Information, Sociability, Reality Check

I’ve been off RSS readers for a while, in part because of Google’s exit from the game, but also because of information overload. Thinking about using it again and revisiting some old stomping grounds in the blogosphere, I found Dan Cohen’s relevant comments on Ann Blair’s Too Much to Know. Seems I am in good company with my occasional ignoring of information—ignoring that I prefer to think won’t lead to, might even prevent, ignorance.

I treat Twitter rather cavalierly too, as if it were a place to hang out, learn stuff, share things, and then leave—sometimes for longer spells. If I view all these information inputs in social terms, this is a perfectly rational way to engage with the Twittersphere. If I worried about missing some bit of news, some fascinating article or weird event, I would never get anything done and my mind would become a still murkier mess. Besides, meaningful ideas and conversations tend to have longer lifespans, and they make themselves felt in other contexts.

Dan’s piece, indeed his whole blog, reminds me of another thing. Much ostensibly older writing on the web has value, and sometimes we should take a moment to read bits of it instead of gulping down and spewing forth a remixed version of the latest clever insight or rant. (I’m talking about myself here, bigly, uh, big league.)

Historians Speak about the Profession

Producing Knowledge

Mills Kelly of Edwired responds to the notion that the historical profession is about writing and therefore about publishing in traditional academic print media:

It seems to me that the essence of scholarship is the circulation of knowledge and the discussion of that knowledge among both peers and other interested parties. How is knowledge circulated? Print, the Internet, a museum exhibit, film, radio, are all methods for circulating knowledge and all of them require some sort of writing–even if that writing doesn’t result in yet another monograph or journal article. Just as one example–this blog had more than 75,000 unique visitors in 2007. If I’m lucky, my book will sell 1,000 copies. So how is more knowledge circulated?

Teaching Survey Courses

In The AHA Guide to Teaching and Learning with New Media, John McClymer makes an interesting point about one major difficulty of teaching introductory history classes:

I routinely begin our explorations of topics by asking students to come up with questions. There are several reasons. The most important is that it legitimates confusion. All learning begins in puzzlement, but teachers and students routinely connive in the illusion that students understand the causes of the French Revolution and any number of equally complex developments. The first and second year students in my “Modern Europe and U.S.,1815 to the Present” do not. This is not a failure on their part or mine. A good undergraduate math student can learn to integrate equations in a Calculus I course. An equally good history student cannot master the causes of the French Revolution in an introductory history course.


This blog post originally appeared on Clio and Me on this date.