why we need more projects like the ucla keck digital cultural mapping project

A Fox News map mistakenly labels Iraq as Egypt

A Fox News map mistakenly labels Iraq as Egypt

statistics tell us that u.s. students are some of the worst in the world at geography. because the u.s. is so big, and because so few americans travel abroad, americans are not as exposed to physical geography as citizens of other countries, and are therefore not as good at the subject. however, help is coming to students in southern california. led by diane favro, todd presner, jan reiff, and willeke wendrich, the keck digital cultural mapping project at ucla seeks to remedy this lack of geographical knowledge in part by using new mapping technologies to expose students to issues of geography and culture.

Digital Cultural Mapping teaches students to use new technologies to investigate and map a wide-range of cultural, historical, and social dynamics.

if you need further evidence why this cultural mapping project is so important, see the fox news graphic to the right.

new online legal tool helps you track criminal cases

eCourts

eCourts

as a scholar in the digital humanities, i try my best to keep readers informed about the newest technologies available to the public. i am especially attentive when the technology is readily available online, and even more so excited when it is free. so i was delighted to discover a new service readily available to the public domain offered by the new york state unified court system. their new software, ecourts, provides a free service called webcrims, which allows an internet reader to view new york state criminal proceedings of interest to the online reader. after entering a simple captcha spam guard, this service allows the reader to search for cases in the new york criminal justice system, read a summary of a pending case, including the defendant’s name, a record of the offending incident(s) and arrest, attorney information, next scheduled appearance, and sentencing information. the reader can also view a history of appearances in the court system, which provides details like whether or not a temporary order of protection has been issued in the case. perhaps most impressively, the reader can read a laundry list of charges brought by the people of new york against the accused. you can even subscribe to receive criminal case alerts using the etrack email alert system to make sure you don’t miss any of the proceedings in your favorite case.

all this technology is brought to you free of charge in the public domain by the good people of the state of new york, so give it a try.

academic publishers should make digital copies of their books available online for free

The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education

attention academic publishers. a new article by david wiley in the chronicle of higher education‘s ‘wired campus’ section entitled ‘giving away academic books online can actually help print sales‘ makes a lot of sense, and there is data to back it up.

The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago has been digitally distributing free copies of its books, but print sales have not declined. “After the complimentary distribution of 21 titles in 2008 that had for many years only been available in print, sales of these titles increased by 7 percent compared with the previous two years,” institute officials reported on their Web site.

i was particularly struck by a comment by james boyle, co-founder of the center for the study of the public domain at duke university school of law. he explains why it is beneficial for academic publishers to make digital volumes available for free:

First, most people hate reading a book on a screen, but like finding out if it is worth buying. I am sure I have lost some sales, but my guess is that I have gained more new readers who otherwise would be unaware of my work, and who treat the digital version as a ‘sampler,’ to which they then introduce others.

this actually makes a lot of sense. a scholar can flood the market with his or her ideas, which increases the visibility of the book and its arguments. those arguments then become a more talked about part of the public and academic debate because of increased familiarity with the subject matter. if the argument withstands scholarly scrutiny, it will become a ‘must have’ volume. because scholars take pride in their libraries (much like popular music listeners *have* to have the new cd of their favorite artists), they will order the book. thus, the free distribution of academic books in a digital form allows readers a preview of a book they might not otherwise have purchased. (and does this strategy sound familiar??)

this won’t necessarily work with popular books, because popular readers aren’t concerned with building up their libraries. but for academics, this is a marketing strategy that makes a lot of sense because it appeals to a scholar’s fundamental desire: the ability to say, ‘i’ve read that. in fact, i have a copy if you want to borrow it.’

commentary on the arrest of harvard professor henry louis ‘skip’ gates jr.

Harvard Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr.

Harvard Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr.

here’s a very well written article entitled ‘skip, you mouthed off‘ by coolcleveland.com columnist and former newspaper editor mansfield frazier on harvard professor henry louis ‘skip’ gates jr., arrested by police for disorderly conduct after mouthing off to an officer following his response to a report of a break in to dr. gates’ house.

unfortunately, president obama ended a rather good press conference on health care by stating the harvard police acted ‘stupidly,’ thereby defending the actions of his admitted friend dr. gates. and unfortunately for the president, that’s all people are going to remember about the press conference.

the tactful and ‘obamalike’ thing to say would have been, ‘i’m not familiar with all of the details of the encounter, nor of the ongoing investigation, but any time there is a charge of anyone – african-american or otherwise – being arrested in their own home, it is cause for concern.’ that’s what he should have said. instead, he backed his friend, called the police stupid, and torpedoed his own agenda.

it was a rare oratory slip up for the president (if you don’t count the long pauses and ‘uhs’ that are the basis for many a drinking game). i believe the president to be a master debater and cunning linguist – a top-notch orator overall (especially compared to our previous president bush). but as a lawyer, president obama should know that one should not pass judgment on police during an ongoing investigation. it appears his old harvard law school ties got the best of him, and he used the presidential press conference as a kind of bully pulpit to shade the debate. this is not to say that the harvard police are not worthy of criticism, or that dr. gates’ accusations are unfounded, but to respond in a belligerent manner gives racists the excuse they are looking for to dismiss any accusation of racial profiling. in fact, then senator obama was very careful not to fuel the flames of racial tensions as a candidate for president by making incendiary statements about ‘being black in america.’ this was to his credit, and did much to allay, or at least mitigate the fears of many throughout the nation during the campaign. but by even mentioning the exchange in his press conference and siding with dr. gates, president obama gave the g.o.p. and political pundits across the nation something else to latch on to and distract the nation away from much needed health care reform – the very purpose of the press conference.

as for the encounter between the sgt. james crowley (see comments here) and dr. gates, the full police report can be found here on the smoking gun website. it is worth noting that dr. gates himself apparently stated that the front door was difficult to open because of a prior break in. did the neighbor who reported the suspected break in, lucia whalen, have this in mind when she called in the incident?

and as for mansfield frazier’s editorial, while i’m not the biggest fan of cynicism towards police, i am also not a fan of those of us who claim to understand the plight of african-americans in this country when we are not ourselves african-americans. that said, you never, ever mouth off to the police. you never ever, say ‘you don’t know who you’re messing with’ to police. that is the petulant behavior of a rock star, an arrogant bastard, or c-list celebrity, and certainly not the expected behavior of a distinguished harvard professor of dr. gates’ caliber.

the best thing that can happen now is for they charges to be dropped (as they have been) and for dr. gates to not file a civil suit. if he does press charges, he will torpedo his dear friend president obama’s agenda, and make race (and to a greater extent, the arrogance of certain intellectual elites) the fodder for banter for the duration of the law suit. i am guessing after this all subsides, there will be no lawsuit, and dr. gates will finally get that front door fixed. -bc

==update (via drudge)==

Police Officer denies he’s a racist, won’t apologize…
Audio: ‘I know what I did was right’…
Says Obama ‘way off base’…
Video…
Sgt. James Crowley is police academy expert on racial profiling!
Police union condemns president’s comments…
Bill Cosby ‘shocked’ at Obama statement…
White House qualifies president’s remark…
ABCNEWS: Obama Defends Criticism of Cambridge Police in Arrest of Gates…
*Full Arrest Report…

== update 2 ==

caller did not mention the race of the men attempting to gain entry to the house

smu dean suggests removing technology from classrooms

Dr. Robert R. Cargill lecturing in the UCLA Visualization Portal

Dr. Robert R. Cargill lecturing in the UCLA Visualization Portal

we in the digital humanities spend a great deal of time exploring new ways of using technology to make instruction and research more efficient and effective. but one university is now suggesting educators remove technology from the classroom. josé a. bowen, dean of the meadows school of the arts at southern methodist university is challenging faculty to ‘teach naked’ and cease using technological aids like powerpoint in the classroom. according to the chronicle of higher education,

Mr. Bowen wants to discourage professors from using PowerPoint, because they often lean on the slide-display program as a crutch rather than using it as a creative tool. Class time should be reserved for discussion, he contends, especially now that students can download lectures online and find libraries of information on the Web.

i most certainly disagree. i object not only to the suggestion that professors who use powerpoint need a crutch, but to the assumption that those who use powerpoint in class do not ask their students to prepare before class.

there are pedagogical reasons for the effective use of a information organization and dissemination tool like powerpoint in class. the fact is that lower division undergraduate courses provide much of the raw materials required for the critical thinking and research exercises at the upper-division and graduate levels. the lower division accumulation of knowledge provides the building blocks for skills learned in advanced seminars. while it is important to teach critical thinking skills at every level, lower division courses provide the in-class instruction and discussion that allow students the environment to take in vast amounts of information from a credible source and synthesize it via discussion and questions into their intellectual skill set. of course, those discussions are more productive when students have done their readings (in textbooks or online) beforehand, but as anyone who has ever taught freshmen will tell you, this is not always the case. reading ahead of class and using the classroom period to discuss prior readings is the essential expectation of an advanced seminar. and they are advanced seminars for a reason: only the best students are responsible and disciplined enough to prepare in this manner. most students need to be… wait for it… *taught* things. a good instructor can quickly ascertain what percentage of a class has read and how much they have read, and can balance his or her lecture and discussions accordingly (unless you just want simply to punish the students for not reading, as some are wont to do).

to advocate for the removal of powerpoint from the classroom reveals a couple of misconceptions about powerpoint itself (and the use of technology in class in general). this negative view of technology is either the product of instructors who do not possess substantive information to disseminate, or of instructors who simply do not know how to use powerpoint. the assumption that technology, and powerpoint in particular, is to blame for poor teaching is just as dumb as blaming vehicles for traffic accidents, guns for violent crimes, or garbage disposals for  severed hands – it is not the technology, but the misuse of it that is the problem.

a one-size-fits-all approach to technology is just as silly as a one-size-fits-all approach to pedagogy. powerpoint shouldn’t be used with jazz flute class (i didn’t see ron burgundy using powerpoint), but a history of music certainly would benefit from a lecture of prepared bullet points to aid in conveying key points. (making the slides available before class for download and review would be even better, allowing the students to prepare for lecture and spend more time in discussion during the lecture, leaving the familiar powerpoint material to be available in class to prompt discussion). likewise, while powerpoint might not much assist a discussion on ancient trade and economic theory, a slide or two displaying the archaeological evidence for certain claims made during the discussion would go far to drive into a student’s mind the wealth or scarcity of evidence for said claim. and no, perhaps a theology class wouldn’t require a lecture in powerpoint, but courses in an introduction to ancient near eastern backgrounds, hebrew, aramaic, greek, biblical criticism, and the synoptic gospels would benefit greatly from prepared, informative comparisons on slides, saving the instructor from having to spend time writing out and flipping to texts needed to make his argument.

(as an aside, maybe this is why so many theological classroom discussions result in worthless banter – students lack the foundational tools necessary to have an intelligent discussion. i’m all for teaching people how to think, but proper logic is well served by a set of vetted facts from which to draw logical conclusions. when an upper division theology class discusses ridiculous (and non-biblical) ideas, and the class participants weren’t well grounded in a foundation of scripture, language, and history (drilled into them by lower division courses), should we at all be surprised by the drivel these ‘theological’ discussions produce? but i digress…)

technology allows for a maximum dissemination of information in the shortest amount of time in an efficient manner. but that requires preparation and pedagogical consideration – two things that too many professors are failing to do in their courses.

please allow me to conclude my response to smu dean bowen with an equal and opposite chastisement of ‘class discussion.’ discussion within a class can be a useful way to draw new ideas and insight from students, prompting them to engage and participate more fully in the material being discussed. but ‘class discussion’ or ‘breaking into groups’ can be just as much of a waste of time and sign of unpreparedness on the part of the instructor as fumbling through a lecture with chalk in hand. and in most undergraduate courses, discussion time is often little more than a “share your ignorance” period facilitated by lazy professors. as a student, i didn’t pay tuition to sit in a class discussion and listen to what the the dumbass sitting next to me ‘thinks’ a text says (especially if he didn’t prepare for class and do the readings as i did). i certainly don’t care what he ‘feels’ about the text, or what it ‘means to him’ if those ‘thoughts’ and ‘feelings’ are the product of misinformation, sensationalism, popular myth, and a lack of preparation. i paid tuition so a professor would consolidate the information that i could otherwise gather myself over the course of a couple of years into compact, vetted, and digestible units that i could take in, process, and use as i develop critical thoughts about the subject. as a professor (and an admitted dyed in the wool lecturer), it is my responsibility to present a course that does not waste a student’s time. i am charged with imparting as much information (especially at the undergraduate level) and critical thinking ability (especially at the upper division and graduate levels) as i can in the few weeks i am given. technology helps this happen.

owen jarus interviews dr. robert cargill on virtual qumran

A Reconstructed Locus 30 Scriptorium at Qumran

A Reconstructed Locus 30 "Scriptorium" at Qumran

journalist owen jarus interviewed me a few weeks ago and has posted his interview entitled “exclusive interview: dr. robert cargill on virtual reality qumran” on the heritage-key.com website. mr. jarus did perhaps the best job i’ve seen at relaying the technological theory behind the digital archaeological reconstruction process. i also appreciated his professional tone, moderation, and fairness, which is especially welcome in academic issues surrounding qumran archaeology.

for those of you who are interested, yuval peleg (iaa), who was mentioned in the interview, will be a respondent on a panel reviewing my new book, qumran through (real) time: a virtual reconstruction of qumran and the dead sea scrolls, at this year’s november sbl in new orleans. other respondents will be dr. jodi magness (unc), dr. larry schiffman (nyu), dr. eric cline (gwu), and dr. bob mullins (apu). come and watch what is sure to be some ‘cordial, professional difference of opinion’ ;-).

economic woes may lead to a ‘greener’ california (and i’m not talking about the environment)

california is seeking a ‘green rush’ to solve its economic woes. but the green it’s talking about is not u.s. dollars, but marijuana, as discussed by the ap’s marcus wohlsen and lisa leff in their piece, ‘california sprouts marijuana ‘green rush’.’ they state:

Based on the quantity of marijuana authorities seized last year, the crop was worth an estimated $17 billion or more, dwarfing any other sector of the state’s agricultural economy.

thus, debate will rage now more than ever regarding whether or not to legalize pot more so than it already is. this causes a dilemma; i am not for legalizing illegal activities just to tax it and make a buck. first it was gambling, next would be prostitution (and i don’t buy the ‘they’re already doing it, we might as well tax it’ argument. the consequences of gambling and prostitution have been discussed before). however, because we’re already following this ‘legalize and tax’ model with known harmful products like gasoline and cigarettes, the state will be looking at this with a close eye. let’s face it: california is desperate. and as the article states, los angeles is already there:

Los Angeles County alone has more than 400 pot dispensaries and delivery services, nearly twice as many outlets as Amsterdam, the Netherlands capital whose coffee shops have for decades been synonymous with free-market marijuana.

the question becomes, do we treat marijuana like cigarettes or like alcohol. do we allow for it because of its minimal health benefits (i’m looking at you, red wine), or do we continue to tax it into oblivion because of its harmful side effects like tobacco. prohibition didn’t work, but curbing smoking is. so in which category does pot belong?

the california pot legalization campaign will face an additional challenge of equal greater and opposite force in that there is already a campaign to ban smoking in california outright. it is difficult to argue that we should legalize smoking pot when most of california (and its politicians) are leaning towards banishing all smoking altogether.

in a state that is attempting to lead the nation is becoming greener and healthier, the pot legalization campaign sits in an ironic and precarious place. let’s be honest: the environmental/organic/zero carbon footprint/stay healthy crowd likes them some pot. i predict the result will be relaxed regulations on the amount of pot that can be purchased, accompanied by a hefty tax. pot smokers in california will continue to fly below the radar, and california will slowly continue its march towards decriminalization of pot. if california’s politicians are smart, they’ll tax cheetos and twinkies too.

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