My project on the 1808 Simeon North Pistol is not going well. I have found large number or books on google books but I can’t seem to find any primary sources on it. I have looked at newspapers, digital archives, the catalogs for various libraries, all of the relevant ccsu databases, and even looked at the sources listed in the secondary sources (which turned out to be other secondary sources or private collections). The only sources I could find were the Papers of the War Department which includes some of the contracts between North and the government as well as some related correspondence. Unfortunately several of these are noted as having been destroyed or are incomplete.
Perhaps its because I grew up in the electronic age, but when I’m reading these articles I feel that the benefits of digital collections far outweigh the cons. Robert Townsend may be right when he says that there needs to be better quality control for uploads of google books but the average user of the site doesn’t often run into problems. I’ve been using the site frequently since it came out and there are few papers I’ve written that I haven’t used sources from the site for. And I absolutely love it. I’ve never had a problem finding relevant sources. Yes I’ve come up with a few results that don’t make sense but I’ve had that problem on every search both online and using traditional sources. I’ve also never had a problem with the quality of scans. Personally I love books and I usually prefer a physical copy to an electronic one but if it weren’t for google books I would never have access to some of those books which for me are often very rare and located too far away to travel to. And Cohen makes a good point in his article when he talks about how even though digital archives may include a lot of lesser quality sources the sheer volume means being able to see patterns that you might not see otherwise. And what may seem like junk now might end up being an important source for a researcher down the road.
I signed up for Del.icio.us and proceeded to search for sources for four different papers/projects I was working on for other classes. After trying several different search terms for each I was very disappointed to find that it either returned no results or very few results that were junk. They consisted of personal blogs/comments of people with no relevant background, information that I knew was wrong, and in general very un-credible information. I tried looking at the tags of other users and still found nothing. I have to say that I find even a quick google search with no narrowing down provides better sources than this and that it is easy enough to bookmark those sources or save them to evernote (which can also be accessed anywhere with or without internet and saves the information in case the site is ever taken down) or Zotero. Perhaps if there were more people using it or if there was an increase in the number of credible sources it searches it might have potential but until then I won’t be using Del.icio.us again.
I tried creating a Creative commons for my blog but was not able to figure out how to do so successfully. At first the steps it walked me through seemed simple enough but when it came time to actually post the logo via the created link the trouble began. All I was able to accomplish was have the link show up in one of my blog posts which I subsequently deleted. As far as I can tell you need to know about creating web pages in order to use this tool which unfortunately I (and probably most people) don’t.
I agree with the readings that open access would be great for increasing knowledge around the world and increasing research however, I don’t see it becoming a reality anytime soon. I also don’t think that it is entirely fair to expect companies like Jstor to allow open access. No one expects book authors, musicians, Disney, etc to give free access to their copyrighted works so why should researchers in the humanities be expected to do so? And if Jstor has to pay for access to those articles and the cost of digitalizing them and has to conform to current copyright laws they would not be able to exist without a pay wall. While it would be ideal to have open access I think its even more important to have these companies around. Yes the government and therefore the public pays to have some of the research done but they can also gain access to that research through various subscribers. The public can access it through most public libraries or they can visit a university library in person to do research there. It may not be convenient but if Jstor and other pay wall repositories didn’t exist they may not have access to those articles at all and it certainly wouldn’t be as easy to search for those articles.
I explored the primary sources in the Papers of the War Department. I don’t think that there is much of a qualitative difference between the sources found there and traditional sources. The scans of the documents were of pretty high quality and looked exactly the same as a physical document. I also found that because I was able to zoom in and play with the settings I was able to read the document far better than I normally would have and I’ve found that in general I am able to get more out of the source that way than I do in person since I am now able to read the entire source with accuracy. The web impacts the way I do historical research by giving me more access to sources that I wouldn’t have been able to use before. I also find that I do most of my research online now and I use traditional sources less than I used to. Online sources are also usually the first place I look when beginning my research.
I tried to look up an article on North American witchcraft since I’m doing my thesis on that topic and therefore have some knowledge of the subject in which to determine accuracy and also hoped that if I found the article to be factual that I could then use some of the listed sources. However, I discovered that Wikipedia did not have an article on that and the closest I could get was the Salem trials. When I read the article the first time it seemed to be pretty accurate and thorough for a Wikipedia, although there were several sections that either were partially false or seemed biased. The sources listed were reliable sources and are some of the most common and generally accepted sources on the topic. The problems began when I looked at the history and talk pages. In class we discussed how Wikipedia is usually more accurate than people think because there are so many people behind the scenes who check for accuracy, update content, and generally edit out anything untrue that is added relatively quickly. In the Salem article this does not appear to be the case, perhaps because it is a bit of a controversial topic. The history and talk pages show quite a bit of activity despite the fact that the article remains pretty much static. It seems the reason for this is that there is a lot of people willing to point out that there are problems on the page but then don’t do anything about it. They argue over who should be responsible for fixing the page and who should have to do the work, suggest just removing whole sections because it contains one inaccuracy, and unfortunately when someone does try to fix something they are overwhelmed by people who don’t know what they are talking about, vandalism on the site, and trying to catch up with the neglect. The editors of Wikipedia took away the page’s good history standing and set up a task force to remedy the problems but it appears like they just gave up. I’m sad to say that I no longer would use this page for much more than looking at their sources and what little faith I had in Wikipedia has diminished. There may be some great people attempting to correct Wikipedia and I wish them luck but it doesn’t seem like that shows through on the page since there are far more people hampering those attempts.
Item 1: an op-ed on a labor dispute involving public school teachers before 1970
I found this item by going to proquest historical newspapers through the CCSU library and then searching for “labor” “public schools” and restricted the results to before 1970. The article can be found here: http://0-search.proquest.com.www.consuls.org/docview/117412688?accountid=9970
Item 2: the first documented use of solar power in the United States
First I googled the history of solar power in the united states and found that “In 1954, Bell Labs in the U.S. introduced the first solar photovoltaic device that produced a useful amount of electricity…” on http://www.statesadvancingsolar.org/solar-101/history-of-solar-us. It also gave a link to “Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program’s web site has developed a History of Solar timeline through 2002 that notes major historical developments in the history of solar PV technologies.” The first refrence to solar power in the US was that in 1891 Baltimore inventor Clarence Kemp patented the 1st commercial solar water heater. I then tried looking up that event to see if he based his patent on other solar power uses in the US but he seemed to be the first user in the US that the credible sites listed.
Item 3: the best resource for the history of California ballot initiatives including voting data
I googled the history of California ballot initiatives and restricted it to .gov, .edu sites and found the http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ballot-measures/history-initiatives-info.htm which gives information and data on each initiative since 1912. I found other sources through various databases some of which went farther back but they all either gave only a general history or only selective or biased data. I also thought that this one presented the information clearly.
One of this week’s reading raises a concern that the internet in changing the way we read and think. Nicholas Carr brings up a number of studies showing that the way people are reading online do not read so much as they browse and skim an article and there isn’t much doubt that this is true. However, I do not believe that this creates a problem when we try to actually read a longer or more scholarly piece of work. When we are browsing the web, going from link to link communicating on social media, or looking for a quick answer on Google the way in which we read and process that information may very well be creating new ways for our brain to function but it is exactly that, a new way. That way of thinking or reading becomes a new skill set to add to our mental toolbox which we can then pull out when appropriate both on and offline. Since entering school and starting to do academic research I’ve intentionally used this skill to quickly find ideas and sources, evaluate what I find, and to determine whether a lengthier piece is something I want to spend more time to read in a more traditional sense. When I then go to deeply read a piece I have no problem focusing on it until its end or deriving meaning from it because I recognize and approach it as a different type of reading than that used to casually read on the web whether or not that longer piece is actually on the web or not. I think that most people are doing this even if they aren’t aware of it. After all, my fellow students and I have been doing it for years, long before reading this article or becoming truly conscious that we were doing it. There may very well be people who have not learned to switch between these two ways of reading and thinking but I feel like the majority of people are at least beginning to and hopefully articles like Is Google Making Us Stupid? will make more readers aware of the need to do so. I believe that Google is making us smarter by giving us a new option of how to think and after all without Google we probably would not be asking this question or thinking about the way in which our brain adapts to new technology. As long as we can raise questions like this one and remember that while new ways and new technologies are great things but are not the only or always the most appropriate ones we will be fine.
Dan Cohen makes the argument that academics should blog in his blog post “Professors, Start Your Blogs.” I think he has a good point when he says that a blog, when done correctly, could become an asset on an academic’s CV since it can show off an understanding of a topic, a candidate’s writing skills, ability to reach and hold an audience, and creativity. I also agree that blogs are a good way for academics to explore and discuss a topic and to stay in touch with what others are working on in their field. However, I’m not sure that his claim that blogs are a way for academics to reach large and varied audiences is entirely accurate. While it’s true that thousands of people roam the web and go on social media sites everyday how many of those people would actually be reading these types of blogs? I personally don’t know a single person who follows a blog of any kind and Cohen himself admits that there is a certain stereotype about the kind of people who write and read blogs. While not everyone who is interested in blogs fits that stereotype it does exist for a reason. Would a large number of people actually search for and read an academic blog, especially those on unpopular, technical, or esoteric topics that might be of interest to the writer but not necessarily to the average person outside of academia. Blogs might be a good idea for many professors and academics and I certainly hope that people would be interested in them but I think Cohen and other supporters of blogs need to be more realistic about their expectations of the benefits of blogging and recognize that blogs may not be for everyone. There are other ways to reach people on the web.