Thursday, May 19, 2011

digital stuff geek out

Been getting excited about a whole range of digital tools and ideas recently. Here's a sample of some of my favorite recent finds:

1)The Parallel Archive. A project of the Open Society Archives at Central European University. It offers scholars and other a platform and site for uploading, organizing, and discussing archival documents. Its not meant as a primary repository for documents, but rather a site where folks can upload just specific documents or set of documents for use and discussion; this is the "parallel" aspect of the thing. As with many digital tools, i think its hard to see all the various uses that this kind of platform could have until it gets used more, but they suggest that, among other things, it could be used as a location where authors of scholarly articles could send readers of their work to see the documents upon which they are basing their analyses. Go check it out, here.

2)History Research Hacks. A blog by historian Shane Landrum. I met Shane at a Legal History Institute at the New-York Historical Society a few years ago; he's pretty rad, was (is?) working on a dissertation that will offer historical perspective to questions about identity documents and transgender lives. I'm excited about it. But this blog is where he discusses digital tools and whatnot, and its pretty useful. It just alerted me to the existence of Protovis, for instance, which seems to offer tools for representing data visually. Useful for us history-writing-types. Check out History Research Hacks here.

3)The National Security Archive's Unredacted Blog. Fighting for government transparency and accountability through FOIA and other Sunshine strategies. The NSA main website is here, Unredacted is here. And then there's its legal action relative, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. LOVE.

4)HERB, the American Social History Project's newest portal for historical primary documents. Named for Herbert Gutman, tagline, "Social History for Every Classroom. Teachers everywhere, take note. Here.

That's four that I <3333333. I'll prolly post more later.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

another reason to love Bill Cronon

You might have heard of the historian William Cronon in the aftermath of the Wisconsin protests this spring; he was the university professor whose emails were subjected to an FOIA request after he spoke out against the governor's plan to strip teachers of collective bargaining and other rights. (For more info on him, and this story, see here and here.)

But Cronon is also a hero of mine, and has been since grad school, for being a really superb historian who writes about the past in a complicated way through beautiful stories. He has, in fact, written about how important stories are for understanding the past, on several occasions. Anyhow, but that's not what I want to say right here right now. What I want to say is this: I just found the "teaching resources" on his website, including a comprehensive section about learning historical research, and i am very very excited about them. They are smart and useful. I think I might force my history teaching methods students to make use them in their work next semester.

That's all.

Oh, also, on a personal note, I fell asleep meditating this morning. Sigh.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Gang of Four on History

I am having a renewed love affair with the Gang of Four. Wikipedia points out that the band combines punk/post-punk with "the neo-Marxist Frankfurt School of criticism." I mean come on. What's not to love? Also, they are poets of the highest order-- here, for instance, are the lyrics to "History's Bunk":

History's Bunk (1981)

what I’d like to hear: desert people’s history
not the styles of strategic combat
we could lose our bent we hear about
they weren’t the ones to get it in the neck
fighting it out for some other’s causes
they’re invisible they didn’t exist!
history’s bunk, our government
in the future will they make more junk?
what I’d like to hear: tales of people’s history
fighting it out for some other’s causes
they’re invisible they didn’t exist!
there are no lessons in the past
there are no lessons in the past
there are no lessons in the past
there are no lessons in the past
there are no lessons in the past
there are no lessons in the past

Saturday, April 23, 2011

James Bridle's Historiography of Wikipedia's Entry on the Iraq War

I mean, there's just so much going on, especially in the way of digital things and history, and its hard to keep up the postings! Thus I've sort of taken to just throwing things up here that I find intriguing for one reason or another without much comment.

Said habit will not be changing today. Just started reading Bridle's blog post about his somewhat getting-news-attention project, and can't stop to say much about it here but i want to note the existence of the thing. Its intriguing and smart, and its here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

civil war memory

We've been talking about popular memory and the Civil War in my History and the Politics of Memory class. Its a subject that I'm always surprised is always super gripping to my students. And reveals a lot about their ideas about the South, and about their historical training.

Because its a big anniversary of the war there's tons of news about reenactments and commemorations appearing thesedays. I just found a nice video on the subject of memory and the war, and thought I'd post it. Its here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


daylight savings day on planet brooklyn.

today all i want to do is think about and investigate and learn from the wooster group. the wooster group is one of those things-- like staten island, like the second floor of the house upstate where i rent a room-- that i can't explain why i haven't ever visited before. i have known about the wooster group since at least 1995ish. i remember going to see peggy shaw in menopausal gentleman and realizing that the wooster group was performing across the street and wishing one didn't have to choose between peggy and the woosters. anyhow, the woosters were sold out, and i had a ticket for peggy's show. but then why didn't i go see them another time? it has been 15 years since then. why? why? why?

it turns out that they touched something inside my tiny vital organs. the ones that keep me alive even in the dark moments.

i saw their interpretation of tennessee williams's vieux carre on friday night. now, sometimes avant garde theater is hard to sit through. sometimes it is theoretically interesting but difficult to physically be in the presence of. sometimes it is confusing. this production was none of the above. it was one of the most playful, exciting, involving, delightful, insightful displays of art that i have ever seen. the play, which i guess is a lesser-known williams script, takes place in seedy boarding house in new orleans, during the depression. the setting is apparently based on an actual boarding house where tennessee williams stayed in the 1930s. the characters include a gay writer, his neighbor, an older gay hustler/painter, a woman from new york who lives with her homophobic (but maybe a teensy bit gay) junkie boyfriend, the landlady, and a mysterious beautiful drifter. they are all in some kind of pain-- some are physically dying, some are running from something, some are afraid of their queerness. apart from the explicitly queer characters, the play is pretty much in keeping with what i know of t. williams's other work-- it builds slowly, climaxes violently and desperately at the end (leaving very little in the way of resolution or hope), features a rape, makes a comment on southern cultures, and is beautifully written.

the woosters interpreted it in what i gather is their traditional manner-- many video screens onstage with the actors, a moveable abstracted set on wheels, very physical performances. still, nobody seemed bored, actors included. it didn't seem canned, or affected, or showy. it was just consistently intriguing. why was it so appealingly interesting that when the guy with tb starts spitting up blood, the way the woosters represent it is by having him first drink--right there, on stage, in front of your eyes--from a bottle of red, blood-like liquid, then hold up a white hankerchief and cough a beautiful red-paint design disgustingly beautifully all over it? its not JUST that they break with realism there; its not JUST that it creates a beautiful painted hankerchief; its not JUST that it is simple, direct, and effective. i don't know what it is, or how to explain it. or: how to explain the complexity of the way they represented the character "nursie"-- a black woman who serves as the rooming house's maid. dressing her as a geisha, giving her a valley girl accent, nursie becomes a beautiful, cranky punk-type kid undermining the ghost of williams' mammy-like rendering. and the explicit, unapologetic, forceful way they stage a couple of unusual and explicit sexual acts. the power of it shocked me into an upright position and a smile. i wore a smile for most of the show, and most of the way home-- despite the difficult subject matter of the show. it was just so surprising and playful and smart. i couldn't stop smiling because of it.

there's more, there's tons more, some of it about what was happening on stage, some about what was happening off stage-- my response to the historical nature of the material, for instance; and the queer luminary-filled the audience (holly hughes, emily roysdon, dan hurlin), and Mills, who threw kisses across the theater at them. and the beautiful daily video poems they post online (here). but what sticks with me is the history of the wooster group. thirty-some years of making really really really strong work, developing a process that combines dance and improvisation and text and video and movement and ideas and performance tasks. i am only just really beginning to learn about the nature of the sort of experiments that they and other artists were doing in the 1970s and 1980s. i find that i can't look away. i want to know more.

is that a historical curiosity? i'm not sure. its a creative one, for sure. and its one that has been made more urgent by recent events.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

some things i've been meaning to post

its been so long since i last posted i doubt anyone will ever read this, but i will post anyway. its good just to write a blog post, once again. i believe in doing things even when it seems pretty likely that nothing will ever come of it. usually something does, in the end. but even if it doesn't, its still important to do it. hope is, as the punks say, a muscle. one must exercise it.

anyhow, there's a lot i've been thinking to post in the past year. but i'll start with recent things.

First off, I'll just say that i wish i had the time to write a formal response to several of the debates that are raging (re-raging?) about how to reform public education. there's one strand of this debate that i've been thinking about a lot the past week: that is, the recent call to take teacher education out of the university context. the idea is that future teachers need more clinical preparation, less studying in formal classes, more time apprenticing in k-12 classrooms.

For instance, this week, the chronicle of higher education published this article by the policy director for this think tank called "education sector."

In this piece he references another one he published in 2009, wherein he raved about a newly-created clinically-oriented teacher credentialling program created by the founders of two charter school networks. its called Teacher U. Teacher U basically does away with the requirement that future teachers take much in the way of formal classes. Instead, "Students teach full time during the week, then meet one Saturday a month, when they're taught by a combination of Hunter faculty members and master teachers from the charter schools."

Now, I'm all for reforming teacher education. In my years working in teacher education programs, i have seen a lot that could be improved and reworked. But doing away with classes where students learn things like how to think historically, how to think critically about pedagogy, how to make sense of global politics and literature? This is not the change that teacher education programs need. If anything-- and I'm speaking most confidently about future history teachers-- students need MORE classroom time. Seriously, i can't tell you the amount of historical errors my students make on the work they do for me in the history teaching methods class i teach most semesters. One student recently wrote that European settlers developed slavery because they were Catholics. There are so many ways in which this is problematic-- and this student was in her last semester before going off to student teach. That was an especially egregious situation, but its extremely common that my students don't know enough history--or enough about historical methods of thinking-- to do their job well.

I do think we should rethink the clinical aspect of teacher training--perhaps students could graduate and then have a year of apprenticeship working closely with another teacher; or perhaps we should develop a long-term mentorship program in which new teachers have a lighter load, and get to participate in a deep ongoing apprenticeship program, co-teaching with master teachers and visiting other teachers' classrooms. I think its fucking ridiculous to substitute clinical training for coursework in content and critical thinking strategies. omg, seriously. why is education reform always so crappily done? why? why?

don't answer that.

second, i've found a few new podcasts to fall in love with. First, is citizen radio-- allison kilkenny and jason kilstein's project. i think jaime talks a bit too much about his dick, but they're funny and smart and i could spend many many afternoons drinking tea and listening to them do their thing. Second, and this one i found last year sometime and it has helped me cope with many an early morning or late night drive to/from work upstate: law and disorder radio. its basically the national lawyer's guild's heidi bogosian, the center for constititonal rights' michael ratner, and a guy i don't know much about named michael smith talking about legal events from a radical lawyering perspctive. very very good source of info.

third, my pals' new excellent book is out, Queer (In)Justice.

ok, over and out. for now (i hope).