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American History in the Making

Review: Honor and Violence

Review Wyatt-Brown Honor and Violence

Bertram Wyatt-Brown. Honor and Violence in the Old South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. x + 245 pp. $19.95 (pbk), ISBN 0-19-504242-5

Fortunately it is rare that such a troubled text as Honor and Violence appears in print. Nevertheless, there are exceptions; this one lives in re-print. Professor Emeritus Bertram Wyatt-Brown’s Honor and Violence is a 1986 abridgement of his 1982 tome, Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South. In 1983, the reviews for Southern Honor offered enough criticism to strike fear into the heartiest writer.

Professor Wyatt-Brown, a native Pennsylvanian, was fifty when his Southern Honor was released and fifty-four when Honor and Violence was published. He is the product of a high academic pedigree including undergraduate work at Sewanee and King’s College of Cambridge with a Ph.D. from John’s Hopkins. As a native Pennsylvanian, one can only speculate that he bristled at the deeply southern collegiate experience of Sewanee in the 1950s. From the text of Honor and Violence, and the benefit of the twenty-four years since its publication, it is clear that this text is an example of 1980s aggressive revisionist history with post-1970s influences of anthropological history infused in a tale of a complex, dualistic society living largely by mob rule. Wyatt-Brown explores the meaning and expression of honor as southern whites applied it to their lives. He views southern ethical habits as the basis of regional distinctiveness and that helped justify slavery. Further he suggests the honor of the society was held up by the society and it was community rule that dominated individual and collective decision-making.

The text is broken into two parts, the first establishing the foundations of the honor culture and the latter the collective southern ethic. To foretell his turbid methodology, he opens with a discussion of the literary influences on culture and society writ large. To do so, his first chapter recounts a New England story of a man ridden out of town on a rail. It is disappointing Wyatt-Brown did not attempt to draw from the southern panoply of literature to set the stage for his discussion.

Professor Wyatt-Brown’s following discussion over what he terms the “Primal Nature of Honor” is, however, more effectively constructed and fundamental to the cause of his thesis. He describes honor as an all-encompassing element of life and thought in the antebellum South. Honor was immortal and derived its value from the opinions of others through a complex but well-understood, and apparently, well-adhered social hierarchy. Of the notions of honor, gentility, family, and sexual honor, he delves deeply into notions of sexual honor as “the most curiously ambiguous aspect of [honor] in the American South” (p.35). He is particularly challenged by the ideal of a southern woman who is to be “not only ethereal but also hardworking, politically aware (though never ‘to mingle in discussion’), and prudent in household management” (p.35). As he is the son of an Episcopal bishop, it is ironic that he is deeply troubled over this complex description of a woman. This notion has Old Testament biblical roots in Proverbs 31: 10-31 and is distinctly not southern in origin.

Regardless, he builds a convincing case that honor provides structure and implicit discipline for an ordered and hierarchical society. The details of this ubiquitous southern society of honor are exposed through dualistic and conflicting expressions of gentility, the absolute order of the family, and expansive discourse on sexual honor. Gentility was sought as a measure of worth derived from a requirement to be sociable, learned, and pious. Sociability is at once a function of the dispersed geography with sparse accommodations for entertainment and refuge from the dangers of travel. As such, southerners were expected to be consummate hosts at all times to all peoples – with exceptions. Wyatt-Brown says southerners were so hospitable that it became a deep competition for the notional title of most hospitable. This, he argues, drove the conspicuous consumption on the surface of southern society. Wyatt-Brown then points out that this was a façade; that the tropical climate drove any sense of order or purpose out of the culture and therefore the picture of superb hospitality was a mirage and that there was a rotten core of filthy living and begrudging grace of hosts. Wyatt-Brown argues that the wayward traveler would find no warmth of southern hospitality without detailed letters of introduction and a complex set of favors owed to someone on the traveler’s behalf.

Family honor, however, was the backbone of southern society. Highlighted by the ritual of passing names from generation to generation, he argues that the value of family bloodline was unquestioned. As the bloodline is passed through the children, they are raised in a conflicting world of violence and neglect compared with motherly affection and overindulgence. What is least convincing about this argument is his implication that southerners are unique in this expression of child-rearing.

The largest of his foundational chapters deals with sexual honor. Wyatt-Brown paints a picture of a singularly depraved and sordid society. The essence of his argument centers on the dichotomy between women’s weakness and power. It would have been better argued from a Foucaultian point of view about power and points of leverage instead of a stale discussion of women’s matriarchal power over hen-pecked husbands balanced against the abject dependency of women and their requirement to marry to avoid barrenness and shame. The same Foucaultian point of view could better describe the black-white sexual relations as well while highlighting the differences and the social preeminence of the white classes over the black.

Wyatt-Brown’s second half builds on the foundations to paint a more complete picture of the composite society. Honor fueled the seemingly opposed inclinations of hospitality and competition which played out to predictable, and, according to Wyatt-Brown, entirely southern responses in the arenas of hospitality, gambling, and duels. All are intertwined he argues with some collective social sense of who was whom and their respective status on the social ladder. Hospitality, gambling, or even dueling could serve as the steps on the social ladder insomuch as one did not attempt to climb too far too fast.

The society that is compulsively focused on the social strata was therefore beholden to the social, collective conscience. Wyatt-Brown suggests the official southern legal system was so broken it was only natural for southerners to rely on the strength and authority of their social system of elite leaders who represented the collective conscience. As a result of reliance on the un-official societal authority, slave revolts and rumors therein led to a cycle of panics and violent quells. With tacit official sanction, the perverse system of justice led to a society built not on law but on the balance of lynching and charivaris. In melodramatic form, Wyatt-Brown relates the story of fifteen year old Susan Foster’s murder by her husband James Foster, Jr. as the quintessential example of southern justice. James Foster, Jr. was clearly guilty, freed by the legal system, whipped, tarred and feathered to an inch of his life, stripped of rank and possessions, and set free to disappear in to history.

The book told a tale of a depraved, mob-ruled, singular society rivaling the worst of the Celtic hordes and bacchanalian Roman orgies. In 1984, University of Arkansas professor Michael O’Brien described Southern Honor as an especially difficult and slow book to read. He concludes, “What made it painful was the spectacle of an author, writing in extensor about a culture he so obviously despises. His Old South is a unrelievedly miserable place.”

The arguments were not well woven and relied of erratic logical and rhetorical evidence from the Celts, ancient Germans, Romans, to New England literature. That southern society was built on notions of honor is reasonable, but it is arguable that most societies are built on the same fashion, be they Western, Eastern, or Tribal. Honor and Violence stripped out the necessary footnotes or endnotes that would enable a critique of the sources and leads one to conclude that this text’s intended audience was that of a more general reader. In an era of aggressive revisionism and accelerating racial changes in the United States, it is easy to assume this text was written for an emerging class of well-educated, semi-academic liberals looking to atone for the crimes of the American past. This text provides a damning, and not entirely believable, argument that the South alone existed in such a depraved state exerting overwhelming force through societal constructs over any element of discord, be they slave, female, aristocratic, or common.

Twenty-four years later, there is little to recommend this text. While written in a rolling and entertaining style with engrossing tales of cultural depravity, it offers a very one-dimensional study of a complex society. Professor Wyatt-Brown’s thesis is generally upheld by his rhetoric and logic and is therefore plausible if not believable. In the midst of the revisionist movement in the early 1980s it is somewhat understandable how the original version of this book, Southern Honor would be a finalist for the Pulitzer and American Book Awards. In 2010, the author’s failure to write objectively fails to illuminate academic discourse.


February 15, 2010 Posted by | American Civil War | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Mastering America

Bonner Mastering America

Robert E. Bonner. Mastering America: Southern Slaveholders and the Crisis of American Nationhood. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. xxii + 328 pp. $16.46 (pbk), ISBN 978-0-521-54177-0

One should consider notions of nationality with notions of revolution as a fundamental component of that revolution. Revolutionary peoples should have an idea of who they, collectively, want to be after the struggles of revolution are complete. As a result, the fate of the revolutionary nationalism is tied to the fate of the revolution. For example, revolutionary ideals of liberty and representative democracy survived the war with England in the American colonies; liberté, égalité, fraternité survived the dark days in Paris and the maturation of modern-day France. The ideals of the revolutionaries, who lose, however, are often discarded with the fates of the traitors themselves. In Mastering America, Robert E. Bonner, associate professor of history at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, suggests many of the nationalist ideals of slaveholders not only contributed to cause of secession and the formation of the Confederate States of America, but also fundamentally contributed to the larger notions of American nationalism within the United States of America well beyond the American Civil War of 1861-1865.

Professor Bonner separates his work in three major sections dealing with the pre-war geopolitics, a larger view of proslavery Americanism, and Confederate nationhood. His discussion on geopolitics covers a wide range of topics intending to set the stage for how proslavery sentiment, political action, and religious support flourished in pre-Civil War America and describing the key elements of the national psyche at play. Prior to 1860, Bonner claims the strength of the Union was essential for slavery’s survival and was key in the development of southern identity. The westward expansion offered new territories to exploit while the economic boom of “King Cotton” fueled a level of relative wealth unparalleled elsewhere in the world. Additionally, a growing federal state provided a measure of protection against the Caribbean unrest, European incursions in the west, and Mexican incursion in the southwest. Federal strength thus protected the outer boundaries while the booming economic growth and westward expansion offered southern politicians increased clout in the Congress. Protected from without and politically supported from within, slavery was relatively secure in the southern states until the late 1850s.

The larger view of proslavery sentiment throughout America offers a more complex picture. Professor Bonner paints a picture of complex psychology where the American political and social conscience was beginning to sense its role in the larger world; where the larger Western world was beginning to loose its chattel; and where religion was called upon to defend both sides. At the heart of the intellectual battle is the hypocrisy of the Jeffersonian agrarians who extolled the virtues of liberty while demanding enslavement of whole peoples. Bonner cites such leading voices such as B.F. Stringfellow, who claimed “in a republic based on racial slavery, the institution, ‘elevates the character of not only the master, the actual owner of slaves, but of all who wear the colour of freeman’ “”(p. 88). Bonner responds by quoting the opposing voice of Edmund Burke who, seventy-nine years earlier, said, “the political capacities of white American masters had been sapped by their ‘unlimited right over the lives and liberties of others'”(p.88). Intellectual debate was also stifled by blind acceptance by southerners of “the orthodoxy of accepted truth” which “declare[ed] that further inquiry was unnecessary”(p.97). Bonner argued that southerners reached a point where debate was rejected and the truths of the sovereignty of slavery were self evident.

Bonner also reasoned slavery’s support in the role of national identity is based on a large demonstration of religious support for slavery. Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Baptists all rose to provide divine approval for the institution of slavery and formed a southern view while paradoxically strengthening larger views of American identity. There were objections within each denomination, but the rejections succeeded only in producing schism in the Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists not any significant shift in the southerners. The result was a very strong, largely sectional, southern contingent of each marching forward to provide a religious basis for a slave-holding society. The South found an intellectual rationale for slavery and divine backing to give them a common voice behind their inordinate political power. The South formed what Benedict Anderson would call an imagined community with a common language of slavery against a common enemy of the north. In the 1850s, the strength of the Union was no longer as critical as before so the imagined community shifted to focus on the central issue of slave holding society.

To counter the civic influence of a louder politico-religious voice in the South as well as the inordinate political power of southern politicians, Bonner describes the Republican party’s consolidation of political power in the North. Bonner claims, as a result of the rising voice from below and the increasing power of the Republican party, in a Republican victory in 1860 “would come not simply a shift in national power, but a destruction of proslavery political capital that had been decades in the making”(p. 213). The proslavery voices that consolidated power in the South gave rise to an enemy with a focus on disrupting and destroying that power in the northern Republicans.

Bonner’s most convincing arguments came in his third section exposing the absolute logical fallacies and ultimate breakdown of southern nationalism. Bonner describes the atmosphere just before the election of 1860 as one later similar to the period just before World War I when all parties expected a purifying war experience to set things right. The South knew if Lincoln won there would be war and slavery would be under direct assault leaving the South politically impotent in the new Republican framework. The imminence of war focused the southern eyes on the common enemy of the Yankee who was the agent opposing God’s will for a slaveholding society. Bonner says, “Lincoln had done more to unite the South over the course of several months than they had managed through far and more considerable efforts over the span of decades”(p.220). The South would break away and war would begin, but the martial conflict with the Union would be one of many problems the South would face.

Bonner details the conflicts, logically, philosophically, and politically that would attack the Confederacy from its beginning on December 24, 1860 with the Secession of South Carolina. Suddenly, the ardent states’ rights activists had to rapidly consolidate a new federal power, raise a cohesive army, and go to war while drafting a Constitution and forming a new federal government. For the leading politicians, states’ rights no longer applied to the individual states of the Confederacy but of the federal Confederacy as a whole. Ideals of liberty and independence likewise applied to the whole Confederacy, not its constituent parts. Bonner highlights the war’s progression with Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ restriction of many civil liberties and ultimately the enlistment of the very slaves they were fighting to keep.

Bonner also describes the sudden loss of cohesion as soon as the Confederacy was born. There was no strategic vision in the South. Beyond the desire for slavery, the South could agree on very little. Even the Confederate Constitution offered little radical protection for slavery beyond an opportunity to address the issue at a later time. Southerners viewed themselves as inheritors of the revolutionary ideals of colonial America while confronting the notion of being “the world’s first proudly and self-consciously slaveholding republic” (p. 254) and defending their view in terms of martial paternalism on behalf of their constituent slave populations.

As the war drew to its inevitable conclusion, the specter of slave conscription logically nullified all that the war was fought over. The ideals that formed the South became hollow and the ideals of a larger American identity remained. The Lost Cause sentiment that grew after the war would seed more southern nationalism and unity than the South could muster before or during the war. Regardless, there was no significant debate over the South rising again. The defeated South adopted the nationalism of Union and set about beginning to deal with racism, not slavery.

Bonner paints a very convincing picture of a simultaneously coexistent and combative nationalism before the war. He supports his theory that the South needed the Union for a period to establish a certain measure of security. During that time, southern politicians gained power and influence at the same time a common voice in the press and the pulpit gave rationale and divine blessing for slavery. This increased sectionalism galvanized the North and the Republicans to confront the political inequities and imbalances of their southern brothers. Professor Bonner’s claim that secession and confederacy failed in part because the South could only muster enough cohesion to break away, not stay together. Simultaneously, the focus against slavery and the South brought the North together with fervent pro-union sentiment.

The careful analysis and weight given to religious voices, political voices, and press voices offers a unique picture of how southerners came to view the world. In essence, southerners saw themselves in a complex and contradictory light, at once espousing the ideals of liberty and Christianity while ignoring and shutting debate on the inconsistencies of holding human chattel.

Bonner is thoroughly convincing. His evidence is well researched and presented from several perspectives: religious, political, press, North, and South. This text is not for the typical Civil War buff interested in the great story of good versus evil or of theories of why the war was fought or what events transpired. This is a complex narrative of intertwining views of nationality and how they changed over time and offers a partial explanation of how the South was reintegrated after the war best suited for academic audiences interested in the broader complexities and better able to accept a history that does not neatly fit into a simple equation. Consequently, this text could benefit from more analysis of that reintegration process to determine how well and where the notions of nationality from the North or the South played in the post-war reunion.

Professor Bonner’s arguments for the influence, cause, and relationship of nationalism in the South and in the Union is well considered and an essential text. It does little to create unnecessary angst for the partial reader and does much to offer reason, logic, and defense for the impartial. As a result, many questions are answered, but many more are introduced. This work informs any intellectual study into the remaining questions and offers a new approach to existing questions about American nationalism.

February 1, 2010 Posted by | American Civil War | , , , , | Leave a comment

Essential Speeches in Early 20th Century American Democracy

Handout – Key Speeches in early 20th Century American Politics:
Bryan, Roosevelt, Wilson, Hoover, & Roosevelt
Carl A. Young

Essential Speeches
Handout Speeches

23 January 2010

William Jennings Bryan

William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) was a devout Presbyterian and an unsuccessful Democratic nominee for President in the 1896, 1900, and 1908 elections. He served as Secretary of State under Wilson, was a professional speaker, prohibitionist, and populist referred to as The Great Commoner and was anti-imperialist and anti-trust. He died shortly after winning the Scopes Trial in 1925 as an anti-Darwinist.

In his 1898 speech against imperialism, fueled by concerns over the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in which the United States would gain Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, Bryan argues against the hypocrisies inherent in comparing American protectorates in Cuba and imperialism in the Philippines. He defends the Cuban approach as patriotic and in line with democratic ideals but warns of degeneration of greed and imperialistic designs. He underpins his argument with a warning that a government’s strength is not is might, but “the consent of the governed.

Notable Quotes:

  • Our nation exhausted diplomacy in its efforts to secure a peaceable solution of the Cuban question, and only took up arms when it was compelled to choose between war and servile acquiescence in cruelties which would have been a disgrace to barbarism.
  • Our guns destroyed a Spanish fleet, but can they destroy that self-evident truth, that governments derive their just powers, not from superior force, but from the consent of the governed?

On 8 August 1900, he railed against the imperialism in the Philippines and the hypocrisy of the plan of self-determination for Cuba while establishing an imperial trade base in the Philippines. He attacks four principles of imperialism (emergence as a world power, protection of commercial interests, spread of Christianity, and lack of honorable retreat) as un-Christian, un-democratic, and greedy.

Notable Quotes:

  • The Filipinos do not need any encouragement from Americans now living. Our whole history has been an encouragement not only to the Filipinos, but to all who are denied a voice in their own government.
  • We cannot repudiate the principle of self-government in the Philippines without weakening that principle here.
  • A colonial policy means that we shall send to the Philippine Islands a few traders, a few taskmasters and a few office-holders and an army large enough to support the authority of a small fraction of the people while they rule the natives.
  • Is the sunlight of full citizenship to be enjoyed by the people of the United States, and the twilight of semi-citizenship endured by the people of Puerto Rico, while the thick darkness of perpetual vassalage covers the Philippines?
  • Force can defend a right, but force has never yet created a right.

Teddy Roosevelt

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt (1858-1919) came from a very wealthy family, suffered ill health as a child, and became an avid outdoorsman and naturalist embodying progressive ideals. He served as President from 1901 until 1908 and lost a bid for the office in 1912 to Woodrow Wilson. He received the Medal of Honor (awarded in 2001) for actions in San Juan Heights in Cuba in 1898 during the Spanish – American War. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1906 for his role in mediating the Russo-Japanese War.

At his inauguration on 4 March 1905, he borrowed from the Christian spirit of “to whom much is given, much will be required” as he declared it to be a responsibility of the United States to uphold the American ideals of character, intelligence, courage, hardihood, and endurance. To that end, the United States pledged friendship to other countries. His inauguration was delivered against a background of war between Russia and Japan, the formation of the 1st Workers Soviet in St. Petersburg, and the publication of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity.

Notable Quote:

  • Upon the success of our experiment much depends, not only as regards our own welfare, but as regards the welfare of mankind. If we fail, the cause of free self-government throughout the world will rock to its foundations, and therefore our responsibility is heavy, to ourselves, to the world as it is to-day, and to the generations yet unborn.

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson (1856- 1924) was a devout Presbyterian and intellectual who served as president of Princeton University (1902-10) and governor of New Jersey (1911-13) before being elected as President of the United States. He was anti-trust, in favor of tax-reform, women’s suffrage, and idealistic internationalism as a way for the United States to make the world safe for democracy. He received the Nobel Prize in 1919 for his efforts during the 1919 Peace Conference.

His inauguration on 4 March 1913 was set against a background of advances in international communism, scientific discovery, and industrial genius such as continuing developments in Russia, Niels Bohr’s publication of the theory of atomic structure, and Henry Ford’s pioneering of the assembly line along with increasing tension in Eastern Europe. He urged consideration of the human cost to the massive industrial expansion of recent years. He cautioned government against the concerns of “private interests” and an over-influential industrial system, identified the need for a sound banking and currency system, and urged scientific application to improve agriculture. He argued that government should “[safeguard] the health of the Nation, the health of its men and its women and its children, as well as their rights in the struggle for existence” and explained that government service to its people underpinned society.

Notable Quotes:

  • We have been proud of our industrial achievements, but we have not hitherto stopped thoughtfully enough to count the human cost, the cost of lives snuffed out…
  • Nor have we studied and perfected the means by which government may be put at the service of humanity, in safeguarding the health of the Nation, the health of its men and its women and its children, as well as their rights in the struggle for existence.

On 8 April 1913, Wilson became the first president to directly address a joint session of Congress where he called for change to the tariff legislation he said had become a system of patronage to industry. He called for free trade legislation as a foundation for successful commerce built on “competitive supremacy.”

Notable Quotes:

  • We long ago passed beyond the modest notion of “protecting” the industries of the country and moved boldly forward to the idea that they were entitled to the direct patronage of the Government.
  • We must… put our business men and producers under the stimulation of a constant necessity to be efficient, economical, and enterprising, masters of competitive supremacy, better workers and merchants than any in the world.

On 2 April 1917, Wilson addressed the Congress requesting a declaration of war against Germany. He insisted that “armed neutrality… is impracticable” and subsequently requested authority to mobilize the national economy for war, place 500,000 soldiers in the Army, and allow for a taxation plan to pay for this war. Reversing his winning electoral pledge to keep America out of the war, he said, “the right is more precious than peace.”

Notable Quotes:

  • But armed neutrality, it now appears, is impracticable.
  • …it would be most unwise to base the credits which will now be necessary entirely on money borrowed.
  • The world must be made safe for democracy.
  • We enter this war only where we are clearly forced into it because there are no other means of defending our rights.
  • But the right is more precious than peace…

A year later, on 8 January 1918, he addressed the Congress with what became known as the Fourteen Points Address. Here he outlined his plans for the peace at the conclusion of World War I consisting of open diplomacy, freedom of the seas, free trade, arms reduction, restoral of lands, and an association of nations. He failed to bring the United States into the League of Nations, but succeeded in establishing the organization.

Notable Quotes:

  • It is the principle of justice to all peoples and nationalities, and their right to live on equal terms of liberty and safety with one another, whether they be strong or weak. Unless this principle be made its foundation no part of the structure of international justice can stand.

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) was a trained engineer and government reformer believing in a minimal government supporting the efforts of the people. He is discredited largely due to his inability to stop the crisis stemming from the stock market crash of 1929. He served as president from 1929-33.

During his inaugural address on 4 March 1929, approximately six months before the crash, the country was at peace and experiencing significant prosperity. He outlined objectives for improving the criminal justice system, enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment, investigating federal jurisprudence, strengthening government regulation on business, establishing a cooperative spirit within the government over more authoritative means, and expansion of education, public health while promoting world peace.

Notable Quotes:

  • The strong man must at all times be alert to the attack of insidious disease.
  • There would be little traffic in illegal liquor if only criminals patronized it.
  • The election has again confirmed the determination of the American people that regulation of private enterprise and not Government ownership or operation is the course rightly to be pursued in our relation to business.
  • Self-government can succeed only through an instructed electorate.
  • Public health service should be as fully organized and as universally incorporated into our governmental system as is public education.
  • I have no fears for the future of our country. It is bright with hope.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) was an extremely wealthy New York aristocrat elected to president in 1933 and remained until his death in office in 1945. He established the New Deal, is credited by many for getting the United States out of the Great Depression, and guiding the country through World War II. In 1933 the world had been in a depression since October 1929, Germany appointed Hitler as chancellor, begun burning books and building concentration camps, the United States launched its first aircraft carrier, the USSR was suffering massive starvation, and the Congress delivers to FDR wide-ranging powers to curb the Depression. At his inauguration on 4 March, he claimed “that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and threatened Congress to call for expansive power if the Congress failed to lead the country out of the Depression.

Notable Quotes:

  • So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…
  • They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.
  • But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis–broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.

On 6 January 1941 (eleven months before the United States entered World War II), FDR highlighted international concerns to a largely isolationist audience and committed the country to national defense in American and throughout the hemisphere while resisting aggressors and appeasers by calling for significant increases in the production of armaments. Here he highlighted the four freedoms: of speech, of worship, from want, and from fear – everywhere.

Notable Quotes:

  • The best way of dealing with the few slackers or trouble makers in our midst is, first, to shame them by patriotic example, and, if that fails, to use the sovereignty of Government to save Government.
  • In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
    • The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.
    • The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.
    • The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.
    • The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor —anywhere in the world.

A little over three years later, on 11 January 1944, while the United States was at war, he outlined his economic bill of rights supporting the supreme objective of security (physical, economic, social, and moral) in an environment of international cooperation stating “that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.” From this stem the rights to a job; to earn; of every farmer to raise and sell his products; of every businessman to trade freely; of every family to a decent home; to adequate medical care; to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment; and to a good education.

Notable Quotes:

  • The one supreme objective for the future, which we discussed for each Nation individually, and for all the United Nations, can be summed up in one word: Security. And that means not only physical security which provides safety from attacks by aggressors. It means also economic security, social security, moral security—in a family of Nations.
  • Freedom from fear is eternally linked with freedom from want.
  • In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed. Among these are:
    • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
    • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
    • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
    • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
    • The right of every family to a decent home;
    • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
    • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
    • The right to a good education.

January 25, 2010 Posted by | 20th Century American Democracy | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Grant Abstract (sneak peek)

In addition to the abstract below, I have attached the
presentation file for those who may be interested in the methodology animation.

Clio I Project Presentation v1-2

Also, the digital version of the Militiaman’s Pocket Companion is attached!  Due to the large size of the file (70Mbs) it is best to right-click the link and “Save As” on your PC.

The Militamans Pocket Companion

Final Grant Proposal: Grant Proposal for Developing Methods for Knowledge Management & Digital Preservation


In a multi-phase this project presents a low-cost methodology for digital capture,
preservation, and archival of original documents; develops and stores processed
and distributable versions in a standards-based data storage platform, and
sets conditions to scale from this foundation to a collaborative, accessible, online digital archive with fully reproduce-able, searchable, capture-able,
translatable, and malleable datasets and online sources.

Phase I – Prototyping

Completed in November 2009, this phase established a coherent methodology for project development by prototyping the
capture and conversion of an original artifact for testing and exploration

Phase II- Capture

Completed in November 2009, this phase performed and documented a low-budget method for digital capture from an original artifact, electronic artifact preservation,
and conversion to a distributable format where historic text is extracted
from the original document, archived, and presented to the user in both the
original capture (.jpg or .tiff) and distributable (.pdf
and .xml) formats with an evaluation of optical character recognition (OCR)
and transcription requirements.

Phase III- Web Access

This phase is the focus of this grant funding request. A team of professional developers will construct a suitable multi-media database for storage and access of original artifact captures, distributable .pdf versions, and
XML-based data and metadata derived from the original. The team will also develop a working prototype web site to access the data.
Fundamental to this phase will be data archiving and disaster recovery
for the data. Successful conclusion of this phase will yield a working version 1.0 available for release and continued development.

Phase IV- Initial Expansion

Beyond the scope of this grant request, this phase seeks to develop partnerships and data shares across multiple institutions with similar projects in development or production. The level of participation directly influences the scale of this phase.
It is anticipated that the minimal costs will be shared across participating institutions.

Phase V- Infinite Expansion

Optionally, and depending on the success of the earlier phases, this phase will greatly expand collaborative efforts by potentially make this capability available to amateur and resource-constrained archivists and historians by providing a standards-based methodology and data capture technique and a collaborative platform to share
the data once stored. This aspect of the final phase will be limited only by technology maintenance and scalability costs.

December 5, 2009 Posted by | Clio I - History and New Media | , , , | Leave a comment

Sticking Your Head In The Sand

When reading The Access Principle by John Willinsky, I was particularly intrigued with the way Willinsky approached the topic of open access and politics. Essentially, the message is more information and access to scholarly research and evidence can and should inform the global, national, or local political policy debates. Ideally, members of the government, bureaucrats or politicians, should have access to the latest and best of academic research. More importantly, members of a democratic society should have access to the same. Realized, this brave new world would be filled with informed, reasoned debate. Journalism would live up to its ideals, and mysticism, emotion, and rhetoric would fall down to evidence and logic.

Sounds like the Reformation.

In fact, Willinsky references the impact of the printing press on the same event.

He bravely faces the critical issues surrounding this most noble ideal: context; context and the informed and capable public able to read the material. This is not to say that people aren’t intelligent enough, but there is a problem given at least the American society today. Willinsky points to it when he quotes Christopher Forrest, “The public reads the bottom line.” I will tell you from personal experience that bureaucrats, politicians, soldiers, and any government support personnel also read “the bottom line.” Massive and complex issues are dealt with in one-page summaries. Detailed and sensitive issues are handled in boiled-down bullets. Willinsky espouses a fantastic ideal, but reality still presents a problem.

I have previously expressed concern over the information age in that we have too much information and very few efficient and effective tools to cull through the mountains of data and conclusion. Opening all the doors to the ivory tower’s basement will further complicate the overwhelming sense of information overload. As a collection of academics, citizens, and servants we must work harder on good knowledge management tools and principles to better see the future that Willinsky calls for.

Until then, I may just play the role of ostrich…

November 24, 2009 Posted by | Clio I - History and New Media | 4 Comments

Informatics Flambeau

∞ tsp of data
Countless hours of digitization
½ Supercomputer (or 4cups Cloud Computing)
1 petabyte of storage
dash of creativity
75 gallons of coffee
1.75L Wild Turkey (101)
budget… lots of budget

Preheat the coffee pot.

Cull for hours identifying targets to digitally preserve.

Scan, photograph, capture, and torture original sources for digitally preserved replicas.

Switch from coffee to whiskey

Realize you are in WAY over your head… run screaming to the hills and embrace your typewriter. Shimmy and shake, drink heavily, calm down and try again.

Pay someone to do something to get the project off the ground while wondering about the relevance of this to historical study.

Bake, survive a crash, learn about disaster recovery, recover, and present your treasure for the world.

Receive 25 hits on your site (4 from family, 10 from friends, 11 random accidents).

Set on fire.

Join a monastery, make beer, drink beer dream of life before electricity.

This seems to be the way to concoct a fine dish of informatics flambeau.

Our fine friends at Wikipedia offer the following somewhat verbose definition of Informatics: “Informatics is the science of information, the practice of information processing, and the engineering of information systems. Informatics studies the structure, algorithms, behavior, and interactions of natural and artificial systems that store, process, access and communicate information.”

Put differently, informatics is “a broad academic field encompassing artificial intelligence, cognitive science, computer science, information science, and social science.”

Informatics, knowledge management, Peter Norvig, Patrick Leary, and The American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences all seem to be chasing the same notion: Improve accessibility by connecting data and information with the right people. Web 2.0 is all about the data and connecting people and communities to that data. This is truly a daunting task that is wrenching social scientists from their comfortable piles of moldy books and manuscripts and throwing them in front of bleeding edge technologists. This is not a pleasant occurrence, as our class would most heartily attest.


Leary, Rosenzweig, Cohen, and others have screamed about the perils on either side of the straight and narrow path. From data inundation, sloppy results from easy publishing, veracity issues, copyrights and wrongs, cherry picking from what is easily available, to missing the opportunities of chance (ie browsing the stacks and finding that needle in the haystack), there are very real and legitimate concerns.


The same authors and a host of other evangelicals will proclaim the gospel of access and the troves of newly available data. This will only improve with time, they say. I tend to side with the evangelicals… BUT I lean heavily on the requirement to make science/technology work for us.



Present and future studies in history (and, I would argue, every field), much like modern production, will be driven by efficiencies, accuracy, and continuous improvement to the processes of research and publication. Here is where Peter Norvig comes in. Complex computer engines will provide what he called lexical co-occurrences, enlighten the offline penumbra, and connect researchers with a larger community and its data. BUT, beware to the researcher, today this is as risky as Columbus setting out across the Atlantic looking for the orient. Keep in mind, his mission, as ordered, was a complete disaster. The algorithms, programs, methods, and technology are all improving, but they aren’t there yet.

We are all cooking an informatics flambeau. The ingredients are volatile and the results are most definitely on fire. Historians cannot escape the drive to efficiency in research methods and output, but we cannot become experts either. Developing the technology required takes a lifetime of expertise and extremely detailed knowledge in quantum computing. The question is, how can we bridge the gap and become historians who affect the future of the tools we need and who influence the technology for our field?

The Clio I class is a great forum for the exploration of technology and makes a great proving ground for the tech-neophyte ( Newb not a n00b) but I am concerned that we are leaving some of the larger philosophical questions aside in our relative fear of technology. We have to understand the technology not to become developers, but to wield some of the tools and, more importantly, allow us to communicate at some level with the expert technologists.

Just some thoughts… mostly barking at the wind.


November 9, 2009 Posted by | Clio I - History and New Media | 2 Comments

Digital Improvised Explosive Devices (DIED)

Ok… the acronym was an absolute accident, but hey, I’m with the Government, I am a card-carrying official acronym producer. I guess it is natural… or a gift…

This week’s reading really obviates the need for my project in some ways and really opens the curtain to the real issues surrounding digital tool sets. At the root, I am working a Text Encoding Initiative where I do a basic text capture, presentation, preservation, encoding and then some investigation into the power of metadata and the presentation of the text as data. But the problem is… and I suppose this is a legitimate concern across academia… why is my idea any better or different than anyone else’s?

Amidst the concerns of Rosenzweig’s excellent synopsis of the digital challenges and opportunities, how are professional historians supposed to move forward? I think the answer to both questions may be captured by Rosenzweig’s conclusion: “What is often said of military strategy seems to apply to digital preservation: ‘the greatest enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan.’ We have never preserved everything; we need to start preserving something.” As my efforts are targeted at low-budget, standards-based efforts this seems to fall into line with both the NINCH and Rosenzweig articles.

We must train ourselves in basic standards of historical method using the new tools so we can have any hope for effectively digging through the mountains of data that are emerging for historical analysis. Simultaneously, as the mountain of data is growing efforts must continue to ensure archivists and historians preserve the right documents and data. For historians studying governments, this can be a little easier, but still very challenging. NARA is one example of how little is actually being saved. Costs, legislation, and technology all impact how and what we save. But the historian wants to have the opportunity to look at it all.

The digital realm is covered in opportunities for success and dangerous mines ready to blow up the unsuspecting historian. These issues include technology, ownership, distribution, accuracy, preservation, cost, as well as myriad other dangers. Now is the time that these issues have to be solved. Rosenzweig points out that schools have to train their graduate students to grapple with the issues and even master them. George Mason University’s attempts at digital history are a great start, but leave many specific and highly particular issues at bay.

To paraphrase Rosenzweig, we have to start something digital.

November 3, 2009 Posted by | Clio I - History and New Media | , , | Leave a comment

Developing Standards and Techniques for Digitizing History: Laying the Foundation for Future Collaboration & Development of Digital Artifacts


In a multi-phase project I will develop a low-cost methodology for digital archiving documents, develop and store them in a standards-based data storage platform, and set the conditions to scale up from this foundation with future phases and funding creating a collaborative, accessible, online digital archive with fully reproduce-able, searchable, capture-able, translatable, and malleable datasets and online sources.

Phase I – Prototyping Perform data modeling and prototyping a non-production database for testing and exploration purposes. In essence, answer the question, “What data is in the artifact?” and developing the proper place for that data for maximum efficiency and use for the future through data normalization.
Phase II- Capture Perform and document for repetition, a low-budget document capture and artifact preservation where a historic text is extracted from the original document, stored efficiently in a database model and presented to the user in both the original capture (picture) format and a searchable, .pdf or data string format. See Digitizing the Past for a reasonably full explanation of this process. I will be leveraging access to artifacts from the National Guard Education Foundation’s archives.
Phase III- Web Access Develop the online access portal for this data store while archiving all available artifacts in the immediate database. This element will be little different than other online resources save the unique material available. The University of Michigan Digital Library offers what appears to be a common standard of .pdf representation. I want to go further and make the text itself a part of the data. This phase will also present a web-access portal template that other institutions can leverage – freely available in the spirit of open-source development.
Phase IV- Initial Expansion Develop partnerships and data shares across multiple institutions with similar projects in development or production. The level of participation directly influences the scale of this phase.
Phase V- Infinite Expansion Expand collaborative efforts by potentially make this capability available to amateur as well as resource-constrained archivists and historians by providing a standards-based methodology and data capture technique and a collaborative platform to share the data once stored. This aspect of the final phase will be limited only by technology maintenance and scalability costs


The requirement for this project is simple. Museums, archives and libraries have a mission to preserve and make available their holdings. The costs are often prohibitive for displays and for complex online archives thus limiting the effectiveness of smaller institutions’ ability to succeed in their missions. By establishing a phased approach, institutions and individuals will be able to choose when and how they implement this methodology. Ultimately, this “how” to can include a “where” capability as collaboration and external input can be presented to the host institution or institutions for inclusion in their dataset. The requirement is to develop low-cost methods and technologies to enable resource-constrained archivists, curators, and historians to develop a worldwide audience for their unique data.

Features & Functions

The primary capability of this project will be a “how-to” methodology in a resource-constrained environment detailing how to capture artifacts and translate them into datasets for future/other uses. To exemplify the methodology, a secondary feature will be the full presentation of The Militaman’s Pocket Companion, published in 1822 and held by the National Guard Education Foundation in Washington, DC. As fully developed the phases themselves offer staggered capability for each level of development.

Phase I – Prototyping Offers a functional assessment and the “how-to capture and store the data” portion of this project. The result will be some data snapshots and budgetary/capability/technological assessments of what is involved in digitally capturing an artifact. It will also offer a detailed step-by-step guide of how to accomplish this task in a very low-budget environment. This information will be presented in detail on my blog and a static website at

It is my intent to complete Phase I within the scope of this class.

Phase II- Capture Fully capture and digitally
preserve the target text. This will take the form of an e-book based in three formats:

  1. .pdf from the original photographs
  2. .pdf from the original text (pre OCR)
  3. .pdf from the OCR’d result.

In addition to the three formats, there will be an associated database with the texts, original photographs, and metadata.

It is my intent to complete Phase II within the scope of this class.

Phase III- Web Access Outline a grant proposal to develop the web access portal that will professionally and efficiently exploit the data gathered in Phase II and allow for an expanding pool of artifacts to be included. Conceptually this will fall somewhere between Google Books and with a significant difference in meta data access and digital cross linking.

The proposal will outline how the data will be presented in a data-centric point of view with direct linkage to the artifact representations (original photographs) while allowing for tagging and linking to and between other artifacts in the collection. Further, this data will be fully Section 508 compliant. This may be accomplished at a keyword level or a subject level or other available metadata.

It is my intent to scope and present a grant proposal to accomplish Phase III within the scope of this class.

Phase IV- Initial Expansion Outlines the methodology, and architectural and collaborative framework for expansion to other organizations leveraging the same resource-constrained methodology. Ideally, this will be done in a nominal cost-sharing environment whereby the web access portal gains access to the archives and artifacts of other institutions and the other institutions develop the datasets.

It is my intent to present a well-developed scope and vision for this phase to set the stage for future grant and development work on implementation as a part of the Phase III grant proposal for this class.

Phase V- Infinite Expansion Outlines an expandable methodology, and architectural and collaborative framework for expansion to a logically infinite number of organizations and contributors leveraging the resource-constrained artifact capture and data development techniques. Costs and limitations will be driven by scale and available technology.

It is my intent to present a well-developed concept for this phase identifying some of the risks and benefits of project pursuit to set the stage for future grant and development work on implementation as a part of the Phase III grant proposal for this class.


The audiences for this project will evolve as scale and participation evolves. As such, anticipated audience is best defined by phase.

Phase I – Prototyping Target at small organizations and institutions as well as amateur and professional archivists, curators, and historians working in a resource-constrained environment.
Phase II- Capture Narrowly target the National Guard Education Foundation which is the organization responsible for archiving the test artifacts I am using for this project development. The larger target audience will be the same as Phase I as Phase II intends to provide a practical demonstration of the results of the techniques outlined in Phase I. Since the capture is a process and the test will be one text, the audience is confined to a very practical level.
Phase III- Web Access Target the same group identified in Phase I, and will incorporate the larger audience of the NGEF identified in Phase II. The first audience will benefit from the methodology presented as well as the web-access portal template available while the second audience will benefit from the test artifact and expanded holdings of the NGEF. Any actual web-development will be presented on a very narrow scale. The grant proposal will highlight the larger target audience.
Phase IV- Initial Expansion Audiences will expand to include partner institutions and will involve a deeper connection to professional or student research archivists, curators, and historians.
Phase V- Infinite Expansion Audiences will expand again to encompass amateur and professional
archivists, curators, and historians as well as institutions for research, connection, sharing, and comment.


The technologies for this project will evolve with the phases. As the initial intent is to get data available as soon as possible the technology will be completely off-the-shelf and easily available for less than $3000. The Infinite Expansion phase will involve detailed custom programming and expansive data storage techniques. Phase VI and V costs could exceed several million dollars for development and maintenance.

Phase I – Prototyping Requires a consumer-quality digital camera and memory working from a consumer-quality computer with moderate storage and processing power with a graphics manipulation, optical character recognition, and simple relational database engine. For development, I will use Adobe CS3 (CS4 is the current version and is extremely expensive) with Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Photoshop, and, if needed Adobe Dreamweaver. For OCR I will use a freeware version of SimpleOCR
and for a database engine I will use
MS Access or MySQL. I may potentially use MS Visio Pro for data modeling and MS Project for planning and tracking with MS Office for general documentation.
Phase II- Capture Requires the tools cited in Phase I with a possible move to SQL server, I will conduct the full capture of the text.
Phase III- Web Access This will be a relatively simple .xml and .css website with probable .net data ties to the database engine for web presentation. The site will most likely be developed using Adobe Dreamweaver
or potentially
MS Visual Studio. Adding server and development software significantly increases the costs, but remains below $10,000. Hosting becomes an additional, recurring cost.
Phase IV- Initial Expansion The technology for this phase will greatly be determined by the scale of implementation. I assume a medium-to-large-scale implementation requiring substantial computing and storage resources to include a full SQL server, Storage Area Networks (SANS), MS ISA servers for web generation. The presentation may require additional Flash programming but should continue to rely on relatively simple and efficient coding in .xml, .css. and .net.
Phase V- Infinite Expansion This phase could exponentially increase the technology requirements in terms of storage, speed, bandwidth and scale. The base languages and databases should require little changes and only some expansion. Flash will definitely be involved.

Web 2.0 – User Input

User input will vary with the audience. The initial phases of development present the user with information they can leverage and subsequently input on their own projects, but not directly within the scope of this project. The later phases are almost completely user driven.

Phase I & II No user input. The information available can enable users to replicate the methods within their goals.
Phase III- Web Access Potential user input via blog as a form of commentary on the methodologies presented. The information available can enable users to replicate the methods within their goals.
Phase IV- Initial Expansion Collaborative organization input, largely behind-the-scenes as access to artifacts expands and other users are able to capture the datasets and share the data. This is not intended to be a “user-friendly” consumer type of experience, but shared server resources where research personnel can access the “back-end” of the system for direct input of data.
Phase V- Infinite Expansion Fully capable user input. Expanding access depends on user conformance to the capture and dataset standards, but easy access to the system via a simple web front-end. Envisioned is a peer-review/moderation process that verifies data conformance and propriety.

October 18, 2009 Posted by | Clio I - History and New Media | , , | 5 Comments

Web 2.0! We don’t need no stinking Web 2.0!

Partly as a result of the conversation ZaYna (yes, I am her friend and I have a chronic spelling problem) and I have been having off-and-on this semester, and partly as a coalescing of my own ramblings, I offer my own definition of Web 2.0 for our consideration.

Web 2.0 is:

  1. Less a technological construct and more a social construct.
  2. An environment of collaboration and openness.
  3. Dependent on, but not limited by, open, logical, essential technical standards – the antithesis of proprietary models. (Linux, for example is a computer operating system like Windows or MAC which does not belong to any particular company and is based on an open language and essential core, called a kernel. Anyone can learn how to build applications for Linux and can publish them… Wikipedia exists in the same, open framework where anyone can publish).
  4. An environment where there are no rules, only what can be considered fundamental scientific laws… essentially the very basic programming schtuff acting like irrefutable gravity, and where you are free to express, collaborate, or share as you see fit.
  5. Much like the Douglas Adam’s babel fish , Web 2.0 can serve as ubiquitous translation and sharing point for information.
  6. A playground with no walls where everyone is invited and there is enough room on the merry-go-round for all.

The question remains, and Bell’s essay examines, how to we structure an essentially unstructured playground and make it suitable for academic discourse?

Bell offers a great example in his discussion about the Gutenberg-e Prize and what it can mean for a significant shift in hyper-textual scholarship and rigorous peer review. In addition to that, we have to examine our responsibilities as historians. We have to exercise discipline in our writing and our peer review. We have to write clearly and research rigorously. Through hyper-textualization, we can provide direct access to our primary resources. This requires careful consideration of our conclusions as all of our source material can be open to scrutiny. This can provide for far superior writing.

The danger lies in blogs, emails, and twitters. Web 2.0’s lack of structure opens a wide door for lazy, rapid-fire, ill-considered writings. There are advantages in rapid response, and world-wide broadcasting, but there are significant risks, namely to our reputations.

Web 2.0 is a utopian dream without artificial superstructures imposing hierarchy and arbitrary information channels and filters. To be taken seriously, the policing of such a “wild-west” atmosphere must be taken up by each denizen of the new utopia.

October 6, 2009 Posted by | Clio I - History and New Media | , , , | 1 Comment

The Idealistic Future of the Past


Reading Rosenzweig, Kornbluh, Norton, and Schnapp I am struck by the overt idealism of Web 2.0. One could argue that a revolution of thought and feeling is well underway, that a true democratization of information is arriving, and a new era of collaboration and true meritocracy is on the horizon. Rosenzweig discusses the challenges of overcoming what he calls “possessive individualism” (italics in original) and presents a well-reasoned case study of Wikipedia with an analysis of its achievements and failures. Throughout his article I was impressed by the enthusiastic embrace of the notions behind this “new” collaborative world. Rosenzweig appears to claim that new media is about ideals, not technology. He does this by challenging the notions of the collegiate business model, the need for professional historians to make online history better and more available/accessible to all, the fee-for-service model of the exclusive online archives, and notes the ideals of Wikipedia where one direct challenge to professional historians is clear: There is no privileged position.

Rosenzweig suggests, and I agree, that collaboration is good, ego is bad, and professionals owe it to the amateurs to help them, and the amateurs are in relationship to work with the professionals on some of the data crunching. Sounds very utopian. In fact, it seems to mirror Goggle’s unofficial corporate motto: Don’t be evil.

Google is a pretty good example of the prevalence of ideals in this brave new world. Their corporate mission is: to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Wow. This goal is so lofty that it may be considered hubris to think they could actually pull it off. BUT, the Google phenomenon is real and they are moving towards their mission. They are buoyed by belief and apparently, their ten commandments support the claim that they are a belief-based organization:

  1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
  3. Fast is better than slow.
  4. Democracy on the web works.
  5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
  6. You can make money without doing evil.
  7. There’s always more information out there.
  8. The need for information crosses all borders.
  9. You can be serious without a suit.
  10. Great just isn’t good enough.

These ten things, as they are called by Google, are not technology-based or economy-based objectives… they are all-out philosophy. This seems to be exactly what Rosenzweig was commenting on. Kornbluh agrees as he attacks the stove-pipe, selfish mentality of previous/current works in favor of collaborative development, sharing, and exploration. This is an essential concept behind cloud-computing, another Google-supported initiative. He describes the Quilt Index as a great success in this collaborative environment, and I have no doubt that it is. The fact that is has grown to such a degree is testimony to the value of standards-based development and collaboration.

Rosenzweig and Kornbluh idealistically point to the one thing your mother may have taught you: It is nice to share and play well with others. Ironically, this seems to fly in the face of current academic practices. While professional academic historians exude the collegial nature of Senators, they can be a rowdy and vindictive bunch. Attend a controversial conference and watch the panel discussions for proof. After all, as Rosenzweig pointed out, a scholar’s measure is his or her reputation as gained through research, publication, and significant labor and as preserved in the form of authorship of the results of that research. It is possessive individualism. If you take that away, what, then, will a scholar use for his CV?

Further challenging the ideals of the Web 2.0 utopia is the Wikipedian declaration that rank has no privilege. After years of servitude to academia, there are no laurels, no seats of honor. That’s a hard pill to swallow and will be fought. If my academic opinion is weighted equally with a Pulitzer-prize wining academician, or a weekend warrior, what are the capitalistic goals? Why work so hard?

Norton and Schnapp examine the possibilities of this new world and point to some of the obvious benefits. Norton discusses some of the cloud-computing-esque notions of digital cross-walking of standards-based data indices. She gives the example of the changes in naming conventions over time for species. That information alone can save countless hours of cross-referencing data. This efficiency can allow for greater allocation of resources to research, not data mining. But, the key is there have to be multiple inputs to standards-based data. We have to share. Schnapp seems to agree when he examines the changes coming to libraries and archives away from the product-based to the process-based. In other words, they become enablers of data transfer, not necessary the agents.

Despite traditional capitalist objections to this model of irrational belief and non-attributable sharing, it appears to work.

Wikipedia provides the evidence. Examining the discussion tab of the Wiki article on the Cuban Missile Crisis, one discovers a vibrant discussion of the material and a rather useful grading scale within broader subcategories as well as an importance scale. This is the most effective and efficient peer review I have encountered.

The history provides a fair picture of how viable this topic still is with over 500 edits this year. History may help with the attribution “problem” for academics and for the editors… but it fails to answer why people spent time editing the articles. Web 2.0 collaboration is a belief system that has significant advantages and it seems to throw much of the capitalist model on its head. The economic/resource advantages of standards and collaboration are obvious, but attribution is a significant emotional component. I refer to attribution in this case as “ownership” of an idea, a conclusion, a process, etc.

Web 2.0 is not about technology or tools, it is about a balance of beliefs and a utopian vision for the world’s data.


September 27, 2009 Posted by | Clio I - History and New Media | , , , , | 2 Comments