June 28th, 2002

Fishy Circumstances

I wonder...

I can't quite remember where I was or what I was trying to do. It's now been over two weeks since I last worked on dissertation baby steps and now that's what I need to be doing again today. My goal is therefore to figure out what on earth I was doing before, to look through the PICA index again to see what I haven't nabbed from it yet, and then to work through Ovitt's picture listings if PICA doesn't keep me busy long enough.

In honor of C.'s birthday yesterday, we went out to eat at a really nice restaurant, inspired by a few desserts Cat fed us from their bakery a month or so ago. As often is the case in my life, I liked the appetizer and the dessert best (caramelized banana cream pie...yum). Not that the main wasn't delicious, it was, but somehow the other two stood out even more. On the subject of dairy products, this was the first time I felt créme fraiche actually had a good role to play in a dish. It rarely goes with the desserts with which it is served, but it was excellent with duck and a peanuty sauce!

I wonder how many other people I know use LJ, after last week's windfall, and nepenthe01 finding me. littleowl keeps finding
[Error: Irreparable invalid markup ('<a [...] http://www.livejournal.com/talkread.bml?journal>') in entry. Owner must fix manually. Raw contents below.]

I can't quite remember where I was or what I was trying to do. It's now been over two weeks since I last worked on dissertation baby steps and now that's what I need to be doing again today. My goal is therefore to figure out what on earth I was doing before, to look through the <a href="http://www.princeton.edu/~ica/">PICA</a> index again to see what I haven't nabbed from it yet, and then to work through Ovitt's picture listings if PICA doesn't keep me busy long enough.

In honor of C.'s birthday yesterday, we went out to eat at a <b>really</b> <a href="http://www.senses.ca/">nice restaurant</a>, inspired by a few desserts Cat fed us from their bakery a month or so ago. As often is the case in my life, I liked the appetizer and the dessert best (caramelized banana cream pie...yum). Not that the main wasn't delicious, it was, but somehow the other two stood out even more. On the subject of dairy products, this was the first time I felt cr&eacute;me fraiche actually had a good role to play in a dish. It rarely goes with the desserts with which it is served, but it was excellent with duck and a peanuty sauce!

I wonder how many other people I know use LJ, after last week's windfall, and <lj user="nepenthe01"> finding me. <lj user="Littleowl "> keeps finding <a href=""http://www.livejournal.com/talkread.bml?journal=littleowl&itemid=16260"">more</a>!

Last wonder before I go do work... maybe I should read the Melanie Rawn books. Evidently I know several fans, as I know more than one person on LJ going by sioneva handles: <lj user="sioneva"> and <lj user="sioneva88">. (Thanks to Cat for explaining where the name comes from and Google for backing her up.)
Fishy Circumstances

Not so good things

Hmm. My db software has expired. To buy or not to buy, that is the question...

Worldcom's accounting errors are not good. But Live from the WTC's FAQ on the subject is. (as noticed from here). This is the first time I've read the weblog. I've been actively avoiding it, based on vague presuppositions frm the name alone about what it may or may not contain. But now I understand why she has such an audience... she's both clear and amusing.
Fishy Circumstances

The challenge of writing history

Ideofact discusses some of the presumptions which are so easy to make when doing history, most particularly how easy it is to overlook longterm trends. He takes the example of electricity, and comments on the lack of discussion he has encountered on the long-term spread of electricity over the earth and the way it has changed society. (A friend of mine highly recommends David Nye's Electrifying America : Social Meanings of a New Technology, 1880-1940 for a history which deals with the spread of electricity. Admittedly, this only deals with it insofar as the U.S. is concerned).

Case studies are by far the easiest kind of history to do, and do well. There are fundamental difficulties with writing surveys, largely because it is so easy to make generalizations from insufficient data - and even if one is swimming in data, how that information is read depends entirely upon how it was gathered and the way it was processed, as any statistician could tell you. It's possible to achieve a decent balance between the extremes. The social constructivist school strives to do just that, for example. In the history of printmaking, Adrian Johns' The Nature of the Book does a decent job of that balance.

At the same time, however, I do believe that survey texts are necessary, especially as a foundation for a field. We don't all have time to read a few dozen carefully selected primary sources to give us a sense for how a period operates... although this is certainly an admirable way to work for an field or time period where getting to know the worldview and politics is important. Surveys are brave and admirable undertakings, always open to attack for all the relevant literature the author failed to read along the way, since the large the subject, the greater the challenge of doing all its components justice.

Even in survey works, however, those which venture outside the confines of a country or region are the rare ones. David Nye's book, for example, may be a survey work, but it sticks to discussing America. Adrian Johns stays with England. A history of the way a given technology has affected the entire planet requires an understanding of both the technology and all the cultures involved... and this planet has a whole lot of cultures to offer (to say the least). Consequently, many of the popular large-scale survey works are either dismissed by a large smattering of interested historians or else used judiciously, with large chucks of salt. (I'm thinking of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies when I write this in particular, one of the more reputable among the contentious planet-wide history pieces.)

The challenge of survey work has been on my mind frequently as of late, a shadow off on the horizon with which I must grapple in the next year since my dissertation topic is a survey piece, spanning several hundred years and half-a-continent. I only hope I can do it justice.

Note: I've always been mildly leery of claims for the "most important technological inventions ever." They're handy as a teaching aid, but rarely do the complexities of history justice. Most of the items or processes which end up on the "most important" lists are those which are easiest to see in daily operation: books and time-keeping methods are perennial favorites. Electricity is also a fairly popular one. The telephone and steel-making aren't up there quite as often, but they often figure. So do semi-conductors. Off the top of my head, spinning, weaving, writing, boats, the domestication of animals, coinage, sewage systems, and indoor plumbing are some of the many more neglected major ones.