Review: Doctor Who – The Blood Cell

In anticipation of the Series 8 finale of Doctor Who last Saturday, I picked up Doctor Who: The Blood Cell by James Goss, so I could keep the excitement going until the holiday episode. I got it as a review copy via Blogging for Books, but this review – as you will see – has not been influenced by anyone else. If it had been, it might have been a bit rosier…

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Fun things I’ve come across lately:

Museums in the Digital Age

Link: Museums Morph Digitally: The Met and Other Museums Adapt to the Digital Age

The above article opens with a mention the Met choosing to allow cell phones in 2011. As a museum professional, I have a love/hate relationship with cell phones; there’s so much you can do with them in a museum, but there’s so much you shouldn’t do with them in a museum! The article goes on to outline some of the good stuff.

One example they give is using augmented reality to explore collections at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford. Personally, I think that’s a terrible way to go about it, as it requires people to cluster around the object, holding their cell phones and not actually looking at the object itself. I’d much rather see the style used at the New York Historical Society’s now-closed Luce Center, which displayed 40,000 objects with nothing more than an accession number for each, and you could use your phone to look up details about anything that interested you.

I’ve heard of a lot of other exciting uses for cell phones, too. At the AAMG conference in May, I was delighted by the Minnesota History Center’s Then Now Wow exhibit and its Play the Past app; I also remember an academic museum that engaged its students by gamifying artwork and giving prizes to students that reviewed the most pieces.

At my museum, we have QR codes to display historic videos curated from the Gallaudet Video Library. ASL is an integral part of our university, but we couldn’t afford video screens scattered throughout. Using QR codes and visitor-supplied cell phones (and some loaner iPad Minis) makes it possible for us to provide content we would otherwise have had to leave out. Of course, this raises the question of “is that visitor taking a forbidden picture, or scanning a QR code?” a dozen times a day for my poor staff – but we’re in good company! The Met allows cell phones but bans videography, so I imagine their staff plays the same game mine does.

Another fun article about museums in the digital age popped up this month, too: The Epic Effort to Bring a Groundbreaking Online RPG Back to Life details The MADE’s effort to put together the right hardware to revitalize the old Habitat RPG.

Poetry from Hiroshima

I didn’t want my first project for grad school to be related to Deaf history; I wanted to step outside that comfort zone. I’m focusing on the cultural impact of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My research has led me to Atomic Bomb: Voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, edited by Mark Selden and Kyoko Iriye Selden.

Here are two poems from the book. The first is a tanka, the second a haiku.

Those killed without ceremony we gather
without ceremony and place in the bonfire
-Sasaki Yutaka

Strength to turn a body in a girl who looks for her mother
-Shibata Moriyo

And I say unto you: NO MORE HIROSHIMAS.

Edited to add:

The main lesson I took away from today’s research is that Americans are still afraid of Hiroshima. We don’t like to discuss it; we don’t like to be reminded of what we did. Not that we have to, of course – it’s much easier to put our heads in the sand. Of course, “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it,” and I think we must look at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, boldly, with open eyes, to understand history, Japan, and ourselves. Call me a peacenik, but I cannot understand the mind of anyone who could ever conceive of using nuclear weapons again.

Joy: Then and Now

Meredith happy at ~8 and 33 years old

This is how I wear joy.

Thursdays seem to be the appointed day for sharing the past – “Throwback Thursday” they say. But this week I’d like to share the past alongside the present, because this pairing is particularly delightful. I’d put the split between them at about 25 years.

I like this look on me. I think I’ll keep wearing it.

Ghosts of DC

I love history, and I love DC, so this is my new favorite website: Ghosts of DC. It’s primarily photo-oriented; here are some of my favorites:

I’d love to submit some photos from Gallaudet’s Historical Photograph Collection, but the Archives would get fussy about the copyright, I think…

“Visible Language” Consulting

I’m going to pimp my own work for a moment here. I’m acting as a bit of a historical consultant to the WSC Avant Bard production of Visible Language, a musical in ASL and English about the battle between oralism and manualism (speaking vs signing) in the 1890s. I had no connection with the development of the play itself – it was created by Mary Resing in 2009 – but they’ve asked me to do some history-related work for this production. I’m inordinately proud to have been asked; being recognized as an expert and a professional is always rewarding.

The first part of my work was a blog post that I’m fairly proud of: The Real Deaf History that Comes to Life in Visible Language (archived here too). I’ve already mentioned it on Facebook, but if you haven’t read it and are so inclined, please take a look.

They also asked me to serve as a featured guest at a 30-minute post-show discussion. I said I was available for all four dates, and they said they’d let me know which date they thought would work best. The answer was delightful: they felt my contribution would be so important that they couldn’t pick just one, and asked if I could come to all four. So I’ll be at the Eastman Studio Theatre, in Elstad Auditorium at Gallaudet, for the discussions following the Sunday matinees. Should be interesting! I hope people ask me things… 🙂

The Hard, The Concrete

I am an urbanist.

I put a word to this after sitting on the Hudson Line of Metro North recently. I was seated on the land side of the train, looking out at the cool old stuff, and I realized the Hudson River was out the other window. I dutifully took a picture, then resumed looking at run-down storage sheds and trainworks. It’s not that the river isn’t beautiful; I kayaked from Nyack to Chelsea Piers years ago, and it’s a gorgeous trip, and I’d love to see other natural wonders. I found the Grand Canyon and Cappadocia breathtaking. But if asked to choose, my preference tends toward the urban, not the natural; the historical, not the ageless.

I am an atheist; I am aspiritual.

I have no interest in religion or spirituality. I don’t have time for it. I call it mumbo-jumbo and turn my head to that which can be proven by the scientific method. No Sky Daddy, no homeopathy, no reincarnation. I am not particularly interested in science – I’m a historian, after all – but that’s where I put my faith. If someone is ill, good doctors will cure them, not prayers.

So I wonder, sometimes, if I’m a little too cold. I love and care about things and people as much as anyone can, sometimes too much. But do my tendencies mean I’m out of step with others? The vast majority of the world practices a religion; those that don’t still consider themselves spiritual in some way. Nature is often held out as a place to relax and recharge; I’d just as soon do that in a hotel room in the biggest cities on earth after a day of exploring them.

I don’t think being out of step is necessarily a bad thing. I have been out of step for more than 30 years. But I wonder, too, what life would be like if I tilted more to the soft and malleable instead of the hard and concrete.

History Through Databases

Link: Where Online Services Go When They Die

One of the chief difficulties in ancient historical research is finding source materials. Sometimes they simply aren’t there anymore – they’ve been burned, pillaged, destroyed, or simply lost to the ages. But as we move into the modern era, research becomes easier – preservation of materials is better, language is easier to wrangle, and there is more interest in keeping a historical record.

As we have plunged into the digital age, though, we have started to head back toward losing our records. This shouldn’t happen – it’s easy enough to store everything – but the sheer quantity of data being produced now still overwhelms our capabilities. I have seen years of forum discussion be lost to a corrupted database, which translates into a loss of oral-type history – the conversations those people had are gone forever (not that we didn’t try to get it back). The article linked above discusses an attempt to restore a walled garden called Prodigy that I was a member of, and the difficulties inherent in resurrecting data long thought inaccessible.

There are plenty of attempts to resist the death of online data – the Wayback Machine has been archiving the web since 1996, and the Usenet archive now housed at Google Groups has posts dating back to 1981. But the sheer amount of data (which, of course, includes walled gardens and the Deep Web) makes it virtually impossible to ever log everything. And so we will lose some of the little stories, the microhistories, despite our best efforts to preserve as much as we can. Some would say that not every single email needs to be saved – for example, my wife and I discuss dinner plans by email regularly, which is of interest to no one but the two of us. But what if, someday, someone wants to look at relationships and how two people communicate? It will be gone, because historians won’t have access to those servers. Unless, as the article notes, someone digs up a Gmail archive someday and extracts it to a usable format.

History Through Pleasant Company

Link: How the American Girl Dolls Books Taught Me to Love History

Yesterday I looked at history through video games, and today I have history through Pleasant Company. Why not “history through American Girl” or the dolls or the books? Because Mattel ruined the educational mission of Pleasant Company, that’s why.

Sure, there are still books written about the dolls, and there are still some historical dolls, but the days of historically-minded books with dolls to act out the story are over. Long-standing historical dolls are being discontinued left and right even as new friend dolls pop up from the stories, because they can sell more dolls and clothes that way. Who needs Kirsten (American Prairie, 1854) anymore, when you have the pink-and-blonde girl of today, Isabelle, who loves ballet?

Mattel has gone full-on cash cow with American Girl. Now, Pleasant Company always was about selling things, but like the author of the article linked above, I used to love the historical books. I went to tea parties with the authors. AG in the Pleasant Company era cemented a love of history in that author, myself, and many other young girls. Today, Mattel is just churning out as much as possible without any interest in historical education, and it’s a far cry from the old days.