February 2007

From Overheard in Minneapolis:

Dim student #1: I thought a ‘science and the humanities’ class would be easy, but it’s actually really hard. It’s showing that there’s more to science than just like, science. It’s like the history of science.

Dim student #2: Whoa.

Dim student #1: Yeah. We’re reading all these French guys.. um… Michel Sartre and Jean-Paul Foucoult and Rene Descartes. Like REALLY deep stuff. And they expect us to be able to analyze it!

Dim student #2: That’s SO deep.

the 755A bus
Overheard by Camus can do, but Sartre is smartre.

I think the student must have been in one of our classes, though I can’t think of any where they read Sartre. Must have been some other French guy…

But this student has articulated the fundamental insight of science studies, that there is more to science than ‘science,’  that science is not a transparent reflection of the natural world.  I feel proud of the teacher who helped the student get to that place.


Mike Lesy is speaking at a Rain Taxi-sponsored event next Monday at the Minnesota Center for Photography. I’m a huge fan of Wisconsin Death Trip; so I’ll be taking a break from the diss to see him–though of course Chicago in the twenties is diss-appropriate–so come by and say hello.

Further info from Rain Taxi:

Rain Taxi Reading Series proudly presents

Michael Lesy

Monday, February 26, 2007, 7:00pm
Minnesota Center for Photography
165 13th Ave NE, Minneapolis

co-presented by the Minnesota Center for Photography

Admission is $5 for the general public and FREE for Rain Taxi subscribers, MCP members, and students with current IDs. Reception to follow!

Join us for the book launch of acclaimed photographic historian Michael Lesy’s latest volume Murder City: The Bloody History of Chicago in the Twenties;, paints an engrossing portrait of violence in the heartland of America. With his usual sharp eye and narrative grace, Lesy makes the case that Chicago’s criminal mayhem helped to shape the country we live in today.

A professor of literary journalism at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, Lesy first rose to prominence with his groundbreaking book Wisconsin Death Trip, released in 1973; based on 19th-century photographs taken in rural Wisconsin, the book is a uniquely constructed meditation on history. His many subsequent books exploring photography’s role in culture include Time Frames: The Meaning of Family Pictures (Pantheon, 1980);Dreamland (The New Press, 1998); and Long Time Coming: A Photographic Portrait of America, 1935-1943 (Norton, 2002). Writing about Angel’s World: The New York Photographs of Angelo Rizzuto (Norton, 2005) in the VACUM Attachment of Rain Taxi, Glenn Gordon praised Lesy as possessing “an editorial sensitivity that touches on genius,” and noted that his telling of the photographer’s life story “is inseparable from Rizzuto’s photographs. To look at these photographs without reading the essay is to see only their husks.”

Lesy’s use of archival photographs and ephemeral source material to create his own poetic non-fiction studies have profoundly influenced many other artists, writers, and critics. Lesy was recently named one of the inaugural recipients of a United States Artists Fellowship, which provides unrestricted grant funding to 50 outstanding artists in the nation.

A recent post on the MN Local History Professionals Blog* asks what’s the rush in getting collections online? What do we need to take into consideration? What are we neglecting? Interesting conversation ensues, and I run off at the mouth about exciting possibilities. Check it out.

*Now that I type that whole thing out, I’m starting to think it needs a neat before-the-colon title, ex: L’etoile du nord: MN Local History Professionals Blog. It’s undeniably descriptive, though.

Brian of Antietam on the Web has been working with various open source CMSes for a historical website, and he’s going with WordPress.

It comes down to the fastest and easiest way to get function online with minimum investment.

WordPress is accessible and well-documented and has lots of plugins available. For a small organization without too much in the way of collections or content, WP could be extremely useful, especially in terms of available time and tech know-how. (The user I’m always thinking about is the one staff person at the county historical society, who’s trying to keep the lights on and the roof from leaking but has no time to learn PHP.) I’m excited to see what Brian comes up with.

I’m reminded that I haven’t been paying attention to the archival community and what those folks have been developing in terms of open-source content management systems. Here’s a several-months-old roundup of three archival CMSes. Note that Archon is now in 1.11.  From an admittedly quick look at the programs, and Mark’s comments about possible lack of user support, a historical society without a trained archivist but with a collection including objects, etc., would probably do well using an ‘off-the-shelf CMS,’ as Brian calls them, rather than a specifically archival program.

Another option, of course, is buying PastPerfect, which has excellent support (and is now more sophisticated and less buggy in 4.0), and building yourself a separate website.  Here’s an example of a PP database made searchable on a county historical society website (ignore the frames and click on ‘collections.’) 

But if your organization doesn’t have the $600-$800 for one license or, you know, you’re committed to open source and interoperable formats, the work folks are doing with tools that are freely available will continue to be exciting and vital.

An Onion-flavored post on the sf craigslist purports to be a record of titles of craigslist posts a century ago.

Silly but historically-minded, it’s mostly a spoof of the Rants and Raves pages:  “Damnation! Cable Car Bells. Day and Evening – Clang! Clang! Clang!”  Other concerns are opium, sex, immigration, and temperance (“I Wish to Punch a Drinker of Demon Rum Right in the Face”).  The race posts are pretty offensive, just like those on modern CL.  Some posts are anachronistic for the sake of humor (a post about “Trader Joseph’s”) or just because all old things blend together for the poster (a post about FDR).

The perennial CL concerns of proper spelling and internet etiquette are addressed in a weird parallel to telegraphy:  “RE: Stop Tapping Your Key so Hard … I Shall TAP My Key as Hard as I Please.”  I do like the reference to the ‘hand,’ the personal style of the telegraphers.  But the telegraph was never a home product* because it was so large and expensive.  The CL equivalent around the turn of the century (though I hate to structure the parallel this way) was bill-posting, cheap periodicals, and talking to your neighbors.  Also, on the streets and in the papers, advertising messages were much more prevalent than anything else.  If the list was two-thirds patent medicine ads that would have been much more accurate.

For the CL poster, history is entertainment.  The very existence of the post highlights the noncommerciality of CL.**  Someone was inspired or bored one day and decided to write something funny about history. Ze wasn’t getting paid or trying to promote hirself (it’s an anonymous post).  The apotheosis of the post came when more anonymous folks nominated it to the ‘best-of’ category, where it will be archived for only a few months.  Luckily, it will achieve blog-immortality by being read by my half-dozen readers.

*Unless anyone knows further:  was the telegraph ever marketed directly to consumers?

**or at least the personals section.

Wow, our colloquium this week sounds amazing. If you’re in the Cities and not doing anything on a Friday afternoon, this is the place to be.

University of Minnesota
History of Science and Technology
Spring Colloquium 2007

Friday, February 9
Room 131, Tate Lab of Physics
3:35 p.m. (refreshments at 3:15 in Room 216)

Nina Lerman
Department of History
Whitman College

“Jim Crow and the White Way: Thoughts on Race, Progress, and Early Electrification in the US”

Electricity has been linked, by cultural historians of the US and by historians of technology, with American ideologies of progress, civilization, and, in turn, whiteness. Perhaps most obviously demonstrated at the Columbian Exposition of 1893, but evident in any number of late 19th- and early 20th-century sources, electricity seems to have been entwined with a kind of moral obligation to modernity – at least for the white nation. In a period of increasingly entrenched racism, when civilized progress was routinely contrasted with the dark primitive and material privileges were increasingly denied (on trains, in bathrooms, on sidewalks) in demonstration of legal and social segregation, electrification would seem an unlikely feature of any spaces of designated blackness. Yet Tuskegee Institute was electrified by 1898, and several of its spin-off schools in the rural south had generators at a time when, overall, electrification was still rare, and northern African Americans had trouble putting technological knowledge to economic use. This paper seeks to link the material dimensions of technological choice with ideological context, exploring the entwined and regionalized understandings of race, technology, and social order in a period of rapid industrialization.