Reading Manifestos

Some while ago, I wrote up my thoughts on being public intellectuals in the new digital age. I had always meant my ‘manifesto’ to serve as an introduction to a larger piece on digital history – that I would try and get published. I wrote parts of this larger piece and presented it at a conference in Madison – but I have been severely distracted since then. And, it may have sat unfinished forever.

But recently, I got an email from Paula Petrik, Professor at George Mason University and a true inspiration for us digital historians, that she had assigned my manifesto to her graduate class, History and New Media, and that her students had responded enthusiastically. First of all, let me just ask history teachers everywhere to visit that class site and go over the syllabus to see a great example of successful incorporation of blogs/digital media in the class.

With some trepidition, I visited the class blogs to see what they said. You can read Bill’s Waiting on Abdulhamid II, Jenny’s History Polyglot: How to Translate or Interpret in a Digital World, Historiarum’s I’d Love to Take a Public Beating, Misha’s Thank you, Sepoy, and Laura’s Three Cheers for Digital History. I found the comments to be probing, provacative and interesting and it made me realize that I really need to finish the second half of the manifesto.

But it wasn’t until I read that the good people at Progressive Historians – a ribald bunch of troublemakers, also liked the manifesto that I really cemented my resolve to write this weekend.

Long Live Digital History.

We Heart OBaMaRaMaMaMa

Fully Clothed ObamaWhile CM was being hacked, some of your correspondents ended up getting hijacked by the trendiest new web presence in town, Within moments of the site’s inception, we began to feverishly collect friends, join groups and start movements. But now that the site is already five days old, the bloom has faded from the rose and we are ready to come home. We are not sure if, after all, we wish to be part of a nationwide email conversation about how much, how very very much, we want our guy to kick the cig habit, or how it might be fun to have a ginormous sixty minute conference call with fellow supporters across the nation.

We still love the man, and it being Valentine’s Day, we’re here to express that, despite concerns about his handling of the whole madrassa issue, and other worries yet to be discovered. So in honor of his dignity, which is being vigorously shredded from all sides, we’ve gone photoshopping for a pretty new t-shirt to help him cover his nakedness, since he is still apparently somewhat miffed about the People mag papparazzo shot. As in the sad tale of the toothsome Gavin Newsom, who learned too late, after being caught with his pants figuratively down, that all those hair gel articles recalled a simpler, happier time, the Obamalator needs to understand that he should count himself lucky when he has only been exposed literally.

CM Back

CM has been broken for the last month. Maybe you noticed? And I have been in less than optimum health during that same period. I kept making stabs at fixing it – the DNS registrant mess, the hosting company mess, the recreation of the backend db mess – but, I would run out of energy or the world would run out of time.

Take, for example, the day I tried to get the DNS resolved:

920 receive email that’s transfer is blocked. the site is still broken
924 call customer support at
924-49 on hold
950 explain my problem. am transferred to billing.
950-55 on hold
956 explain my problem. am put on hold.
956-1014 on hold
1015 explain my problem. am put on hold.
1015-1040 on hold
1041 explain my probem. am told the problem is not w/ but with
1042 call customer support at am told not their problem, call
1044 call customer support at am put on hold.
1044-1130 am repeatedly transferred between 4 different departments.
1130 am told that “wait for 12 days and your problem will go away. If not, call back”.

And so it went. This is well after my problems with, my host. Let this be a lesson to kids out there. Pick a good hosting company. You can get out of marriages with fewer emotional scars.

But, it is all settled and done. Of course, the XML export made gobbledygook out of my squiggles category. That remains to be fixed.

Lest this post remain utterly boring, here is a conversation I overheard and, subsequently, recorded in an email from the same day as the transcript above:

Person 1: “The CIA is looking for Arabic linguists. Especially to send to Afghanistan”
Unknown Male1: “The CIA is doing a great job. But why would anyone want to go to Afghanistan. That is the most fucked up place in the world. The people are savages, really. Their culture is in the Stone Ages.”
Unknown Male2: “It is really sad that these Arabs and Persians have such a backward society. I mean, India or Pakistan, which one is next to Afghanistan? They have their widows burned after the death of the husband”
Unknown Male1: “Yeah. I heard that in Afghanistan, they shot little boys and girls, EVEN THEIR OWN CHILDREN, who look at each other at the playground.”
Person2: “You know, there are other cultures. And they have various values, we should recognize…”
Unknown Male2: “NO way. I dont care about that. If it is fucked up, it is fucked up. That story about widow burnings? The British ended that. You know how? This one General was riding by and saw a widow about to be burned. And he asked them to stop. And they said, it is their cultural heritage. So he said, ‘look. i respect your culture. you can do as you please. but you will have to respect my culture too. In my culture, I have to build a gallow right here and hang you for murder’. And that cured widow burning from India”.

And that’s lunch hour. That day went on to become a truly memorable one.

CM PwnD!

I am sure you all noticed that this site has acted flaky lately. At first, I kept thinking that it was due to my host, not doing a proper job of, hell, maintaining ONE damn SQL db. However, on monday, I discovered that CM had been hacked by some Saudi scriptkiddie named TrusT_Me.

You can see the hack here. TrusT_Me seems to target Linux based sites running some exploit or the other. But really, I don’t know how he did it because my DAMN HOST won’t tell me anything. I used to be happy with their service but guess who is about to cancel his account? Oh yeah. Me.

And as to why this honor? Why was CM targeted? Hard to say, we are such gentle souls that I cannot imagine anyone ever getting mad at something I wrote here. The amount of roses and chocolate delivered to my home testifies to the broad love that CM generates in the hearts of men and women. It appears that maybe Trust_Me targets folks he deems are morally suspect and/or corrupt. I do plead guilty to that. But, I am also not going to let this one slide. I declare Freedom Jihad on the Kingdom РLet democrary ring from Riyadh to Jeddah. Look forward to my exposé, my behind the scenes look Рat the highly secretive society of KSA. Admittedly, I last visited at the tender age of 11 but we all know that the Orient is timeless.

All this to say that CM may continue its flakiness over the next few days, as I resurrect it at another host. It seems to be up and down and all around for no apparent reason. So, I doubt my gentle readers will be that inconvenienced.

ps. Obama announced that he is going to start thinking about this whole presidential thing. Nice!

pps. 24 is awesome but why did they kill Kal Penn! WHY do they always got to kill the desi brother? Oh yeah, they kill all brothers on that show. Do you know it is Dick Cheney’s favorite show? He accidently shot 14 LCD tvs during the premier episode.

That Conference Paper

In March, I am presenting on a panel at the annual meeting of the Association of Asian Studies. A few weeks ago, we co-panelists thought about ways in which we could enhance the process of writing and discussion on the papers before the conference happens. We are convinced that our idea for the panel could be turned into a neat little book and so, we wanted to invest far more longitudinal conversations than is common in panels [my advisor Ron Inden famously quipped: “A panel compromises of 4 people who never have to speak to each other.”].

Since all the panelists were scattered around the country and could not meet in person [which would make life SO much easier], I felt that what we needed were 4 sets of networked documents – annotatable, referenceable. That is, we would want to comment on an individual paper, comment on that comment, and refer to some section on a similarly marked up different paper. Perhaps, a pdf or Word document with tracking enabled and a template, being mailed back and forth, continuously. Um, no.

My working notion, then, was to create a private wiki where the co-panelists will post our papers and get those conversations started: post our primary materials, notate the main trajectories of our arguments, etc. I think it would have worked reasonably well.

Today, however, Ben Vershbow and the amazing people at Institute for the Future of the Book introduced me to their notion of a networked working paper: Mitchell Stephens’s The Holy of Holies: On the Constituents of Emptiness. Taking off of their earlier work on McKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory, this newly imagined paper provides each section with a dynamic margin to the right of the text where one can post comments on individual paragraphs, and also annotate the text with links and refereneces to related materials. One thing I can think of adding is a space for the meta-discussion – that is, the discussion of the paper as a whole. Also, a space for primary materials/evidentiary stuff would be great, etc.

One can easily see the immense potential of this – especially in the many-to-one discussion model. That is, a number of people commenting/parsing one basic text. I can easily see dissertation committees all over the land jumping up and spilling their coffees in excitement. Oh wait, they never read those things. I think the key part of this experiment is to mould technologies to get their benefits without necessarily rupturing the ways in which academia functions. This is a positive and welcome step in that direction.

As Ben mentioned, “I think the history community should pay attention… this is something they could really use.” I couldn’t agree more. So, how about it, Ben? How does your prototype scale to a panel?

Mughal India Room

I have been thinking about digital archives in the humanities – specifically for historians – for a while now. I believe that certain technologies, under the web 2.0 rubric*, provide new and exciting ways for historians to completely rethink their notions of archive, access, and, perhaps, public knowledge itself.

Take, for instance, the Mughal India “virtual room” archive on Mughal India at The British Museum. It was launched in 2004 and geared towards high-school pedagogy with an object-based, click-through interface. If anyone remembers CD-ROM games/adventures/encyclopedias from mid-90s, one would be terribly at home here. I guess someone, somewhere, thought that kids-these-days like to endlessly click in virtual spaces to get information [no Second Life or WoW quips, please] but it boggles my mind. The information – the archive, if you will – is so hard to find, so piecemeal, and inaccessible that this exercise is useless. You cannot cut and paste any information. You cannot bookmark anything. You cannot even read something properly. Worst of all, there is no feedback – no community of any sort, created through this process. Not even a comment board. The organization is also hectic – there is scant reason to find things where you end up finding them. For example, would you expect to see a 3D model of the Taj Mahal in the section titled, A Day in the Life of…? A X-axis only spinning 3D model? Not me.

There is the meta-descriptions of the site available at something called The Staff Room – except it has 404s and wrong descriptions [unless Imperial China is Mughal India].

I do appreciate the fact that this is geared towards pedagogy with some lesson-plans etc. but the execution leaves much to be desired. Perhaps this could work as a downloaded, self-run flash program on the student machine. Perhaps. This certainly isn’t the way we need to think about digital archives aimed at pedagogy.

*: Incidentally, do read these excellent writeups from Jeremy at Clioweb and Mills at edwired on a recent forum, Scholarship 2.0: What Web 2.0 means for Digital Humanists.