September 26, 2006

Good heavens!  What is this? 

Tip of the scrub brush to Pastiche.


Tantalizing partnership in Abilene, Texas

September 26, 2006

When I handed in my paper on the history of the Pleasant Grove Review to my journalism history professor, I lamented the lack of really good books and articles on Utah papers in general, and I noted how I had difficulty finding experts to cite, and so I had to spend hours in the backrooms of libraries and archives going through newspapers. He gave me a long deadpan look, and said, “You’re the expert — now.”

Actually, finding the stuff in those odd places was a good bit of fun.

Kids in Abilene, Texas, may have an easier go of such research in the future. A local consortium has funding to archive local history sources.

The Abilene Library Consortium has been awarded $2.2 million to begin a Digital Archives project. The Consortium members are Abilene Christian University, Abilene Public Library, Hardin-Simmons University, McMurry University, and Howard Payne University. The five-library group will build a digital repository to preserve and present historically significant materials that tell the stories of people within their communities. The repository will be available to the public and to each home institution. Staff will schedule workshops to assist individuals and agencies in preserving their historical records.

The Dodge Jones Foundation has awarded $2 million dollars and the Dian Graves Owen Foundation awarded $200 thousand dollars to begin the project and sustain it for the first three years. The grants include funding for equipment, staff, training and outsourced services.

I wonder whether high school teachers in Abilene are salivating at the chance to turn loose a small army of young historians, or are they instead suffering through one more meeting on how to boost TAKS scores?

Tip of the scrub brush to Library Technology in Texas.

An MIT education, on-line

September 26, 2006

Occasionally we visit the use of technology in education. It seems to me that our technical acumen far outstrips our serious application of technology to learning, and we should be trying to close the gap.

MIT offers OpenCourseWare, which is a large catalog of offerings, on line. It is a step towards realizing the potential of on-line learning:

a free and open educational resource (OER) for educators, students, and self-learners around the world. It is true to MIT’s values of excellence, innovation, and leadership.


  • Is a publication of MIT course materials
  • Does not require any registration
  • Is not a degree-granting or certificate-granting activity
  • Does not provide access to MIT faculty

Historians, especially teachers wishing to crib for great syllabi, will want to look at offerings like the courses from Pauline Maier. Economists should explore offerings in economics, too.

Two things: History

September 24, 2006

More on the Two Things meme: Glenn Whitman at Cal State/Northridge offers two sets of “two things” for history:

The Two Things about History:
1. Everything has earlier antecedents.
Corollary: all culture, including religion, is syncretic; there is nothing purely original.
Second Corollary: there’s no question that a historian can’t complicate by talking about what led up to it.
2. Sources lie, but they’re all we have.
Jonathan Dresner

The Two Things about Teaching History:
1. A good story is all they’ll remember, not the half hour of analysis on either side of it.
2. They think it’s about answers, but it’s really about questions.
Jonathan Dresner
[I have no idea who Jonathan Dresner is, but you have attribution and his e-mail.]

Off the top of my head I can’t improve much on those, though I do think the point about the good story applies both in studying history and in teaching it. We need the story to tell us what not to do — fairy tales serve a purpose in establishing myth, and history should do much the same thing if it is to help us avoid the dangers Santayana warns us about (see the Santayana quote at the top right ear of this blog, for example).

It’s all about the story. If the story is remembered, the errors may be avoided. If the story is not remembered, the chances of avoiding the errors are greatly reduced.

Two things: Economics

September 24, 2006

You can look up “meme” if you need to or want to. I won’t clutter your life with an explanation here.

I recently learned of the Two Things meme, again courtesy of WordPress’s tags tools. It appears to have been most developed by Glenn Whitman, at California State University – Northridge (also here).

Two Things about economics:

  • One: Incentives matter.
  • Two: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Arnold Kling at Liberty Fund’s Econ Library is uncomfortable with the claims. Tim Worstall at Tech Central less so.

Neither of the two things in economics will do a whit for a student on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). For TAKS, basic economics isn’t as important as the political end of the scale. For TAKS, Texas kids need to know what the Texas Education Agency thinks important about economics, which is:

1. Economic systems are classified as:

  • Traditional or subsistence agriculture;
  • Command or Demand (usually totalitarian government)
  • Free market or free enterprise (usually a democracy)
  • Mixed system

2. Countries with free enterprise economic systems have the highest per capita income, GNP, educational levels, and lowest infant mortality rates.

No kidding. The second point is very interesting to me, considering that Cuba has the highest literacy rate and lowest infant mortality rate in the Americas. Clearly these are not hard and fast rules — the exceptions should be very interesting.

Behind “kill all the lawyers”

September 24, 2006

In an otherwise informative post about a controversy over alternative certification for school administrators, at EdWize, I choked on this:

The Department leaders, Klein, Seidman and Alonso, lawyers all (perhaps Shakespeare was correct), are rigid ideologues who have alienated their work force as well as the parents of their constituents

Did you catch that? Especially the link to the Shakespeare line, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers?”

This is not exactly history we’re fisking here — it’s drama, I suppose. Still, it falls neatly into the category of debunkings, not too unlike the debunking of the story of Millard Fillmore’s bathtub.

The line from Shakespeare is accurate. It’s from Henry VI, Part II. But it’s not so much a diatribe against lawyers as it is a part of a satirical indictment of those who would overthrow government, and oppress the masses for personal gain.

It is Dick the Butcher who says the line. Jack Cade has just expressed his warped view that he should be king, after having attempted a coup d’etat and taken power, at least temporarily. Cade starts in with his big plans to reform the economy — that is, to let his friends eat cheap or free.

Dick chimes in to suggest that in the new regime, the lawyers ought to be the first to go — they protect rights of people and property rights, and such rights won’t exist in Cade’s imagined reign. Cade agrees. The purpose of killing the lawyers, then, is to perpetuate their rather lawless regime.

At that moment others in Cade’s conspiracy enter, having captured the town Clerk of Chatham. The man is put on trial for his life, accused of being able to read and keep accounts. Worse, he’s been caught instructing young boys to read. Read the rest of this entry »

Cold War hero Günter Schabowski

September 24, 2006

Do you remember Günter Schabowski? I didn’t.

This snapshot of his role in the unwinding of the Berlin Wall story is the sort of thing we need to preserve, as historians, I think. It shows how large organizations tend to foul things up. And it shows how one person can influence history, even with error. It demonstrates how history does not consist of foregone conclusions, but is instead a long string of serendipitous events.

It’s just the sort of story I like, over at Earthling Concerned.

%d bloggers like this: