Saturday, September 23, 2006

too much information!!

So, several things came up in the readings for this week that have served to scare the bajesus (sp?) out of me! Clio seems to have a knack for doing just that. Anyway, I do not have time to go into all of them, but I will address a few.

In the first of Turkel's two Blog posts, ( we read, he intros with this somewhat unrelated topic of Big History. I guess he is trying to make a parallel to the "opening up" of history via digital libraries and such, but the connection is very tenuous. And besides that, I have some severe reservations about Big History in general. I would probably very much agree with Publishers Weekly's review of the David Christian book that Turkel references, that his incorporation of cosmology, astrophysics, etc. was unsucessful and the work was, in general, "superficial." It seems to me any attempt to include ALL of history into one work (or heck, 100) would end up superficial at best and hollow and scholarly inept at worst. Must we infringe upon other disciplines? Can we not leave cosmology to the cosmologists?? Sorry for the rant...

Back to the readings themselves, one of Turkel's points about the transformation brought on by digital history (similar to the one brought on by the advent of the printing press) is scary, in that Matrix-sort of way! He says first (and agreeable by me) that we will gain access to all of the world's greatest libraries (very exciting!) and it will greatly democratize knowledge production (which could bring a learning-curve, but in the end will be beneficial). Then, he says it will force us to think of machines as part of our audience. Now, I think he is referring to making it search-friendly and able to be grouped together by machines for our benefit, but the visual is terrifying! Can you imagine computers sitting together critiquing our books that we toiled over for years? Aaaaaaa!!!!

In the end, it seems to me all of our authors are saying we are at this tipping point (or maybe we already reached it, I'm not sure). While several make these caveats that there will still be a place for paper books and non-digital searches (see tip #30 on Mamamussings Blog and the end of the above Turkel's Blog), the implications are hard to ignore. Are we really on course for a paper-less society? And if so (which sounds good to me as an environmentalist), what happens to all these digital records if something crazy happens? (here I am thinking of some kind of Pulse-bomb a la Dark Angel, and BAM, everything is gone!!). Maybe I am just being paranoid...or am I???

Monday, September 18, 2006

more on Wikipedia

So, one of our assignments for this week was to surf Wikipedia for some entries that we may change or contribute to or add from scratch. I found several in my areas of colonial history that could use some work.

First, there is no "history" section for Northumberland County, Va. That is the county whose court records I used to write my master's thesis. I have several ideas for some history to add to the county's entry. From there, I went into some of the names of the major planters/justices that I surveyed in my thesis. None of their names appeared. This did not suprise me much, given that not many people outside 17th century Virginia history would recognize the names of John Mottrom (or Mottram), George Colclough, William Presly, and others. Heck, some colonial Virginia historians may not even know them either!

Then, I decided to search a little more broadly - like, the history of the state/colony of Virginia itself. At first, when I searched for Virginia, I saw very little information and I could not believe it! But, I discovered a hyperlink for "history of Virginia," and upon visiting there, I saw a much more detailed entry, making me vert happy!!

Also, I visited some Civil War sites (which I would consider my 2nd strongest area of American history and somewhat of a hobby, not an area I would ever pursue acadmically...mainly this is because of the oversaturation of historians in the sub-discipline, but that can wait for another post...) and noticed a lot of fairly detailed entries, which is not suprising given the interest in that area of American History. But, there are some mistakes and I will look into correcting some of them.

In the end, I saw more areas for creation than for addition or correction, I guess because of my area of specialty. That is good for me, I gives me several areas to create or correct in search of my Digital Skills points (how do you earn 5 points is what I want to know? Could I ever do enough to get 5 vs 3??).

The only problem is that, when I tried to create an account, the page would not load! Is there something wrong with the site? Did it crash from overuse?? Given that I have never thought of messing with making an entry, to the folks who have, does this happen often with Wikipedia? I will try again later tonight or maybe tommorow because there was one aspect of Sir William Berkeley's entry that I could change very easily - adding my advisor's book to the reference section! I'm sure he would be eccstatic about it, maybe it will get him a couple of extra book sales!!

Monday, September 11, 2006

man, do I feel dumb!

Okay, I decided to look at our Clio I homepage for my HTML studying. I am unsure whether this was a good idea or a bad one, but most of the other pages I visit often (ESPN, Yahoo, etc.) are VERY complicated with all kinds of things going on, so I was hoping the Clio page would be a little less so. I figure I have to crawl before I walk...if I ever walk that is!

Anyway, I definitely recognized a whole lot more than I would have a week ago, but I am still very overwhelmed by the whole thing. If I can ever make heads or tails of this stuff, can I get credit for a foreign language?

So here is some of the info I gleamed from my exhaustive viewing: the page uses both types of programming, client-side and server-side. The only reason I know this is I know that when Javascript is used, it means that is client-side programming. And as if to help me out, Josh put, in a comment, "JavaScripts" so I guess that says it all. There are also aspects of PHP programming which means server-side programming is used. I still don't really know what all this means, but I can at least begin to recognize a little of it when it is used.

I also was very curious about this CSS stuff. So, I noticed that there were several spots where a link to a "stylesheet" was provided. This meant there was a separate stylesheet for all the style throughout the page. Supposedly this makes it easier to read, I'll take Josh's word for it! Anyway, font sizes, weights, color, type and margins and other style features litter the stylesheet. So, the Clio I page definitely uses CSS!

In the end, this has been like reading a French text where I knew some vocabulary words but not near enough to read the text! I can pick out some aspects of it that I understand very well (most focus around easy markers like


    and the like, along with places where it is just text...I really like those!!), but on the whole, I am very humbled by this experience.

    And I noticed when I put those markers in, it actually carried out the functions of paragraph and unordered list. I thought that was funny so I left it like that.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

a couple thoughts on Wikipedia

Well, I know our Blog post for this week is supposed to concern a website's HTML, but I was doing the reading for Tuesday and a couple thoughts hit me about Wikipedia so i figured I'd share them with whoever wants to read them. I mean, that is what Blogs are for, right? Our thoughts, as they come, whenever they come, on whatever topic...

First, it is this idea of the new "casual relationship to truth" (from Stacy Schiff's New Yorker article, "Know It All: Can Wikipedia conquer expertise?" in the July 31, 2006 issue) or what Stephen Colbert would call, "truthiness" (see The Colbert Report on Comedy Central at 11:30pm ET, Mon-Thurs). This worries me that we have gotten so loose with the truth, but I am unsure how "new" of a problem this is. Now, with the Internet and the information at everyone (with a computer)'s fingertips, I guess misinformation is easier to spread as fact than it used to be. But this isn't some new idea, so let's not treat it as such.

Second, and more important for Schiff's article and history in general, is the accuracy of the online encyclopedia. According to Schiff, the magazine Nature compared 42 entries on scientific topics to those found in Britannica. The results: Wikipedia had 4 errors for every 3 in Britannica. Schiff says this was "hailed as a triumph" and I can see why. A) Wikipedia is only 5 years old whereas Britannica is 200 years old, and B) the method of making entries in Wikipedia being so populous. Then I thought, but this is science...and while science is by no means set (I remember how fluid it was when I was taking all those Quantum Physics classes in college), it is much more so than the humanities, including of course, history. So, what is their vallidity in those areas? (Also, is 42 entries really enough for a comprehensive survey???)

so, just some thoughts...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

"Digital History" readings

Well, I can honestly say two things about the readings for tommorow's class (acutally today since it is technically a few mins past midnight): my head is swimming with terms like HTML, IP addresses, DNS, URL; and I was actually very suprised to see the names of software I have used in the past in the readings (maybe I'm more cpu-literate than I thought...nah, probably not!). I have used or at least heard of several of the programs from Adobe to Dreamweaver and more. Now, I'm sure I am nowhere near capable yet of doing the things with those programs needed to create my own website, beyond the oft-mentioned syllabus online (and even that, done in the fancy manner of our Clio I class, may still be unattainable right now).

As for the readings themselves. It seems like one of the biggest debates for our time is whether the diversity and accessibility to history by the "masses" is good for the discipline or not. We have already touched on this debate in our first class, by looking at those websites, and in our first PhD colloquium. Out of 3 classes my first week at GMU, this topic appeared in 67% of them! So, I guess it is not going away. At this point, I will reserve judgement except to say that, throughout history, when more people, of all races, creeds and colors, have gained access to almost anything (i.e. education, opportunity, political power, etc.), it has usually been for the betterment of society in general. And after all, this country was founded on the principle of equality and opportunity. Now, regardless of whether that meant only for white males of a certain stature back then, it now should mean for all people everywhere. We will just have to deal with the consequences, whatever they may be, as historians. I have faith we can.

And wow did I go off on a tangent. Sorry, I do that on occasion.

Anyway, going back to the readings one more time, I did want to take issue with one thing, and it is a minor point. Overall, I loved these 2 chapter plus the intro, even with all their technical mumbo-jumbo (which wasn't really that bad at all). In the "serving your website" section, when referring to the free web hosts who put ads on your site, the authors say it "detracts significantly from its serious historical tone" when showing an example of a history web site using this free host, Netfirms (see this at Now, I don't know if this is because I have grown up with advertising everywhere all the time, but I don't think it detracts that much. I am used to ads on every page on the internet I go to and don't really notice them one way or the other (although some can be really annoying like the ones that blink or have other annimation...but even those, I give no more than a glance). We live in a very consumer culture, like it or not, so ads are just a neccesary evil of that. I take pains to avoid them (I have owned a TiVo since 2001 so I could skip commercials in my TV-viewing), but their being there no longer really bothers me or causes me to even notice. I am numbed to them!

Sunday, September 03, 2006


I put up a pic of me just so my new classmates will know who SaS is...I know I am pretty terrible with names so I figured a face would do folks some good...

My Blog design

Okay, I have no real rhyme or reason in picking this design for my blog, but I did make some modifications that I will discuss.

First, I would like to thank Jeff from my Clio 1 class for his suggestion that I try out Blogger (check out his blog at if you'd like). I was all ready to dive into a Wordpress-driven Blog, but after reading his, along with all the other posts from my fellow classmates, I went with Blogger. So, there you have it...thanks Jeff, I like Blogger as well! And I too agree that Google is usually on target.

As for my changes, I made the color black instead of whatever it was before (which I can't remember now b/c I have been on the cpu ALL DAY and it has all kind of blended together!). I also added my own links and deleted the Google News link, those guys do just fine without me having to link them from my page.

I added links to the George Mason University homepage (I would have put the History Dept. homepage on there but our new site does not launch until Sept 17 or so...the Dean's Office apparently took it down arbitrarily during the summer...what is that about??), Yahoo, ESPN, our Clio 1 class and a link to the 2nd Virginia Forum, which is not until April but I am looking forward to going this year as that may be my 1st conference ever!

And I will tell you that I am very proud of myself because I had to go into the HTML code stuff and change things around to get those links up there!!! Now, I won't call myself a tech-wiz just yet cuz I figured that out, but it is a good first step and an area where I have nowhere to go but UP!! So please, hold your applause...later

my 1st blog EVER!!

Well, I guess this is my official jump into the 21st century and yes, I am very proud of myself! Not really, made it easier than signing up for a credit card, so I thank them for that.

I will soon be posting some rants about everything from politics to sports to, of course, HISTORY, since that is the primary reason for this blog (it is a requirement for Clio I - HIST 696, but I will not stay to only topics relating to that class...I like to be well-rounded!!).

I pledge to try to sound intelligent, informed and learned, that is my promise to any and all viewers of this blog, especially my friends and, of course, my fellow classmates at George Mason Univ.

Stay tuned...