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  • Man, Animal, and Primal Desire

    Posted on September 28th, 2013 Rosemary Zlokas No comments

    I enjoyed this week’s readings on historical anthropology.  I am a strong believer in taking an interdisciplinary approach to history, so it is already interesting to see how the integration of a new discipline can shape the way we look at history (and vice versa).  As Tosh explains, an anthropological approach serves as a strong reminder that “history is not just about trends and structures that can be observed from the outside, but also demands an informed respect for the culture of people in the past and a readiness to see the world through their eyes” (267).

    I noticed an interesting theme of primal desires in this week’s readings, especially Clifford Geertz’s “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight.”  In the cockfight, the “creative power of aroused masculinity and the destructive power of loosened animality fuse in a bloody drama of hatred cruelty, violence, and death” (7).  Side by side with masculinity and animality, primal desires also play a role in the importance men place on their cocks within the cock rings.  Here, man is using his fighting cock as not only a major extension of sexual impulse, but also his desire for power.  Looking through an anthropological lens shows us how animalistic these desires are and how man can harness power with his cocks and simultaneously assert his sexuality to reach end goal to be a powerful performer.  Their motivations to win are more than a just a quest for a monetary reward, but rather a deeper expression of a primal desire for power within and outside of the cock ring.

    This idea of primal desire can be better understood through an anthropological lens.  Historians can benefit from looking at primal desires as a driving force for the decisions made throughout history—and should do more of this.  Although I am just getting my feet wet with this topic, I am looking forward to better understanding how the role of primal desires impacts man’s decisions in historical anthropology.

  • What Historians Can Learn from Other Professionals

    Posted on September 21st, 2013 Rosemary Zlokas No comments

    Eley explains how a succession of Social Science Research Council reports had exhorted historians to learn from social scientists (41).   Looking at history from a sociological perspective has led historians to sketch histories using different methodologies and finding sources in new places.  (Look back to my post last month on social history and microhistory for further explanation.)

    In order to adapt, historians needed to take up the social scientists’ theories and methods.  In borrowing techniques, historians were able to look at history in new and exciting ways.  In undergrad, I felt the same way after taking a very thought-provoking sociology course, which ultimately helped shift my focus to an increased interest in social and cultural histories.  In order to grow as a profession, historians must be willing to adapt to different techniques—look how well it worked in the case of social history!    We must remember that we should be open to not only trying new frameworks and methodologies, but also other ways of approaching history.  I think this idea will lend itself nicely to continuing discussions on how historians should or should not adapt to new technologies.

  • Wikipedia as Historiography

    Posted on September 15th, 2013 Rosemary Zlokas No comments

    As historians, we are expected to reject Wikipedia.  However, there is one point we cannot argue with-Wikipedia is living, breathing, ongoing historiography.  Wikipedia, although not always accurate, is a compilation of “historians” documenting their knowledge.  By doing so in a collaborative manner, various authors are adding distinctive view points on a given topic, whether it be fact or argument. Thus, we can look at the history of their collaboration as historiography and even extend the though further to ask ourselves what we can contribute to a certain entry.  Why should we consider this different than any more “valid” historiography discussion among scholars?

    I look forward to discussing this idea and our other discussion questions this week.

  • Discussion Questions

    Posted on September 14th, 2013 Rosemary Zlokas No comments

    Does Wikipedia have a legitimate place in digital history?


    • Is the Net closing our minds and moving us toward the extremes and thus polarizing us?  (83) Do you think this is a fair question?  If so, what is the remedy?  Will including more diversity, rather than agreement, change how we view things? (88)
    • On 107-109, Weinberger discusses advantages and disadvantages to long-form thinking housed in the digital world.  Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?  How do these advantages and disadvantages apply when studying history?  Did reading these change how you thought about your blog posting this week?
    • In Weinberger’s chapter on science, he discusses the implications the use of authority can have on popular science transmitted through media.  Comparing his points to historical study and the media, what implications does this have for us?  (300, Mona Lisa Smile, The Patriot, Pocahontas, Braveheart, Gladiator, Pearl Harbor).  Weinberger also suggests that networked science looks much more like the scientist’s view of science than the media’s view (157).  The network is not always the solution, but it is preferable to the skewed interpretation often portrayed in the media.  What does networking mean for history and does it change the conversation on history and the media?
      • http://history.howstuffworks.com/history-vs-myth/10-historically-inaccurate-movies.htm#page=10
      • Back to our question on if Wikipedia has a legitimate place in history.  Weinberger discusses how Wikipedia has a useful and consistent structure for collaboration.  For example, go to the Wikipedia entry on “Sam Patch” and View History.  Do you think that the collaboration of this network was more or less effective than if one authority wrote it? (ties into Wolff)
      • Technodeterminism is the belief that technology causes us to use and understand it in particular ways (173).  Do you think it is a perspective of technodeterminism that has made much of academia afraid of studying history in a digital age?




    • Having seen the historiography present in the practice of collaborating on Wikipedia articles, should this change the minds of historians? Does Wolff’s call to greater scholarly engagement with the digital network seem valid to you?
    • Dorn argues that there can be no debate about that things have changed, but there are more uses for digital history than are widely known.  Why?
    • In reading the articles in Writing History in the Digital Age, we thought that overall the authors had a very positive approach to digital history within academia.  Do you agree with any of the approaches taken?  Have you become less dubious of the place digital history can have in the scholarly world as a result of reading these articles?
    • What about our public historians?  How do you think the changing opinions on digital history impact its place within the public history realm?
    • Cummings and Jarret discussed a concept extremely pertinent for our course: blogging as scholarship, as did excerpts in Hacking the Academy (Voices: Blogging).  Have these scholarship view points changed how likely you are to blog?  Do you think Matthew Kirchenbaum is the exception, or can you see yourself having a similar experience?  Do you feel that blogging can aid you in your professional network in the historic realm?
    • Hacking the Academy stresses the importance of submitting scholarly work in a way that is more accessible to the larger academic community.  If you do not go to the for-profit publishers, can you make enough money to cover your research costs?  Which motivation should win?
    • In “Reading and Writing,” (Hacking the Academy)  O’Malley argues that printed scholarly work does not have a large audience (past first year grad students).  Does this make a compelling case for open access and publishing scholarly work online?




  • Does History have a place in a “Buzzfeed world”?

    Posted on September 8th, 2013 Rosemary Zlokas No comments

    Many Americans have become accustomed to receiving information over the Internet, whether it is news from NewYorkTimes.com or popular culture from Buzzfeed, Americans are clicking their way to knowledge.  History requires showing how something progressed, sometimes via a long story, sometimes via short—but there is a series of events involved.  Other than countless semi-accurate Wikipedia articles, where can Americans go to find history lessons?  And why should they care when Buzzfeed is so much more amusing?

    (By the way, Buzzfeed is part technology platform for detecting viral content and part editorial selection process to turn humorous items and news tidbits into numerical lists matched with appropriate pictures or GIFs.)

    David Weinberger asks: How has the new overload affected our basic strategy of knowledge by reducing? (9)  Perhaps only taking in small tidbits of knowledge at a time can reduce the feeling of knowledge overload.  When thinking about Buzzfeed-type information sources, we left to questions whether platforms like this will be how we one day acquire knowledge.  William Cronon is worried about the fate of the monograph.  Should we be worried about what type of place history can have if all of our information is suddenly bite sized?

    As William Cronan expressed, many students believe that if a piece of information cannot be googled, it does not exist (4).   This poses an interesting dilemma for learning about minute historical details that can be found within the pages of monologues, but not on Wikipedia.  Some students are incapable of reading books over 500 pages; we are left to question how this limited attention span and motivation to get through a text transfers to reading information online.   Additionally, we should question the idea of more narrative types of history (such as Cronon’s storytelling ideas) could play in online historical accounts.

    We should also ask: What implications do these ideas have for digital history?  How should digital historians react to the questions raised in this post?

    Lastly, I will leave you with two of my favorite Buzzfeeds, which I think you will all appreciate:




  • HIST 5104 – Flux Capacitor

    Posted on September 7th, 2013 twgbc No comments

    Going “back in time” became a connecting theme for me between this week’s readings of storytelling (Cronon), access to information (Tosh) and network (Weinberger).  Outside the realm of reality, time travel has been featured in two late twentieth century (i.e. the eighties – nearly 30 years ago) films The Terminator (“The Terminator” 1984) and Back to Future (“Back” 1985).   The latter fictional (not saying historical fiction) “story” featured a teenager in present day (1985) sent back to the past (thirty years to 1955) and then back to 1985 in a DeLorean (car) time machine equipped with a “flux capacitor” requiring electricity of 1.21 gigawatts (giga = 1 billion).  Emphasis on the “good story” Back to the Future acts as simply one attempt to bring together a select (Weinberger) “network of people and ideas” between these three readings.   Within the (Cronon) “storytelling” piece, Steven Spielberg, who happened to be the producer of Back to the Future, spoke on “historians and creators of historical fiction” during the 149th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address a few days after the release of his film Lincoln (see Holzer in The Chronicle of Higher Education 11-30-12):


    “We can’t remember everything,” Spielberg reminded the audience. “History forces us to acknowledge the limits of memory … It tells us that memory is imperfect, no matter how much of the past we’ve covered … It’s not the job, and in fact it’s a betrayal of the job, of a historian to promise perfect and complete recall of the past, to promise memory that abolishes loss.”  “One of the jobs of art,” he added, “is to go to the impossible places that other disciplines, like history, must avoid.”


    Without a capacity for time travel, my simple recollection of looking back (approximately) thirty years ago evokes some immediate thoughts that lack external context – elementary school, soccer, comic books, G.I. Joe, Legos and trains to name a few.  What means do I have at my disposal to consider the context of a past “original thinker,” whether it spans 30 years or some other prescribed timeframe?   Primary (original sources) and secondary sources require careful historian evaluation (Tosh p. 91).   Tosh’s comments on public access to information, particularly in the institutional arena, caught attention.   Domestically, the Freedom of Information Act of 1975 permits “wider access” for historians and other members to public records.   Historically, public officials, as in the case of Great Britain, have relied on a “closed period” to place documents with information deemed secure under lock and key.  This “period” had been quantified (by Great Britain) in 1958 at “fifty years” and has seen a reduction among various jurisdictions over time to a current consistent timeframe for the “liberalization of access to public records” of not less than “thirty” years (Tosh pp. 112-113).   As a result, a closed period requires the historian to consider the importance of “context” in attempting to comprehend thoughts from the “original thinker in the past (Tosh p. 132).”


    Weinberger draws attention to improving access to data with mention of Data.gov, a website fueled by President Obama’s (first) executive order “Transparency and Open Government.” This site, identified as a “data commons” where government data now becomes accessible, had 64 million hits and 168,000 (compared with 47 at the start) datasets within nine months of inception (Weinberger p 36).   In keeping with exponential growth, the amount of information consumed by Americans on the Internet during 2008 appears beyond comprehension – 3.6 zettabytes (a billion gigabytes times a thousand) of data (Weinberger p. 7).  This estimate has increased from 0.3 zettabytes two years prior (Weinberger p. 8).   The concept of “zettabytes” draws me back to the (quantity of) stated electricity (1.21 gigabytes) for the “flux capacitor.”   A “whole deep sea” (Weinberger p. 13) of information is out there.  A challenge lies in establishing and maintaining access to the necessary (plentiful and pertinent) data as studies continue.   With its volume of a trillion pages (Weinberger p. 7 and p. 12), the Internet houses over 133 million blogs where approximately 10,000 are “abandoned” daily (Weinberger p. 7) as well as other digital revolution opportunities (Cronon) including websites, YouTube and social media.   Based on this volume, should it be any surprise that Weinberger has advocated discussion on the “filter” in response to both “too much bad stuff” and “too much good stuff (Weinberger p. 12)?”   There may be more to statement at the conclusion of Back to the Future from the (fictional) creator of time travel Dr. Emmett Brown – “Where we are going, we don’t need roads.”   Was this quote prophetic towards the future of (as Weinberger put it) “the network of people and ideas?”   Is the “Internet” (Weinberger) the flux capacitor and (any one of the four) “digital revolution” (Cronon) opportunities the DeLorean (“vehicle”) time machine?   Will an archive of these mediums (opportunities) today provide needed context to the historian of the future (say thirty years from now)?  In other words, would one expect to have a “special collections” archive for much of the (digital) history created today?   Where do search engines (such as Google) fit: the flux capacitor or the time machine?  



  • How we get Knowledge

    Posted on September 6th, 2013 hancockn No comments

    I had no expectation of what “Too Big to Know” by David Weinberger would be about when I picked it up to start to read. Other than I assumed that it would be about history. However it’s really not about history at all. It’s about how we get knowledge today and how we use that knowledge. While it’s not the history of a specific event or a methodology of studying history, it can relate to history in a big way.

    While reading, I began to think about how we obtain knowledge and how much that has changed in the last several decades. One passage in the book that particularly struck me was the section in chapter one on filters. Weinberger quotes Clay Shirky who says “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure” (10). He describes the old and new method of filtering which are very different. Because I grew up in the technology age, I am used to the internet being my main resource to filter through everything and give me information on only the topic I am looking for. While I was reading this I began to think about filtering through information before there was internet. When I was in middle school, my English teacher decided we need to learn to write a research paper and not use the internet at all. So she took us to the library, and we had to find books and actually write our citations on notecards. Because I live in a small town, at this time even the library catalog was still in drawers and not on a computer. So we spent a long time learning how to write a research paper and filter through information, and I never touched a computer to do this. I was filtering out all the information I didn’t need and then I could write my paper.

    When I write a paper for a history class now, the first thing I do is turn to the internet. I search the library catalogs and databases or use Google scholar. I use filters to find what I want. As Weinberger said, “filters no longer filter out.” They filter forward, bringing their results to the front” (11). By adding filters such as the type of document I want or the year it was published, I am bringing forward the information I need to write my paper.

    Throughout the first few chapters of Weinberger’s book, he describes how we obtain knowledge today. In the fourth chapter he describes how the internet helps us get knowledge. He compares expertise in the past to the present. He says in the past “expertise was topic-based”, but that now with the internet, “topics don’t divide up neatly. They connect messily” (66).

    In this digital age that we live in, how we obtain information has changed greatly. This has had a major impact on research in history. Today it is easy to find a database and have millions of sources at your fingertips about the Civil War. How research is done has changed so much, and I think this is how Weinberger’s book relates to historical methodology.

  • Workin’ the Net

    Posted on September 6th, 2013 trseabro No comments

    David Weinberger’s book Too Big to Know is not a history book. The author is a senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society—nothing to do with history, at least on the surface. (For a chuckle, check out his webpage at www.evident.com.) Yet Too Big to Know reveals a ton about the way the world works now; especially pertinent to historians are the revelations Weinberger makes about new ways of accessing information and the age-old quest for knowledge, two topics extremely relevant to history.

    Did I mention it’s funny? Even the pictures of Weinberger on the internet and on the book’s dustjacket are funny. Certainly a nice break from pondering modernity…

    But modernity definitely enters the equation. What’s more modern than the internet? For people like me who have basically grown up with the internet, a thoughtful analysis of the web’s place in how we collect information can tease out things we take for granted. For historians, research is key. What’s the impact on research when most casual questions can be answered in a couple seconds on Google?

    Networks are the wave of the future…and the future is now. When you stop and think about the internet, it really is mind-boggling. The sheer amount of information available is staggering. I thought Weinberger brought some interesting things to the surface, especially in his comparison of the old paper-based knowledge systems and the new digital network. Whereas in the past it was the task of the learned to filter knowledge, most noticeably in libraries where a small group of educated people had to decide which books to make available to the public, it is now the case that filters (online) merely bring certain results to the front, leaving the possibility of accessing formerly inaccessible knowledge to a few more clicks or a different search. Anyone can be a part of the network, not just people with credentials who are able to publish their work.

    The bad news is that our foundations of knowledge have shifted. There is enough information on the internet to back up or refute pretty much any claim or hypothesis, even facts we have taken in the past to be self-evident. That’s also, in a way, the good news. The internet provides a much more open forum for the transit of knowledge. Often historians are concerned with sources that others may consider unimportant, not worth sharing; in the old libraries, these wouldn’t be available, but now they’re available online.

    Weinberger’s discussion in chapter 4 puts things in perspective in a different way. There are distinct advantages to being part of a network. There are many people of all kinds connected now; they can bring new visions to old ideas, even (especially?) those outside their primary field. We can form groups within the network, but also have access to the wider internet world. For historians, used to a tight network of professional peers, the ability to escape that bubble world of academia is exciting. There are a lot of people out there who can add to our understanding of the past through their unique perspectives.

    Too Big to Know made me think about something I use every day in a completely different light.

  • Sources, sources, sources… and the Internet

    Posted on September 5th, 2013 tayloringradschool No comments

    When first cracking into Tosh’s chapters on sources and interpretation, I did not think I would learn anything new. Yeah, yeah, primary and secondary sources… I’ve been learning about them since at least high school. What more could I possibly need to know? Apparently, there are deeper divisions than when it was written.

    Before reading these chapters, I thought that the many different types of sources were common sense, but Tosh presented numerous exceptional points that really got me thinking about what kind and how many sources I can apply to my thesis in the coming year and a half. Obviously, there are numerous first hand accounts of the French Revolution, Napoleon, and political changes in France, but I never thought about using court records or church records. Although these might not help me as much in the 18th century as much as the 19th century, it’s important to at least seek these sources out. Documents such as these can contain as much bias as diaries or memoirs, which is mainly seen through censorship. As someone who constantly takes what a primary or secondary source (academic, not just anything!), Tosh’s reminder to keep checking reliability and understanding what influenced the writer resonated with me. Context, context, context! Tosh also stresses reading between the lines in order to get another perspective on your argument. I hadn’t really considered how much documents don’t say, and how much we can get from that!

    Just a quick note on the historical narrative vs. analytical debate. I am not going to lie, William Cronon’s article really moved me. I had a similar experience that pushed me into the academic field. I did have professors who stood the podium and lectured about historical events for 50 to 75 minutes, but the professors who made it more engaging and literary really stuck with me. Cronon asserts that, “some of the most important historical storytelling we do happens not in our books and articles but in our classrooms,” and I could not agree more (16). Students, our peers, and the general public are not automatically interested in what we as historians are interested in, we have to make them! And it’s hard in this technological age.

    I think my generation has a leg up in making history more technologically and socially applicable as we grew up in the Age of the Net (as Weinberger calls our current phase in the history of facts, 39). Actually, before reading Weinberger, I hadn’t thought of the intensity of the internet and it’s vastness of facts. For me, the internet always served as a quick, easy way to find valuable sources. Yes, I still resort first to books in the library, but sometimes I will settle for the same book on Google Books because of how easy it is to use. With Google Scholar and the databases online, I previously believed the internet to be a good, not daunting, place for facts. Weinberger did a good job of juxtaposing our current phase with the phases of Darwin and the polio vaccine. The internet provides a valuable, yet potentially hazardous, way of accessing billions of bites of information (I also don’t understand those fancy words). Throughout my academic career, my teachers and professors warned me about the downside of the internet in unaccredited sources, but I never thought about what it was doing to our knowledge base. I have to admit that when I want to know something, I quickly do a Google search. I will look at the top couple of pages, and sometimes notice how different they can be! Also, I definitely use social filters in order to find information: usually in the form of texting or calling a family member or friend. I never really connected the internet with a loss of instantly available information.

  • Storytelling

    Posted on September 4th, 2013 jamies No comments

    Cronon’s article on Storytelling brought both a sense of relief and challenge.  While his article was focused more on the responsibility and privilege historians have to tell stories, I focused more on the fact that storytelling in the literal sense is a valid method in the discipline.  Thus, I was relieved to discover, in the Tosh text as well, the varied methods of storytelling that can be used in the academy.

    I am only at the beginning of understanding how to do and use auto ethnographical accounts as one method of research.  The benefit of using autho-ethnography is the relative ease of “accessing” the source.  By which I mean, the only real work is recording stories I already know and then crafting them in such a way as to make the necessary point or tie them into the theoretical framework of a research project.  I am challenged by the questions that may arise as to the validity of auto-ethnography.  Again, I am only at the beginning of understanding the use of stories as a valid research method, but I think the answer to my challenges with this method lies not in the method itself but in how I craft my project in such a way to give a coherent presentation of my research.

    One other practical question I have from the Tosh text is in the section on comparative history (page 164-165).  He says that comparative history is defined as “the systematic comparison of selected feature sin two or more past societies that are normally considered apart.  It requires mastery of at least two national contexts…” (page 165).  Can a comparative history project compare one society over two distinct periods of time or does the comparison have to be of two distinct societies?  If it is not comparative history, what is the term given to research of two societies separated by time (or location)?  My questions are not rhetorical, if you know about comparative history, can you help me understand it more here?

    Finally, I will not be in class next week, but look forward to catching up on the discussion through the Google Docs.