Exhibition and Museum Sites

I’ve been collecting sites for teaching, and one developing genre includes websites for museum and library exhibitions. Many museums do a great job of publicizing collections and current exhibitions: some who have decent collections in medieval studies include the Walters in Baltimore, the Art Institute in Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Met (not that I get to see them as much as I’d like to!). While they have great galleries, though, most of their exhibition home pages are just on-line posters. Now, however, some are developing sites to be fully-fledged complements to a visit (or, a substitution, if you didn’t get to see it).

video about printing the KJV
This links to a video about printing the KJV.
An exhibition commemorating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, co-sponsored by the Folger, the Bodleian, and the Harry Ransom Center, has generated this wonderful site: Manifold Greatness. For academics, it’ll be a great teaching tool. There are short films about everything from its history to bookmaking (including class projects that could be adapted to university classrooms), timelines of the history of the Bible before and after the KJV, and a great set of references to later authors who’ve used it.

This winter there will be a new exhibition at the British Library entitled “Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination.” Here is a preliminary page about it, and here is a discussion on Medievalists.net. I have high hopes for the site (since I won’t be able to get over there to see it!). Here is coverage from The Guardian. A site as relatively large as Manifold Greatness might not be likely, but the BL has developed a lot of really great information for teaching and even for scholarship on its site: its English Language and Literature timeline, for instance, is dense with images and links to information elsewhere on its site; it’s one among several projects the BL has on line.

A third, perhaps unlikely, place to go is the BBC, whose history pages contain fairly deep sets of links, often connected to shows that will have video. Complementing the BL’s timeline, the BBC has a nice British History timeline that becomes a great way to access other information on the site through links on the entries.

John 1:1
John 1:1, from the Corbie Gospels
Exhibitions at the Met can be very generous in posting on-line images and discussion: here, for instance, is the home page for its exhibit Pen and Parchment: Drawing in the MIddle Ages, from a few years ago; it includes a large set of exhibition images.

Aside from museums, Special Collections departments at libraries have some wonderful sites as well: here is an exhibit from the University of Chicago library on “Book Use, Book Theory: 1500-1700,” for instance, which provides a more focused companion to some of the discussion on Manifold Greatness, as well as this recent New York Times article.

If you know of other on-line exhibitions I might have missed, please note them in comments! Remember when professors used to have to cart around sets of slides and film strips?


Computer Common Sense

This is the updated version of a widget I’m posting on my d2l home pages for my students this fall; it updates a post from last January.

Over the past few years, I’ve had a remarkable and increasing number of students experience serious losses of data. Here’s help. These are free.

Problem 1: “I lost my files.” Students lose USB memory sticks, crash hard-drives, leave stuff somewhere accidentally, and get computers stolen or infected all the time. Before anything else, if you use Word go to Preferences>Save and set the autosave to work every minute. In any word processor develop the subconscious habit of hitting Ctrl-S every other sentence.

To avoid big losses, use the free “cloud” drive called Dropbox. It gives 2GB of space for free, it’s very quick, you can sync the same files among all of your computers, you can access them from any other computer by logging in to the website, and you can use it to share files with others–really: what’s not to love? Alternatively, or also, use the web-based Google Docs, a free replacement for Word and Excel that can also store any kind of file, even video. It also lets you share files with others (get a group from a class together, and agree to save all of your classnotes to a shared folder). To save photos, use Picasa‘s web albums.

[Beyond just saving document folders, I’d strongly recommend a service like Backblaze or Crashplan or Carbonite or Mozy or Spideroak or Jungledisk to automate regular backups of some or all of your system, in the cloud or on an external hard drive or both. Here’s a discussion of various options from Lifehacker; they describe here how these work, using Crashplan as an example. Your files are your responsbility: every term a student of mine loses their whole computer, but I still have to grade something.]

Problem 2: “My account got hacked.” Alternatively, “I forgot/lost my password.” Students can be astonishingly loose with passwords. First, don’t lock your front door with scotch tape; second, use a good lock. The best system is to use LastPass or another password manager: they are much more secure than you could ever be.

Problem 3: “Someone stole my laptop [or] smartphone.” Avoid laptop theft by using a locking cable in libraries and coffeeshops ($, but much less than your computer). Considering the number of mobile devices people own, everyone should use Prey (free) or Gadgettrack (small cost).

Problem 4: Internet Explorer. Actually, the newest version (9) is getting better reviews. But there’s a reason that it has been losing market share for years. I would recommend that you use Firefox or Chrome. Chrome, for instance, has a built-in .pdf viewer, so you don’t have to download Adobe’s very cumbersome Acrobat Reader. Aside from speed, these have the huge advantage of what Chrome calls extensions and what Firefox calls add-ons to add new features to your browser. These are wonderful (I love Adblock, for instance). Some suggestions follow . . .

Problem 5: “I don’t know where I found the information on the internet.” You must cite all of your sources, including anything from the internet. Tracking your work is very easy, so the problem of losing this is very avoidable and, therefore, silly. I think the best solution is Evernote (here’s a start to how). Another is Instapaper. Extensions are available for Chrome and Firefox that will save a webpage for later reading, such as Chrome Scrapbook or ReadItLater for Firefox. With Firefox you can even get a free, fully-fledged citation manager called Zotero that not only saves citations but will format and insert them into Word documents (there’s a learning curve to using Zotero, but I know users who just love it. You can use it for the rest of your college career, and long after).

Your lives are very digital; avoid losing them. All of these are useable on any computer and often on smartphones, any time. Now that you know you don’t have any more excuses.

A Poem for Today

Eke Lullaby my loving boy,
My little Robin take thy rest,
Since age is cold, and nothing coy,
Keep close thy coin, for so is best:
With Lullaby be thou content,
With Lullaby thy lusts relent,
Let others pay which hath mo pence,
Thou art too poor for such expense.

This is a bit of verse from George Gascoigne’s “The Lullaby of a Lover”; Robert Pinsky writes about it here for Slate (where’s he’s written several short pieces about Early Modern poems, if you search down this list). It turns out to be pretty deviously funny, and a bit lewd, in part addressing “my will, my ware,” and I think I might just have to teach it. It’d be a great parallel to Shakespeare’s sonnets about “Will.”

Campaign for the Future of Higher Education

This is a new organization to bring together faculty groups from all over the U.S. to fight the increasing trendy desire by states to defund public higher education.

On their website, they articulate a number of goals to pursue; they will also create a kind of virtual think-tank to develop ideas. It’s a start. Here’s another post about it, from Profhacker. Here is further coverage from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Higher Education, Public Policy, and Moral Hypocrisy

I’ve been concerned with way in which we deploy moral narratives–that are often very privately constructed–to validate our public identities. This post is part of that.

I teach at one of 14 Pennsylvania State System schools–not Penn State or a satellite, but a series of schools that were collected under one state agency in the 1970s, now called PASSHE. Our new Governor, Tom Corbett, has announced a new budget that cuts state appropriations to all higher education in Pennsylvania by 50%. Penn State President Spanier says that this may force the closure of some of its satellite campuses. This is drastic, of course–and Penn State only gets about 8% of it’s budget from the state.

The State System, by contrast, receives about 1/3 of its budget from the State. If the cuts stay at this level, they will inflict about a $22,000,000 loss out of Slippery Rock’s operating budget of $103,000,000–almost 20%. (You can see my school’s numbers laid out here as a PowerPoint under “Budget 2011-2012.”) To make this up, PASSHE’s Board of Governors would have to increase tuition by about 33%, which will never–and should never–happen (it would not likely approve an increase of more than 5-10%).

It’s an astonishing proposal. It threatens the very notion of a “public” education, if by “public” we mean accessible, not just “with some public funds.” Joe Paterno’s son has in fact argued that all of Penn State’s funding should be allotted to the State System to preserve just this principle.

The cuts, however, aren’t a surprise; my school actually had to cut close to 10 million out of its budget last year, which among other effects saw the reduction of our College Writing course requirement from two terms to one. That will hurt our students. Business leaders actually like employees who can write. The size of the new cuts are unexpected, however. Our governor’s desire to excise the future of a generation of students–it makes one cry to know what his cuts will mean at the elementary and secondary educational levels–is very painful.

Aside from at state government, the other place towards which my fury has been directed is its origin: the mortgage crisis that started on Wall Street in 2007-08. The initial accusations about its causes were something along the lines of “well, people should read their mortgage documents.” This was defensive politics at the time, and in fact, the January 2011 Crisis Commission report puts the blame on much bigger forces at stake. But whatever it was, my students and their families had no play in these forces. They never signed bad mortgage documents. Yet they, because “the captains of finance and the public stewards of our financial system ignored warnings and failed to question,” as the report says, they will now need to take out even more loans–no doubt, financed by those same banks, guaranteed by the government. And I–financially paranoid about debt–never signed a bad mortgage, but now my job is at risk. And worse off are the poor, the infirm, and the ill, who’ve done nothing wrong, are now seeing cuts to basic social and health services they have relied upon to, simply, live. The only people who could praise this kind of boom-bust cycle are people too rich to be affected by it. And this defines a morally bankrupt paternalism which Americans, if we remember our history, should revile.

Capitalism is, of course, also part of our history. We need companies; they employ us, and we invest in them to retire. And companies, for better and worse, use: they use raw materials, money, and people, for the sole goal of earning more money. They are neither good nor bad; that’s just what they are. (If we do want to claim they are people, a debate I won’t enter here, we have the odd responsibility of attributing to them an essential morality, which is not to my mind, at least, sensible.) So, long ago we decided–after the murders of the Homestead Strike, the agonizing images of women falling 9 stories in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, and the trauma of the Depression, that the human cost of this exploitation violated the respect for individual life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness which U.S. culture professes to hold dear.

Yet, even though it conflicts with these values, we want. Our desires mate public policy with capitalism to spawn a myriad of bastard delusions and corruptions. The first is that one doesn’t need to be rich to allow, to vote for, exploitation; one just needs to fantasize about it. We hope to rise above it, though social mobility in the U.S. is in fact quite limited (see Dan Ariely’s report here as a .pdf). Another is that we vilify the victims of state cuts because we need to claim the moral high ground to justify harm to others (in war, in love, in business, and in education–Stewart’s video clips demonstrate the craven hypocrisy of those who pretzel logic to conform to publicly acceptable moral codes). As Robin Muncy says of the capitalists in the Gilded Age,

a lot of industrialists saw themselves as fairly benevolent, as providing jobs, as providing the means of survival to hundreds and sometimes thousands of workers. And if workers complained about their wages, complained about their hours or the conditions under which they worked, they were biting the hand that fed them.

Still today, as Stewart’s clips also illustrate, the narrative our culture tells itself is that even the most demeaning, low-wage, exploitive jobs demonstrate the valuable generosity of the rich. And perhaps the most seductive of these bastard fantasies is that we come to see our employees, or our teachers, or our students, as children. They are not–no more than our soldiers. When public policy and capitalism marry, the union can create a kind of painful paternalism that is, unfortunately, another old U.S. story.

One must ask, then: does the state see learning, such as what was two terms of College Writing, as “rebellious literacy“? Why do they want to suppress critical thinking? The right-wing narrative is that government programs debilitate the citizenry. Actually, cutting literacy skills debilitates us. And how much more so, then, does corporate power infantilize us, more dominant now than governmental power! Disney is marketing in maternity wards (“creating magical moments right from the start“)! In the light of their desire for non-tax funding sources, our public servants become cowed children who don’t fight for their constituents and then justify their cravenness with the rhetoric of “job creation,” as if that were the prime goal of a publicly-traded company. My students need jobs. And the job of a professor is to help them to work and live–to teach them the literacy, critical thinking, and language skills to get jobs and to live satisfying lives without sabotaging this gain by breaking their financial futures.

Given the origins of the crisis, and the refusal by the “captains of finance and public stewards” in our state government to alleviate the problem by any other method than by cutting medical care, mental health care, environmental protection during a natural gas drilling boom, and education, what other conclusion can one reach but that this is their infantile voice: “Thank you; please, sir, will you take some more?

On Paying for The New York Times

According to a recent Gizmodo post, there are ways around the soon-to-be-up-in-the-US paywall. I’d note this bit of the post:

The trick here is that any home delivery package includes a full digital subscription. And—conveniently enough—a Monday-Friday home delivery costs you just $3.70/week for the first 84 days, or $14.80/month. That’s less than the cheapest digital plan, and gives you unlimited web, phone, and iPad access.

It depends on where you live; buying just the Sunday paper might cost less. I hate to sound like a commercial, but I believe strongly that there are things worth paying for. This is a great deal–some paper access and all digital access for on-line searches, some of the most fantastic graphics to illustrate the news anywhere on the web (look at these and these about the earthquake and tsunami), and full use of archival tools like the Times Topics.

And you get the print version. On-line is nice, but it does sacrifice at least some of the virtue of serendipity: I at least find that when I read the print version, with full articles in front of me rather than headlines to click on, that I’m much more likely to dip into them than when I just glance over headlines to choose among. I read more and learn more.

This kind of browsing is an example of how patterns of web literacy do differ from patterns of print literacy. A long time ago at the beginning of the internet explosion I remember professors assigning M. Kadi’s article “The Internet is Four Inches Tall,” which punctured the notion that news (and, at the time, the popular use of usenet groups) on the internet would somehow liberate us to read all sorts of diverse points of view–when in fact all it does is to allow us to more solidly confirm what we already know:

J. Individual has now joined the electronic community. Surfed the Net. Found some friends. . . . Traveled the Information Highway and, just off to the left of that great Infobahn, J. Individual has settled into an electronic suburb.

Now, this argument has been debated; here is a much more recent discussion of it. [UPDATE: and here’s another report about a similar point: “Anti-Social Networks? We’re Just As Cliquey Online.”]. One recent fascinating modification of this thesis (I’m relying on reviews here, since I’ve not yet read the book) is in MIT professor Sherry Turkle’s recent Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, in which, according to a recent review, she argues that isolation is a result of how we anthropomorphize technology:

even as more and more people are projecting human qualities onto robots . . . we have come to expect less and less from human encounters as mediated by the Net. Instead of real friends, we “friend” strangers on Facebook. Instead of talking on the phone (never mind face to face), we text and tweet. Technology, she writes, “makes it easy to communicate when we wish and to disengage at will.”

In another review which traces the history of Turkle’s thought about the internet, she was not once so pessimistic. (For a great interview with her, see her on Frontline’s “Digital Nation.”)

It’d be very hard to retain any optimism if The New York Times goes under. It’s cheap, and you’ll be helping one of the greatest papers in the world, with some of the best reporting in the world, to stay afloat.

A More User-Friendly OED

The OED changed its look last November. Actually, it changed more than just its look, since it also incorporates connections to other databases such as the Historical Thesaurus and the Oxford DNB. Over the past few months the OED has also started to chart some paths into the subscription-only database that is the dictionary. There have been for a while an array of searches that one could perform on the database–by date, source, and so on. Now the editors are starting to develop some more legible ways of interpreting the database, and to make at least some of these more publicly accessible too.

As an example, here is an essay on the First Dictionaries of English. It seems that the specific words linked to in the article are publicly visible. There are also links to the Oxford DNB, however, that aren’t visible without logging on, and neither is the link to the OED database that would describe Thomas Elyot’s dictionary as a source for entries.

Bengali Words in the OED
The essay is one from a page of essays called Aspects of English. This seems to be (hopefully is) just a sketch of what’s planned. There are few, at the moment, and they’re not lengthy. Hopefully the OED envisions them as more than just a marketing tool–I’d love to see these develop into an on-line library of interpretations of the database to which I could send students.

Another new way in, though this one only works by subscription, is a Timelines feature that charts the advent into English of words about different subjects (heraldry, social sciences), from different geographical regions, or from different language groups. The chart, for instance, illustrates when the 45 words in the Dictionary that originate in the Indo-Aryan language Bengali entered into English. This would be interesting to use in concert with the new Google Ngram Viewer that plumbs its book collection for word frequencies.