pointed and shot

I finally remembered to bring “my” camera to the library today. Keep in mind that the windows are  dirty, I’ve actually borrowed this camera and barely used it before, I don’t know anything about how to set lighting/zoom/etc properly though I did manage to do basic things like turn on flash/macro/etc., my hands aren’t very steady, and the last time I took photos for myself was about fifteen years ago using a film camera that had almost no customizable settings. Any advice on very beginning photography would be appreciated. I guess I might finally use flickr.

Anyway, as spring has sort of come in, I’ve come to realize this area has something in common with LA: when the visibility is high, it’s really strikingly beautiful. Too bad about the architecture, though.

Looking left:

Center view:

Looking right (a partition kept me from turning further):

seeing and believing

Alana Newhouse’s article about photographer Roman Vishniac, his photographs, the stories he told with and about those photographs, and the evidence that challenges those stories, is really kind of fantastic. Never heard of Vishniac? (I hadn’t.) Not sure you’re interested?

Take a look at the slideshow that goes with the article – whatever you think of Vishniac’s storytelling, his photography was very, very good. Then read these three paragraphs from near the start of the article:

But the center will not only be acquiring Vishniac’s entire life’s work; as the father-son spread suggests, it is also inheriting a fascinating set of ambiguities and unanswered questions — all unexpectedly uncovered by a 34-year-old curator named Maya Benton. As Benton has discovered, Vishniac released, over the course of a five-decade career, an uncommonly small selection of his work for public consumption — so small, in fact, that it did not include many of his finest images, artistically speaking. Instead the chosen images were, in the main, those that advanced an impression of the shtetl as populated largely by poor, pious, embattled Jews — an impression aided by cropping and fabulist captioning done by his own hand. Vishniac’s curating job was so comprehensive that it would not only limit the appreciation of his talents but also skew the popular conception of pre-Holocaust Jewish life in Europe.

Sometime in 1989, Maya Benton, then a 14-year-old living in Los Angeles, had an epiphany. The daughter of a single mother, a psychoanalyst who as a child lived for years in a displaced-persons camp in Germany, Benton grew up in a household that was a relative rarity in American Jewish life: Yiddish speaking but cosmopolitan, well off and not Orthodox. As she lolled on the couch of her grandparents’ home, Benton started sneaking chocolate rum balls from a sterling silver box — one of two family heirlooms from, she had assumed, Novogrudek, the historic Jewish town in what is now Belarus from which her grandparents hailed before the Holocaust. As Benton stared at the weighty birthright from the alte heym, or Old World, bafflement struck: she knew, from an interview she conducted with her family members for a history class, that they fled the German invasion, hid in nearby forests, were interned at multiple labor camps and trekked through miles of often snow-covered forest in the east. How on earth, Benton thought as she considered the ornate container, did they manage to schlep this through Siberia? The confusion grew when she considered the second heirloom: a full set of Rosenthal china.

As it turned out, the box and the china had not been in the family for generations, nor were they from Novogrudek. As Maya’s grandmother, Tonia Benton, explained that afternoon, they were among the things that she and her husband bought from impoverished Germans after the war; bartering the chocolate and cigarettes they received in the displaced-persons camp, they were able to buy valuable items that could be used as currency to get the family to America. That day, Maya Benton says, she learned a lesson about people’s need for, and uses of, mythical narratives.

Then decide if you want to click through (or, you know, just click through, really, it’s worth it).

you’d probably need more than old newspapers for that kind of story, though

The excitement of research.

recall numbers

I still remember the old card catalog at the main university library. I don’t think I ever used it. My mom worked in the cataloging department and sometimes I’d walk by the rows of drawers on my way to the reading room, where I’d sit and read children’s books or Garfield comics while I waited for her work to end so we could go home. Once, during a summer when I’d been at the office more often – probably after some regularly scheduled daytime activity – someone pushing a shelving cart stopped me as I walked through the cataloging department with a kid’s book in hand and, perhaps thinking I was enrolled in a course on children’s literature, asked: “Do you go here now?”

A few blocks away, in library automation, my dad and his colleagues eventually put the card catalog out of existence. When it was finally dismantled, library staff were given the option of carrying the old cards home. Even now, decades later, you can still find catalog cards in my parents’ house, usually by the phone, the blank sides serving as scratch paper for notetaking.

I’ve grown up around libraries, but until recently I never seriously considered working in one. I’m still not sure I ever will. It would be easy to draw a direct line from my experience as a grad student in history, spending much of my time in libraries and archives, to my current position as a graduate student in the field of libraries and archives, but it wouldn’t be right. I’ll explain why in a later post.

major complications

The Krugman anecdote silbey excerpts here reminds me of how I ended up finally deciding, after leaning that way for about a year, to major in history. I was sitting in a political science lecture when the professor, who had worked out a generalized model for explaining certain phenomena, said somewhat off-handedly that while political scientists try to simplify things and create models, historians pick at those models and point out all the ways they don’t quite fit particular instances.

At least that was the gist of what he said; it’s been years since I took that class and I remember him making the point in a pithier way. He wasn’t disparaging history, but it was clear from the way he said it (if it wasn’t already clear from the fact of his being a political science professor) that he preferred the political science way of thinking. Anyway, I heard that and I thought, that settles it–I’m majoring in history.

full coverage

I’m still in the Olympic spirit, I guess, or at least just thinking about the Olympics. I’ll be back to more academic concerns soon, but my sister and her husband and their daughter are visiting and we managed to find tickets because my sister had the crazy idea of walking into the ticket office and asking what they have. Turns out that if you’re not picky, there’s still some seats available. So now I’ve seen curling live and in person and I enjoyed it.

Anyway, I was going to write something about NBC’s coverage – discussed here and here and elsewhere – but instead I’ll just say that CTV, who has the Canadian rights, has put up the following on their website: full video (the so-called “world feed”) of every single event, in HD if your connection can handle it, live if it’s still going on, archived if you missed it, and if it’s still going on you can go back and watch the earlier parts without having to wait for the event to end.

The “world feed”, if I understand correctly, consists of the raw video broadcasters are able to choose from in putting together their coverage. Broadcasters combine that video with their own commentary and interviews and whatever technology they use to enhance their coverage (like replays that use superimposed images of multiple competitors). Sometimes broadcasters use their own cameras to get additional angles if they think it’s worth it to their audience to have the extra coverage.

The CTV world feed videos don’t have any of the supplemental stuff, but considering what you’re getting, it’s more than worth it. There are some video ads, but they’re shorter and less frequent than television ads. You can also get highlights online of some completed events taken from the televised broadcasts that include commentary, and possibly you can get the entire televised broadcasts online as well. I generally haven’t been near a tv during the live event coverage, so I don’t know what the broadcasts are like. I don’t feel like I’ve missed anything I wanted to see.

Compared to that, discussions of NBC’s coverage, focusing on television, are like a throwback to an earlier era. It’s no longer possible to think of this kind of event coverage solely in terms of television, and for all that NBC has done with their Olympic website (which I haven’t visited since 2008, admittedly, but which I hear delays video just like tv), it seems like they still think it’s still 1994 or so.

set in stone

The Olympics have made spring break come early this year and last twice as long, and I decided to take the opportunity to leave town and visit my family. (I might look into the Olympic non-ticket events around town after I get back this weekend.) That means I’ve been watching the Olympics on tv, which is not something I’ve done since 1998. I usually ignore the winter games completely.

One sport I’ve enjoyed making fun of, in an uninformed non-serious non-specific way is curling, but now that I’ve gotten a chance to see full matches for the first time, I can say that I haven’t sat through a whole match. But I have watched the ends of each end for a few of them and I do like the sport. It looks like a fun puzzle game; I bet there’s a flash version.

I can’t say I understand the rules, though, and it looks like I better read up on them soon, before the source of the stones disappears from the earth.

wait, Americans value history now?

At the end of his review of Richard J. Evans’ new book on British historians, Mark Mazower writes:

Thus Evans’ book is not only a lament for a certain postwar moment in historical scholarship; it is also, perhaps, a paean to a time when history’s public role could be taken for granted. This is no longer true, at least in Britain. And perhaps this is another, sadder, reason why so many British historians find their warmest reception abroad, not least in the United States, where history still seems to matter.

I don’t know what it’s like to do historical scholarship in Britain, but considering how often I’ve heard people say that Americans just don’t care much about history, this surprises me. Are the teledons extinct?

At the same time, as I read the review, I kept wondering where the Americans fit into the story. Evans’ book is about British historians studying the history of continental Europe, and how they differ from their counterparts in the rest of Europe:

The problem is an interesting one: how to explain the divergence between Britain (and the United States), where a large proportion of historians concern themselves with the history of other countries, and its EU partners, where professional scholarship is much more nationally focused? Evans offers some rough and ready statistics to support his account of this difference, but one has no reason to doubt his basic thesis. British universities may offer expertise in Baltic, Balkan, or Iberian history, and no decent department lacks a goodly array of non-British subjects; but the poor Czech, Polish, or French student who is interested in digesting something other than the glories of his national story will find a much thinner menu.

According to Mazower, Evans offers a number of reasons for this, which he addresses in the review, and which I’ll leave you to read if you follow the link, as I’m more interested in a reason that does not come up. (Whether the omission is Mazower’s or Evans’ I don’t know – I’d have to see the book.) And this is the fact that the British speak English.

The two blockquotes above are the only two mentions of the U.S. in the review: a comment about how history apparently still matters there, and a parenthetical aside noting that just like in Britain, many professional historians in the U.S. study other parts of the world. But despite the aside, Evans’ book (as summarized by Mazower) gives only British and European reasons for British and European divergence. But how do the Americans fit in? (If they do.)

Does the fact that another large historical community, using more or less the same language, studies a similar range of areas have anything to do with the British divergence from the rest of Europe? And if so, does the influence go both ways?

I don’t know, but the impression I got from the people I knew in grad school who specialized in non-U.S. topics – especially Europe, Africa, and the Middle East* – was that they needed to have a grasp of all the English-language scholarship, regardless of country of origin. I assume those trained in Britain would have to meet similar expectations.  So it seems plausible that the American historical community would have some influence on British practice (and vice versa), at least in the relevant fields. It’s too bad it sounds like Evans doesn’t take this up, even if only to dismiss it as an additional explanation.


*And then there’s the question of whether Britain, though similar to the U.S. with respect to continental Europe when it comes to studying continental Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania (to use some traditional geographical terms), is actually more like continental Europe compared to the U.S. when it comes to studying the Americas.

There are certainly a lot of departments in the U.S. with British specialists (though recent trends suggest they may be in the process of becoming Europeanists) – how many British academic historians study the U.S.? How many study Latin America? Are the numbers comparable?

I really don’t know the answer to that, though I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if more British than American historians study Canada.

ahead of the Times Krugman

I am glad to see someone of Paul Krugman’s stature picking up the same kind of analogy I’ve made a couple of times in throwaway comments at The Edge of the American West. I’m sure this means I will win a Nobel some day, although I guess I’d settle for a newspaper column (if it came with a blog).

and I thought I’d spent a lot of my life around libraries

Apparently, many New York Public Library branches used to have live-in superintendents, some of whose families also lived in the library buildings with them. I wonder how many other non-residential buildings had this kind of set-up – and if other libraries around the country or the world had live-in supers as well.