I just fired off an email to the tech historian in my department….hoping to find an ally in my attempts to do some online work during this degree. Here’s the email:
I’m a 2nd year phd student in the history department (early modern women/family history) and I’ve recently been thinking very seriously about online pedagogy and the possibilities of incorporating online elements into my projects. I have a lot of ideas about this, some of which are available in preliminary form online right now. I’ve been working in a synchronous interactive text-based environment with graphical user interface attached…a graphical MOO (spin off of MUDs). It’s called Project Achieve, and it’s an educational MOO housed here at U of T. Right now I’m working on creating historical simulations in tableaux; I create environments with early modern art and added sound effects (some midi taffel music, some animal or ‘street’ sound effects, that kind of thing), and then I program ‘bots’ who react to triggers from the user to explain concepts or their point of view. For example, Luther will explain his position on the Eucharist, and St. Francis will preach to the birds. (This project is viewable at http://achieve.utoronto.ca:2221 , push login (guests require no password) and type @go bingen to go to the first room.) Recently I’ve been thinking that there are more possibilities here than I previously imagined…I was imagining my dissertation (about the relationships between fathers and daughters in early modern France, a very narrative project) as a narrative, interactive series of tableaux, simulated to explore the various details of my project, with the primary sources linked behind the tableaux, and my own web log (blog) accounts of my search for the document, my interpretation, how it works with the secondary literature and how it fits into my proposed thesis. I’m just boggled by the possibilities of the technologies I’m encountering, but of course this is an absolutely outlandish bit of fantasy, and I think the department will look at me like my head is spinning around were I to mention it. I thought perhaps talking to you about it might be somewhat more encouraging.
Could I meet with you to discuss the possibilities of online technology in higher education? Thanks for reading along this far…
i am a work in progress
dressed in the fabric of a world unfolding
offering intricate patterns of questions
rhythms that never come clean
that you still haven’t seen
I had quite a conversation with my very dear friend Janine today, with whom I always end up having thoughtful conversations. We discussed the idea of satanism in society. Afterwards, I looked up some stuff online, and I discovered a rather startling fact; many many people believe that the world is filled with satanists who kill/maim/torture or otherwise abuse children in North America. I personally don’t believe this is so, if only for the simple fact that in order to be an evil Satanist one would have to accept Christianity as it stands and decide to take the ‘wrong’ side. Seems unlikely. Though I know that there are lots of religions (Voodon, Wicca, and other neo-pagan excursions) that Christians believe to be satanist, but by all accounts are not. I ran across an interesting stat: in the last 300 years, no criminal investigation has uncovered any evidence for Satanic ritual abuse. The point of a stat like that, of course, is to show that satanist may well exist, but it doesn’t seem to be part of their agenda to perform ritual murders. Many Christians believe that there are as many as 60,000 ritual murders of ‘innocents’ a year in North America. Amazing.
It’s all very reminiscent, of course, of early modern witch-hunting. Lots of comparisons have been drawn, and what seems to be the underlying similarity, more than anything, is the fear. Fear that there is someone out there, preying on your children, and they are so smart and so powerful and so organized that it’s impossible to find a trace of them. (If there’s an organized international group, shouldn’t there be at least one stupid satanist who doesn’t dispose of a body properly? At least one mistake?)
Oh the world we live in.
My goal to get the world blogging took some important steps forward recently! When Brin was feeling all sad last night I told him creating a blog would cheer him up….and who knew, it worked! And he’s getting all html on us too, so that’s one to keep an eye on. And then miao decided that, since her due date is a week away, it’s time to start a kitten/baby blog. First point of news! All heed the call! And finally, just now, I managed to convince blue (from baymoo) to get herself a blog too…(she’s the one with the funky descrip a few paragraphs down.) Links to all three are on the left. Enjoy! May the blogging revolution continue!
Let’s let writing out of books, give it a chance and see what it does with its liberty. Maybe there are butterflies in the core of those cloth-cased cocoons stacked away in libraries. Let’s let them out and have a look.
–Rob Carlton Brown
(via salmon’s rough draft; I’m looking forward to the completed paper!)
Well! Now I learned more about colours, and even got a page that tells me all the codes from a very nice fellow in Australia, who even bothered to check my page 3 minutes after waking up. (Thanks, tsr!)
And I managed NOT to go to stammtisch tonight….the office was empty when I closed up shop at work, and I was starving and not keen on paying out the 15 bucks it usually costs me when I go into the Duke of York hungry. And, besides that, I was thinking to pick up a book. A friend mentioned a book she was trying to read called An incidence of the fingerpost by Iain Pears. She mentioned that it spent a lot of time snuggled on the bridge of her nose because she kept trying to read whilst way too tired, but she thought it was right up my alley. So I did actually pick it up today. She was right. It’s a murder mystery set in Restoration England, and the first part is narrated by an Italian pseudo-noble with an interest in experimental physick. I don’t know how she finds these books, but I’m thankful. It’s been a fun read, in spite of my gut questions about whether he’s right to have the doctors say or do certain things. I’m just being an over-educated snob on that, though….it’s clear he knows the issues involved in talking about early modern medicine. And I noticed a thank you nod in the acknowledgments to my favourite historian of all time, Lyndal Roper, as well as to Olwen Hufton, so who am I to get huffy? Anyway, it’s not as if there are glaring problems. It’s really the push-pull in experimental science at the time, between getting your hands dirty and academic respect, between observation and authority….I can see he’s aware of these issues, and trying to illustrate them. I’m not used to reading fiction that centres on the arcane knowledge I’ve spent so long acquiring. It’s….quite fun. I had forgotten how wonderful it is to settle into bed with a warm drink and a good book. Remind me to do it more often.
lots of trouble posting today…I lost at least 2 entries that I can remember trying to make off hand, and the template isn’t saving my html changes. I know it’s because of the upgrades blogger has been getting, and I know there were lots of problems with the process. So I’m trying to be patient, though that’s not really my strong suit. So much to talk about, too much else to do. I’ve been playing around with html, so every day this page looks a little different. Every couple of hours, in fact. I’m inspired by the blogs around me. And, we had a nice conversation at Achieve about the possible uses for blogs in educational environments…I think this is one of the truly exciting uses for blogging. Do you know I went through many classes in English (as an undergraduate English major) reading a book a week and never being asked what i thought about what i was reading? (Until the exam, of course, but that hardly counts.) The impact blogging could have on student-instructor interaction is almost unfathomable…and I think mostly because your blog is YOUR BLOG, it’s got a kind of…’private’ sense to it, in spite of it being public. ‘private’ in terms of control, i suppose…Well, I’m at work now, and I should probably be doing something more useful. I told Richard that I was learning html and he’s decided that I should create the banner for the Centre. I don’t have a clue how to do that, but I just smile and nod.
ming. ming ming mang mong mung meng mwong mahlring mwalng. ming ming
vitaming. metaming. vitameatmegeming. vitamitaming.
vee-dublin-a-ming, retro-smacktive hyper-hacktive joojie-booleanishti
c leptomarcial-articky-spark havenning mooleanfish-stick marcel
marceau-an-telladivinistic, vitamin g vitamin sea, ichabod
peppercorn blunderbuss lemmingkeeper bandersnatcher rubtle
ackroidizing mefishtoffolease and tricky butter bricky lo-ride
hoo-ride timberland waterslide sharp n fast n cuttin glass n tightly
packed and hungry jack and stuffed with straw and gaping maw and
teeter tot and hit the spot and dragons lairs and say yer prayers
and lost the girl and almond swirl and karmann ghia nice to seeya
cut the pickle TICKLE TICKLE
She is awake, but has been staring off into space for 6 minutes.
Amulet of Sun’s Light (being worn)
strand of eternity
QPower button (being worn)
Okay. So I’m taking a few months off school to figure a few things out. I’m not sure I want to be there anymore. At least, not here, not in this department, not in this field, not in this whatever. I don’t know where the biggest problem is, except that I’m not driven to do the work anymore. Shouldn’t I listen to this impulse? I’ve been ignoring it for so long. It’s just not as interesting anymore. Maybe that will come back, maybe it won’t. Who knows. I go back and forth. Right now, my stomach just sinks when I think about going back to what used to really excite and please me. I mean, I used to be that girl who does who reads the ‘recommended’ as well as ‘required’ readings and was constantly fascinated by every little detail. I had original ideas and profs prompted me to publish. I never, and I mean never, handed in anything late. Right now I am about 6-8 months behind in my work. And I just don’t even care. Could be chemical. Or, I could have just come to some kind of an end of something. I don’t know what the problem is, but I want it to be over.
And the fact is that I am still passionate about things, it’s just not the same things. And I think I could do some really important work elsewhere. I think there needs to be someone looking at education and technology specifically in the area of history; when I talked about online interactive simulated historical environments (like the one I’m trying to build at Achieve), my colleagues look at me as if my head is slowly spinning all the way around. And now I’m even trying to talk about a dissertation project that is at once a audio-visual, interactive narrative tableaux of the historical events I’m describing, as well as linked translations of the texts I’m taking the details from, as well as scanned primary documents, with my own discussions of the issues behind that….linked altogether in the end with my conclusions, which I think is extremely valuable not only as a presentation tool but as a form of learning and formulating, a totally new way of presenting historical data which is more ‘transparent’ (in that the documents are readily available instead of in an archive in Paris under lock and key, and because you get to trace my process and watch me jump from one idea to another), and also a great way for students to present their research for evaluation. If every doctoral student in history did this, think of the wealth of information that would become available to all levels of history students, regardless of location. (An undergraduate student at Memorial University in Newfoundland would be able to access not only my dissertation, for example, but would be able to write a primary source paper based on the scanned documents that support my project, documents that could be in the Rare Book library here, or anywhere else.) And in the end, fundamentally, it brings history forward. History isn’t really faring well in this technologically advancing world. No one takes history because they’re going to get skills they can use elsewhere, or because they can produce work in multiple ways, do something interesting. History is still very much about ‘the book’ and the classical page. Technology in history is about a fancy program to help you format your footnotes.
Am I completely insane? Am I fooling myself?