Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hacking the Academy--Now in Print

Hacking the Academy is now available in print. Hacking is the product of a digital humanities experiment to write a book in a week, on the theme of "hacking the academy." The volume includes an essay from myself, a repurposed version of one of my most popular blog posts: "How to Read a Book in One Hour."  The book is released under the University of Michigan Press's new Digital Culture Books series.

I am very glad to see the volume and may adopt it in my next relevant class. I am not sure why it took this long to come out--we wrote the book in a week and waited two years for the print version!

That said, my initial description of the project holds: "Hacking the Academy is interesting for both its content and its approach to publication. The content focuses on "how the academy might be beneficially reformed using digital media and technology," particularly "writing that moved beyond mere complaints about the state of the academy into shrewd diagnoses and potential solutions." The essays are organized into three broad categories: "Hacking Scholarship," "Hacking Teaching," and "Hacking Institutions." The essays alternate between provocative big-picture, "this is how we ought to start doing things" pieces (such as David Parry's Burn the Boats/Books and Jo Gildi's terrific "Reinventing the Academic Journal") and more immediately practical pieces such as "Unconferences," a how-to guide by Ethan Watrall, James Calder, and Jeremy Boggs."

So go buy a copy--or read it here for free.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Stanford to Pay Humanities PhDs to Go Away

Recent history PhDs trek to the Ed department
Once upon a time, I worked with an old man who had a sad secret.  When the man was young, he had fallen deeply in love with a girl whom his rich parents considered an unsuitable match. The parents dealt with this embarrassing problem in way that is long-established among the wealthy, they offered the woman a large sum of money to go away. She accepted. By the time I knew the man these events were decades in the past, but the resulting sadness was still fresh.

Why am I reminded of this story when I read about Stanford University's new plan to help its unemployed recent PhDs by offering free tuition if they will enroll in the MA in Education program and become high school teachers? "Sorry that PhD training is not going to get you a job. How about a free MA in something more employable and we call it good?"

Not that they are presenting it that way of course. "Society needs good teachers at all levels,”  Associate Dean Debra Satz, told Inside Higher Ed. “In Europe, it is much more common for high school teachers and others to have advanced degrees.”

I think it is also from Europe that we get the model of paying inconvinient people to go away.

The Stanford plan is terrible in all kinds of ways. High school social studies jobs are already scarce, and it is not clear if a PhD will make a job seeker more competitive or less. While a broad knowledge is absolutely necessary for a good high school teacher, the hyper-specialization and research focus of a doctoral program is not a path to that broad knowledge. The time commitment is enormous--perhaps 7 or 8 years to the PhD (though Stanford is trying to cut this to 5) and then another 2 for the education degree--for a job that you might have landed with an undergraduate degree. And as a Facebook friend of mine said when I shared the article, "Hope they can coach a sport."

The real problem of course, is the overproduction of PhDs in humanities fields. Year after year, and despite the warnings, thousands of your people come to places like Stanford to earn a PhD with the unlikely goal of becoming college professors. "The primary goal of Stanford's Department of History's graduate program is the training of scholars. Most students who receive doctorates in the program will go on to teach at colleges or universities," Stanford tells its prospective history graduate students, offering a link to "placements." The link is broken.

Everyone knows that the answer is to radically reduce the number of PhD programs and their graduates--but no one actually wants to do it. Faculty love teaching intimate graduate seminars rather than surveys in the lecture hall. Grad students are needed to grade
Crikey, it's an education degree!
freshman papers and run discussions. The grad students themselves are completely committed to the system and invested in the idea that it is they who will find the golden ticket in the Wonka Bar. College administrators rise through the ranks by not rocking the boat. And every year the job market gets worse.

The problem with unemployed graduates is that they don't leave. They drag out their degrees to postpone the horrible problem of repaying student loans without a job. Their stipends run out and they hang around, begging for a course or two to adjunct and access to the library. In the article one Stanford professor complains about engineering students "parked" in postdocs that were meant to be temporary. The weight of unemployed former and current graduate students gets greater each year, and their presences depresses faculty and current graduate students alike. Stanford had to do something.

I do wish these students success with their MA degrees in education. Teaching in the public schools is a noble profession, and arguably far more important to society than is being a college professor. The Stanford plan just seems a roundabout way to get there.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Thanks for the info on your blog, but . . ."

Well, you cannot please everyone! From the morning electronic mailbox comes this missive:

Dr. Cebula: 

I found the "Patrick Henry Said What?" entry on your blog while searching for the origin of the attributed Patrick Henry quote about the Constitution not being an instrument. Thank you for exposing the error of this attribution. I teach AP U.S. History, and I am always on the lookout for information exposing erroneous historical claims. 

The food was terrible and
the portions too small.
But I wonder about your hit-and-run attack on the Tea Party. What is the reason for that? Are Tea Party members unique or even unusual in misquoting (and misspelling, ah, that was a nice touch!) the Founders, Framers, et. al.? I think that they are not, any more than those who assert that the Constitution contains the phrase "separation of church and state" in an effort to rebut religious objections to abortion, or the congressman who referred to the "Good and Plenty Clause" of the Constitution to--if I remember correctly--justify ObamaCare. Seems like a cheap shot to to me. 

Maybe you fallen victim to some cultural/geographical snobbery too, although why anyone teaching in Cheney, Washington, population 10,590, would feel superior by reason of location is beyond me. (Perhaps there are cultural wonders in Spokane of which I am unaware.) But, in your "No, You Cannot be a Professor" entry, you note that it's not worth pursuing a history Ph.D., because any professorships would only be available "in some part of the country usually only seen on American Pickers [sic]." Another cheap shot? 

I certainly am not urging you to suppress your political or cultural thoughts or biases. But I think that it would be more honest of you to just do an open and fully developed hit piece on grass-roots conservative political movements, or on the cultural shortcomings of "flyover country," rather than to take snarky little shots in the course of discussing other subjects. 


John D. Unimpressed 
Major, U.S. Army, Ret. 
Somewhere, Oklahoma

John, for all I know you may be correct. Certainly with as few readers as I have for this blog, I should not risk alienating any. Let me explain where I was coming from when I wrote those bits.

Wrong on two levels
The Patrick Henry post was aiming for bigger game than debunking a spurious quote from one Founder, the idea was to set out a procedure for fact-checking internet quotes. Near the end of the piece I wrote that "I could have performed this exercise with hundreds of other "quotes" from the Founders that you see plastered on bumper stickers and misspelled on Tea Party signs," my only mention of that grass-roots Koch brothers run political
group. Col. Unimpressed protests that the Tea Partiers are not "unique or even unusual in misquoting ... the Founders."

Actually, they are. In fact there is a whole, award-winning book by Jill Lepore devoted to the Tea Party misinterpretation of the American Revolution. Or just Google about for Tea Party "quotes" pages and fact check them. Here is the first one I found. I checked the first five--four of them are made up.

I have never in my life heard anyone claim that the Constitution contained the phrase "separation of church and state" (though it certainly does establish that principle, and the phrase is an actual quote from Jefferson) or a "Good and Plenty clause." The left has its wackaloons, to be sure, but fabricating "quotes" from the Founders is a right-wing phenomena.
Founders edition

As for the other charge, of elitism and snobbery against the heartland, I don't think that is particularly valid. My post discouraging students to try to become history professors was not to save them from the imagined indignity of living in the Midwest, a place I happily called home for a dozen years while teaching at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. I pointed out that there are no jobs, that a PhD can take ten years, that there are enormous opportunity costs in starting your career a decade after your peers, that a PhD in history can leave a person prepared to do little outside of academia, and that the pay for professors is terrible.

I also wanted to point out that having any chance at all for a tenure track job necessitates being willing to take a job anywhere at all. So I wrapped up my arguments with this line:

"Frankie! Seen a tenure-track job in here?"
"If you go on for a PhD, instead you will find yourself with student loan payments equivalent of a home mortgage but no home (and no equity), no retirement savings, and banking on the thin chance of landing a job in some part of the country usually seen on
American Pickers."

Dear Readers, I submit that a piece of writing as fine as that requires no further defense.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Misquoting Jesus in Spokane

Big local event coming up! EWU and the Daniel and Margaret Carper Foundation are bringing Bart Ehrman to town to give a history talk: Misquoting Jesus:Discrepancies in Christian scripture. Ehrman teaches Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, is the author of 20 books about the Bible, and is one of the top New Testament scholars in the world. He is a big deal, and a very engaging and witty speaker. YouTube is full of the guy.

The event is at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, May 23, 2013 at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox, Downtown Spokane, Wash.. And it is free! See you there.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Olmsted Online

Well, look at what a pretty thing this is!

Olmstead Online is an archive of plans and projects of the Olmstead firm across the United States. The Olmsteads were the most prominent landscape design firm of the late-19th and early-20th century America. The project is in its initial phase and the only state with a rich set of content is Washington. A FAQ page tells visitos that "received a grant from the federal Transportation Enhancement Program with a pilot to digitize plans and maps of the Olmsted-designed landscapes in Washington State." Lucky us! The interactive map of Washington State shows that most of the firm's work was Spokane or the Puget Sound region, with a scattering of projects in other corners of the state:

Zooming in on individual sites reveals shows us what is under the hood at Olmstead Online. The data set for Cannon Hill Park, an Olmstead park a few blocks from my house, lists 13 files including contour maps and sketches for buildings--but the only files online as yet are two planting plans. They are pretty neat:

Most of the Washington Olmstead sites are like this--a couple of interesting images but far more intriguing image descriptions that have not yet been uploaded. The site reminds us that for all of the Olmstead's fame as park builders, a huge amount of their firm's business was landscaping the grounds of private residences. Look at the details on this preliminary grounds plan for the mansion of H. W. Cowles in Browne's Addition:

This is a project in the early stages and the gaps are quite visible. Some of the locations on the map contain no images at all. Search features are wonky. The non-interactive timeline add little to the site. And there is very little information about the project itself. How did they choose which images to put online? Are more images on the way or is this it? What about the other states? Still, Olmstead Online is a compelling resource.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Damn Hippies

Posted without comment, a 1970 letter to Seattle mayor Wes Uhlman:

This is taken from the Vintage Seattle Facebook page, which credits the image courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, Record Series 5287-02.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Digital Public Library of America's View of the West

Last month saw the launch of what may become the digital repository for American history--the Digital Public Library of America. Aiming to unite "the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them freely available to the world," the DPLA has correctly been called the latest chapter in the dream of a universal library. So let's check it out.

The DPLA is headed up by Dan Cohen, former Director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and clearly the right man for the job. There is a Board of Directors of impressive individuals from various elite east cost institutions. The DPLA is starting up with a sack full of grant money and some high-profile content partners such as the Smithsonian.

Though there are a raft of articles about the launch of the DPLA, I would recommend this episode of the Digital Campus podcast, which is devoted to the DPLA. Cohen is one of the hosts of this long-running podcast, and this special episode has Cohen discussing at great length the goals of the project, concerns about its potential impact on other public libraries, decisions made about the interface and search abilities, and an API for developers. I do not see a counter on the DPLA site to tell us how many items are currently available, but in the podcast Cohen explains that the site will launch with millions of objects, and quickly ramp up to tens of millions. Let's see what they have!

A search for Spokane brings up 491 results. Fortunately the tools for refining a search are robust--on can refine by file type (text, image, sound, moving image), by date, by language, by owning institution or partner, by location and by subject. Really the site design is superb--the DPLA is simple, intuitive, and works as well on a smartphone or tablet as on a laptop. Drilling down through my results I caught sight of a cool 1956 tourists guide to Spokane. What you can do with items at the DPLA depends on the hosting partner--most of the search results at the DPLA take you away from the site to the partner's website. At the Ramsey collection, images can be magnified and explored with a slick interface, downloaded in a variety of resolutions and formats, and even embedded:

So what else can we discover about our far-from-Harvard corner of the world at the DPLA? The results are a bit of what the English call "a dog's breakfast," a mix of uneven content. The results reflect the collections of the largely east-coast content partners. So we find gorgeously-digitized botanical specimens collected along the Spokane River in the 1890s and now housed at the Smithsonian, quite a few cultural objects from the Spokane tribe also from the Smithsonian, some fascinating printed volumes that I had not seen before from various sources, odds and ends of government reports, scattered photographs from different archives, and even an MP3 of the call of a ruddy duck.  I love this 1878 photo of the Spokane River near Fort Spokane. This part of the river is long-since flooded by the hydroelectric dams:

So already a month after launch the DPLA has significant content for our neck of the woods. It would seem churlish to complain. The content though is of certain particular types, reflecting the DPLA partnerships so far. Government reports, surveys and tourists guides, biological and ethnological collections from 19th-century Smithsonian looters explorers, nearly everything about Spokane is from someone who had no connection with the place except to have visited. The whole enterprise reminds me just a little of the classic New Yorker cover, The World As Seen From New York's 9th Avenue:

I jest--the vision of the DPLA is not so myopic. And there are a few western partners, including the Mountain West Digital Library and---well actually they are it so far. This worthy project is at an early stage, of course there are holes. I do hope however that the DPLA staff recognizes the problem, and is actively seeking partners all around the country. There are a tremendous number of digital history projects out past the Hudson, many featured over the years at this blog. I even work at one of them.

Dan, give me a call.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Short Video on the Internet Archive

I am a huge fan of the Internet Archive--often referred to by its URL, The Internet Archive is a non-profit dedicated to "universal access to all knowledge." They have a dizzying array of audio and video recordings, an ebook interface that is far superior to that of Google Books, and a "Wayback Machine" that allows you to view webpages that have since been deleted. This brief video highlight some of their work--and their elegant server farm. Enjoy:  
Internet Archive from Deepspeed media on Vimeo.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Spokane Historical's Guide to Dropping Out of the Bloomsday Race

Bloomsday, Spokane's annual 12k run, is this Sunday. About 40,000 close friends will converge on Spokane to race on a beautiful course that will include such Spokane wonders as Riverfront Park, views of the falls, the Peaceful Valley neighborhood, and Riverside State Park. And along the way they will pass a lot of important historical sites.

If you are one of the thousands of people who walks the route instead of running, I have a suggestion. Take your smartphone, download the Spokane Historical Smartphone app, and turn your water breaks into learning opportunities. Better yet, abandon the race and just explore the history of Spokane. Here is some of what you will discover:

Starting Line: You and your 40,000 friends are going to spend a while waiting for the race to begin, and fortunately Riverside is one of Spokane's more historic streets. Take a few minutes with Spokane Historical to learn about the Great Spokane Fire of 1889 and landmarks like the Davenport Hotel and the Great Western Building.

Mile 1: Still on Riverside Avenue, you are now skirting the edge of the historic Browne's Addition neighborhood. Look up at the MAC (the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture for you out-of-towners). Consider dropping out of the race in favor of a more genteel walking tour of Browne's Addition. Or stop at the Elk for a Bloody Mary. You don't have to run.

Mile 2: Having ignored my suggestion to drop out a mile back, you are now puffing up a hill above People's Park--which served as a special campground for hippies and the like during Expo 74. This was the only time that hippies were welcome in Spokane.

Mile 3: Now you are running past Greenwood Cemetery, a classic Victorian burial ground. Get off the rat race and explore this magical place with Spokane Historical. Learn about Spokane Garry, Spokane's Civil War Veterans, Mary Latham, and the mysterious hidden tunnel.

Mile 4: To your left is Fort George Wright. This historic site was home to black soldiers, and a totem pole. In 1911 Teddy Roosevelt gave a speech here--listen to a recording.

Mile 5: As you huff up Doomsday Hill, look out to where Natatorium Park used to be. Don't you wish you were there now?

Mile 6: The West Central neighborhood is Spokane's poorest neighborhood, but also the site of some spectacular mansions such as the Glover House and the Richardson House.

Mile 7: It is never too late to quit! Check out the historic Spokane Courthouse. Or continue across the iconic Monroe Street Bridge. Learn what the falls meant to the Spokane Indians and read Sherman Alexie's wonder poem and art project That Place Where Ghosts of Salmon Jump.

Did you finish the race? Very well then--but spend some time walking around the downtown with Spokane Historical. We have over 250 Spokane stories online and on your smartphone!