It’s 1984 again!

October 19th, 2013 llcowell Posted in HistoryRemix No Comments »

Popular science recently reported on mini-GPS trackers available.  The accompanying (non-professionally produced) advertisement encourages the consumer to put the device to use as a means of safeguarding loved ones.  Disturbing in a free world.  A review captology (the use of computers as persuasive technology) is in order, if not a re-read of Orwell’s 1984.

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Landing on the Moon and Resting on our Laurels

July 7th, 2009 llcowell Posted in HistoryRemix No Comments »


I always get nostalgic in the summertime. With the anniversary of the 1st moon landing, I am pulled back to my formative years. Beyond the general pride and excitement felt by the American citizenry, I remember coming to understand something more, when watching this (and ALL of the Apollo missions) from my classroom in a DOD school (my father was in the USAF). America had a place in the world…as a leader in looking beyond what was known into what was possible. I believed in that vision of a better world, as well as a better America. I still do. In 1969, we certainly were not without our political messes, (McCarthyism, Vietnam…), but our democratic ideals were intact as we, the people, protested and marched to change the way things were done. Those popular ideals were entwined in the same popular media that reflected our ventures into space. Star Trek, the original airing from 1966-1969, had creators (and characters) who were altruistic in their desire to explore new ways of doing things and to promote peace among cultures. In 1969, we were world leaders beyond our military strength. The most disturbing part of America’s modern notion of patriotism is the tendency to focus our vision inward. The concepts of leadership and championship have morphed from their foundations in idealism (where in that position, we would look to the interests of those whom we lead or champion) to one more solidly based in the framework of competition. We’re out to win the prize. I’m not so naive that I don’t recognize the race for space–the cold war in general–as an early generation of this self-centered phenomenon…but I do believe we were, as a people, more innocent of our government’s machinations back then. Now days though, we “the people” often express ideals that are jaded by a belief that we are “better” than others. What we do is too often couched in “what’s in it for me/us.” We are wholly convinced that we are the best, and we rest on the laurels of our past as we demand our “due” and ignore our responsibilities to those less blessed.

While your thinking about it…check out We Choose the Moon.

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HistoryRemix: Dave Z…be tempted. Be very, very tempted.

June 8th, 2009 llcowell Posted in HistoryRemix No Comments »

I’m not entirely convinced that the analogy “Think of it like Facebook for the First World War” is accurate, but the new research model being proposed at Muninn WWI does offer a glimpse at the research potential when the web is used as more than an information repository. Connecting up researchers and databases across the web in an effort to custom mine data places the historian in the same seat (passenger) as the marketers beneath the social networking sites, in not in the driver’s seat. Dave Z has gotta see….we may entice him yet.

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HistoryRemix: On Being a Digital Historian…

May 4th, 2009 llcowell Posted in HistoryRemix No Comments »

Cameron Blevins, a graduate student at Stanford University, has been blogging about his practice as a digital historian since June of 2008. His most recent post, The Mobile Historian proves this to be a blog worth watching. In an earlier post, Methodologies and the (Digital) History Major, In a response to a report drafted by Stanley N. Katz and James Grossman, Blevins takes a look at Katz and Grossman’s conclusions “through a digital lens.” I particularly like his response to the assertion that:

The single most important contribution that training in history can make to the liberal learning of undergraduates is to help students to contextualize knowledge, offering an antidote to naive presentism.

Blevin’s writes:

One hallmark of the digital age is the ephemeral nature of information. Lacking the inherent stability and traditional gatekeeping of the analog era, it becomes more and more difficult to “pin down” knowledge. Without assurance that a website will exist tomorrow or next week or next year, knowledge and authority become much more fluid, and users will be even more inclinated towards presentism (whether naive or not). Historians will need to offer their skills in contextualizing and framing a constantly shifting corpus of information, at the very least in order to provide a sense of temporal perspective.

In Blevin’s statements, I find new connections between information literacy and historical study…and affirmation of my professional journey…as historian – turned librarian – turned educator.

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HistoryRemix: Devaluing or Disbelieving Freedom…

April 27th, 2009 llcowell Posted in HistoryRemix No Comments »

In 2005, Paul Levinson presented a key note titled “The Flouting of the First Amendment” at Fordham University’s Media Ecology Association Convention. Levinson went on to publish his thoughts in Explorations in Media Ecology (2006, vol 5, no 3, pp. 199-210). You can watch the keynote address or read the transcript of Paul Levinson.

Levinson’s presentation of the history of our freedom of speech is enlightening, for sure. It is his analysis, in the end, that engages me. Levinson says:

So in the end … we stand at another crucial juncture regarding the history of the United States but also the history of the human species and freedom of expression and freedom of thought and freedom of the press, and it’s gonna be a very tough battle. At least fifty percent of Americans don’t seem to want that freedom. A survey of high school students last year showed a majority of them didn’t think the First Amendment was necessary and didn’t see why newspapers should be granted that kind of freedom.

Shocking? Of course. We find ourselves, as adults working with young adults, in a upside-down (almost surreal) paradigm. In past decades, as educators of minors, we might have found ourselves pulling back on the reigns of student expression. It seems now we may need to prod from behind…”speak up,” “use your voice,” “stand up for your rights.”

Less than a month ago, I posted, here, my concerns about student reluctance to use their voices. I have to wonder, when I consider what I observed that day, if high school students truly do not value their freedom of speech, or if, instead, it is that they don’t understand it…or perhaps worse, they don’t believe it truly exists.

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HistoryRemix: Post Hole History

April 8th, 2009 llcowell Posted in HistoryRemix, teaching & learning No Comments »

I call this type of historical study “post hole” history. Interesting what Marc Aronson writes in The Textbook Problem: Is It Possible to Teach World History in High School? (NonFiction Matter).

I wonder if it would make more sense to make world history be an in depth view of any one culture — pick it out of a hat — tracing the real links that culture had with others, train kids in how to learn and know; then, at the end of the year, give them a hint of the riches and wonders of other times, places, and cultures. Dig deep, open minds, trust in curiosity for future courses. Or, divvy up the world, and, at the end of the years, spend a month having different classes meet, talk, compare and contrast, find connections.

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Social Networking Technology as a Revolutionary Tool?

April 8th, 2009 llcowell Posted in HistoryRemix, media, mobility No Comments »

Check out this beautiful blend of technological innovation, historical awareness, and political upheaval!

Protests in Moldova Explode, With Help of Twitter (New York Times). There is an even wider world coverage of the effects of social technology on society as a whole on Evgeny Morozov’s foreign policy net.effects.

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HistoryRemix: Learning Voice

April 1st, 2009 llcowell Posted in HistoryRemix No Comments »

I’m having a hard time shrugging off the hesitancy on the part of some students to exercise their voice outside of the safety of classroom walls. For some it may be no more than a difficulty in distinguishing between what situations constitute free speech…differentiating between the freedom to use profanity for recreational purposes and the freedom to express dissenting opinions in a respectful and thoughtful way. As a colleague pointed out, for some it may be a residual of living in a larger “culture of fear.” I think what worries me is the possibility that for some it might be a lack of ENCOURAGEMENT to exercise their voice…to hone the skills of discourse rather than parrot (or recite) the facts. Is this a consequence of the “easy information” of technology? Food for thought: a web conference held in 2007 on Digital Democracy and the Freedom of Speech at Temple University. The essential questions and topics for discussion are worth a look.

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HistoryRemix: The Places We Live…

March 30th, 2009 llcowell Posted in HistoryRemix No Comments »

In 2008, worldwide poverty shifted its base. For the first time in history, more people live in urban slums than in agrarian poverty. This is Jonas Bendickson’s The Places We Live , offering a vivid glimpse of the world’s slums. Check out Bendickson’s links!

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HistoryRemix: Occasionally…

March 27th, 2009 llcowell Posted in HistoryRemix No Comments »

Rethinking how to teach history is an uphill battle. There’s a lot of history behind teaching history – traditional ways, traditional issues, traditional structures. But I try to take it slow and not get overwhelmed with the task. Life by the inch is a cinch.

Last year’s research paper assignment on labor and industrial leaders of the Gilded Age – the Saint or Sinner Project – has been remixed this year. I kept the saint-and-sinner theme (good guys, bad guys, moral questions), broadened the scope letting the students choose any topic between 1870 and 1930, and encouraged them to do projects options other than traditional papers. Quite a few of my students took up the challenge and did projects. Some were teeth-grittingly uninspiring – PowerPoints of mundane facts with little structure or focus – but there were some jewels.

One nearly brought me to tears of joy. A girl who’s not all that into school stuff sat in the library with a look of frustration on her face. I (being a perceptive fellow) asked her what was wrong. She was stuck. She didn’t know what to do for her research. “What do you like to do outside of school?” She listed a couple of activities which I can’t recall right now – four-wheeling maybe – “… scrapbooking …” I struck like a muskie on a sucker. “Scrapbooking! What an awesome topic!” She looked at me puzzled. But I brushed past her expression, and with genuine glee I said, “I heard about this historian who just finished book on the history of scrapbooking. It sounded really cool; you should do that.”

A few clickity-clicks and we had some sources for her. She’s still puzzled but coming out of the fog. “How do I do that?” she asks.

Enter Lora – stage left. We tag team her on the topic. Lora tells her about a series of scrapbooks that a man made of his life. I tell her she could do a scrapbook – DO a scrapbook – about scrapbooking. Lots of work, the girl said. True, but you would only have to do a couple of pages – craft it for effect.

She brought the scrapbook to me today – wow. She scrapbooked a dozen pages about an artist from Milwaukee who painted churches and designed stained glass. His wife was going to put a scrapbook together but died before she could finish it. My student finished it — beautiful … textured … deep … meaningful. Besides the scrapbook, she wrote a paper describing how she became inspired by the artist and outlining her journey from beginning to study the history of scrapbooking, to studying the artist, to creating the book.

I wish you could feel the textures of that scrapbook through your computer screen … boy are you missing something. Yeah, every once in a while the struggle of remixing history teaching has its rewards. I wish I was a faster learner or a more skilled teacher. Maybe more of these jewels would emerge from the rough ground. Where’s my shovel?

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