what i talked about in 2008

tag cloud - top 500 words of 2008

I started this blog at the very end of last year because – well, I’m not sure why. I think maybe I was annoyed with Sandra Lee? But what that means is that the end of this calendar year is also almost exactly the end of the blogging year as well. I thought I’d take advantage of that.

And my most common word is…. think. Not too surprising, really. I’d like to think that it is because I talk a lot about thinking, but I suspect many, many uses of the phrase “I think” are at least as responsible. At least “thinking” appears with a fair degree of regularity as well.

the founding fathers are on LibraryThing!

Those historians – they get described as  all curmudgeonly and books yay and it’s better if you can touch the paper journals but seriously, they are technological pragmatists.  If it works they’ll use it.  Today’s example is on LibraryThing.

Go here for the project announcement.

There’s a whole field of inquiry in history that focuses on the book collections/ libraries of the colonial and early national periods – with the best-known subject of this field of study being Thomas Jefferson, of course.  And it is really fascinating – the things he (or others) chose to collect say a lot about him, about knowledge at that time, and about a lot of other aspects of the world at that time.

So – why not put those collections on LibraryThingJefferson is there (though all of his collections aren’t yet – dude initially collected the Library of Congress after all).  But so is John Adams there and Benjamin Franklin.  But the project is open to include any American living before 1825.  Check out Mary Hartford, who I didn’t know about before but who is clearly a fascinating subject.

I love examples like this where the tool is cool, the subject is cool and the connection between them is uber-cool.   And where there is room for many, many institutions, archivists and librarians to participate.

pointing out those giants, there with the shoulders

So back in April, gg at Skulls in the Stars challenged science bloggers across the disciplines to read and research some classic article in their discipline, and then write a blog post about it.  The results are in, and they’re awesome.  Not just fascinating – this is a potential time suck (with none of the guilt I feel wasting time with old sports clips on YouTube – I mean, it’s reading about science.  Important science!) – but also a really intriguing way to think about introducing a lot of overlapping ideas about scholarship to students.

One – we all know that context is one of the hardest things to figure out when you’re taking your first steps into understanding a new topic or discipline. Which things to read, what do they mean, why were they important, why are they still important  – answers to these questions aren’t immediately apparent to an outsider and scholarship written for other experts takes a lot of the keys to unlocking this discourse for granted.  Each of these posts lifts some disciplinary curtain aside, telling us what to read and why – in language written not for experts but for smart, motivated people who don’t already have that contextual knowledge.

And by showing the significance of a work in a discourse, these bloggers also (in both text and subtext) show us something about what discourse is and how it works in science or scholarship or research.  My hands-down most favorite entry in this series is from the person who issued the initial challenge – the Gallery of Failed Atomic Models – and this entry really gets at what I’m talking about here.  From gg:

It is often said that history is “written by the victors”. While this statement is usually referring to the winners of a military or political conflict, a similar effect occurs in the history of science. Physics textbooks, for instance, often describe the development of a theory in a highly abbreviated manner, omitting many of the false starts and wrong turns that were taken before the correct answer was found. While this is perfectly understandable in a textbook (it is rather inefficient to teach students all of the wrong answers before teaching them the right answer), it can lead to an inaccurate and somewhat sterile view of how science actually works.

And that might be my favorite piece of this project – the view of how science actually works that you get from these articles is anything but sterile.  They’re planning a second go-round of this project, which will be hosted here in about a month.  I’m marking my calendar.  Well not literally.  But I’m glad this will be an ongoing thing.

There’s another version of the first set of posts up at A Blog Around the Clock – organized chronologically, with some great excerpts highlighting what makes each post good.

Thanks to Cognitive Daily for the pointer.

good interface + bad metadata =

well, not really bad metadata.  More like the wrong metadata.

Dipity lets you build interactive timelines. You can pull in all kinds of information sources — video, text, images — and display them in a nice, linear timeline. The interface is easy to navigate. Each item in the timeline can be viewed within the timeline, and each item has a handy “next event” button to make navigation easier.

Sample Dipity timeline about the Beatles

Anyway, I have some ideas for how to use this interface and if I ever get time to try them, I’ll post about it more.  But that’s the thing – putting this stuff together does take time.  If you choose the browse timelines option on the dipity site – there are a LOT of timelines with no events, with 2 events, with 4 events.  I’d imagine a fair number of them will never be finished.

So the other day I noticed this – Time Tube – a mashup that puts the Dipity timeline interface together with YouTube.  Same cool interface, but you just have to keyword search a topic and your timeline will be populated with YouTube videos a few minutes later.  It’s created a fair amount of buzz over the last couple of days, most of it positive because it’s fun to use and some of the timelines are pretty interesting.

But – the timelines are based on the date the video was uploaded.  If all you want is a nice browsing interface this is okay – as another way to display the results of a YouTube keyword search.  But as a way of visualizing information, if what you want is to add some kind of meaning or context to the videos, it’s only useful for a very narrow set of topics.

Compare this “Beatles” timeline to the one above -

TimeTube for \"The Beatles\" - 1 year span

It doesn’t look too bad, but there’s no real meaning there.  Not even a spike when Across the Universe was released.

TimeTube lets you pick a longer timespan – here’s fifty years.  This really shows the limitations.

TimeTube for \"The Beatles\" - 50 year span

Everything clustered in the middle because YouTube didn’t exist until a short time ago.  The fact that they let you open out your range to 20, 50, 100 years suggests that the upload date might not always be the way these things are generated?  Or maybe it’s just a holdover from the original Dipity interface.  The timelines created are dynamic and there’s no way to save them.  There’s no account to create so you can’t find timeline buddies either.

Where this is useful now is for topics, like “olympic torch protests” where people upload their videos right away after an event happens.  Or to track the zeitgeist when something emerges out of nowhere to become the next big thing.  Or as a fun browsable interface for a YouTube keyword search.

More on why “peer review” isn’t code for “awesome”

There’s an interesting conversation going on at Historiann’s blog about peer review.  It’s especially interesting to librarians I think as a peek behind the curtain of academic publishing – at least a glimpse of what it’s like in certain disciplines.

I have always wondered how closely my experiences writing in the peer-reviewed library science literature match the reality of publishing in other disciplines – and I’ve assumed that they don’t match that well.  It’s a little heartening to see some of my frustrations echoed here – especially where she says “Journals also seem to have no shared rules or system of peer review.”  The amount and type of peer review I’ve gotten for my articles has varied pretty dramatically, and the extent to which I have been able to see and incorporate the reviewers’ thoughts has varied as well.

This is my favorite part – even though most of the post is about why this is an idealistic picture of a  process that doesn’t look like this very often:

What’s not to like, with a fair and humane group of supportive senior scholars freely sharing their wisdom with their (usually junior) colleagues?  Furthermore, having one’s work reviewed by supportive senior scholars is a really great way of making new friends and influencing influential people.  I’ve had that experience a few times–and I’m truly grateful to the people who lent their time and expertise to make me a better historian.

I like this because I think it’s easy to forget this reason for the peer review process.  At this point, with a huge structure of scholarly publishing, employment and reputation that both supports and relies upon our faith in the peer review process as a guarantor of quality – I think it’s easy to forget the “peer” part of peer review.  And I also think that remembering it can help us as we figure out how to talk about peer review in a time where the landscape of scholarly communication is changing.

Right after I read this, I read the Tenured Radical’s lovely post remembering Charles Tilly, who died on April 29th.  The whole piece is a wonderful tribute.  This segment particularly struck me after reading Historiann’s description of ideal peer review as “a fair and humane group of supportive senior scholars freely sharing their wisdom with their (usually junior) colleagues?”

I didn’t know that at that moment in time you got Chuck and Louise as a package, and that once you fell into their orbit you never really left. You became part of this network of astonishing people with capacious intellects who came in and out of town, moving through offices that were a hive of activity, research and ideas. Looking at something I had written one day, Chuck said, “Theda Skocpol is coming through next week — let’s have her take a look at it and pick her brain.” Chuck ran a proseminar on the state which was my principle intellectual context during my final years in graduate school: one fall, in the first meeting, I walked in and sitting around the table were E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, Bridget Hill, and Eric Hobsbawm.

What’s not to like, indeed?

Scholarship on the participatory web – a quick take on the OAH

I don’t know that I have anything really insightful to say about this example of scholarship on the read/write web, but when I clicked over to HNN’s Highlights from the 2008 OAH Convention this morning I didn’t have high expectations.

(For non-historians, OAH = Organization of American Historians. This is one of the two main US-based scholarly associations in history. The OAH is for any scholar who studies American History. The other one, the American Historical Association, is for any American historian, no matter what they study. Both organizations have made some great uses of the emerging web to promote scholarly communication.).

I like the idea of following conferences I can’t attend via blogs, but in practice I rarely find that it works for me. Liveblogs of conference sessions are usually similar to class-notes type writing, more reporting than analysis and idiosyncratic reporting at that. And I definitely get why – no one has time to write an account of what was said and an analysis of what it means at the same time. And at best, liveblogged analysis can’t go past gut, immediate reactions — ideas that might develop and change with time for reflection. But the analytical, more personalized “what I thought was good, bad and important” writing — that takes time. I know that even when I want to write up a conference later, I don’t get to it before the next conference comes along.

Which is why I enjoyed this coverage so much. Rick Shenkman, HNN editor, reported on the sessions he saw, placed the arguments in context, and told us what he thought of the sessions, the speakers, the reactions/discussions and the papers. It reads like one person’s account, but that’s one of the things I liked best about it – it didn’t have that blandness of objectivity. Best of all, almost every session and talk discussed is supplemented with a YouTube video from the session itself. So one guy’s analysis, and the opportunity to see for yourself.

Here’s Manning Marable:

Which is why this is the kind of coverage I think could be really useful for students new to the discipline to really get a sense of what goes on in a discipline, in a scholarly community. The videos alone, even if the quality was better than YouTube, wouldn’t do that — non-experts need the context and the analysis. The context and analysis wouldn’t be enough either — too much one person’s view. If there was a better discussion in the comments, that’d be ideal, but that doesn’t seem to be happening yet. Maybe next year.

cool stuff that’s fun to look at!

For reasons I won’t go into, I recently spent way too much time on the internet looking for magazine scans. (Anyone going to Online NW might soon be able to piece together why). Looking for those I ran across some other things I thought were awesome, even if I’m not always clear on what to do with them.

The Book Scans database

  • I’m linking to the main page – the database page is on the left. I probably lost an hour going through these. The site design is a little old-school, and navigating can be kind of clunky. The site is also intended for the collector community, so it might be perfectly organized for their needs and only clunky for non-collectors. Oddly there’s no notes anywhere about what one can do with these images, or actually anything at all intellectual property-related.

Steven Hill’s Movie Title Screens Page

  • Again, more a browsing space than a searching one, and initially I was like “why would I want to browse this.” Thirty minutes later I still wasn’t sure but I couldn’t stop. These are screengrabs of the title shots from a whole lot of movies. I almost didn’t include this one when I couldn’t find All About Eve, but this one from The Awful Truth was entirely charming so I left it in –

Title shot from The Awful Truth

Vintage Vanguard

  • A big collection of scans of old Vanguard record albums. Both front and back material, which is awesome. I love these because you can see how old they are.

And I also found magazine scans galore — these were my two favorite sites:


The Conde Nast Store

And finally this – cute mid-century French stuff. I’m not sure how to categorize this, but how could I not include it?