Textual Commentary

One of my favorite activity in the archive was to work on the marginalia of the manuscript – mostly just trying to decipher but often thinking through the gloss it ‘added’ to the text.

Thinking about digital archives, I have been keenly aware that this ‘conversation on the margins’ must be incorporated into the text – along with layers, annotations etc – if we are to ever fully realize the promise of hypertext. [Basically think of having the Discussion and the History sections of any wikipedia entry remaining integral to the presentation of the text while adding commenting].

We can take, at least, one step forward on that project today: The Institute of the Book’s newly released Open Source Word Press theme, CommentPress 1.0. It allows one to display a text with the unique ability that interlocutors can discuss down to an individual paragraph. The genius of course is that in breaking the text up in such a manner, it makes the text far more legible and readable online.

This is a first step but I think that the Future of the Book folks deserve a huge round of applause.

In terms of application for historians, an easy one is the ability to workshop a paper – elicit comments, suggestions, etc.

Some of us from the history blogging world will be doing a roundtable at the AHA in January. Our intention is to present our panel work at Memory Matters. On this site, in the coming months, we will expand, discuss, debate some of the themes that underline our research and which we will presenting at AHA. Hopefully, this will serve as an example – even if it ends up being a cautionary one – of extending the ways in which we share and learn.

The Pearl Project

I just found out about it, though it had been announced back in March. In Fall 2007, Georgetown’s School of Continuing Education will begin a seminar, The Pearl Project, to “investigate motive and attempt to determine who really killed Pearl. They will also examine the wider relationship between the Muslim world and the press and profile others who have died in the frontlines of journalism.” It will be led by Asra Q. Nomani and Barbara Feinman Todd. More here.

I wish this was a congressional inquiry rather than a journalism class but every little bit helps.

Affliction with Little Dragons

Jimmy Carter on the cover of Africa TodayHave you heard the good news? For those of us who may have lost hope– expect the worst from humanity– no end to war, pollution and the like– the world has been handed an inspiring example in the form of the eradication of everyone’s favorite parasite, the guinea worm. In a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Michele Barry, M.D. explains how the guinea worm, or dracunculiasis (Latin for “afflication with little dragons”) has been virtually eradicated world-wide through an unprecedented global public health effort spearheaded by Jimmy Carter, among others:

The World Health Organization (WHO) has now certified 180 countries as free of guinea worm disease, and all countries where the disease was endemic have signed a WHO Geneva declaration pledging to wipe out the parasite by 2009. Whereas massive funding is funneled into campaigns to eradicate poliovirus, to control malaria and tuberculosis, and to prevent the spread of human immunodeficiency virus, guinea worm disease is about to be eradicated without any drug therapy or vaccine. Its demise will be proof that people can be persuaded to change their behavior through innovative health education.

Life Cycle of the Guinea WormI first got to know of the affliction of little dragons from a wonderful little handbook for traveling hypochondriacs, Where There Is No Doctor (more intriguingly, there now seem to be similar titles for situations in which one might find one’s self without a dentist or psychiatrist). For those of you who are not familiar with our friend the guinea worm, it is a very special parasite whose larvae, when ingested through contaminated water (in the stomachs of tiny water fleas), hatch within the flesh of their host and then burrow outward, becoming very long, disgusting white slippery worms. People with these worms hanging out of their legs then go and fetch water from a step well or pond, and the worms immediately toss a few eggs into the well, thus contaminating the water for future users. The only way to remove the worm is to slowly draw it out over a period of months using twigs and bits of string. Needless to say, the guinea worm is an excellent candidate for global eradication. Continue reading “Affliction with Little Dragons”