Saturday, November 18, 2006


Pursuing my aim of rendering the learning process transparent, I've included some of the HTML that I created on W3Schools' "Tryit Editor v1.4" In so doing, I've suddenly realized that what I thought was a great idea (about exposing one's learning curve in a very public way, as, in this case, on the Web), is, instead, really a pretty arrogant one. I can imagine that, in most cases, nobody besides the creator cares about her learning curve, or process. Who wants to follow that process? Who has the time? I suppose it depends on how exciting the researcher's process is. Clearly, though, learning to write HTML isn't the raciest research activity to lay bare, is it? This is particularly true when (as in this case) the content will read as nonsense to anyone but the creator.

this is a really cute song
it really reminds me of sarah cooking in our crazy kitchen, looking out the window at winding snowy staircases, winter 2004

Let it Die

I like to sing this one out loud
even when and where I shouldn't
like in the TA office, when I'm using my headphones and I'm sure noone else is there
but someone is always there!

Just because it has attitude...

now I know what I don't want - I learned that with you but why is that quotation bolded? Ah, right. Didn't close the bold tag above
"now i know..." is the only advantage to using the quotation tag (instead of just inserting a break tag and then typing in the q. marks myself) that the quotation marks look nicer?

They shot a movie once in my hometown
Everybody was in it for miles around
Out at the speedway, some kinda Elvis thing
Well I ain't no movie star
But I can get behind anything
Yea I can get behind anything

Poor Sarah

It's no time to be sad

this is a pretty crazy feature

what can I use it for, beyond writing Hebrew text?

I'm all over the p, and b tags!

I like headings

They organize things

This is a heading

I like headings

but I don't like blue

I just have to remember to use american spellings for "centre" and "colour"

Obviously, the next step is to learn about Web Hosting.

This is a post-posting note: I wasn't prepared for blogger to read this HTML in any way - I copied and pasted it from notepad, and thought it would appear just as it does there. I'm perplexed. The learning curve is temporarily leveling off.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Thank you, firefox. I have not been able to post pictures to this blog for a while, and Blogger indicated (in a not-so-subtle way, with a "get firefox" link) that I should just change my browser, and everything would be fine. Blogger was right. I don't miss my slow, cumbersome Internet Explorer at all. Pages now take no time to load. The tab system is fantastic. My blog is a more attractive colour viewed with firefox than it was with IE, and this fabulous new browser even looks more sophisticated than the one I had in IE. I know, I should have jumped on the firefox bandwagon years ago. I'm just glad I finally did.

A latent historical consciousness?

Two years ago, some of my fellow Concordia history grad students and I organized a conference entitled "Nations, Nationalism, and National Identity." Ambitiously, we asked Benedict Anderson to be a keynote speaker. He respectfully declined. Instead, Jocelyn Létourneau came.

This week's focus on history and nation-building recalled my experience of working on that conference. Aside from Létorneau, I don't remember any presenter speaking on identity and history in Quebec. Thinking back on that fact now, I find it really surprising. What surprises me even more is the fact that none of the members of the organizing committee (myself included) even noticed this void at the time [1]. Our history conference, held in the middle of downtown Montreal, in a province where every licence plate reads "je me souviens," almost entirely failed to shed light on history and nation-building in Quebec.

Was that a failure on our part? Should our location and context have made us responsible for increasing emphasis on the Quebec case? [2]. At the time, I was taking a course on Public Memory in Canada, taught by Ronald Rudin (who stars in Lorenz's study) [3]. One of the essays we read in that course was Nelles' work on the Tercentenary of the Founding of Canada [4]. Shouldn't our event's lack of Quebec-ness have resonated with me?

When do people reflect on their identity? And when do they couple history with that reflection? Is it only when, as in Nelles' study, they're involved in nation-building? What about the majority of the population - those of us who haven't made front page news (like René Lévesque) for our nation-building activity? Sure, we may think on our history and identity in times of crisis (such as during a World War, or a referendum on sovereignty when identity is threatened). What about at other times, though? It didn't occur to my friends and I to think about how our own history and sense of identity could affect the way we shaped our conference. Létourneau and Moisan's conclusions corroborate my experience. Their study of the persistence of a dated historical memory in Quebec infers that young people haven't been thinking actively, or independently, about history, nation-building and community identity.

I am interested to hear my colleagues' views on communities' historical consciousness. Do we keep our sense of historical identity on the back-burner? If so, when do we call on it? In those instances, what do we use it for? How can we (as public historians) facilitate communities' use of history for constructive ends?

1. I would guess that at least half of my fellow history grad students were from Quebec. I can't, therefore, say that our topical void was the result of a bunch of oblivious Ontarians working on the project!

2. That a university, or museum has at least some responsibility to teach about the history of its vicinity is a thought that keeps rattling around in my head. Someone expressed this idea in class a few weeks ago, when we were talking about the McCord. I can't remember who it was - my apologies! - but thank you for sharing it. I think it's a really important notion.

3. Chris Lorenz, “Toward a Theoretical Framework for Comparing Historiographies: Some Preliminary Considerations,” Theorizing Historical Consciousness, ed. Peter Seixas (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 25-48.

4. HV Nelles, “Historical Pageantry and the ‘Fusion of the Races’ at the Tercentenary of Quebec, 1908,” Histoire sociale / Social History 29 no.58 (November 1996), 391-416.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

on a side note...

On a side (though somewhat related) note, in the class Carling and I T.A. for, we've been learning about the Reformation. "How did the press affect the spread of Luther's message? How did that technology affect the relationships Luther shared with his supporters and, most significantly, his critics?" These were two of the questions we encouraged our students to think about last week. We were trying to encourage thinking beyond the notion that Luther's message spread much more quickly with the use of the press than it could have otherwise. We were trying to convey the notion that, once his ideas were in print, L couldn't very well evade persecution by saying, "what? Are you kidding? I never said those things!" Of course he said those things - and his critics had a multitude of publications kicking around to prove that he did.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Integrated layers of one big activity (or, an apology post)

I am very uncomfortable with something I wrote in my post a few days ago. I actually didn't write it, but implied it - and this is much worse than if I had actually written it. Often, I think, harmful things implied are much more detrimental than harmful things declared.

What is this "something" that makes me so uneasy? Well, on Sunday, I wrote of my new resolution. I resolved to spend less time sitting around thinking about public history in general, and about digital history projects in particular. I implied that my time would be much better spent larning how to implement projects that I could eventually realize. Worse still, I may have unintentionally paired the act of reflection with my clunky, defunct printer, and that of action with the "sexy" Web.

Yes, I know, my blunder is far from earth-shattering. It has, however, troubled me. This blog is, after all, part of my public persona. What if a reader thinks that I - gasp - believe that reflection and action can't co-exist? What if I'm conveying a sense that the grad student should think less and do more? That would be terrible. I advocate a philosophy of learning completely opposed to such a model. This is my apology post.

Of course, action and reflection should, ideally, co-exist in any learning experience. It seems to me that even pre-school lesson plans are based on this idea. I have a dusty memory of listening to a story about teddy bears in daycare. Afterwords, we drew and coloured-in scenes from that story.

Fast forward a few (ahem!) years, and we're learning in layers this fall. These layers are integrated. They're part of one big activity. We're reflecting on what museums should do, and we're working really hard (and are losing sleep) to make an exhibit. We're learning about "the Infinite Archive" and we're trying to make web pages. And, just before you think this post contains nothing but schmultzy, overly-generalized reflection, let me bring it to a concrete example.

Right now, I'm tyring to figure out the best way to merge my desire to play around with webpage building, or even wiki writing, with the need to document and organize my ongoing artefact research. In our meeting about the Museum London historical exhibition we're developing, we discussed the problem of how to make visible (to each other, to our public, and to our Professor) all of the research that we've each put into this group project. The problem, of course, is that a short item label for the museum exhibition can't convey the depth of our work.

My solution so far has been this: I have been using our wiki as a sort of repository for the best (as in most useful for our purposes) bits of my research. In so doing, I'm afraid I may have caused some frustration on the part of my more organizationally-minded colleagues, who - rightly so - would like a streamlined wiki. I apologize for that! I do, however, find the wiki a convenient way to organize my material. To keep from making too many enemies among my colleagues, I would like to play around with using a website as a good repository for my ongoing research. Of course, that requires me to build a website. I stand by my resolution to try to do this - though, currently, other demands are keeping me from "getting down to (more of) it" as quickly as I had hoped.

A website, as we read many weeks back, allows for doing history in hypertext. Now, I'm really inspired by notions of harnessing the web, and harnessing our participation in developing the web, to extend the potential of real, living, working communities. I'm drawn to the idea of making my ongoing research transparent to the viewer on a website precisely because I think it has great potential to make the relationship between me and my colleagues, and the relationship between our exhibition production team and our consumer, really dynamic.

We have the potential to take the historical research that we do in the university library, and that we cobble together behind card-swipe entry only T.A. room office doors, into a public environment. That public environment is becoming increasingly user-orientated. What better way to make our hard work useful to the community than to plant it, in "raw" form, (that is, as a "work-in-progress", and not just as a final result) on the web?

I understand that, in many cases, it might be inappropriate of the public historian to make her research process transparent. Yet, I think that in others, the public historian has opportunities for forging dynamic relationships with her audience right from the first stages of her research - and she can forge those relationships by rendering her process as transparent as possible.

Unfortunately for us UWO PH students, we are working under a strict time deadline to get our research done and "cooked." This reality prohibits much experimentation with innovative ways of doing and presenting our research. Deadlines are things of the real world, though, and I don't decry our situation in any way. I'm just reflecting on what the great potential of our combined work, fuelled by our ongoing learning. There we are: action and reflection are together again, after a brief but heartbreaking separation on this blog. Phew! I feel better.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Getting down to it

I took some time this evening to work my way through W3School’s Web Building Primer for the beginner. In the very first section, I learned that there is a World Wide Web Consortium that makes rules and standards for the Web. Really? Are they pulling my leg? There can’t be. I sure hope that, if there is such an entity, there’s a very Jean-Luc Picard-ish figure at its helm. Ah, Jean-Luc. "Make it so."

Right away, I appreciated W3School’s simple interface. One of my favourite features was the table of contents in the left-hand margin section of the page. I like knowing where I’m being led, and, as many of us have commented this term, it is always great to know how much one has to read. Will this be a 5-minute long project? Will it take me all evening, or a couple of hours? The layout gives its user a clear sense of her location.

On a side note, I really do think that we should offer our visitor a mapping statement – a sentence explaining the major themes, in the order they will appear, for example - on the first room’s title wall of our Museum London Exhibit. We could even be very clear about it, and tell our visitor in this panel something like, “…you will see x, y, z…”, etc. We don’t want our visitors to feel lost, or as if we’ve left them to their own devices to make sense of our project.

Back to Web Primer: I learned that XML is for describing and transporting data, while HTML is for displaying data. I look forward to learning what all of that means, in real terms, shortly. I also learned that Carling was right (not that I would ever doubt her): it is great to learn to write HTML using a plain text editor instead of a WYSIWYG one like DreamWeaver. I will pick up the tutorial tomorrow at the “CSS Primer: What is CSS?” stage.

So far, I’m finding the tutorial fantastic. Well, almost fantastic. I ran into one small snag. “Do you want to try it?” the tutorial asked me, after it had explained the basic features of an HTML file.

Well, I thought, of course I want to try it. What a silly question.

I couldn’t make sense of the explanation for doing so, though. The tutorial tells me I’m to open word pad, but what is OSX, and how do I get “in” it? Where is TextEdit, and how do I “start” it? This little roadblock is frustrating, and I wish the instructions had been clearer as to how the beginner can access these requirements.

Despite this wee stumbling block, I must admit that I find all of this very exciting! The big scary Web seems so much simpler to me now. I do, however, have an awful premonition that my happy state will not last long, provided that I continue learning about how to be a Web participant. I took a historiography course in the 3rd year of my undergrad. It was my first introduction to the scary concept of historiography. On the first day, our professor told us that we should imagine our ideas of history as represented by our good ol’ friend Humpty Dumpty. Over the course of the year, he told us, we would boot HD off the wall, and he’d smash all over the place. He would make a big, smelly, sticky mess. My prof. assured us, however, that we would, in time, right HD once again. His cracks would be visible thereafter. I am sure that my notion of the Web as lovely and friendly and relatively simple is the attitudinal equivalent of the moment before poor, naïve Mr. Dumpty topples to his messy (though not fatal) doom.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A resolution

My printer isn't working. My printer isn't working, and it's driving me crazy. I think it's on bad terms with my computer, because they don't seem to want to talk to each other. Early last evening, all I wanted to do was to print off notes for my tutorials on Monday. I needed, I felt, to just be able to cross that one, simple task off of my to-do list.

Printer and I took some much-needed time apart. The crazed anger that had made me want to pitch printer out of my second-storey window subsided.

In fact, my hardware crisis sparked a personal revolution - well, maybe just a resolution. I will not be daunted by my old, bulky Lexmark contraption. I am resolved to spend less time responding to tired, clunky hardware and more time participating in the much sexier Web 2.0 [1].

Tim O’Reilly (as quoted by Paul Miller) writes that the new Web is the “…network as platform…” [2]. I find this a most exciting concept! I remember that Diana, at the beginning of term, wanted to know how aspiring practitioners of public history could “come to the table” with individuals like digital historians and web programmers to “do” real history. I also remember Kris, again at the beginning of term, wondering when she could start being a historian [3]. In the former case, Bill Turkel’s response to Diana was “you’re at the table!” In the latter, Kris had been responding to Alan MacEachern’s question, when will you stop being a history student and start being a historian? [4]

Public history is, as we discussed and are learning, a reflective practice. I truly believe this to be a constructive, useful and inspiring way for its practitioners to conceive of their discipline. I need, however, to strike a better balance than I currently manage between reflection and action. I need to continue to write blog posts about the kinds of digital history projects I'd like to eventually be involved in making, and, at the same time, get down to learning about how to make them [5].

I am, therefore, resolved to spend time for the remainder of the term with W3Schools, learning how to make my own webpage. All of Carling's hard work on her genealogy and Jurassic Park pages has motivated me to action. Perhaps I should start with Microsoft Publisher (despite Carling's disappointment with the program), or at least with DreamWeaver? I would like to start from the "basics", as Carling commented, and so I think learning XHTML is the best way to go about this project.

I do recognize the irony in my resolve to take up the mighty challenge that only rates an "easy" on Bill Turkel's thermometer difficulty scale for lab exercises. Further, I recall Tim O'Reilly's distinction of personal websites, the concept of pages, and the act of publishing among those features characteristic of Web 1.0. I do, therefore, also recognize the irony in taking on personal web page making as my first step in participating in the new Web.

Now that I've publicly resolved to take on this project, I'd better stop talking, and just get down to it.

[1]. Hats off to my colleagues Kevin and Kelly for an enlightening and entertaining blog-off on, among other important topics, the sexiness of the apple corer.
[2]. I know that I came across the explanation – somewhere in the Digital History readings for this coming week – that we’re treating the Web as a platform just as we only used to think of operating systems as platforms. It was likely in the same spot as the helpful explanation that, sometimes, people express this concept as “web as operating system.” Of course, I can’t remember, or find again, this helpful spot to cite it. If anyone comes across it, I’d so appreciate it if you could let me know of its location.
[3]. Kris comments on this experience in one of her blog posts.
[4]. I’m wary of mis-quoting Professor MacEachern again, lest he think all the PH students are orchestrating a massive smear campaign. My memory of the conversation is muddy, and so I intend only to paraphrase.
[5]. For example, I'm still intrigued by the idea of a network visualization interface for Canada's memorial and historical sites, and by that of mapping the human relationships that continue community for now-empty physical (spatial?) communities.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

On Human Networks

I have a knot of thoughts clogging up my brain right now. In my mind's eye, the knot resembles that representation of a protein interaction network that I included in my post about visualizing complex networks. The difference between that complex network and my thoughts, however, is that my thoughts are all very simple. They've just managed to get all tangled, like that big ball of outdoor Christmas lights that has sat in the corner of the garage since last January.

I think the knot is both a result of my long silence on this blog, as well as a reason for the continuation of that silence. Over the past few weeks I've been scribbling wee notes to myself full of future blog ideas. These crumpled pieces of paper have been collecting in a pile on my desk. They're intimidating - much, much more so than a small stack of personal notes should be. Of course, they're now of no use to anyone (least of all to me) . I've realized that the moment is clearly not going to come when I'll craft the disparate thoughts into an eloquent essay. So, for the preservation of my sanity, I'll spill them out here. Perhaps I can revisit this mess later and make something more of them. Hopefully, that "something" can be more than just the sum of all of its parts. That would be very satisfying, as the broad subject of my thinking has been networks.

The topic of mashups, and the ecological metaphors some have used to describe them, helped me think about networks in new ways. I published my post on that topic this morning, and then walked down to do some reading at the Red Roaster Cafe in the London Public Library. When there, a friendly guy, apparently interested in the remarkably uninteresting "Europe in the Sixteenth Century" textbook I was reading, struck up a conversation. We didn't even talk for ten minutes, but in that time I learned that he had studied visual art at Concordia, and most likely was in the same courses as one of my close friends.

We often exclaim, "what a small world!" We (as in our world's population) have relationships that comprise a very complicated network. Again, our messy-looking friend, the protein interaction network, could represent those relations. Wouldn't it be neat if everyone could just stand still for a couple of months, and an artistic/research team could run around tying strings between people to represent their relationships. We would all end up the ultimate Christmas light-esque knot.

It all has the makings of a weird Douglas Coupland installation project. See, for example, Coupland's "Super City" piece at the CCA. Indeed, it's likely that many artists have produced work on this theme, and I'd love to learn more about their work. In fact, I would love to take up a project on the theme. Inspired by Visual Complexity's statement "the whole (of a network) is always more than the sum of its parts", I would learn how to make an appealing and intriguing-looking visualization network to represent, and teach about our relationships. I would encourage other interested researchers to use my aggregated data for their own applications. (Really, all of this reading about some of the fabulous components of Web 2.0, such as collaboration, social bookmarking, open-access and open-source applications, peer-to-peer sharing, APIs and recombinance is turning me into a socialist). Inspired by the mashup, I would seek to map out, locate, and represent the invisible relationships we share. It would be my goal for the virtual community to enhance the actual community.

The first community I would target for this kind of application would be one I'll call the Depot Harbour diaspora. DH is now a ghost town, and is located near Parry Sound. My partner is currently doing a fascinating oral history research project on the place. He has taken on this project because his grandfather used to live and work in the once-thriving community. Mark recently interviewed a number of relatives on their experience with the town, and their memories since they have left. His goal is to bring the people back into historical interpretations of the space - to repopulate the creepy (in a bad way)-looking photos we have now of empty lots where community churches once stood.

After sharing a litre of wine and a lengthy, exciting conversation about his project, Mark got me to thinking that some kind of visual map of the relationships between former DH residents, and of their current locations, would be a really neat thing to have. All of the people moved somewhere, and they took great stories with them. What if we could collect those stories, map them out, and indicate contextual/topical relationships that their stories reveal? Our interview subjects could continually add to this network. (For a visualization of these connections, I'm thinking of using something similar to the "strings" that connect subjects in the McCord's concept network interface).

In the end, isn't it among the historian's goals to repopulate the dusty, dead and now-empty places of the past? I'm looking forward to thinking about ideas of place and community identity-building in our 500 class on 15 November. I think that Chris Lorenz's [1] writing on space, time, and place-in-time opens up neat areas for discussion about the ways communities make identies, and the ways we can learn about the meaning they give to those identities.

Of all of my recent disconnected thoughts, the one most relevant to the current work of our own little community of UWO Public History MA students is that about repopulating past communities of Londoners by using the artifacts at our disposal. Just as a mashup contains innumerable clues about its parent community, so does an apple corer - though, as Kelly has written, that corer could maybe do with being a little sexier. If our exhibit can teach our visitors about the meaning an apple corer, a bovie, a gestetner or a slide projector had in a London community - or, rather, how such inventions affected/were used by the community - I think we'll have done a good job.


[1] Chris Lorenz, "Toward a Theoretical Framework for Comparing Historiographies: Some Preliminary Considerations," Theorizing Historical Consciousness, ed. Peter Seixas (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), pp.25-48.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Programmable Web and mashups for historians

A web mashup, I’ve learned this week, is a web application that operates by combining two or more pre-existing applications. Unless she hacks the parent site’s software, the mashup creator needs to acquire it some other way. Even if the hacker acts as a sort of Robin Hood – providing precious resources for the poor masses – it seems to me there’s still something essentially unfriendly and competitive about the work she does. In contrast, I am so pleased to broach the gaping chasm that’s been my long, conspicuous and tortured silence on this blog by reflecting on as warm and fuzzy a topic as web remixing.

What I’ve learned about Web 2.0 is that it is a friendly, collaborative, social and very human platform. Nardi and O'Day's thoughts on "Information Ecologies"as systems where people help people use technology evoke a sense of human, lively, and intensely organic spaces. It all sounds just lovely, and doesn’t intimidate me nearly as much as did the prospect of reinvigorating this long-inactive blog. The image I've included above reminds me of a third grade lesson on ecosystems (which, in turn, gives me warm fuzzies). It reminds of our friendly Information Ecology: reduce (redundant work) by reusing and recycling (preexisting technology and applications) = a great model for sustainable web growth. As Steve Jurvetson has indicated (and, for how he helped me conceptualize this notion, I grudgingly give another shout-out to Kuhn) this kind of natural growth is marked by evolution - not wasteful revolution - of technologies.

The mashups I browsed through at Programmable Web do correspond, largely, to the prominent genres that Duane Merrill lists in his "Mashups: the New Breed of Web app". Most prominent seem to be those that involve mapping. Remember the Milk combines mapping with task-management, letting users organize their daily tasks by location. Orlando timeshare guide maps properties and matches them with contact details. Also numerous are those mashups that allow searching. The charming and stylish Ms. Dewey helped me learn how to make fantastic chocolate chip cookies, an how to train for running a marathon. She is, I admit, much more engaging than her counterpart, than the slightly-scary "ask Vox" know-it-all. Finally, shopping/sales is another conspicuous genre of mashup. There is, admittedly, a lot of overlap of this genre with that of mapping. For example, MyStoreMaps offers the eBay vendor a real-time map of where she has sold her items.

I must admit that my favourite mashup among those that I came across is The idea behind it is just wonderful: it replicates a physical community in hypertext. At the same time, though, it enhances the physical community. The application aggregates information about a neighborhood, city or area - such information, its creators advertise, as local restaurant reviews and notification of community garage sales and high school benefit concerts - and maps them for its user. As its creators describe, bridges “information space and real-world space”. This really gives me the warm fuzzies, because, by informing individuals about local events, it can enhance community – and the relationships between real people in it. This mashup illlustrates perfectly Nardi and O’Day’s description of Information Ecologies as featuring a spotlight not on technology, but rather on the human activity that the technology serves. reveals the usefulness of mashups as research tools for humanities scholars. Historians should care about mashups because, just like any other piece of material culture, embedded in a mashup are many, many indicators of meaning. Future researchers will be able to use these applications to think on a specific society at a specific moment in time. By virtue of their very social nature, mashups contain innumerable clues to a community's values. What actions, events, spaces or places does a community deem important? Which of their needs have they crafted the mashup to meet? What pre-existing technologies have they deemed successful and appropriate to recombine into new uses? For those interested in how communities construct and reflect social and cultural meaning, mashups can be an invaluable resource.