set and maintain the standards of the blog.  But if that is so, is it truly an open forum?

I recognize that I’ve stepped across the threshold into the world of the philosophical, but I’m going to continue on for a moment because I believe that the idea of an open forum needs continued examination.  Having lived in third world countries, and realizing that the world is much bigger than we are often willing to admit, by “open forum” we are really saying “open to all those who have the technology to access blogs,” and that does not actually include most of the world.  Thus we have already limited the people to whom our thoughts will be accessed.  Are we not, then, guilty of the same sort of hubris that we often attribute to those who limited their wealth in the history of the earth?  Have we not chosen who we will allow to give input?

I also question the idea of the “tentative” exploration of anything.  Explorers, by nature, (if I may further reveal a bias here), are generally not tentative.  How do we tease out thoughtful “explorers” and those who have simply joined in due to riotous compulsion?  Can something be gained from both?

For my own part, I have yet to find consensus within my own mind over this debate and am aware that I am too far in the trees to see the proverbial forest.  As an explorer and adventurer, I believe that something good will come from this nether-world of blogging as we seek to define where it fits into the larger academic discourse.  I cannot begin to say what “good” it will produce.  Perhaps it will prove to be a marvelous pot from which everyone will be able to gain sustenance.  Perhaps it will prove an abysmal failure, and we will have learned at least that much from our trying.  My best guess is that blogging will eventually be compartmentalized somehow, will take on branches, and that we will have different ways of accessing different types of blogs.  For now, we are experiencing the developmental stages of blogging, and I am intrigued as I watch its growth.  The implications of blogging run across moral, ethical, academic, and a myriad of other lines.  Digital technology is indeed revolutionary as it forces us to again examine that historical question at the root of so many conflicts;  “Who gets to choose?”


“Big Steps ‘n Little ‘Uns”

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Perhaps I can attribute this week’s blog to the North Dakota doldrums that most people experience this time of year in this part of the country, or perhaps there is something in the air, but I, like Sara, initially found little to write about my work this week that will inspire you.  There is nothing about the current particulars that is going to make you jump out of your seat and cause you to want to rush out and start your own public history works.  That is because I am simply…waiting.

I am waiting for the slides from Lakka Skoutara to be scanned.  I can not move forward until they are.  I am also waiting for spring.  That season comes much later in this part of the country and briefly buzzes through the year right along with the bees.  We have short summers and long winters.  By the end of February, a lot of people are taking or planning vacations.  It will be a while before we see that first green blade of grass, soft green leaf, or tiny bright bud.  Today there are windchill advisories and we will have periods throughout the day of high temps between -25 and -40.  I love winter, but I am ready for some color to permeate the vast, wide open, wind-blown monochromatic spaces of this agrarian river valley.  Spring seems a long way away.

James Herriot, a large animal veterinarian in the Yorkshire Dales in days gone by, once wrote about one of the men whose animals he helped.  The man had grown up in the Dales and farmed his whole life.  He was tall, quiet, and wiry.  He spent his life taking long strides across the hills as he worked every day.  He told Herriot that he once visited a large city.  Herriot asked how he liked he.  He didn’t.  Why?  His answer, “Big step n’ little ‘uns.”  The mass of people he met on the crowded sidewalks of whatever city he’d ventured into did not allow him to take the long, powerful strides he was accustomed to while trying to get to his destination.  When he returned home he vowed never to enter the city again.

Life is like that sometimes, isn’t it?  “Big steps ‘n little ‘uns.”  I like to “stride,” unrestrained, over metaphoric grounds that provide me with beautiful vistas.  But I, like the majority of people, do not have that luxury every day.  I don’t have it most days, in fact.  Today, though I’m ready to rush headlong into the next phase of the Lakka Skoutara project, for instance, I cannot.  I long for days that will be consistent with my own desires and ways of tackling things, but, truthfully, who knows if they will ever come?  Most likely not.  Few of us have such control over our destinies.  So how to make the best of the fits and starts?

An African proverb holds the key to my answer.  Two summers ago, my then 15-year-old daughter spent her summer in Malawi, Africa helping AIDS orphans.  When she returned, someone gave her a calendar with an African proverb for each day.  The entry on February 21st puts today into perspective for me.  It states, “If sweetness is excessive, it is no longer sweetness.”  If today I cannot move at my own pace, then I must adjust it.  I have to do the same with my reaction.  That’s tough this time of year.  It’d be cathartic, in the short run, to just grump about having little to do.  The truth of the matter, however, is that I have plenty to do in other areas, whether I really want to tackle those things or not.  But if I recognize that the sweet things I want to do are only sweet because they occur rarely or, at least, seldom, then I, like A. A. Milne’s Eeyore on his birthday, when presented with a burst red balloon, can say, “Red.  My favorite color!”  Perhaps, instead of viewing the not so palatable tasks as terrible “have to’s” on my list, I can view them as the distractions found on every city street, as part of the many intertwining threads in the tapestry that is my life.  Woven together, they make a rather beautiful scene.  Besides, unlike Herriot’s friend, I love big cities.  I can take big steps n’ little uns’ and even enjoy it.  It’s all a matter of perspective.

I’ll still grump a bit.  It’s just that time of year.  When I’ve cleared that out of my system, I’ll face this time with those admirable British values that were imprinted on me in my youth and which Johnson writes of:  “cheerfulness in spite of all conditions, endurance, and gallantry.”  The warm, sunny Lakka Skoutara pictures will eventually be ready for cataloging and putting into context, and I need to patiently concentrate my abilities on less enticing ventures for now.

I do so look forward to getting on with it, though.


Cross-eyed and so not bushy-tailed

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

This post is so not going to have any flowing words or insightful meaning.  Just a quick note on what is happening next.

Late last week, Chris and Bill worked on getting another project set up that Chris is “heading”, or in charge of or whatever, and that I’m tacking myself onto until Kathy is ready with some pictures to organize.  It’s data entry from the Pyla-Koutsopetria digs in Cyprus.

Things did not get off to a good start.  The Access program was incredibly temperamental when entering data, and then it didn’t save what Chris had already started.  So he had to re-enter data (which wasn’t actually that much), and we figured out it wouldn’t save because the Access sheet was created in probably Office 2003….and it wouldn’t save unless it was 2007.  So we just converted it, and now it’s just fine.

The way the data is set up is for each “section” of the dig area, there are two or three accompanying sheets that have location, depth, soil composition, things of importance found, etc.  These sheet’s need to be entered into the Access program for a) easy storage, b) easy sharing, and c) easy reading.  Thank God a different “monkey” (Chris’s word, not mine!) grad student transcribed some of what is written, so for some parts all Chris and I have to do is copy/paste.

I came in this morning and worked for almost a solid four hours straight…and I only got 24 entries in.  24.  Out of many, many more than 24.  When I left our hidey-hole back to my GTA office, I had to hang onto the wall for guidance, my eyes were so cross-eyed.

Public history is what I want to do most, and part of public history includes data entry like this.  But just because I like public history, and just because I’m good at tedious work, doesn’t mean it’s always enjoyable.

There will be down days.

I’m going to take an aspirin.