Looking to the End

Now that we are in the home stretch of info age, I am gearing up for the final project. This piece is only worth a tiny 5%, but it stands in as my final monumental act in this class. Further still, I have an overwhelming desire to leave even the slightest impression of my existence on this campus. The grade percentage does not mean anything to me, I am more concerned with its meaning and contribution.

The question becomes, what do I do for this final project, for the final battle?

Naturally, I chose something related to the ever-present Reverend, Jim Groom. I spoke with a number of my peers about setting up for another documentary. This time, we will be tracking the evolution of the digital storytelling course here at the University of Mary Washington, some of you may know this course as ds106. There has been a great deal of news about DTLT’s work with this project, and it seems fitting that a final information age look into its development over the years. Having watched ds106 evolve from afar, I can see that there have been mutations, complications, and major successes with this course. I am excited to jump right into meeting with thinkers who have put the course together, different student participants, and potential skeptics about the course.

Due to time constraints, we will more than likely keep the project tied to our campus, but I think that we can still speak to the larger context of open education as put forth by many of the iterations of ds106. Frankly, the course became a firestorm when Jim Groom opened it up, so it seems only fitting to take the course and study it at the point of origin. As with the other documentary, I think there will be issues of knowing how to tell the story and understand what is there to be told. I do not simply want to make a work devoted to singing ds106 praises. As a historian, I feel it problematic to take a specific side without looking deep into context, issues, and the voices of a specific event/group. The documentary should be all about the research and understanding what is happening on the group through multiple points of view.

Fine Points of Documentary

In this blog post I begin with a consideration of the pitfalls and issues with the documentary project. I follow up with a brief exposition on my personal development through this project and ponder suggestions for any future groups taking on this project. A quick note of thanks to Dr. McClurken, I greatly appreciated the opportunities we have this semester to take on unique projects. He risked this course’s success by entrusting us to select viable projects and course readings.

I acquired a number of new skills that I would not have otherwise even begun to think about, yet even this process came with issues. In crafting a documentary I had no idea where one began. You can read first, which may inform your questions, but without doing interviews right away the rest of the documentary feels formless. However, many guides and tutorials suggest building a storyboard of what you would like to tell. While I am certainly not artistic in my storytelling, but how can you create a storyboard without already having the story? I learned how to start building relations with interviewees and set up meetings. My group thoroughly discussed tips and techniques to keep an individual somewhat on subject, namely how to politely steer the conversation back to a relevant direction. The best skill I picked up was how to edit video.

Prior to this project, I had some inkling of how to work out audio issues, but video presented a new mystery to me. Thanks to substantial online tutorials and my project partner’s strong eye for editing, I felt supremely confident in my ability to sniff out bad cuts and how to overlay a good b-roll. There will always be the obstacle of learning a new piece of technology, but consider that the technology is a platform for you to tell a story. If such is the case, despite the difference in buttons and functions, different programs will expect the user to bring the same set of skills to the table. Do you know how to find a problem with video? Do you understand how to keep a viewer mentally engaged with your work? These are a couple of the underlying questions one must ponder. My partner was not familiar with Premiere but felt right at home with Avid. Although these are two different programs, her strong editing skills can shine through in both. I love editing video and adding audio tracks that blow people’s minds.

With any project, the key lesson is knowing how to budget time, however time is again an overarching issue. One should mainly note that in a group project the core issue is dividing workload. I found balancing the work power of four people to be exceedingly difficult, especially given my dearth of skills. Regardless, I should have considered ways to play to each individual’s strengths and time availability. Each member of my group gave this project their full time and attention, but at some moments there was little for them to take care of. Truth be told, video editing can be a solo job and does not require a committee at the very beginning. Given that, how do you divvy out a four person group? Perhaps the lesson here is understanding the nature of the project and potential job roles for each participant. I wouldn’t want to take away from anyone’s learning experience, which can easily happen when individuals only take jobs they are already proficient at. I find this to be a particularly hard balancing act and would love to get other opinions on the matter.

I fell in love with this documentary project and already have ideas rolling through my mind about the next short piece. With only a few weeks left in the semester, I can’t believe it has taken me four years at UMW to realize that I love film work. Better late than never, and there is nothing wrong with pursuing documentary as a hobby, right?

Who Do You Trust?

After leading class discussion last week, I began to mull over this question of trust. “Oh,” you say, “why is trust even a question?” As an academic-sort of person, I wonder at little things now. I read through Chuck Zerby’s Devil’s Details as well as Grafton’s Footnotes: A Curious History wherein both of them trace the development of footnotes and methods of trusting scholars findings.

Dr. McClurken added an additional set of readings about an academic hoax a few years back. The comments on this post struck me with the idea of “trust networks.” Dr. McClurken had mentioned this issue that the authority behind the project duped a number of colleagues into believing in the legitimacy of the work. I have to admit that I can appreciate the unsettling of the academic waters. Projects like this kick up a bunch of muck in the water and teach us that trust can sometimes be misleading. Just as scholars could fake early footnotes with sources that were tampered with, we historians and scholars will struggle with these issues. Somehow, we become far too trusting. Yet it is impossible to fact check every footnote or each aspect of a project. Something will slip under our radar, yet the more vigilant the scholar, the better the field.

At times questioning trust causes rifts between groups. How dare you doubt x researcher? Don’t you know that he/she has a degree in such and such a field? But academic work does not necessarily equate with bias-free texts. It might even be a bit depressing to know that the scholarly field is not as trustworthy as it might seem, but aren’t we all better off for having the wool taken off our eyes? Although we should expect that our colleagues will be honest and upright, knowing that the academic career is more than a little cutthroat gives us a better lay of the land. Why yes I am dancing around this issue! If academics will question the validity of primary source materials, should we not question our trust circles even further? Watch your back, things are not as clear as they may seem.

Maybe this whole matter of trust turns academia into a spy game or a thriller of sorts, filled with dangerous scholars toating deadly footnotes meant to lull a colleague into a false sense of security. You can place more mechanisms to ensure trustworthy work, yet in the end anything can eventually be circumvented. Trust at your own risk.

Conducting Interviews and Gaining Skills

My work with the documentary process has opened a whole other set of skills to me. I have spent much of my time familiarizing myself with the digital media lab’s copy of adobe premiere. Admittedly, I deserve to write a rather glowing post for lynda.com, which offers detailed and amazing video tutorials.

Like most of the Info Age’s projects, this one forces one to acquire non-traditional skills. Although the advertisement project might leave a few gaps in understanding how it relates to the historical discipline, the documentary offers very clear-cut, transferable skills. You are still crafting an argument about the ways in which events occurred and, more importantly, why it happened. Where are the differences? Well, primary sources in your typical paper include documents, not actual living people. There is a certain danger in conducting interviews, namely asking leading questions. If questions shape the project, it even more strongly influences the sources for this type of project. Unlike a traditional project, you cannot bully a piece of paper, much less make it answer a question specifically in your favor (perhaps a debatable point). I must warn other students conducting similar projects. Please put thought into your questions. As I understand it, the documentary typically needs a direction and form before interviews even begin, and the temptation is to make sure that interviewees’ statements match with your own interpretation, but such attempts create weak projects. While our main interviewer crafts questions as objectively as possible, I can imagine a scenario where an interviewer pushes interviewees to produce very specific answers. I enjoyed sitting in on an interview to watch my project partner work. Of course, she already brings a great deal of skill to the table, so I had a wonderful learning experience.

Documenting Catalogs

Over the next couple of weeks, the information age class will be considering events in the digital age. Like our last project, Dr. McClurken has asked us to participate in a less than conventional project. We will produce a documentary, perhaps even of epic proportions. We have a considerable amount of work ahead of us. I have never done this sort of project before, but with enough foresight and good effort, I believe we can all have a fun and engaging project.

My group decided to pursue the shifts from card catalogs to digital databases. It’s a small detail, but the change surely has major consequences for librarians and borrowers who trained in and grew up with the card catalog. In trying to find individuals who could take part in the documentary, we need to consider librarians who have extensive exposure to the older system. My initial conversation with a younger librarian on campus demonstrated that the shift from card to electronic is not that recent.

Why this project? Well, unlike the last project, we do in fact have an idea that relates more directly to the information age than weight-gaining products. The choice of library cataloging practices is an excellent one. We will seek to understand how the change occurred, its impact, and implications. Given that I have never been stuck with a card catalog system, I have no idea how one would search for a book without effortlessly searching with keywords and phrases. The way you search for information shapes how you think of information, understand what information is available.

Obvious interviewees for completing this project are older librarians. Perhaps additional interviewees should include users who have worked with both systems. I wonder if such an approach would make our documentary too broad, given that we only have a 5-10 minute limit. With that issue in mind, we may have to consider how to narrow our questions down to a specific issue.

Gain Flesh! Gain the Girl!

Final product of the advertising project for Dr. McClurken's Information Age seminar.

Sources:

Advertising Age. How It Was in Advertising, 1776-1976. Crain Books, 1976.
Brown, Bruce W. Images of Family Life in Magazine Advertising, 1920-1978. Praeger Publishers, 1981.
Heimann, Jim. 40s: All-American Ads. Köln: Taschen, 2001.
Parkin, Katherine J. Food is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.
Primary Sources for example advertising:
Life, 1936-1940. Accessed October 15, 2011. http://books.google.com/books/about/LIFE.html?id=N0EEAAAAMBAJ
Popular Mechanics, 1937-1938. Accessed October 15, 2011. http://books.google.com/books/serial/ISSN:01617370?rview=1&lr=&sa=N&start=840

Popular Science, 1937-1938. Accessed October 15, 2011. http://books.google.com/books/serial/ISSN:00324558?rview=1&lr=&sa=N&start=810

As a Preamble to the Project

Before diving into the advertisement proper, I would like to give a hearty thanks to my fellow project members who have made this small project possible. Caitlin, Ashley, and Nicole put time into taking my notes and sources and creating a wonderful product, which mimics 1930s advertisements for weight-gaining supplements. As a note for process, Ashley crafted the text for the advertisement and looked closely at various examples in order to develop a proper sense of wording for the piece. Nicole spent a great deal of time selecting appropriate fonts and modifying the layout. Caitlin, being a photoshop wizard, worked most closely with the program and made wonderful use of a set of early family photos for our advertisement. Although I worked primarily on the research end of the project, their work and effort made the project concrete and tangible.
In considering where this piece goes into the master timeline seen here, I wrote an earlier blog post about this style of advertisement. We (the group members) consider a product that is not a part of the information age but exemplifies certain characteristics about advertising during that time to be worthy addition to the timeline. The ad fits best within the 1930s segment and carrying a post of its own, perhaps with a title of “Early 20th Century Advertising.” In clicking that post, viewers can readily see our work, which makes an excellent example of advertising from then. Unlike other posts that are directly related to the flow of information, this small footnote would encourage readers to think of advertising not for its message but rather as a medium itself.
The next question one might have is “Is this really part of the information age?” The advertisement here is just a bunch of flashy exclamation points and pictures. Why should weight-gaining products make into the info age? The information age is not only about the passing of ideas from one entity to the next, it is also about how one passes such information. In terms of advertising, the question one needs to ask is what other messages are being encoded into the advertisement? I perceive ads such as weight-gaining to be more than just an advertisement encouraging one to bulk up and become extra hunky. Rather, one can note that the ads represent certain norms, namely heterosexual relationships, muscles and a particular body shape being keys to attracting women, and just plain old, every male requires a relationship to function. The ad does not just promise a product that will allow the consumer to gain weight, but it also transfers biases and life perspectives.What we can see in these ads is a company attempting to shape readers in a particular way.
So was there something special about weight-gaining products that made them apt for mimicking, as opposed to say car wax or cigarettes? Weight-gaining ads were not hiding secret messages to overturn the government, nor did they present the transfer of biases and perspectives better than other products. Rather, we chose our product as a fun and interesting item that flies in the face of contemporary perspectives about body size. To speak more personally, few would take such an interest in purposefully gaining weight, unless it involved muscle growth. Thus, the product will most certainly grab the viewer’s attention as an interesting advertisement. One might even note that things such as body size and image are all matters of cultural norms and that different generations can have vastly different outlooks on being sexy and attractive.

Monday morning (Oct 24, 2011), I will be posting up the advertisement and a bibliography for the Info Age project. Sit tight!

A Few Notes on Advertising Project

Having spent the past few days digging through old magazines online, I feel comfortable to say that the world of advertising has become much more conservative since the 1930s. Most advertising scholars point to the “Your car is no nudist,” advertisement and note that nudity was not struck down or necessarily shied away from at the time. In this post I will be introducing my role in the upcoming project for Dr. McClurken’s Information Age as well as what my project group has been working on. So, I hope you are ready for a feast, as our project is a rather weighty matter.
With most working groups there is division of labor. Not everyone works on the same thing at the same time. It isn’t effective time management. Further, not everyone brings the same set of skills to the table. With that in mind, I was selected to handle the initial researching for our project. Before doing this project I had no idea what sort of magazines Google has put up for anyone to read and search through. The initial search for example ads was not easy, however. Keywords like “weight,” “skinny,” etc. did not yield too much, but I did get a closer look at an advertisement on this blog. When one enlarges the first advertisement, one can find the actual company name. Once I had the name, finding similar ads became far easier.

That's right ladies, with just a few more pounds your man can be handsome!

We decided that weight-gaining advertisements in the 1930s/40s would make for a fun and interesting project. How does this fit into the information age timeline? Well, granted the product certainly is not distributing information. There is something to looking critically at how such advertisements sell a company’s products. What is the use of language? Targeted audience? Images? Are male weight gaining products targeted at men or women who will tell their husbands/boyfriends/brothers to try the product. Thus, there is something of value to looking at a non-information centric product and digging one’s heels deep into the lingo and imagery of the period. Furthermore, this sort of product stands outside our cultural milieu. We might have some male weight gaining products, but they are sold as muscle enhancers, typically for body builders to appear more buff. The average reader today will more than likely look at these ads and remark about the differences in cultural values between 1930s and now. It’s a provocative product that not only will inspire a few laughs but also consider what qualifies as beauty, skinny, or glamorous. What these ads communicate is a set of esthetics which determine one’s beauty and perhaps even his/her societal value. One will lack social capital without the stunning, broad shoulders exhibited by the man pictured above.
As to sources, I found that most of the male-targeted ads were listed in popular science and popular mechanics. The writers and illustrators for the advertisements focused on informing skinny men that they would have no hope of a happy lady-filled existence without bulking up as much as twenty-five pounds. As ironized yeast apparently works quickly, the ads carry a sense of urgency, as if one needed to drop everything in order to lose weight, get the girl, and obtain a perfect life of smiles and…Perhaps I read a little too far into the advertisements, but when you read over so many you can’t help but wonder what the company is provoking the audience to believe.

Encoding the Language

YouTube Preview Image

Having now given my presentation, I reflect back on how I made it through the talk. I dug up the few articles and works about the talking drums. There seems to be a wider literature about “language surrogates”, but those works treat talking drums in a very cursory fashion. When I began this project, I went straight for John Carrington’s slim volume on African talking drums, which written in the 1940s, provided me with little more than a conceptual understanding of the instrument. For this assignment I needed to successfully play the instrument, not just theorize. McClurken seemed to be looking for more than just theory when he gave us the option of demonstrating a form of early communication. I began to search for more materials, perhaps there was a teaching book for the talking drums? I found little of practical use, but there were some amazing individuals teasing out how the drums work and relate to other systems of encoding language, such as writing.

What I really need was more Youtube. I found a few users who uploaded themselves playing or taught the absolute basics of the system. The visual and audio of those videos solidified how to play the drums for me. I do admit that I still lack the ability to make my drums talk, but I do sound rather awesome when going off on a hippie jam. I studied the three tones and how those tones work in conjunction with the language. While I couldn’t tell you how to say a phrase, I can tell you that if there are x syllables in that phrase you hit the drum y times and the tone’s of the words in the phrase will tell you how to tighten the drum. My project technically tanked; I couldn’t actually use the device. However, I came away feeling confident that I could explain and demonstrate how one would communicate with the talking drum. Below I list the texts that provide good resources for further information on the talking drums. You will notice that few of the sources are completely up-to-date. Talking drums have seemingly lost their status as a true speech surrogate and now represent a past cultural tradition rather than a current and practically used linguistic practice.

To gush for a moment: I loved this project. It’s rare for me to combine my love of languages, drums, and history into one assignment. Hats off to you Dr. McClurken.

 

Bibliography

Arewa, Ojo and Niyi Adekola. “Redundancy Principles of Statistical Communications as Applied to Yoruba Talking-Drum.” Anthrops Bd. 75, H. 1./2. (1980): 185-202. Accessed: 20/09/2011, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40460588.

Armstrong, Robert G. “Talking Drums in the Benue-Cross River Region of Nigeria.” Phylon vol. 15, no. 4 (4th Qtr., 1954): 355-363Accessed: 20/09/2011 08:47, http://www.jstor.org/stable/272844.

Carrington, John F. Talking Drums of Africa. London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1949.
Nzewi, Meki, Israel Anyahuru, and Tom Ohiarumunna. “The Lingual Fundamentals of African Drum Music.” Research in African Literatures vol 32, no. 2 (Summer, 2001): 90-104. Accessed: 21/09/2011, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3820906.
Ong, Walter J. “Oral Cultures and Oral Performances.” New Literary History vol. 8, no. 3(Spring, 1977): 411-429. Accessed: 21/09/2011, http://www.jstor.org/stable/468293.
Related Youtube Videos:

Ayan Bisi Adeleke – Master Talking Drummer: Drum Talks, 2007. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4oQJZ2TEVI&feature=youtube_gdata_player. Accessed: 9/19/2011.

___________. How To Play a Simple Rhythm on The Talking Drum, 2010. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZtH1Tc1D2U&feature=youtube_gdata_player. Accessed: 9/19/2011.

Ilubabamini. Talking Drum Lesson, TDL 001, PART A, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_YNZzESakk&feature=youtube_gdata_player. Accessed: 9/27/2011.

________. Talking Drum Lesson, TDL 001, Part B., 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XPdp7IjzxI&feature=youtube_gdata_player. Accessed: 9/27/2011.

Running Time

We recently *cough*sort of*cough* completed our timeline project, where in we traced the development of information technologies from cave paintings to telegraphs to Youtube. We used the program simile and an accompanying wordpress plugin to display the time line on our course blog . While initially I expected this project to be little more than listing events and corresponding dates, I quickly found myself diging more into secondary sources for further events and more dates. Once you find one patent battle, you start to ponder…what happened after that? What was the immediate consequence/result of x event. Timelines can grow out of control without the right trimming and before you know it you are in a jungle of events that are not equally important. Some events are simply more important than others. If you want to keep your project manageable, you have to know where to make the cuts.

I worked with the Broadcasting group. You will notice our red points and lines on the timeline as anything relating to radios and televisions, or at certain turns the rise of organizations related to such technologies. My specific task was to dig up the time line of television, throw it up on the time line, and not go crazy. For those who are not familiar with the history of television…let me tell you something. Television has a rather convoluted history with many inventors, some of who were unaware of each other, and rapid changes, as well as an international battle over who transmitted what type of broadcast for the first time. Often, according to Fishers’ book Tube: A History of the Television, newspapers would call a transmission the first one, but they would omit in the United States as an important qualifier.

Having reviewed my peers’ work, I have considered my own shortcomings. I posted a huge swath of events, but they lack images and video. If one covers the history of television, a visual medium, there should be plenty of visual aids…it’s television. In considering improvements to my section, the addition of significant celebrity appearances or particularly popular programs would make a welcome upgrade to my work. With regards to the gaps of my time line, I pondered over how one could track the history of television. There are two distinct, but obviously related, categories, namely technological developments and pop culture. Researching a communication technology should also include its uses and contents. My time line primarily tracks the physical development of the technology without a strong emphasis for what the technology conveys. You will notice that I follow Farnsworth and Zworykins quite closely as they invent new technologies, smaller pieces of the television, yet the first television show or the rise of television celebrities is hardly a footnote. The two histories weave together, yet the historian uses vastly different materials to research each one. I have a nagging suspicion that leaving out the message and only speaking to the development of the medium dismembers the history of the television. Only knowing that the Gutenberg printing press revolutionized the creation of books takes away what books were being printed? Who read them, and what was the impact of that book being circulated so widely? The Fishers’ book,does well in dividing the technology from the content, and in the form of a monograph, the division feels natural. Trying to absorb both the television show and the television technology would give anyone a headache, yet for the purpose of a time line, the division creates a lackluster product. Why? A time line should give the viewer a snapshot of what was going on at the time. Sure, there is an argument somewhere in a time line, such as what does one include in it. But, to me, the time line remains a fairly wide scoped method of viewing a history. Talking about the internet without mentioning the content of Youtube would be a gross oversight. So, what about television? The pop culture that evolved around the device is as significant, if not more so, than the device itself.

Now that I have had a few days to separate myself from the project I feel more comfortable to point out the potential flaws and consider revisions and at the end of the semester improvements for the time line. What might be most helpful now would be a survey that I can pass out to site visitors in order to find best avenues for improving the project.

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