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Blogging may well be one of the greatest helps to mankind ever invented, (save fire, and loin cloths). When I started this course I had a low opinion of tweeters, bloggers, and social pagers but I have begun to realize that blogging and the social network is getting people back to reading and writing. On the blog no one cares if you spell phonetically but your opinion is suddenly found important by someone even if they are people you will never meet. For the first time in history a huge population of the average person is expressing him or herself in written form. And people are ready and responding to those writings.

North Africa and the Middle East is a prime example of this. Who knows what will happen around the world if the information highway wasn’t controlled by oppressive governments like they are today. Can you imagine how many lives could be saved if blogging was allowed in North Korea and its people really knew what was going on outside of the shell of propaganda that they live in?

Whither the Wikis?
Pooling world knowledge. Well that is a tall order but it does seem to pool the knowledge of Digital Humanities 400-001. There is of course the My Learning available on the Student tab of MYBAMA but the discussion board available there is not really meant for discussion, except to the Professor. I have noticed in the postings on our wiki site that that dialog between students is at least possible. The bad part of it, is getting an email each time someone makes an update. If that could be lessened I can see a viable use for wikis in the University classroom. How many times would you have liked to ask an open question without going to the professor’s office? Who knows, students may be able to help each other.

There are great aspects to wiki’s but I still maintain that it does not fit our discipline. While historians seem to be showing more of an open mind to collaboration (I can think of two examples in our history department of collaboration on major books) I don’t know that we’ll ever get beyond the copyright issue.

Great point Evan. In cultivating skills like precision and brevity, we can reach an audience that may have never given a thought to what we do as historians. However, we must remember that often there are reasons for complicated language, namely complicated ideas. It seems to me forum of the blogosphere is useful for simple observations, but cannot compete with a monograph or full length article for the space and time to flesh out (and prove) important arguments.

I think it’s a moot point on whether or not blogging is going to overtake articles and monographs, etc. While what we do might not always happen on paper and between bindings, what we do defines us, and what we do is write carefully considered, detailed, and in-depth arguments. I agree that blogging has a place in academia, but I agree with Mr. Blum in his suggestion that it might be more dangerous than helpful to aspiring scholars.

I still have a problem with the narcissism implicit in blogs. The idea that someone feels that everyone should listen to THEIR voice because THEY have something to say. I suppose Mr. Cohen is right that the introduction of more professionals (i.e. professors) to the blogosphere would be only to the good. However, the individualism implicit in blogging (listen to MY voice) seems a bit at odds with the objectivity we strive for in our professional history publications.

    I guess I don’t see a difference in this way between blogging and writing…one’s name is attached to both. Also, the blog can serve just as valuable a purpose for the writer as the reader. They can function as diaries, organizational tools, or just writing practice.

Great, I have been motivated to do do similar. Maybe you could show us this in class?

I was reading the more recent novel by Cory Doctorow (blogger, Electronic Frontier Foundation fellow) this spring break, and was reminded the last few minutes of our last class when, in the book, a massive number of “Mechanical Turks” working online from third-world countries mobilize, form a union, and strike. Not too surprising from a Doctorow novel, but I was interested enough to look up the origins of the term itself:

For those who are interested, the Amazon Mechanical Turk’s crowdsourcing marketplace is named after a late-18th century chessplaying automaton of the same name. From Wikipedia: “The Turk was in fact a mechanical illusion that allowed a human chess master hiding inside to operate the machine.”

–much like a workforce contracted with exclusively by online means (people inside our computers). Even knowing this, the phrase still has a somewhat upsetting race and class-based ring to it.

Also, here’s the Wikipedia policy (developed by consensus, by users) on accuracy and reliability of information. Per Wikipedia’s “Verifiability Policy”–

“This page in a nutshell: All quotations and any material challenged or likely to be challenged must be attributed to a reliable, published source using an inline citation.”

“The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth; that is, whether readers can check that material in Wikipedia has already been published by a reliable source, not whether editors think it is true.”

Ultimately, it may be a JSTOR article cited on Wikipedia that we’re calling unreliable!

Here’s the link to the Unreferenced Articles project, by the way. Once you start… it’s kind of addictive: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Unreferenced_articles

I’ve been thinking a lot about Wikipedia editing since last class, and ended up joining the Unreferenced Articles Wikiproject (fact-checking and citing sources in a backlog of unreferenced articles). I think this is relevant to our discussion and class (and the one below) because what we didn’t touch on is that, despite being open and written by volunteers, Wikipedia is also policed by volunteers. There are large numbers of editors self-organizing in these sort of task forces. Wikipedia /is/ structured–the difference is that the organization and protocol are developed by consensus from the bottom-up, rather than in a top-down Britannica-esque way.

It’s amazing to me that people on the Internet, an essentially anarchic space, can self-organize to such great effect.

I too really enjoyed this post. I can identify GREATLY with the difficulty in writing blog posts versus academic papers. I’ve always felt much more comfortable when I had 6-10 pages to work with, perhaps writing a book review or argumentative essay, and knowing that my work should adhere to a tight, rational structure. The form of the blog forces one to adopt a different mindset, necessitates precision and brevity, and encourages writers to word their arguments in a way that is more accessible and less technical. Skills such as these, in my opinion, sharpen rather than dull the academic mind.

This blog really made me see the connections between blogging and the sort of “front-line journalism” that we associate with the first half of the twentieth century. While he distanced himself from traditional journalism (pointing to his lack of editorial oversight) I thought there were many more connections than differences. The frenetic pace of publishing daily seemed to be a useful tool for introspection. However, I’m not sure if the practice of blogging is more useful to him or to his readers. I still have some problems accepting blogging that haven’t been addressed here.

Wiki’s are to me the epitome of what DH scholarship is/should be. However, I just don’t see the relationship between Academia and Wikis smoothing itself out anytime soon. It seems that for this to happen there will, as several of our readings acknowledge, have to be continuing action on the part of Wiki’s to employ ever more rigorous review processes as well as to increase the quality of their articles in general. But there will also have to be a major shift on the academic side, a shift in what we agree qualifies as legitimate scholarship — aside from all of the usual headaches of academics shying away from group work, copyright issues, etc.

I’m not sure that I see wikis as being incredibly useful for scholarly debate. Not that they aren’t useful for many things, but why the interest on jumping on the wiki bandwagon among scholars? First of all, it seems that blogging is a much more useful venue and one that is more aligned with the (sometimes regrettable) realities of scholarly research such as the interest in retaining the sole rights to intellectual property. New forms of technology, communication, and conversation are being created every day. Why must we shoehorn a discipline into a forum that doesn’t fit it?

Also, simply by proving that Wiki isn’t too far behind Britannica in sheer number of inaccuracies doesn’t mean much to me…

What about the quality of what is written? This is touched on in the article. Just because an article contains no factual errors doesn’t automatically mean that it is “equal” to another article that contains no errors. I suspect that the writing in an encyclopedia like Britannica is much more nuanced, structured, and of an overall better quality.

Still not sure how to react to this article. I think that Wikipedia is fantastic as long as, like many of you have said, users don’t overvalue it’s use as a “scholarly resource.” When viewed as more of a forum, an amorphous body of changing information, that is more reflective of it’s users than of some objective standard, it is useful.

The following quote is why Wiki will never be on the same footing as Britannica: “But to improve Wikipedia, Wales is not so much interested in checking articles with experts as getting them to write the articles in the first place.” In the classroom, I definitely wouldn’t recommend Wiki as a starting point. Because many students will take the articles and information at face value and consider them legit without doing their own fact-checking. And, if this is an encylopedia article, I’ll side with Mr. Tom Panelas of Britannica, it should be as accurate as possible and not open to individual editing.

I tried to use this last night and for whatever reason it could not let me activate the trial membership. I have a great-grandmother who was Cherokee, I know her christian name and who she was married to, we even have her parents christian names but that’s as far as we can get. I was hoping that ancestry.com might have a little info that could be used to help fill in the blanks.

I never thought to look at archives from other countries, great idea! This could be very useful for my students as we consider outside perspectives on American or global events.

This is one of my go to sites!

I must admit, I have wanted to use ancestry.com for a while now. My only reservation lies in the fact that I do not know how accurate it is…. Can anyone help me with that?? It seems like a lot of personal information to put in there and Im nervous that it will just be a way to make money and lead to no accurate results…. .

I agree with both of you. First I think Ed is right to have reservations based on what the Graduate students were saying during the interview. Perhaps they do believe blogging is a great way to establish their name in the academic world but I think it would be a disservice to think that all or even most academics/graduate students feel the same. As Isabelle noted (as mentioned in Walt), blogging is not intended to take the place of peer reviewing. Its more about having a chance to talk with others and state your opinions, I dont think the majority of students would say that it is the best way to “get your foot in the door” within the academic community because it in the end, peer review prevails, its essential! Scott’s point is also relevant, one needs to consider what they post while blogging because it could cause potential harm. I learned while in college that everything you write on the internet will always be there…With that said, all bloggers, facebook users, and others need to think before they write. It is not uncommon for employers to look at you in cyber space—Just this year a teacher lost her job for posting that she wanted to kill her students…a figure of speech obviously but deemed inappropriate.

I love how honest this piece is. All too often I feel disengaged with material that is presented in the dry mono-voice. This piece however, was simple, honest and entertaining. The big elephant in the room was addressed and the notion that blogs are not intended to replace academic journals and publications was set straight!!! I’m embarrassed to admit that I was hesitant about blogging for that reason… Perhaps I will give blogs a chance!

As far as Wikipedia is concerned, I don’t see the problem with starting there. I too have noticed over the change in tone of my professors with regards to this online collaboration site from extremely negative to indffierent. Over the years users have learned of its limitations and I believe with the inclusion of the potential to fix the errors, it can grow to be even moreeffective. Though I would never research a paper using Wikipedia as my source, I find it to be an excellent place to quick references, summaries, and different materials to look at. Outside of Wikipedia, there has been limited use of collaborative tools in my undergraduate and postgraduate programs (DH and one Edu Class). While researching for educational classes and effective means of instruction, there is a great deal of literature on collaborative learning and I think at the higher educational level, both professors and students could enrich their learning exeperiences using more collaborative tools such as DH is right now!

I really liked this website, it has plenty of informatioin and I intend to use the teachers’ resources in the classroom. While the data appears formal and may not appeal to the students very much, it will be very useful for them when they are researching topics.

I must say that I agree with what Ed Blum stated in his blog. While blogging has it’s place in academia, I do not think that it should take the place of peer reviews or post-publication reviews. I also feel that blogging, like facebook and other social networks must be used with caution.

I think Ed Blum might want to read Stephen Walt’s article–and vice versa. I think Blum sees blogging as replacing traditional academic forms and forums (monographs, peer reviewing); Walt seems more on track to me when he writes this:

“In academic writing, the overriding imperative is to make things as perfect as you can (even though perfection is impossible), and to take as much time as you have to refine and bolster an argument …

That’s not how the blogsophere works. there is a premium on being timely and analytically sharp, and you rarely have time to sit, sift, ponder, and deliberate. That means bloggers are by definition writing things that are more provisional.”

Academic blogs can definitely spark discourse and conversation, but that doesn’t mean they’re a replacement for reputation-building (and tenure-getting, I imagine) activities. Hence, the only history I touch on my blog is the history of the science fiction genre. Safety first.

This is one of the most fantastic online database I’ve been introduced to yet (between WorldCat and JSTOR, I’d think). Not only have I found census records relevant to my current research (Hoole has those too, but digital scans are easier to handle than microfilm reels), but also little documents that I might never have thought to look for–the enlistment slip into a Heavy Artillery company in the Union army for one of the freedmen in the Townsend family, for example. Now I know that Osborne Townsend was 5’11″, with black hair and gray eyes. I’d never have wildly hoped to have that information before.

I agree–Wikipedia is a great place to *start* learning about a topic, and possibly doing some footnote hunting. Variable quality is one of the risks of making encyclopedia editing so open, but sometimes that human factor can be the richest part.

Last year, I was doing research on a little-studied rebellion in 1920s Mexico, the Cristero War, or La Cristiada. The English language Wikipedia page had astonishingly little (for a war that killed tens of thousands). The Spanish-language entry had considerably more basic facts, as well as links to other resources (including youtube interviews of Cristeros made by family members). Would high school students from Guadalajara be able to contribute in such a direct, valuable way to a traditional encyclopedia entry?

I just don’t see wiki’s becoming a significant part of education (other than what I mentioned in the first reading) due to the ability for others to alter the information contained within it without someone checking for accuracy. Unless wiki’s become a “pay for use” where the information is proof read before publication I don’t see them gaining any ground on academic sites.

    I mentioned this in the comment thread above–but there are, surprisingly, a lot of Wikipedia editors self-organizing into task forces for just this purpose: fact-checking, citing, improving content. Here’s a link to the Wikiproject directory for Wikipedia maintenance projects alone: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Council/Directory/Wikipedia

    The structure of these projects and sub-projects is astonishingly sophisticated–and still pretty flexible and free of crushing bureaucratic oversight.

While I admit that Wikipedia has come a long way pertaining to accuracy,I still would not recommend it as a primary source as I am sure that no one would. I would recommend that it be used as a starting point on any topic that someone might be interested or is researching.

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Special Notes:

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  • This class session will be held in the Alabama Digital Humanities Center, Gorgas 109A.
  • Guest Project Presentation: 2:00 pm- 3:00 pm Will Hanley, Assistant Professor of History, Florida State University will present on the issues of authority in digital scholarship and History and the blogosphere, with special reference to the Middle East (blogging in politically sensitive environments).
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Reading:

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Jim Giles, Internet encyclopaedias go head to head, Nature 438 (15 December 2005), 900-901.

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Steve Kolowich, Whither the Wikis?, Inside Higher Ed July 14, 2010.

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Stephen M. Walt, “The Year of Blogging Dangerously,” http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/01/06/happy_anniversary.

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Ed Blum, “Academic Blogging: Some Reservations and Lessons,”  http://usreligion.blogspot.com/2010/09/academic-blogging-some-reservations-and.html

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Dan Cohen, “Dan Cohen’s Digital Humanities Blog: Professors, Start Your Blogs,” http://www.dancohen.org/2006/08/21/professors-start-your-blogs/

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Collecting History Online in Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, http://chnm.gmu.edu/digitalhistory/collecting/

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Browse the following sites:

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Please browse these Middle Eastern Studies related blogs (caveat: some language on these blogs may be inflammatory):

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Assignments:

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Please post your digital scholarship topic on the wiki.

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If you have done a review of a digital humanities conference please post that review on the wiki.