I had this written two days ago, on time. Then the web host was broken. We can’t win! Except we do, every day, and then I sit down to write these letters and they don’t come out funny like Dooce’s at all. They come out maudlin and sappy. I’m hopelessly in love with you, is what.
You’re beautiful. I think so, the world thinks so, and Molly and her camera think so too. Lucky us, huh?
A few weeks ago you said your first Russian word. It’s шляпа, shlyapa, which means any kind of brimmed hat. I have no clue where you picked it up, but you clearly knew from the beginning what the word meant, despite there being no brimmed hats around the first couple of times. So I fixed that.
I’ve woken up in the dark morning bedroom to your tiny little voice next to me, whispering with a breathless wonder: shhhhhhhhlyapaaaaaaaa. The first couple of times you might’ve dreamed of it just prior; now, I’m pretty sure you do it partly to make me laugh. In all, not a bad way to wake up.
My belly button with the birthmark perched on its edge has become a weird little comfort object. You never nurse anymore without fidgeting until your hand finds it. Then you go all still (except for the feeding part) and watch my face, or space out.
You’re becoming measured in your old age. More deliberate in your actions. I can see inklings of little kid in the way you ponder flavors. This month was my birthday, and we had a Cheesemas party, which is just what it sounds like, so then there was a ton of cheese left in the house, and man, you love Dubliner. Even more than you love cheddar.
You also love baby broccoli, chicken, rice, teething biscuits, and your babushka’s cooking. And those homeopathic teething pills, which have a faintly sweet nondescript taste and an inexplicable calming effect on you. Mostly I think homeopathy is bunk, but if it’s doing something to relieve your teething pain, who am I to argue?
Speaking of pain: the older you get, the harder it is for you to let go of pain. You’ve begun processing it as deeply unfair. You’re the most pathetic little thing when you’re hurting. On the other hand, the other weekend when you burned your thumb on the oatmeal pot (all my fault), your lip got all trembly for a few seconds and then you forgot about it, even before I was able to see where you’d gotten burned.
Which is ok, because we’re not lacking for big feelings around here. On top of everything else, transitioning to a single nap during the day is an exercise in flexibility and zen.
But who am I kidding, mostly you’re still delighted with the world. You love watching the snow coming down. You turn up your face to feel the snowflakes, and get mad if I put up the car seat hood to “protect” you. You love the car seat, and riding in the car. You love little plastic Easter egg shells, which older kids are only too happy to give you since you ignore the candy stash. You love the Mystic river with its ducks and swans and wind. You love expeditions outside with shoes on, and sometimes march through the apartment right to the front door and demand to be let out. When it gets warmer, I’ll indulge us both.
You continue to charm your now-international audience. Yesterday you met my dear friend Jon, who lives and writes game-stories in that other Cambridge. Predictably, he’s now firmly on team NAZ. Now, if only we could figure out how to see him and his family more often than once every few years. Fancy a trip overseas?
Speaking of tripping: we’re going to Nebraska in July. What do you say we drive?
Ken Arnold (Wellcome Collection) and I had a joint sesssion titled “Integrating research, acquisitioning, curation, exhibition making and events in museums” at the Danish national museum meeting in Horsens, two weeks ago. Based on this predistributed session abstract:
Drawing on our experiences from the Medical Museion and the Wellcome Collection, respectively, we suggest that a successful and productive integration of these functions of the museum does not involve creating organisational structures, but rather the cultivation of curiosity and a ‘will to inquire’. A research spirit can stimulate exhibitions, events and curatorship, and vice versa the handling of material objects can give rise to new and interesting research problems.
we gave two short introductory talks followed by a long general discussion. Here’s my (untitled) intro talk.
Ken Arnold and I are running two venues which are in some ways very similar and yet quite different.
Similar in the sense that we address some of the basic questions concerning human existence – questions about life and death, well-being and disease. We’re dealers in the sublime – because we investigate the future prospects of the human body which are simultaneously very frightening and deeply fascinating.
But different in the sense that the Wellcome Collection is extremely well-endowed and situated in one of the busiest roads in a globalised Metropolis with hundreds of thousands of visitors per year, whereas the Medical Museion is placed in a sleepy part of Wonderful Copenhagen with a much smaller budget and one-tenth of their visitor numbers.
However, our venues are also both similar and different with respect to the theme of this conference – in the way we handle the interaction between the activities we mention in the title of this session: research, acquisitioning, curation, exhibition making and events. In this respect, the similarity between is that we see this integration not as a organisational question, but a question of spirit.
The fundamental spirit here is what we call a research attitude. As we say in the abstract, we both think in terms of what we call “the cultivation of curiosity and a ‘will to inquire’”.
This is an attitude that goes both ways. It means making exhibitions, launch events, handle the collections, and bring in new acquisitions in the spirit of curiosity. It means trying to make all such activities inquiry-driven. On the other hand, it also means that the handling of material objects, images and archives, and the making of exhibitions, is a daily generator of interesting research questions.
The slight difference between our venues in this respect is in the way we have moved towards this position. Wellcome Collection started as an exhibition and event venue, and then Ken, very much through his own initiative and his own research background in the history of science and history of museums, brought an attitude of research, curiousity, and playfulness into these public engagement activities.
Medical Museion, on the other hand, grew out of an academic research project, which then gradually broadened to include more and more of the traditional museum activities. I came to Copenhagen a decade ago — to what was then called a medical history museum and basically was a huge collection of medical historical artefacts — as a professor in the history of medicine and with a traditional university mindset, meaning that research and teaching (from undergraduate to PhD level) is the basic rationale for everything one does.
At that time I was still thinking of research exclusively in terms of the publication of scholarly books on serious university presses and research articles in peer-reviewed journals (as most of my university colleagues still do). From the university’s and my own point of view at that time, public engagement, including exhibitions and events, were pretty subordinate activities. Not to speak about collections; they weren’t even mentioned in the university’s strategy documents and in my view they were largely a burden and a nuisance.
But during the last ten years, I have gradually widened and broadened my notion of research. I began to think about collecting (acquisitions) and exhibition making, and even public events, not just as outreach, or at best as raw experiences for writing research publications, but as a form of creative research activity in their own right. And from then on I began to think about everything we do in the museum from the point of view of the researcher and in terms of an experimental mindset.
To be experimental here means that we try, as far as possible, to think about all activities at Medical Museion — exhibition making, event making, acquisitions, collection management, organising seminars, etc. – as ongoing experiments. We continuously try to work out new and interesting activities, which haven’t been tried before, instead of applying already existing ideas. That part of the rationale of being a university museum.
To have a research attitude in these and other cases means not only to conceive and perform them as experiments, but also allow time to reflect upon the experiments, and write about and publish them – to bring the experiences into the public sphere. So we still publish a lot in traditional research journals, but increasingly we’ve begun to experiment with the publication medium. So we’re putting a lot emphasis on using a variety of social media – our combined blog and website, Facebook, Google+, and especially Twitter as a medium for discussing the experiments.
Summing up, in my view, museum should, to a much larger extent, become ‘museological laboratories’. Actually, I don’t think museology, or museum studies, should be taught in courses in academic departments separated from museum practice. Museology is not a set of dogmas or principles that can be learned from textbooks and lectures and then applied in museums — it is an experimental and research attitude that must permeat the daily museum work from early morning to late evening.
Visit the new online version of Biohacking – Do It Yourself! and explore the open biology lab at Medical Museion through photos, recipes, texts and videos:
In the online exhibition you can look at pictures and videos from events in the open lab, browse through links to hacker spaces around the world as well as loads of photos, read articles about the exhibition or try our basic biohack recipes and Do It Yourself!
Sometimes opportunities presents themselves out of the blue. When I was asked to give a lecture on social media in emergency settings at the Master of Disaster Management at University of Copenhagen, I didn’t quite feel like an expert on the topic (as I wrote about in an earlier post). But it did not take much research to realised that the combination of social media and disaster/emergency management is super interesting and an example of how social media can play a role in saving lives. It doesn’t get much more public health relevant than that.
Both preparing for the lecture and teaching was a good experience, and I feel I managed in the 3×45 minutes available to get around the topic in a comprehensive way – although with that time frame it can only be an introduction. In addition, I got great feedback from the students who, coming from all over the world, had different experiences with dealing with disasters, which they could contribute with in the discussions.
More than communicating a message
In my experience the first (and sometimes only) thing that comes people’s mind when they think of what social media can be used for in emergency settings is dissemination of information and messages to the public. Social media are simply categorized as yet another communication channel equal to radio, tv etc. But as it is well illustrated in the YouTube video on the right (click the picture) it is much more than that.
With this experience it was important for me in my lecture to highlight some of the other key functions of social media in disasters. Below are four broad categories for the potential use of social media in emergency situations. There are surely other ways social media can be used and as said the four below are quite broad and thus covers lots of sub-functions.
Safe & Well
One advantage of teaching (and of blogging) is that you get so much feedback and suggestions for new things to read, websites to visit etc. I thought I’d share two of these tips with you. The first is a website that a student in the class recommended. It is called Safe & Well and is provided by the American Red Cross. The idea is that after a disaster, people in the affected area can through this website let their family and friends know that they are safe and well. By clicking the button “List Myself as Safe and Well” you register on the site. Relatives can then search the list of those who have registered themselves as “safe and well” by clicking on the “Search Registrants” button. The results of a successful search will display a loved one’s first name, last name and a brief message.
Facebook and extreme weather events
My previous post on social media and disaster management was commented by a researcher from Aarhus University, Andreas Birkbak, who had authored an interesting article about the use of Facebook for informal emergency collaboration during a snow blizzard on the Island of Bornholm in Denmark. A very interesting article that I might use next time I teach. Read the article your self: Crystallizations in the Blizzard: Contrasting Informal Emergency Collaboration In Facebook Group. Thanks for sharing it on the blog, Andreas!
Take home messages
As said, I have quickly come to find social media and disaster management is a very interesting topic and I have a feeling I’ll continue digging deeper into it. This will probably result in more posts on the topic here on this blog, so I think I’ll stop for now. As I ended my lecture I will also end this blog post – with four take home messages:
In the spirit of this weekend’s workshop It’s Not What You Think in Copenhagen, I am posting a few observations from my visit to the Medical Museion last April.
The trip originated from a discussion about a contemporary museum for the blind in Kaunus, Lithuania and what we (the sighted) could learn from an institution that devoted all its energies towards such a radical shift in visitor experience. One of the high-lights of my April visit, therefore, was a tour by Jan Eric Olsén and Emma Peterson to the former Danish Museum of Blind History.
The blind collection was once part of a historic teaching and therapy collection for blind students dating back to 1811. The Medical Museion acquired the entire collection in 2011, and it has just been moved from the basement of the current Danish Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Hellerup (just outside Copenhagen) to the museum’s new storage facilities.
The Blind Institute is a low, sprawling building with long corridors lined with playful, multi-layered touch murals. We experimented with the walls and slowly made our way into a basement museum (now closed), and then we passed an entrance hallway with fairly traditional historical labels and some curious artifacts.
We then entered what could only be called the Pompeii of blind pedagogy – rooms of objects and instruments that had been part of a creative and ambitious effort to teach blind children subjects such as biology, art history, mathematics, literature and manual skills and crafts.
It is a collection with few equals in the world. We looked at many recognizable items that the educators had bought, adapted or made for tactile learning. There were large insects and plants for learning natural history; there were globes for learning geography; there were specialized technologies for writing and calculating.
The visually stimulating environment, however, seemed to dampen the real story here – the essential role of touch in this community. In the spirit of a demonstration for curators, developed by Thomas Söderqvist and Jan Eric Olsén in 2007, I shut my eyes and proceeded to examine a number of objects by hand. Jan Eric and Emma happily provided an assortment of challenges.
I post here an excerpt of my ten-minute examination of a plaster bust and my struggles to describe and make sense of it. My favorite part comes near the end when I recognize two nostrils and with them a sense of the bust’s sudden and surprising tactile symmetries. The exercise was not about how inadequate I was at tactile examination, but rather the opposite – how tactile processes are so deeply ingrained, so taken-for-granted, that I had no way to articulate them, get distance from them and think about them. This was liberating. After the bust examination, I was in a room filled with the hidden experiences and culture of touch, making and learning, a vital lesson for work in any collection.
My entire week last April was about experiencing the familiar in new ways. I had the privilege of participating in the opening of Lucy Lyons’s exhibition Experiences of Ageing,where we speed-sketched everyday objects and technologies related to ageing. Instead of passively enjoying Lyons’s exhibition, we were able to comprehend actively the beauty and dignity of these common items.
In the second session, following the lead of artist Mette Bersang, participants photographed overlooked spaces and features throughout the museum. Again, we discovered value in unexpected places. In the next session we explored “fragility” through Joanna Sperryn Jones’s ‘Breaking is Making’. The latter included a visit to the storage room with medieval skeletons from the Æbelholt monastery, followed by the breaking of Jones’s intricately casted, bone-like plaster twigs. The Ageing event was a model for what museums can do best by combining collections, visitors, exhibitions and a unique museum space into a transformative experience.Ion Meyer, spoke regularly about the artifacts and their relations to other artifacts, the unique spaces in the Museion building complex, and the events and exhibitions that take place there. Each object can be seen in the material, medical or collection context, but of equal importance is the immediate presence and multiple potentials for display.
You can see this pre-occupation in the Balance and Metabolism exhibition, which has a strong selection and arrangement of artifacts that reflect on the relations and tensions between these two themes in the collections.
At the Medical Museion these approaches have seamlessly moved into contemporary collecting and display. Thomas Söderqvist and Mikael Thorsted‘s installation Genomic Enlightenment illustrates in a simple, powerful presentation of suspended beadchips the sublime within everyday laboratory genomics. Installations and contemporary art often point to new ways of looking at the cultures of science and medicine far better than we do in science museums.
I thoroughly enjoyed bringing these issues and observations together in discussions with Thomas. There is a collective focus at the Medical Museion to take seriously the immediate presence of artifacts, the surprising insights that follow, and the ways we can share these experiences with the public. What emerges is a museum devoted to the direct, creative and unpredictable dynamic between visitors and a collection.
Have an interest STS and/or digital methods? Curious as to what they are and what the fuss is all about? Want to explore Copenhagen by foot? Enjoy beer? If you answered yes to any of these, then come and take part in the digital methods ‘talk-walk’ on the 8th of March. The idea comes from STS-talk-walkers in Amsterdam and Oxford, two hotbeds for the study of digital methods. It not only provides a chance to discuss digital methods and STS with people from a variety of backgrounds, but by getting off the bicycles it gives a chance to see Copenhagen at a slower pace, from different angles. You’d be surprised what you can discover by just looking up.
Last month was the first walk where the topic was the ‘Digital’. Questions discussed were: What do we mean by the word ‘digital’ and whether and how it is useful or not? I can’t say that we came to any conclusions, but in a world where more and more of daily life is in some way ‘digital’, it was refreshing to be able to take a step back and discuss some issues that as researchers and society we need to be weary of, lest we take them for granted. This all took place while exploring Islands Brygge and ended up in a pub in Christianshavn.
The next walk is scheduled for this Friday, the 8th of March and the topic will be ‘The Link’. How does the (hyper)link or the so-called tie in a network do associative work? In our own work? In other people’s work? The meeting place is the reception of Aalborg University Copenhagen campus, located in Sydhavnen.
Check out the digital methods walks site for more information about time, place and route.
Twenty years ago Roy Rosenzweig imagined a compelling mission for a new institution: “To use digital media and computer technology to democratize history—to incorporate multiple voices, reach diverse audiences, and encourage popular participation in presenting and preserving the past.” I’ve been incredibly lucky to be a part of that mission for over twelve years, at what became the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, with last five and a half years as director.
Today I am announcing that I will be leaving the center, and my professorship at George Mason University, the home of RRCHNM, but I am not leaving Roy’s powerful vision behind. Instead, I will be extending his vision—one now shared by so many—on a new national initiative, the Digital Public Library of America. I will be the founding executive director of the DPLA.
The DPLA, which you will be hearing much more about in the coming months, will be connecting the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums so that the public can access all of those collections in one place; providing a platform, with an API, for others to build creative and transformative applications upon; and advocating strongly for a public option for reading and research in the twenty-first century. The DPLA will in no way replace the thousands of public libraries that are at the heart of so many communities across this country, but instead will extend their commitment to the public sphere, and provide them with an extraordinary digital attic and the technical infrastructure and services to deliver local cultural heritage materials everywhere in the nation and the world. The DPLA has been in the planning stages for the last few years, but is about to spin out of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and move from vision to reality. It will officially launch, as an independent nonprofit, on April 18 at the Boston Public Library. I will move to Boston with my family this summer to lead the organization, which will be based there. It is such a great honor to have this opportunity.
Until then I will be transitioning from my role as director of RRCHNM, and my academic life at Mason. Everything at the center will be in great hands, of course; as anyone who visits the center immediately grasps, it is a highly collaborative and nonhierarchical place with an amazing staff and an especially experienced and innovative senior staff. They will continue to shape “the future the past,” as Roy liked to put it. I will miss my good friends at the center, but I still expect to work closely with them, since so many critical software initiatives, educational projects, and digital collections are based at RRCHNM. A search for a new director will begin shortly. I will also greatly miss my colleagues in Mason’s wonderful Department of History and Art History.
At the same time, I look forward to collaborating with new friends, both in the Boston office of the DPLA and across the United States. The DPLA is a unique, special idea—you don’t get to build a massive new library every day. It is apt that the DPLA will launch at the Boston Public Library’s McKim Building, with those potent words carved into stone above its entrance: “Free to all.” The architect Charles Follen McKim rightly called it “a palace for the people,” where anyone could enter to learn, create, and be entertained by the wonders of books and other forms of human expression.
We now have the chance to build something like this for the twenty-first century—a rare, joyous possibility in our too-often cynical age. I hope you will join me in this effort, with your ideas, your contributions, your energy, and your public spirit.
Let’s build the Digital Public Library of America together.
In this edition of Digital Campus, Tom, Dan, and Mills (Amanda was on a beach somewhere when we were recording) ventured into strange and wild paths of the Internet previously unknown to us, thereby proving that we are, indeed, old in Internet years. After years of talking about Google, Apple, Facebook, and Wikipedia, we set aside those old school web platforms to examine Pinterest and Tumblr. How might humanists, archivists, librarians, and museum professionals make good use of these sites that had (largely) been off our radar all this time? And we wondered whether the fact that traffic on Pinterest now rivals that on Twitter and the growing evidence that young people are moving away from Facebook to services like Tumblr might mean that those of us in the digital humanities ought to be taking a much closer look at how to best utilize these platforms. We also took a look at the 2012 Digital Humanities Award winners and offered up a few favorites from among the many worthy winners and runners up for those awards.
Running time: 37:02
Download the .mp3
On Saturday, March 2, I gave a workshop on digital (humanities) pedagogy for a group of about 20 faculty and staff at Gettysburg College. I was impressed by the participants’ energy, openness, smarts, and playfulness. We had fun!
I designed the workshop so that it moved through four phases, with the goal of participants ultimately walking away with concrete ideas about how they might integrate digital approaches into their own teaching:
1) We explored the rationale for digital pedagogy (pdf of slides), discussing what students need to know in the 21st century, different frameworks for digital pedagogy (e.g. learning science, liberal education, social learning, and studio learning), and definitions of digital pedagogy and the “digital liberal arts.” I started the session with Cathy Davidson’s exercise in which audience members first jot down on an index card three things they think students need to know in order to thrive in the digital age, then share their ideas with someone they didn’t walk in with, and finally work together to select the one key idea. (The exercise got people thinking and talking.)
2) In the second session, I gave a brief presentation (pdf) offering specific case studies of digital pedagogy in action (repurposing some slides I’d used for previous workshops). Participants then broke up into groups to analyze an assignment used in a digital humanities class.
3) Next participants worked in small groups to explore one of the following:
I structured the exercise so that participants first looked at the particular applications of the tool in teaching and scholarship (e.g. Mapping the Republic of Letters and Visualizing Emancipation in the session on information visualization), then played with a couple of tools in order to understand how they work, and finally reflected on the advantages and disadvantages of each tool and their potential pedagogical applications. I deliberately kept the exercises short and simple, and I tried to make them relevant to Gettysburg, drawing data from Wikipedia and other open sources.
4) Finally participants worked in small teams (set up according to discipline) to develop an assignment incorporating digital approaches. We concluded the session with a modified gallery walk, in which people circulated through the room and chatted with a representative of each team to learn more about their proposed assignment.
By the end of the day, workshop participants seemed excited by the possibilities and more aware of specific approaches that they could take (as well as a bit exhausted). I got several questions about copyright, so in future workshops I plan to incorporate a more formal discussion of fair use, Creative Commons and the public domain.
Our workshop drew heavily on materials shared by generous digital humanities instructors. (In that spirit, feel free to use or adapt any of my workshop materials. And I’m happy to give a version of this workshop elsewhere.) My thinking about digital humanities pedagogy has been informed by a number of people, particularly my terrific colleague Rebecca Davis.
Last month you turned a year old, and I cheated. This month, I’d best come up with something entertaining and new to write, or else face the possibility that you’ll get bored, stop reading these newsletters, and toddle off into the sunset. Happily, for now you’re still not walking independently, my tiny little captive audience.
We had a birthday party for you, which at this age is mostly a party for everyone else. There were so many everyone-elses that we ended up moving the shindig to a nearby frozen yogurt place. This turned out to be a brilliant idea; there was much merriment, which you took in impressive stride given that it lasted three whole hours. You received many fine gifts, most of them letters that we’ll be requesting every year and saving for later reading. (Thanks for the idea, Offbeat Families!)
Baby NAZ, the love you engender in your social world is astonishing. Your first birthday had to be moved out of the house because so many people wanted to attend. I can only hope that whatever magic you carry today will stay with you in the future. But if it starts to wane, there’s always glitter and frozen yogurt.
(Can it really be that I don’t have a single photo from your birthday party? Yes, it can.)
A small list of ways in which you are barreling towards toddlerhood:
Last weekend we got in a car with Mark and Eleanor and drove due west, into New York, to visit Sianna and her kids. The weekend getaway was perfect—a sprawling farmhouse, glorious homey food, a dance party in the living room, and a museum floor full of big boxes. You sat inside your very own tiny fort for something like half an hour, exploring the adhesive properties of duct tape.
There’s more, always, but it’s time for sleep.
(ps more pix, and videos)