Monday, October 23, 2006

A very short word about my possible final project

I will probably Blog about my idea for the major project later this week in more detail but, at this juncture, it is thought to be an online database of the research I did for my thesis (I know I talk about it a lot, but hey, it's the only real research I've ever done!!).

Mainly, this consists of all the numbers I collected about the attendance at monthly county court meetings by justices of the peace and the total number of possible justices at any given meeting. I collected a decent amount of data, then had to crunch the numbers manually to get the tables I put in my paper. If I continue that research and extend it throughout the whole century, it will be 3 or 4 times as much data (my thesis covered 1651-1665 with two years not included b/c the records were missing, so doing a study of 1651-1700 or so would be A LOT more and doing it all by hand would be pretty painful). And, once I got it up and running, other folks doing work on 17th century Va. could have access to the data too! Now, the big question is: can I actually do this with my non-existent knowledge of databases???

These readings hit home!

Now here are some readings I really loved...they are very applicable to my role as a TA for HIST 125 and my future goals as history professor.

I really liked the history of the multiple-choice question/exam in "No Computer Left Behind." I did not really know anything about them, I just knew they were here and they were a scurge on the academic profession...but do have some very useful applications, namely standardized tests like the SAT, ACT, LSAT, GRE, etc. They are not perfect, by an stretch of the immagination (remember Shaq's declaration in that basketball movie with Nick Nolte, where he says, "That test is culturally biased" about the ACT I think??). Also, things like surveys and personality profiles can be used very effectively through mult-choice format. But not for history! And while I hate grading essays (I don't HATE it, I just HATE the time it takes!), they are much better at showing whether a student udnerstands what we are telling them.

Another interesting point was raised by Mills in "For Better of Worse? The Marriage of the Web and Classroom." He says, in his last paragraph, that the hypermedia revolution, while it "does not herald the end of the book, I believe it does herald the end of the coverage model introductory history survey course." And while many things I have been exposed to in this course (both topically and the "under the hood" stuff) scares me sometimes (mainly, a fear of things I do not understand kind of thing...but it also fills me with hope and wonder that maybe, one day, I WILL be able to do some of it!!), this is a welcome subtraction. I have always thought something had to be done about those survey courses in their present formats. I, not being a school administrator or even a faculty member yet, have not really formed any opinions as to what should be changed. But, all I know is, I hate the way most surveys are taught at the present. Changes NEED to be made!

And as for the WHM exercises we were supposed to poke around on, I think they are very good teaching tools and make for some fun and interesting exercises, but I did get one wrong that I was kind of miffed about. The first one, "what can maps tell us," wanted to know how cholera was spread in this 1854 London neighborhood. I got the question about how the disease spread wrong. It was becuase they were drinking water out of a tainted pump but how was I supposed to know the dang public water pump was? Was that actually labeled on the 1854 map Dr. Snow used? If so, why was I not able to see the pump until after I answered the question?? That would seem to be pretty vital information! Sorry, I am starting to enjoy the Blog-rant, as many of you can tell...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Maps and Podcasts

Let me start off by saying that I am a huge fan of anything that makes history more visual. But what I want to talk about a little is the podcasts from the AP article about Historical Websites. They have links to podcasts in the following sites: Colonial Williamsburg, the Smithsonian, Monticello, and the Boston Freedom Trail. I can't wait to download some in mp3 format and upload them onto my iPod/non-iPod. Especially the ones about Thomas Jefferson's writings/speeches on religion and religious freedom/toleration!

The only problem I have found is trying to listen to the podcasts on my computer. With no visual element, it is pretty hard to just sit there in front of my machine and not do anything else while the audio is playing. Then, I get doing something and don't really listen to it at all. But these would be great to have on tours of battlefields, national parks, and other historical areas. It would save money too since often times those audio CDs with the tour guide on them cost a few bucks at the gift shop. And many times, I avoid buying them altogether.

And as for maps, I too, like many of my fellow Clio students, love maps! Maps, charts, graphs, tables, slides, documentaries, whatever!! Anything that can make history more visual is, in my book, a good thing. I would have really liked to add 2 maps to my thesis, but I had no way to do it because no maps from my time period in my area exist. But I do have a lot of geographical information and with that and newer maps, maybe I could have designed them (or maybe I will make them for my dissertation!). I did put 2 tables and 2 graphs if anyone is interested!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Columbus Day, hmm?

So, I had said that I was going to rant about Columbus Day and, even though it is a day after, I figured I would post a couple of my thoughts. First, I just don't see the validity of the holiday in any way, except that they have an Italian-American parade in NYC, San Fran and elsewhere. But there are many other Italians I would think would deserve a holiday much more than Columbus. Say, Leonardo da Vinci? Any of the great Renaissance thinkers for that matter.

So, what did Columbus do that is so deserving of a holiday? He discovered the "new world"? Well, I think we know the several problems with that - first, there were people here already so you can't discover something that has already been discovered. Well, he discovered it for the Europeans? Or "re-discovered" it? And of course we know the problem with that - the Vikings "re-discovered" it, not Columbus. And besdies, the Vikings were at least exploring a region they knew was there (they at least knew Greenland was out there we think). Columbus thought he was in India or the islands off S.E. Asia. So, what are we really celebrating then? That Columbus was the third different type of person to land in the western hemisphere and that he had no idea where he was! Hmmmm...

And secondly and more importantly, Columbus did not treat the natives very well at all. Now, I don't necessarily blame him more than I would Cortes et al, but Cortes does not have his own holiday now does he? I looked up Columbus Day on Wikipedia (just to tie this in with our class a little bit!), and there is a good entry on the opposition to it. Among other things, it said:

"In recent years, the holiday has been rejected by many people who view it as a celebration of conquest and genocide by the Spaniards. In its place, Indigenous Peoples Day is sometimes celebrated (I like this much better!). In the U.S. Virgin Islands, "Puerto Rico-Virgin Islands Friendship Day" is celebrated on the same day as Columbus Day, due to the controversy surrounding the atrocities committed against the indigenous peoples of the present-day Caribbean during the Spanish colonization the New World (this is fine too)."

Columbus, while he did not wipe out an entire civilization a la Cortes, he did kill hundreds, if not thousands, of natives. And his presence of course led to the death of millions of natives via future conquests and disease. So, I ask again, who and what are we actually supposed to be celebrating here???

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

knowledge and access

I have discovered I enjoy tackling the more philosophical questions in our clio class, mainly because of my lack of in-depth cpu knowledge. But, I did minor in philosophy as an undergrad. I mean, who doesn't like opining about the meaning of life, ethics, logic and all those neat things?

So, for this week I have a question that seems to fit these readings AND several of our past readings as well (and I'm sure some to come too): why do we (scholars/academics/etc.) attain knowledge? And why do we store it? Is it for our own benefit? Or is for the benefit of society?

I have been considering this question for a few weeks now. I'd like to think I do what I do more to educate than for any other more personal reasons. My thesis advisor at UNO always told me it was valuable and even necessary for a historian (and most any academic) to have an ego and to possess confidence. But I think he would also agree that education is the primary goal for many of us that will stay in the world of academia after we graduate.

But when I read Paul Miller's article about Interoperability, I thought the answer was obvious. Having knowledge of any type locked up in electronic vaults just seems wrong, doesn't it? So, making these systems and databases that contain these massive amounts of historical data interoperable sounds like a worthy goal to me. As Miller says, "the knowledge to be gained from mining these resources can be measured in a similar fashion to the wealth potential of steel and coal in the previous Industrial Age." (p. 4 at

Anyway, more on this discussion as the semester goes along...