December 12, 2005
Well, I made one little change to the template and next thing I know, half the site is screwed up. But it's all right now.
Check it here.
November 28, 2005
I have been working on a longer article about a black tanker who fought in World War II, but it's not quite finished yet. So instead, I inserted a portion of my writings into the article about Patton. Hopefully this one will draw some attention, as most of my other edits have been minor.
Posted by kalbers at 02:44 PM
November 17, 2005
I guess I'll try to stick to the themes I have hammered at for most of the semester: the unique features of the medium of digital scholarship and the democratization of scholarship.
What struck me particularly in the readings and our discussions this past week was that there is not simply a discussion of a shift in method, but of a change in educational philosophy. David Pace described this as a "rejection of an older vision of education that saw students as empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge. Pace describes a new model which hopes to better engage students and contextualize the material in the world around them. Pace's proposals suggest a model by which students and their ideas might be taken more seriously, creating an environment which encourages and rewards a willingness to think creatively about problems, historical or otherwise.
Whether or not this changing attitude toward the student/teacher dynamics is commensurate or independent of the use of digital media is debatable. However, if one looks to move in a direction of treating students as more than "empty vessels," changes in methods seems appropriate, and digital media seems to offer unique opportunities for symbiosis. First, rather than a "my way or the highway" approach, the very assessing ways in which students might be best engages shows a willingness by faculty to work in part on the students terms. As Dr. Kelly has related in his stories of students about to graduate without stepping foot in the library, there seems to be a growing aversion to text based learning. While these are certainly extreme cases and do not implicate the need for a complete abandonment of the book as a tool, the facility and popularity of online information is apparent. As we have continually noted throughout the semester the improved access offered by the web is one of digital media's most valuable assets. As Dr. Kelly notes in "For Better or Worse," in placing class materials online, particularly with regard to primary sources, it seems that students appreciate their ready availability and flexible use.
The democratization of scholarship seems apparent in the potentials on the student production side of the educational equation. This blog is a great example. It extends the dialog of the classroom, offering improved opportunities for collaborative learning. It encourages students who might feel uncomfortable voicing their opinions in the classroom, and allows for greater development and refinement of ideas. Moreover, while offering the student more control and opportunity for expression, this is accompanied by greater accountability and responsibility, factors which might potentially improve the quality of learning.
Shifting the emphasis of education away from simply infusing students with knowledge, but rather toward encouraging them to think critically, collaboratively, and creatively is a positive development, and digital media seems a worthy companion in the process. Moreover, it is a medium students are increasing comfortable with, in fact, often more so than with the traditional tools of learning. How it will be integrated into the classroom setting remains to be fully explored, but its presence and utility are no longer in doubt.
Posted by kalbers at 10:29 AM
October 29, 2005
Ken's Proposal Proposal
The etymology of the word encyclopedia reflects two Greek roots: enkuklios, meaning "cyclical, periodic," and paideia meaning"education." It has been interpreted as "general education" or "whole circle of knowledge." While its meaning has changed over time, it has generally referred to a comprehensive attempt to gather knowledge in a single location.
The dynamics of the loci of knowledge sources as a representation of corresponding shifts in power can be viewed in attempts to locate and consolidate information. Whether this power operates hierarchically or in a more lateral, dispersed fashion has been a changing and contested process. In the world of oral culture, knowledge dispersion was a communal and interactive process. Those with exceptional recollective and narrative skills were often afforded respected positions within the community, but the utilization and continuity of information was reliant upon the efforts of the group. With the advent of print culture, and innovations in production and propagation, the control over the production of knowledge was held in fewer hands, and as a result, in many ways more uniform. An encyclopedia became a central source of knowledge to its readers, but what was on its pages was decided on by only a few. Moreover, the learning process had become passive - authors were rarely available to answer questions or challenges.
However, digital media has offered a new format for the encyclopedia. Early incarnations generally took the form of cd-roms which were similar to traditional encyclopedias, but with hypertext capabilities. More recently a new format has been introduced with the "wiki," specifically, but not limited to, the Wikipedia. In a sense, with important differences, the wiki model seems closer to the oral tradition, with a communal and interactive creation and dispersion of information, than to the print model. Users can both seek out and contribute to the collection of knowledge, potentially reclaiming from the "experts" the loci of control.
There are many nuances to this which I hope to explore in my project, through a history of past creation and uses of encyclopedias, as well as a detailed analysis of the potential differences wikis offer. These would include disputes over included material, how encyclopedias were made available to the public, and the influence the publishing industry held over these processes. Moreover, the passionate defenses and criticisms of the Wikipedia mark it as an extremely contested territory. Still. its high levels of traffic indicate it is not to be ignored. In addition to presenting a detailed hypertexted history of encyclopedias, I would hope to offer an experiment with media types in the project as well, where users could compare oral, print, and wiki versions of similar entries, and understand the multifaceted differences between them. This could outline the important impact which information control has on education and knowledge-power.
Posted by kalbers at 07:21 PM
October 11, 2005
Ken's review link
Here is my review essay.
October 03, 2005
What I have taken away from the readings, and from surfing the history web, is that there tend to be three factors which trump all others in defining the good sites from the bad: readability, organization, and navigability.
Since the meat of many, if not most, historical websites is in the text, readability is paramount as far as presentation goes. If a site is difficult to read, it is an unlikely a reader will be able to stay long enough to follow the argument. Next would be organization. Good sites tend to group its materials in a variety of ways: by topic, document type, era, etc. This makes it easier for the user to quickly identify the contents of the site, find the areas he or she wishes to engage, and later locate elements they wish to revisit. Finally, navigability ties importantly with organization. Being able to move between sections of the site easily through the use of a navigation bar is important, especially when different areas might be used cross-referentially. Having to continually return to the homepage or back through multiple pages to indices is frustrating and inefficient.
The American Red Cross Online Museum recognizes the benefits of good site design, and stands out for its usability. While the font could potentially be a little bigger or spaced further apart, it is presented nicely in black on white, with good margins, couched by red borders. It is pleasing to the eye and easy to scan. The site is clearly organized into three major academic sections: history, exhibits and collections, and roll call (an oral history project). Each of these sections is further organized into different topical and demographic interest areas. The navigation bar across the top allows the user to easily move between the major sections of the site, while the sidebar allows movement within them. Links stand out in blue, further enhancing site navigation.
On the other hand, Titanic & Her Sisters, is a good example of how not considering readability, organization, and navigability can make a site difficult to use. The blue on white text, while not unreadable, can become tiring after a while. Especially since the author decided to stretch the text fully across the page, making the users eyes work even harder. Some pages, like the Cargo Manifest, are virtually illegible. The site is almost haphazardly put together, with no divisions, topical or otherwise. Finally, without any navigation tool, the user is forced to back his or her way to the homepage. This problem in navigation is compounded by the links themselves being the same color as the text. They are marked by underlining, but this hardly differentiates them clearly.
Placing a nicely contrasting text in manageable columns, couched by navigation bars which reflect well thought out organization seems to be key in presenting a good site to the historical web.
ps- My site is an example of terrible site design (although I am finally getting close to putting up an all new and improved xhtml version). But I changed the Links page to be better. I don;t know if I'd say it's good, but it's certainly better.
Posted by kalbers at 12:23 PM
September 26, 2005
I don't believe in isms......
I chose this question because I have avoided philosophy and its theoretical applications for most of my life. The language used to frighten and anger me, but in cutting through its (often unnecessary) obtuseness, I am finding many of these ideas to be very provocative. So, I’ll give this a whirl, even though I am far from confident about my grasp over the tenets of postmodernism and those of the structures it seeks to dismantle. Any comments, criticisms, pitying help would be appreciated (I’m begging here).
Keith Jenkins attempts to lay out the battlefield between traditional and postmodern historians and the respective arguments they make against each other. While Jenkins, as editor of a collection of essays on this subject, asserts that he is writing this introduction because “history students ought to be aware of this situation and ought to take seriously postmodern-type critiques of both upper and lower case histories,” his sympathies seem to be aligned with the postmodernists. He champions their cause and the possibilities postmodern offers in undercutting traditional historical narrative structure.
This would seem to be where he would focus his comments if he were to review William Cronon’s “A Place for Stories.” Cronon nakedly admits the discomfiture postmodernism has caused him, and the wrestling it took to produce his article over the course of five years. In trying to reach a final conclusion, Cronon offers that his “goal throughout has been to acknowledge the immense power of narrative [ie, acknowledge postmodernism contributions with regards to the inherent implications of narratives and metanarratives] while still defending the past (and nature) as real things to which our storytelling must somehow conform lest it cease being history altogether.”(1372) Cronon appreciates some of postmodernisms critiques, but fears to join them he must accept that the past is infinitely malleable, thereby undermining the entire historical project.”(1374)
Jenkins would counter that Cronon’s fears are unfounded, and that postmodernism’s deconstructive qualities present exciting possibilities rather than a devaluation into relative nihilism. He admits that postmodernism deliver son its promise to destroy, in the words of Robert Berkhofer, “the legitimating authority of factuality for history itself according to traditional premises,” and very much allows “historians to tell many equally legitimate stories from various view points, with umpteen voices, emplotments and types of synthesis.”(20) But rather than see this as a destructive force to history making, Jenkins (through Berkhofer) highlights that Cronon is worried because “normal history orders the past for the sake of authority and therefore power.”(20) Ultimately, traditional historical narratives are as constructed as fictions, and only through communal comparison can the relative merits of a historical work be judged.
Cronon would likely agree with this final point, as he himself highlights the importance of peer review. However, he might wonder, what if any, set of values postmodernism might propose to use as a community in assessing historical texts. Moreover, Cronon holds fast in proclaiming “the virtues of narrative as our best and most compelling tool for searching out meaning in a conflicted and contradictory world.” While postmodernisms deconstructions can be alluring, he would likely find them somewhat empty and impotent in presenting a new for
Posted by kalbers at 05:35 PM
September 23, 2005
A Modest Proposal
A few weeks ago I came across a site that I found particularly fascinating: Dr. Seuss Went to War. Military history is not something I have much interest in, but I do enjoy cultural history, and this site presented an expansive collection of images which might have shaped American consciousness during World War II and happened to be drawn by an extremely famous author of books for children.
That was the part that initially caught my attention, for I was unaware of this aspect of Theodor Seuss Geisel's career. Plus it happens to be (except for the frames) a pretty good site.
So when this project came up, I wanted to develop an idea in which I could incorporate this. A review of sites dedicated to political cartoons of World War II seemed most logical. In addition to the Seuss site, I'd like to at least look at these as well.
Arthus Szyk: Drawing On War examines Szyk's work through a series of audio narratives by historians and artists about specific cartoons.
World War II Through Cartoons presents an interactive tour and movie about Canadian cartoons and their impact on fomenting support for the Allied cause.
The Authentic History Center presents a small database of images of two cartoon which are of interest because of their overt sexism. Another site claims Male Call was the most widely syndicated strip of all time, which makes it particularly compelling.
I think these sites will offer the opportunity to analyze not only on the quality of the content, but also on the presentation and method for delivering information. They cover at least some of the range of opportunity the Internet offers historians for presenting material beyond the linear, textual narrative.
September 19, 2005
A Most Feeble Site
I wanted to start low so I could only go up! ;^)
Posted by kalbers at 01:31 PM
The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War is an exemplary online archive. The site, hosted by the Virginia Center for Digital History, is a repository for an enormous amount of material relating to two communities, both in the same Shenandoah Valley resting below the Appalachian Mountains, which found themselves on opposite sides of the political and violent lines drawn before, during, and after the Civil War.
The Valley of the Shadow represents the advantages an online archive can offer while maintaining the benefits any physical repository can offer. Most significant is the multiple avenues which are offered to approach the material by. Much like a non-virtual archive, The Valley of the Shadow allows a researcher to choose a broad topic or source, such as newspaper articles, and simply browse the material, culling bits of information one expects to find, as well as evidence stumbled upon. However, the archive, in reproducing documents as searchable text fields, allows the researcher to hone in on material which might have been overlooked or never even considered as a source. For example, in a section containing thousands of letters written during the war, a search for the word "bullet" identifies the eleven documents containing the word in seconds rather than months, and potentially with greater accuracy as well. The search tool, offered in most areas of the site, is powerful, offering researchers several fields, such as author and date in the letters collection, by which the results might be narrowed.
This is important given the breadth and depth of material offered here. The site is structured into three chronological divisions: antebellum, wartime, and the aftermath. All of these divisions contain collections of letters and diaries, newspapers articles, and maps. However, each era also highlights several unique topics such as census, church, and veteran records, soldier information, images, or the Freedman Bureau.
The site’s layout is also conceived so as to facilitate access to the materials. The sections are organized so as to be approachable in multiple ways. A graphical layout presents the researcher with an interactive “floor plan” of the archives, highlighting different aspects of the collection. However, one can also enter the “Reference Center” to view not only hypertext timelines and extensive bibliographies (organized by subject and type), but also a listing of the sites databases for a more traditional approach. Conceptualizing the material in these different modes lends a greater freedom and creativity to the researcher than a physical or even more constrictive virtual, archive allows.
Perhaps best of all, for those who might feel intimidated by such a far reaching and technical site, The Valley of the Shadow includes a walkthrough to help understand the site and its contents as well as teaching resources for educators who would like to incorporate parts of it into their lessons. This is a nice touch, making the site accessible to those who are unfamiliar with performing primary research, opening the field to academic and public scholars alike. The Valley of the Shadow should appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in Civil War history, and is a powerful tool for those who study it seriously.
Posted by kalbers at 10:48 AM
September 05, 2005
Scavenger Hunt Thoughts
So, like De La Soul asked, what does it all mean? On probably the most obvious level, the ability to find resources answering ten (or nine in my case) questions of a fairly specific nature in under thirty minutes is astonishing. It's certainly an advantage in many ways to be researching now, as opposed to even ten years ago. Not simply in just the amount and variety of information readily available online (and the corollaries, such as reducing or eliminating travel to archives), but the processes which allow us to manipulate this material, such as text search tools by which it becomes less necassary to actually read or scan entire documents, but instead zooms us directly to what we are seeking.
Of course this leads to another set of implications. For example, with research facilitated so much, how might expectation levels and scholarly standards change? Another potential problem is that in using text searches we liekly miss important or otherwise interesting information which might have been noticed using more traditional research methods. It seems it might be best to think of online resources as a powerful and excellent resource, but also as a supplement in addition to, not wholly as a replacement of, more conventional research.
Enjoy Labor Day everyone!
1. http://www.titoville.com/voditelji.html (5 mins) I searched google images for Tito and Roosevelt. I misread this one to read a picture with all three, so it took me a while until I realized my mistake. Oddly, this wasn't my first visit to Titoville.
2. http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/1/1/6/8/11689/11689-h/11689-h.htm 2 mins I searched google for the quote. "Evolution" Alice Duer Miller The Gutenberg Project is a great site-especially if you're taking nineteenth century literature classes and don't want to pay for books!
3. http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/P?mgw:5:./temp/~ammem_e7G6:: 4 mins I searched American Memory's collection of Washington's papers for Pickering and forged and found this after a coulpe of tries.
4. http://thetalkingdrum.com/wil.html <1 min I searched google for Willie Lynch and it is the first site.
5. http://old.hrad.cz/president/Havel/speeches/1990/2102_uk.html 4 mins I searched google for the date and name, and I looked for a url with "cz in it. The link brought me right there, but I went up a few levels to confirm it was the appropriate site.
6. Looooong URL 4 mins Through GMU's library page, I accessed JSTOR and searched the title.
7. http://chnm.gmu.edu/tools/syllabi/search.php?user_query=%22The+Non-Designers+Web+Book%22 <1 min Since I work at the Center for History and New Media, I knew about the Syllabus Finder which made this one pretty quick.
8. http://web.archive.org/web/19980128103923/http://chnm.gmu.edu/ 2 mins I plugged the address into the Wayback Machine at www.archive.org.
9. Couldn't find this one for the life of me, so I moved on....
10. http://www.historycooperative.org/cgi-bin/justtop.cgi?act=justtop&url=http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jah/87.4/kornblith.html 1 min I used google to find this. It's not the full text though, but I ran out of time before I could get to the journal through the GMU library resources.
Posted by kalbers at 10:10 AM
August 29, 2005
Nice to meet you, and I look forward to a fun and productive semester. I'll be working here this semester, so hopefully my job and this class will develop a symbosis with my brain. I came across an interesting project about speech accents today that you might enjoy.
Posted by kalbers at 07:12 PM