Alternatives to Delicious

According the news, Delicious (an online bookmark manager) is being sent the way of the Dodo by Yahoo. I hadn’t even realized that Yahoo had acquired delicious, which I’ve been using off and on for years now.

So, the question becomes: if delicious is dead, what do we use instead? Suggestions thus far include:

  • Licorize – looks more focused for group work (tagline: “for the world wide tribe”)
  • Diigo
  • Xmarks
  • Evernote – I already use this, but with more emphasis on the “note” aspect. Still, it could work.

Comments or additions from the crowd?


When I was a kid, I had a paper cutout set that came out at Thanksgiving. It has a backdrop of Plimoth Village, and little paper Pilgrims – children and adults – as well as a handful of Native American men. I took great care every year in setting out the display, arranging it just so.

However, I don’t remember thinking that it was an accurate depiction of the First Thanksgiving. Somehow, early on, I was taught that the first Thanksgiving was more complicated, less neat, than the pretty story and paper people on the dining room chest. It may have been that I have an older sibling, and she read about Deerfield in school in maybe third grade.

As Thanksgiving approached this year, I thought about the paper set and my early Thanksgivings. How and when did I learn to doubt the nicely packaged story of a historic event? Is there an age at which you start to teach children to question the mainstream historical narrative, or do you begin there? How do you teach adults to dig deeper? Do you resist little things like toys which buy in to the mainstream story, just in case? I can at least answer the last one – not necessarily.

The paper set didn’t mislead me about history, but it might have encouraged me to think of it as something I could engage with. I asked after it yesterday, since I ate Thanksgiving dinner at my parents. My mom was able to lay hands on it immediately, despite the fact that they’ve moved a few times since I was a child. I took out all the pieces, and smiled. The set is a little piece of Americana and an artifact of my childhood.

Tech knowledge

One of the many hats I wear at work (because, really, who doesn’t wear multiple hats?) is as the Department Technical Support. Setting up computers, frozen screens, defective mice – I am the front line. When I’m at a loss, we call ITTS, which for us is one man with a radio.  It can be fun, sometimes all I have to do is touch the computer for it to start behaving, and everyone in the department knows to reboot first.

Still, I recently started to wonder how I came to be this person. It wasn’t initially part of the job, as far as I remember. It’s not because I’m the only computer-literate person: roughly half of my department is younger than I am and I believe of a similar socio-economic background, and I know they’re comfortable with computers. Moreover, I’m not spectacularly qualified. I did once work at a retail store for the fruit-logo’d computer company, but I’ve never taken a single computer science course, built my own tower from scratch, or even used Linux. My technical knowledge is almost entirely self-taught; why or when or how, I wondered, did I learn these things that my coworkers have not (yet)?

The best explanation I can come up with is that it has to do with my relationship with computers and their ilk, the basic nature of my attitude towards them. Broadly speaking, I learned to approach technology as something exciting and interesting to be explored and understood, not as a tool to be taken for granted nor yet as something to be cautiously regarded as helpful but unstable.

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Listening and hearing

Last night, I attended a “Listen…and be Heard” session hosted by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia (yes, I am Episcopalian). The session was very productive as a member of the diocese – I went feeling nervous and left feeling very respected and respectful. I also went into it intrigued by the process, and I think it could be used by public history and preservation communities when dealing with difficult issues.

Here’s how it worked: everyone showed up and was given a name tag with a little number on it. The number was for our small groups, which came later. The small groups didn’t end up quite as mixed as they might have, despite the fact that if you came in a clump they tried to give everyone a different number. I think so many people walked in solo that it affected the random-mixing nature.

Anyway, there was coffee and cookies as we waited for the session to begin. Eventually (well, at the scheduled start time), we all gathered in the sanctuary where the Bishop addressed the crowd. We opened with a prayer, and then he talked a little about how the process of the listening sessions was developed, and about what the session were and were not. A priest who is part of the administration of the Diocese (I cannot recall her name) gave us some instructions. She said that anyone whose group was in an area with other groups and where they might have trouble hearing should come see her and they would be switched to one in a quieter location, which I thought was an excellent concession to the older members of the crowd. Then we broke into our small groups.
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Case Context

I spent today at the Ohio Historical Society, in their library and archive. It’s a lovely reading room, with skylights, and the staff has been amazing.

During my lunch break, I took the opportunity to wander a bit among the collection near the main staircase. Just off the central area, flanking what appears to be a pull-down screen presentation space, are 6 cases. The cases have a variety of objects all of which look to me to be American decorative arts, presumably from the history of Ohio. Every case has a label across the top, declaring them Treasures from the Name Of Person Collection (I don’t remember the name). There are no labels in any of the cases.

I felt the cases need labels for the object. There was no context, no presentation. A Windsor chair with some nice teawares, paintings, and other household goods. Some silver, a portrait, a vase. How do they relate? Why did they go into a case together? What is the collection, and why were these given to the museum? Yes, this information might be available on the website, but that only helps very inquisitive people with smartphones.

As I was thinking these, staring at a case of anonymous objects, the part of my brain which was still at work kicked in. I wondered about the Person who Donated. Donors can attach strings to their donations: things must be on display, or not. Some museums can decide not to accept the conditions, but sometimes it’s hard to refuse. I wondered if the donor wanted approval for label text, or if there was too much disagreement about how and what to write. One of the dangers of displaying everything or anything you receive as a donation is that the provenance you discover by research may not be what the owner thought they knew.

Writing label text is a difficult art. You have to capture all the important information without going on too long, convey it all in a way that is both coherent and yet comprehensible to all ages. It can be time-consuming, but it is important.

The cases, with their nameless, unidentified objects, frustrate me. I don’t know the reason, or reasons, why the objects have no labels; I don’t think the reasons matter as much as the need to tell the stories of these objects – and the people who interacted with them.

QuickPost: Citations

I recently finished reading The Anatomy Murders by Lisa Rosner. It’s a very readable look at the early 19th century Edinburgh murderers Burke and Hare, offering a great deal of context both for the Edinburgh they inhabited and the culture of medical anatomy which motivated them. I may write more on it later.

What intrigued me was the citation style. There were no footnotes or endnotes, but in the back was a section for notes, with text in bold indicating what sentence or paragraph was being supported. At first I was a bit irritated, as it made it impossible to tell while in the main text whether she was working from a source. Then I realized that I, and I imagine others, have a tendency to thing “Oh, a foot/end note. This must be based in a reliable source,” which is decidedly not always the case.

I recently tried to find the source of a quotation only to be sent from one citation to another, backwards through publications until I got to the point where there were no foot or end notes, only a bibliography. I’m learning not to trust a notation so blindly.

11 September

This day had a huge impact on my undergraduate life.

2001 was the beginning of my sophomore year of college, in New York State, only about 2 hours by train from New York City. My parents and sister were in northern Virginia. When I finally understood the scale of what had happened, I knew it was going to be one of those events my children would ask me about, decades in the future.

This date, 11 September, was also the basis of my undergraduate thesis. 11 September 1973, the day the Chilean tradition of democracy was dealt a blow from which it took seventeen years (or more) to recover.  I wrote about the coverage of the coup by US newspapers; partly because my Spanish is limited to what most Americans pick up, and partly because the events of the two intervening years had made me curious about how openly critical newspapers had been of our own government in the past.

(In January 2003 my mother and I attended a celebration of the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., hosted by the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and attended by people from all religions and backgrounds. Following the service we walked down Massachusetts Avenue, intending to gather in a prayerful vigil for peace in Lafayette Square – but due to “security concerns” the police stood on horseback, preventing this crowd celebrating nonviolent protest from getting too close to the White House. Later that year, friends at William and Mary who were also studying in the UK were told that they would lose all credits and might be expelled if they joined in anti-war protests in Britain).

I spent the fall of my senior year of college reading book after book on the coup in 1973, the imprisonment of thousands in the National Stadium, the torture and killings – and all this in a nation which had been very proud of its democratic process. It was disturbing reading, and I only got through it because of the breaks imposed by college life, and by self-imposed breaks with a box of 96 Crayola crayons and a coloring book. Still, I’m glad  that I know about that tragedy in the history of a nation not my own.

September 11 is a day, for me, to remember the power of democracy, the importance of human rights, and that the power of fear and anger and hatred can be overcome.

Childrens Books

You might say this post has nothing to do with history. And you could be right. Or not.

Over the past few years, the number of people I know with infants and toddlers has increased drastically. Some of the babies I knew are now toddlers, or even Going To School, and all enthusiastic about reading. It has me thinking back to my favourite books to read, or listen to, both as a kid and as a teenager working in the picture book section of my local bookstore.

Awesome books for kids (and grownups), according to me:

  • The Do-Something Day, by Joe Lasker.  It has the repetition that toddlers like, without being too overwhelming for an adult. Also good because everyone, adult or child, has had a “do-something day” where no-one else seemed to cooperate.
  • Ox-cart Man, by Donald Hall, illustrations by Barbara Cooney. I liked this book anyway, but I can still remember hearing it on Reading Rainbow. Add in Barbara Cooney, who’s also given us such wonders as Miss Rumphius, Roxaboxen, and Eleanor,  and it’s a definite keeper.
  • A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, by Nancy Willard, illustrations by Alice and Martin Provensen. Wonderful, whimsical poems, and gorgeous illustrations. One of the first poems I ever memorized was from this book. I think I now know about a third of the poems by heart, and have a hardback copy because the original paperback, purchased by my dad as a gift for me in 1986, is in “well loved” condition.
  • Rootabaga Stories and Rootabaga Pigeons, by Carl Sandburg.  I didn’t actually read these until I was an adult. When I was a child, my family spent two weeks ever summer near Sandburg’s home, Connemara, which belongs to the National Parks Service. At the time, they sold audio cassettes with Carl Sandburg himself reading the stories. I listened to them every night as a kid, and when I read these stories now I still hear Sandburg’s intonation and rhythm, “softer than an eyewink, softer than a Nebraska baby’s thumb.”
  • Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. Yes, Goodnight Moon is wonderful, but I like Runaway Bunny better. It comforts a child with the idea that Momma will always be there, no matter where you go. When I was a teenager, I was surprised to hear it echoed the ballad The Twa Magicians.
  • Pink and Say, by Patricia Polacco. This is one of the books I discovered as a teenager. It’s about two boys in the American Civil War, one black and one white. I cry every time I read it and I’m so very glad I found it.

I have so many more books, both on my shelves and that I know to be good, but I’m going to stop here. Feel free to add your favourites in the comments.

Who is a historian?

Within the first year of getting my job, a Job In My Field (history), I learned that some people would not call me a historian. Apparently there has been a divide between historians who work in museums, for the Park Service, etc. and those who are professors in universities and colleges; put more succinctly, public historians and academic historians. Some (but not all!) academic historians do not think that public historians are “real” historians, either because we tend to work on one project or era for a discrete period of time and then move on, or because of some reason I have yet to divine.

At first I was offended, then philosophical. It does, after all, raise the question of who is a historian, of what work or effort earns one that title.

You see, I am a hobbyist reenactor. I’ve never done a juried show, but I love hanging out with my friends who do them on a regular basis. For those who are unaware, many historic reenactment shows which are open to the public, such as Military Through the Ages in James County, Virginia, have judges who come through and rate the various groups (at least, that’s my understanding). These groups are self-policing, with every item that the public can see vetted by members of the group who have done extensive research. My friends belong to these groups, but almost none of them have day jobs which give them the title “historian”. They’re editors, writers, programmers, project managers, and human resources directors. But are they not also historians?

There are also people who act as the voice of history for an area, an organization, a nation. My father has been involved in internet and networking since the 1970s, and he has met some of the most influential people in its history. He can tell the story of the trials and tribulations of academic computing, and he has preserved relics from those early days (albeit only as many as he has space to store). My Grandfather, who I wrote about in my last post, made a point to go and talk to teenagers and young people about his experiences in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, which for them was decidedly history.

There are archivists, special collections librarians, librarians of all kinds, elementary school teachers, neighborhood council members, all manner of people who engage in the activity of researching and interpreting history for themselves and others. At what point does one transition from a person who does history to a historian? Is there even a difference?

I don’t have an answer to those question – I’m not sure if I want one. I will likely revisit the question, at least to explore the work done by my friends who voluntarily wear layers of wool in the heat of Virginia summers to bring the distant past closer. But I welcome the comments of those who read, as long as you’re civil.

My Grandfather

My paternal grandfather died on Saturday. He turned 87 at the beginning of this month.

I’m doing my best not to focus on the loss, on the fact that (more than likely) whoever I marry will never have met my wonderful grandfather, and think instead about what time I did have with him. After all, my maternal grandfather died when I was about four years old, and my memories of him are limited to an impression of pale plaid and beige, of the smell of pipe tobacco, and an overall sense of being loved. Which is wonderful, but different from the memories of a man who I knew for almost thirty years.

My grandfather was a living connection to the events of the 20th century. Not just for me – a few years ago he sent me a clipping from his local paper, talking about the travelling portion of the Vietnam Memorial Wall and how Vietnam vets were talking with the junior high kids, helping them to understand the reality of that history. My grandfather was named in the article, and his picture was there too. I have that clipping somewhere. He loved talking about history, whether it was his, our family’s, or the world’s.

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