Dan Perkel's Stuff on the Web

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The History of Information – First day starts today

Today, Megan Finn and I will be kicking off the first class of a six-week course on the History of Information. We have adapted the syllabus from the class taught annually by Professors Paul Duguid and Geoff Nunberg in order to accommodate teaching a 17 week class in only six weeks. As of right now, we have 49 students enrolled plus more on the waiting list. Let’s hope we don’t scare anyone off today…

Here is the class website

Another take on writing – this time from Ken Plummer

This advice that “The only way to learn to write is to write, so write every day!” is not new to me at this point in my PhD career. My colleagues and I discuss it all the time. But, it’s hard advice to follow sometimes. And often people just say this but don’t show their examples of the unedited, unfiltered, stuff they say they write when they write something everyday.

A recent post by Ken Plummer on the Writing Across Boundaries series provides such an example. The example is a nice short paragraph he says he wrote between 7 and 7:30 am one Sunday morning while visiting a friend. The point of the paragraph is that maybe social scientists should try to write more like poets do. He acknowledges poets’ own “world of pretense” (to match social scientists’ “puffed up pretense,” but then goes on to say that the lesson from poetry is that they make every word, every syllable, count. I like this view of what my writing should aspire to, though I don’t think–and I don’t think Plummer thinks–that our research papers should aspire to be poetry:

Sociology spends as many words as it can possibly use (as many as it takes for a Ph.D., a journal article or a book) – long, complicated, incomprehensible, often neologistic words – in searching for its truth. The poet by contrast elects not to waste a syllable or sound. Think of the words you use and make every word matter.

Nevertheless, as I write this blog post, I can’t help but wonder if choosing poetry as a comparison adds more confusion than it’s worth. After all, there may be more about poetry that we should try to avoid in our papers than what we should choose to copy. Poets, it seems to me, obsesses over the visual and aural properties of words and phrases in ways that we may not want to even come near to.

(However, Ray McDermott‘s recent talk at the American Anthropological Association meetings in San Francisco gives me pause here. Essentially, he performed a spoken word analysis of John Dewey and Paul Radin that was quite powerful. Hard to say more… you had to be there. Which might be the reason why it’s not a “paper”. Though both are pragmatists and Plummer’s short post is partially titled “pragmatics”….hmmmm… I’m losing everyone here.)

When I started to write this post, I thought that while it was nice to see one of these examples of “what you write at 7 in the morning before giving me advice to write every day” was helpful, it might have been a particularly intimidating example because it’s so well put and so profound. But, maybe (maybe! I haven’t done the analysis either) Plummer’s point about poetry is a little off and that’s what makes it an even better example than I thought.

Under construction

Having a page “under construction” seems very very old school to me. But, as I move my blog and site over to some new space at school, then under construction is the best way to describe it. Well, it’s a way.

A young artist’s take on copyright over on the Digital Youth site

I just posted a short “Story from the Field” over on the Digital Youth site called “No, I don’t feel complimented: A young artist’s take on copyright.” It talks about the experience of 15 year-old Sharon, an aspiring photographer, and the tensions she experiences as she posts work to various online art websites and then grapples with the consequences of having her work available for people to repost, reuse, and “remix” on their own sites, blogs, or other places. The scenario I describe shows that the notion that all teenagers have radically different take on copyright than the rest of us is (as if the rest of us have a uniform take) is not necessarily the case. As I conclude in the article, I can’t claim that Sharon is representative of all teenagers or all artists, but that I suspect there are others dealing with the same conflicts.

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