May 13th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

It’s time. I’ve decided to move from my “hub and spokes” model of diverse locales for diverse conversations and projects to start centralizing a few projects — which means I’m moving the blog over to my main site, This site will remain as its own archive, but I won’t be posting here, so it’ll just be a quiet repository (and you can find the same back-posts moved over, with comments, at the new blog-thread locale.)

I like this page, but it’s also time for something a bit closer to home, more seamless, and also mobile-friendly… For the dedicated few still using their readers (and we know who we are), please update your feeds. Cheers.

AAS Links: “Charting the Digital in Asian Studies” Roundtable

March 23rd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Links for my (brief) project introduction at our Association of Asian Studies Roundtable on Saturday, March 29th, entitled “Charting the Digital in Asian Studies: Promises, Realities, and the Future of Teaching and Research”: — the website created by my sophomore methods colloquium at the University of Mary Washington (Fall 2013)

History 297 – course website associated for methods colloquium (see for syllabus, etc.)

Reworking the Methods Course” – see for a summary review of the course at its conclusion (and see ongoing posts at this same Detour Ahead blog for discussion of a new version of the course for next fall, one that focuses on the Boxer Uprising.)

Mapping the Taiping Civil War” – Ryan Brazell, UMW’s talented instructional technology expert who assisted me in both website design and in classroom workshops, offers his own extended blog post on the technical tools and approaches used for the map component of the website. I highly recommend his very helpful post for anyone thinking of jumping in…

Looking for examples of other sites where students are engaged in knowledge creation for a public audience? Jeffrey McClurken (Professor of History, UMW) offered an excellent workshop at the 2014 American Historical Association annual meeting this past January. His own website offers his slide presentation on “Digital History in the Undergraduate Curriculum” as well as his full set of links for the workshop.



Methods Course: The Sequel

February 23rd, 2014 § 2 comments § permalink

Last fall I taught a new colloquium, History 297, as part of a methods sequence required for all majors. As I’ve detailed in previous posts here and here, our department has recently expanded a single-semester methods course into a 2 course sequence, with one course that focuses on historiography and another that’s research centered. One of the reasons we’ve made this change is to allow for more time for curriculum focused on digital fluencies.

I’m still processing the “take-aways” from my efforts in curriculum development in the first round of this course, particularly in relation to digital projects. At the same time, I’m also looking ahead to next fall’s course and imagining its own thematic design. So a bit on the first here, then I’ll introduce the second…


The aim of the HIST297 “History Colloquium” is to help students become familiar with different sub-fields of history, to gain skills in speaking / writing / secondary research / critical reading & analysis… and, yes, digital fluencies. Main assignments: book review, literature review essay, formal speaking presentations, along with a digital project. Class size is 12-15. Students are usually sophomores or first semester juniors.

Last semester I chose a theme for the course in China’s Taiping Civil War (1850-1864), an event that devastated China, leaving 20 to 30 million dead, and its own complex legacy. For their digital project, my students worked in three groups to build content for a website – –  that featured an annotated Zotero bibliography & author interview (with Tobie Meyer-Fong, author of What Remains: Coming to Terms with Civil War in 19th Century China), a map with charted entries from primary sources related to the conflict, and an interactive timeline with key dates and similar excerpts from the conflict’s primary sources.

I’ve shared a longer post on this project, noting broader questions and also some of what I saw as the strengths of the project, namely:

– Active learning:  In having students exploring primary sources for a map and timeline along a secondary source they were reading on the topic, it led to a more active, not passive read of the scholarly monograph – they were literally, through their simultaneous work in primary sources, reading a secondary source by another historican critically, from the inside out, with engaged discussion.

– Student Authorship: Website design = its own kind of authorship, which itself seemed empowering for those involved. In other words, also another kind of more active learning.

– Collaboration: The digital project was very much collaborative work, which is itself a valuable experience to gain. Challenges exist here too, of course, see the original post linked above for more on this issue, and the others too.


This coming fall, I’m introducing a new event as theme for the course: the Boxer Uprising of 1900 (also somewhat inaccurately known as the Boxer Rebellion.) This event occurred during the summer of 1900 when the Qing dynasty’s imperial army along with peasant “Boxer” troops opposed to Westerners and especially missionary presence in China besieged Beijing’s legation quarter. Making world-wide news for fifty-five days until an alliance of international troops stormed the capital city, looting as they went, this conflict has left a rich collection of primary sources for today’s student of global and local history.

It has also recently inspired Gene Luen Yang, author of the award winning graphic novel American Born Chinese, to publish a two-volume graphic novel entitled Boxers & Saints (2013). In this work of historical fiction, Yang tells the story of two lead characters who each portray a side of the struggle, Boxer and Christian. As the book’s own summary lays it out:

In two volumes, Boxers & Saints tells two parallel stories. The first is of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy whose village is abused and plundered by Westerners claiming the role of missionaries. Little Bao, inspired by visions of the Chinese gods, joins a violent uprising against the Western interlopers. Against all odds, their grass-roots rebellion is successful.

But in the second volume, Yang lays out the opposite side of the conflict. A girl whose village has no place for her is taken in by Christian missionaries and finds, for the first time, a home with them. As the Boxer Rebellion gains momentum, Vibiana must decide whether to abandon her Christian friends or to commit herself fully to Christianity.

A finalist for the 2013 National Book Award, this graphic novel seems a useful entry point for students who will be investigating academic studies of the Boxer Uprising as an historical event, including ones that Yang himself has cited as influential background reading for his own novel. Prominent among these studies, as it happens, is the award-winning work of my dissertation adviser, Joseph Esherick, whom I consider a leading candidate for this coming year’s scholar-interview for my students… (Sidenote: Joe, 不好意思, I’ll be in touch before long!)

So my students will start with a graphic novel, but they will be reading diverse academic studies as the focus for their literature reviews, debating different approaches, and thus becoming experts on the subject, which should also provide them with a new perspective on a work of very engaging historical fiction as well.


Here’s where my plans get muddier.

Again, I want to have my students working with primary sources alongside the secondary sources that are the core of the colloquium.

There are rich collections of primary sources available online in English (and other languages) thanks in part to the fact that this event happened in 1900 and so many books and newspapers sit available in full-text online, freely available before copyright restrictions fall on them. There are also a fair number of photographs that can be found online in archival collections.

One disadvantage, though, is perspective: the sources my students will be using will be entirely English or European-language based (except in the rare case, my students generally do not have Chinese language capability — and certainly not classical Chinese necessary for documents from 1900.)  So they’ll be working exclusively with sources from a certain perspective amid what is in many ways a colonialist conflict… On the other hand,  of course, this may make for an excellent teaching point and add plenty to explore.

The more fundamental question is simply what will they be designing?

Here’s what I’m imagining for a digital creation, rough in form so far, suggestions for directions, further fine-tuning, warnings of pit-falls, etc., all welcome:

One of the main audiences for Boxers & Saints is the Young Adult (“YA”) audience. It’s a book that sits in many  high school or middle school libraries. My students themselves are only a few years away from those same school libraries and classrooms. At the same time, I have a significant number of students who are also training as dual History and Education majors to return to teach in those schools. Why not embark on a digital project in which students are using their experience studying the Boxer event to create an online curricular resource of their own, openly available for K-12 students and teachers both to use?

I could see the students exploring textual and visual sources, individually having to choose one of each, then writing up their own contextualization — origins, location (again, perhaps mapping these?), authorship, any associated data, and then also composing a set of related questions for discussion to accompany those sources. They could work in groups, providing peer-feedback. Modelling and testing lesson plans? I could also have them do an analytic write-up for me, as background to those questions, as a graded assignment.

Some analytic dynamics that may come into the discussion (and perhaps, or perhaps not, the site?)

– dynamics of only having, it might seem, one side — the Western side – of the story in the dominance of Western sources?

– can one read other sides in the texts and images through missing elements, traces in the pictures? (There are some secondary readings here that may assist with this analysis, incidentally.)

– what’s the relationship between historical fiction and history as written by scholars? Graphic novels and textual scholarship?

Could this, or something related, come together as a website for students in K-12 who might be reading Yang’s graphic novel and want to learn more — and see more — of the actual history? A website with texts and images and Q’s for a class that’s reading the novel to dig into? Would it be something their teachers might find useful?

What digital elements would complement this project? Further it?

Should I be more (or less) ambitious?

Suggestions from any high school or middle school teachers or librarians? I’d love to expand the conversation…

Post-script: Meant to add these links to the original post — for more on Gene Yang’s Boxers & Saints, see his interview at The New Yorker and also Wesley Yang’s review in The New York Times. The video trailer for the work (all our works should have video trailers now, no?) can be found at First Second / Macmillan Publishing here.

Image credits:
Image 1, 2: From Gene Luen Yang, Boxers & Saints (First Second Press, 2013)

Image 3: Boxers, Tianjin, China, 1900. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-3917


Digital Scholars Institute

February 20th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

502399769_117f693b6a_o-001Now that the snow days have concluded (fingers crossed), I’m joining a group of colleagues in kicking off a collaborative project at the University of Mary Washington titled “DSI” or “Digital Scholars Institute” (any relation to “CSI” purely coincidental…) Working with Mary Kayler, Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation at UMW, and Jim Groom, director of our Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies, who together initiated the project, along with my excellent colleague Elizabeth Lewis, we’ve organized two pilot cohorts that began meeting just this week.

The focus is also two-fold at the start, though I’m sure the conversation will develop in more diverse directions. Participants are all veterans of last year’s “Domain of One’s Own” project in which faculty on our campus explored their own digital scholarship and identities through domain creation as part of a university initiative. Now, this semester, we’re building on that experience through a bi-weekly conversation in which participants in small cohorts will be sharing individual projects in digital scholarship for close feedback.

At the same time, we’ll also be engaged in a broader, “meta” conversation about digital scholarship itself. What are the standards by which our diverse fields define it — or are beginning to define it? How does digital scholarship relate to, differ from, or overlap with supposedly more “traditional” forms? How is digital scholarship influencing our work in the classroom and in curricular development? These questions are just starting points, and the conversation will be evolving as the semester continues. I’m very much looking forward to digging into the details…

Image: Skier making a cornice jump near Edith Creek, southeast slope of Mt. Rainier. Photographer: Dwight Watson. N.D. Property of MSCUA, Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries, PH Coll 165. Link:,33.


Reworking the Methods Course

January 1st, 2014 § 2 comments § permalink

Well, okay, the typewriters are a bit of an old-fashioned juxtaposition here (and yes, no cigs), but this image is one of many that echo this past semester’s workshop methods course, Hist 297: History Colloquium. Chaos, collaboration, some good communication, an occasional mess, and some real productivity.


It was also a first run of a revised methods course for our department. As I’ve previously noted, we’ve just taken a one semester course, required of all History majors, and made it a two-semester sequence.  The one-semester course was ambitious, as most of them are. And we’d decided that it would be more productive to allow the students to work through this curriculum at a more balanced pace. At the same time, having two semesters would also provide us the room for further development of that curriculum and its implementation. A win for all.

The idea has been to leave the the focus for the fall to historiography and literature reviews–a “history colloquium”–with faculty choosing a broad theme for their own courses, while still emphasizing the same fundamental skills in the process. The spring semester course is then be turned over to student research on self-designed projects in primary sources, still in a seminar setting.

One piece of the story…

My colloquium this past fall focused thematically on China’s devastating 19th century Taiping Civil War (1851-1864). One aim of the course was to help students acquire a “digital literacy,” a departmental goal. I incorporated multiple components in this regard, including exercises re: digital identity and digital portfolios (particularly in relation to UMW’s own path-breaking Domain of One’s Own project — “one of the very best things in ed-tech right now” as Audrey Watters has noted.) And simpler, self-intro assignments utilizing digital tools.

The mainstay, however, was my students’ own collaboration in creating an online resource on the Taiping Civil War itself — namely a website entitled

Taiping Civil War  A Record of the Civil War through Primary Sources - Google Chrome 12282013 35730 PM

While I’ve had students create their own blogs, compose for course discussion sites, even edit gifs and tweet for courses before, this is the first time I’ve worked with a class that has created its very own website as a public resource. The process has highlighted some interesting issues:

“Digital Literacy”… I’ve left this one in quotes because it’s often a term associated with an “outcome” to be met, and with a definition that’s not always clear–and sometimes it’s indeed better left that way for the sake of flexibility. Still, we might ask, what are our ambitions in this category? In what ways can or should we incorporate the so-called “digital” to best serve our curriculum? Our students?

A devil’s advocate might say that we’re pouring old wine into new bottles or playing with widgets (figuratively as well as literally.) So, we might ask: what’s pedagogically innovative that’s being added amid instruction in methods and the introduction of digital resources? What’s fermenting here?

How might we constructively, amid the development of a digitally inflected curriculum, change the way we approach a methods course?

Critical Thinking… Ever a challenge, always the aim? How does this ambition relate to our use of digital resources in a history course? The website assignment here offers a case study. In many ways, the project invited students to take an inside-out view of a work of secondary scholarship, in this case, that of Jonathan Spence’s God’s Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan (1996)Reading this book as the first assigned text for the class, students then worked extensively with Franz Michael’s epic 3-volume collection of translated Chinese primary sources, The Taiping Rebellion: History and Documents (1971), cited frequently in Spence’s work.

Sifting through the primary sources, and working with excerpts they chose, students worked together in small groups to compose an online map and timeline of the civil war. Another group also composed an annotated bibliography of secondary works utilizing Zotero and interviewed another scholar on the Taiping topic (more below.)

All students also composed blog posts in which they examined Spence’s own use of primary sources from Franz Michael’s collection in his composition of prose for his study. In doing so, they were gaining their own perspective on historical research. Dissecting the way a scholar uses primary sources in all their intricacies and ambiguities, in constructing his own argument from the ground up, students gained a critical understanding of the steps–and occasional educated leaps–a historian makes.

As the students composed their own narratives in timelines and maps, too, they also avoided what can often seem a passive consumption of a secondary text.  Not only did they read Jonathan Spence’s book, but also almost literally took it apart and reconfigured it. They read it from the inside out as they were simultaneously engaged in their own forms of composition–plotting a selection of sources in space and time–from the same primary texts. Online.


Indeed, in composing their timelines and maps from an overlapping collection of primary sources, students also engaged in a parallel authorship. And, while admittedly less ambitious an undertaking, it was still a very real one. For in fact their website is a text that is openly available and penned with the students’ names, offered for a public audience of other students of the subject.

A nice touch was that students also had the simultaneous opportunity to interview an author of another work on the Taiping conflict, Dr. Tobie Meyer-Fong (Department of History, The Johns Hopkins University), whose recent work What Remains: Coming to Terms with Civil War in 19th Century China (2013), was another monograph we read for the course. A third group of students worked with UMW’s Speaking Center to prepare for their interview with Dr. Meyer-Fong, then conducted the interview and transcribed it for the website. It now accompanies the annotated bibliography on the topic of the Taiping Civil War that students created and have shared via a Zotero group they also created.

The students’ conversation with Tobie Meyer-Fong was wonderfully productive as it offered an account not only of the joys but also the practical challenges of research shared by a scholar fresh from finishing her own excellent study. Next semester, the same students who engaged in this conversation will move to the second half of our methods seminar. They’ll be jumping into the challenges of defining their own research projects and exploring primary sources, of pulling meaning and analysis out of a complex mix in the archive. Hopefully this interview will make a for a good springboard as they head that way…


Finally, if there’s one thing the website project brought to the curriculum beyond a prescribed digital infusion it’s the creative engagement that comes through collaborative work. For me, this aspect was one of the joys of the course.

Our greatest co-author in this respect was none other than Ryan Brazell, Instructional Technology Specialist at UMW’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies, who not only shared his expertise in the design and management of the digital frames for our website this past fall, but also shared his great talent for instruction in the classroom itself. Many people can do tech, many people can communicate, both not many people can truly communicate tech. Ryan can do both, teaching undergrads brilliantly, and do it with a sense of humor & timing that rivals the classic comedians.

Ryan has also composed an excellent post on the design of the website for the course. I highly recommend it. A tweet Ryan shares at the end, a student quote from one of his workshop visits, made my day… I’d point any instructor there amid fears, early in a course, that digital elements are turning into their own jungle gym for students to climb over, or get stuck on permanently. Once the students have made it through the early learning curve (steep though it may seem), the payoff often arrives.

The website project also invited, well, yes, demanded a significant level of student collaboration, as all group projects do. And, as often the case with group work, the results were slightly mixed as there were some who didn’t quite pull their weight (for diverse reasons… )

The incorporation of collaborative assignments seems nevertheless valuable, particularly when one considers a future after the degree is earned. Part of the value of the web project, then, lay in helping students build experience in working in groups, in defining project goals and strategies through shared communication, and in negotiating divisions of labor.

It’s a skill that many professionals (cough, professors?) could probably work on too. And a piece of the pedagogy I’m going to keep developing for next time around. I tried to balance the inevitable challenges of mixed student commitment with differentiated systems of evaluation — i.e., a separate group grade and individual grade, with each reflecting effort toward the website assignment and online work. I’m still looking for better ways to evaluate, guide, and encourage students to build their own skills in group work, however.

Do you have a good strategy or lesson plan for helping students improve their approaches to collaboration or group work? Suggestions, thoughts, and feedback very much welcome on this score, as for any and all of the above…


Image credits:

– “Young men and women working on writing for publications at Camp Well-Met, 1948″
National Jewish Welfare Board Records; Photographer: Heinz H. Weissenstein
Center for Jewish History NYC // Flickr Commons – LINK 

– Fu Xinian, ed., Zhongguo meishu quanji, Huihua bian 4: Liang Song huihua, xia (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1988), pl. 150, p. 204.  Collection of the Freer Gallery of Art. Via link.




Crowdsourcing an Asia Programs Wiki

November 16th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Collaborative projects shared by a gang of creative and generous folk are all-out awesome. 3326055778_e5beedf06cYesterday, looking ahead to a slightly lighter schedule over the winter break, I dropped a tweet to several current students with an interest in China & Taiwan, and also to one alum who is currently in graduate school at National Taiwan University.

I’ve been thinking that it’d be nice to find new ways for our current students to network with others who’ve studied or worked in China (and, now as I’m thinking of it, East Asia more broadly). I see students in office hour visits who are in the first steps of trying to figure out how to get from Fredericksburg to Beijing, Taiwan, Shanghai. And they’ve got important questions about daunting, if intriguing projects:

– how do I build a true fluency in Chinese? (A: get thee to a very good intensive program abroad…)

– where can I find funding for this kind of language study?

– Or, are there internships in East Asia to be had? Teaching opportunities abroad after graduation?

In the past, I’ve mentioned a few programs and often tell them of this or that UMW alum who’s travelled that path before them. But why not use social networking and the ready tools of the ‘net to help them connect with peers? Or find new ways for peers to share the resources they’ve discovered?

Our students have done a great job in finding programs and winning scholarships (cheers to Joseph Calpin and Shirley Martey for excelling in this effort!) So we’re jumping in, brainstorming some ideas, and kicking the project off. S.

Suggestions welcome as it percolates…

Here’s the Twitter convo that rolled on the topic yesterday, with some great ideas added already:

Image: “Young girl jumping on a trampoline at the Sarasota High School Sailor Circus,” 1952. State Library and Archives of Florida. Via Flickr Commons Collection – link.

Spring Cinema Course

August 13th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Yes, I’m prepping for fall. But I’m also already thinking about a second go at my cinema course next spring, along with fellow traveller Jim Groom, who recently blogged about our foray into GIFs with that class.

For films, I’m seriously thinking of dropping Jia Zhangke’s “The World” this time around, along with previously screened “Chungking Express,” and going with a Wong Kar-wai double feature of “In the Mood for Love” (2000) and “Happy Together” (1997). The films are in some ways more challenging (some might say more opaque, while some might offer another kind of critique), and the first one — “In the Mood” — is usually one I use in my Gender course. I may use it in both courses, or trade it out in the Gender course for Ang Lee’s “Wedding Banquet.”

But in any case, both films are gorgeous to watch, and both focused not only on Hong Kong, but also on inter- and trans-national themes (“Happy Together,” for one, is set in Argentina), as well as issues of gender, sexuality, memory, violence, and time. I’m working up a reading list to accompany them. Suggestions welcome, as always…


Assignment Mock-Up

August 2nd, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

And I’m now craving mock duck. And my all-time favorite food, xiao long bao.

How to get a new group of students comfortable talking in the classroom?

One idea: have the students each assemble a group of images that represents themselves and their interests. Have them post them to the ‘net and then introduce them to the class in a session during the first week. (Thanks for the suggestion, and the report of good results, Krystyn!)

And yes, when testing the idea out on myself, what was the first thing that came to mind in response to “what am I about?” Apparently that Rorschach invokes my favorite Taipei eateries and 飲茶 indulgences, among other inkblots. (See above.)

Back to the important stuff: I’m also going to use this image exercise to introduce the students to Flickr CC—and the notion of creative commons itself—as well as The Commons on Flickr as an archival resource, and then let them also use it as a way to explore the WordPress interface at umwblogs that they’ll also be using throughout the course.

CC, FlickrCC, The Commons, WordPress, all in one exercise. First week.

What I’m looking for now is a plugin that allows for better display of images within a post. I’m currently using WP-Cycle above, which is handy but also fairly linear and which crops the images significantly.

I’ve noticed that (as opposed to .org or our umwblogs current version of WP engine) has tweaked their gallery options to allow a “tiled” presentation (see below the text blab here) — does anyone know if there’s a decent plugin that will allow something similar for displaying galleries this way? I want to keep it within posts, or perhaps pages, but not something that’s going to transform the entire site into a photo page itself. Suggestions welcome, y’all.


Images via Flickr CC, links in order:
1. Chef Chu from Hong Kong –

2. Din tai fung‘s xiao long bao –

3. A Taiwan shot, “Boss is always right!” – 

Plotting Rebellion

July 19th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Seal from the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Next fall’s task: reinvent an undergraduate methods course in History. More precisely, the task is to take a one-semester methods course for new majors and create, in its place, a two-semester course for the same audience.

This is a slightly daunting project.

The one semester course, as I developed my version of it over the years, aimed at introducing new majors to basic skills of research and writing in History, as well as public speaking. Early on, I’d had ambitions to do more in regard to historiography and theory. I realized, though, given the quick speed of the semester and the steep learning curve for research and writing–indeed, an increasingly steeper curve for new college students in an age of testing-as-education–there didn’t seem to be enough time in the semester for an adequate exploration of different trends in historiography.

And so my department has moved to the two semester sequence. Historiography in the fall, research projects for students in the spring. The new course arrives in August, designed with individual flexibility by multiple faculty in the department, and is titled HIST297: HISTORY COLLOQUIUM. I currently have 12 students enrolled (welcome, btw!)

Here’s the plan:

I’m designing the course as one focused upon the event as a broad category. I’ve found that model an excellent way to explore diverse approaches and sub-topics within historical study, thanks, in part, to two excellent courses that I had as a grad student. These were Hal Kahn’s Taiping Rebellion seminar at Stanford in the early 90’s and also an “event-as-history” seminar taught by Paul Pickowicz as part of a two-quarter sequence for grad students in Chinese history at UCSD. Both courses offered a great training and, especially, produced great conversations amid diverse student projects.

For my course this fall, the event is broadly defined as 19th century rebellion in China. The devastating Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864)–China’s own civil war, as it were–is a central (but not exclusive) focus.  I’m assigning just two books for the course, Jonathan Spence’s God’s Chinese Son and the excellent new study by Tobie Meyer-Fong, What Remains: Coming to Terms with Civil War in 19th Century China. Students will otherwise be building their own reading lists and bibliographies.

I’ll also be assigning significant articles and essays related to the subject in China and, importantly, similar material from comparative studies of rebellion and civil war. So, for example, as students explore Meyer-Fong’s text, they’ll also be reading and discussing an excerpt from Drew Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.

As for assignments, students will be building annotated bibliographies, writing book reviews, and the semester will culminate in a formal literature review essay on a self-designed topic of focus related to rebellion in 19th c. China.

The students will also be working on individual and group projects related to digital history. More on this in an upcoming post…

In the meantime, I’d love to get a conversation going on methods courses as well as this current project.

–  What makes a good historiography methods course?

–  What have folks trailed, tweaked, scrapped, and saved in their own course design?

– What would folks in the China crowd–and beyond, I’d love to hear from folks in comparative fields–suggest as good readings related to 19th century civil conflict? Good stuff in intersecting categories of exploration (new military history, gender, race, colonialism, diplomatic history, etc.)?

Okay, back to work. More soon on digital projects for the course…

Image: Seal, Taiping Heavenly Kingdom


Archiving a Tumblr

May 21st, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Wrestler, McCreadie (taken for Leichhardt Stadium), 1937 /  Sam HoodSo, the Gulou / Drum Tower site is officially a success (though there are diverse definitions of that word, to be sure.) It’s officially a public success. And yet, that’s happening at the exact same time that Tumblr is being sold, for a great sum of money, to Yahoo.

It’s been an interesting sale to watch so far. Matt Mullenweg, founder and developer of the blogging site WordPress, offered some immediate thoughts at his own site on May 19th, including rough numbers showing a significant spike in the number of imports that were happening as folks moved their material from Tumblr to WordPress. As Mullenweg noted, “normally we import 400-600 posts an hour from Tumblr, last hour it was over 72,000.” For folks who are interested, there’s also a very good discussion of numbers, the sale, and the implications in the comment thread.

Archiving my material from Tumblr has been my plan all along (I’m a historian after all), but Tumblr’s sale has lit a fire–small, but timely–for me.  I have, however, been slightly intimidated by the process, which was seeming, especially amid finals grading, likely to mean wrestling with technical stuff. Caffeine needed.

I jumped in today though and it’s been relatively easy so far. My first step was to use the Tumblr Importer plugin to pull all 387 posts from my Tumblr site over to the new page I’ve set up, using WordPress, on my own domain. Now, no matter what happens in the future with Tumblr, I’ve got the archive set on a domain that’s all my own.

The next step was to setup FeedWordPress and use it to pull in posts via my RSS feed for the Gulou tumblr page. Done. Haven’t tested it with a fresh post, but will report back if things get more complicated.

There is one hitch still to figure out regarding images. The photos did transfer amid the import, but they’re all of a small, thumbnail size that’s only big upon a click. Wonder if there’s a way to resize all, quickly. Doubt it, but then I’m a pessimist.

Image 1: Wrestler, McCreadie (taken for Leichart Stadium), 4 January 1937. Photographer: Sam Hood. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales, available via Flickr Commons


The Overflowing Drum

May 20th, 2013 § 1 comment § permalink

Once upon a time, last fall, while settling back into teaching after a spring sabbatical, I found myself diving into social media. I was already there in many ways, of course. I have a twitter account. I have this blog. I have other sites, old and sundry, for non-academic diversions. But I had let much of that go during my sabbatical as I buried myself in reading documents from the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Indeed, I avoided the internet and focused instead on readings in classical Chinese, particularly the bureaucratic missives composed by officials of a sputtering dynasty at the end of the 19th century. It was an analog endeavor, save for note-taking in the blessed Scrivener program.

In the fall, though, I was back to social media full-time and thinking of other ways to use it. For years, I’ve been exchanging emails with a few close colleagues in the China field, sharing links to all sorts of interesting things: online resources for research and teaching, as well as news stories and commentary from a broad variety of sites in multiple languages, video, maps, and images. And I thought: wouldn’t it be great to have a site at which to share this stuff, to get beyond email, and have it available for my students, and perhaps beyond?

I should note that I do tweet much of this stuff, too, but somehow 140 characters doesn’t always seem to do the material justice. I understand, of course, that’s also not quite the point of Twitter, which is wonderful as a speedy, collective resource for sharing links and quick communication. It’s just that I’ve been looking for something with a bit more — what is it? elasticity, perhaps, when it comes to composition.

“Don’t Speak of National Affairs” image by Feng Zikai, circulating on China’s microblogging network, Weibo, last fall.

Enter Tumblr, a frame I’d fiddled with previously and all but forgotten. More flexible than Twitter, and quicker than WordPress (my other favorite frame for web composition.) Returning from sabbatical, I hopped in and set up a new site there. I chose the name “Gulou” 鼓樓, the Chinese word for “Drum Tower.” Reasons for the name? Perhaps the invocation of “drum” reminded me of a news site, almost as some kind of herald. More immediately, it’s a reference to a historic site and neighborhood in Beijing itself (a neighborhood, like many historic sites in the city, that’s currently being torn down.) And, side-note, I also have fond memories of sitting outside on the rooftop balcony of a friend’s apartment in that same historic “Gulou” neighborhood one hot summer evening in 2000, engaged in excellent conversation with a crowd of China specialists (while drinking a very, very good martini.) That may be the true inspiration for the name.

And it all seems to fit with the spirit of the site.  I’m now closing in on my 400th post. It’s a page at which I, as editor, share links to news stories and blog posts related to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and beyond. I also share online resources for teaching, translated works, video, archival sites, and news of interesting museum exhibits or public talks.

Key themes? Politics, society, the environment,  new media, and more. My emphasis is on the local and the global, the latest news and valuable resources related to understanding East Asia region and its central role in global affairs for the 21st century.

It’s been interesting to watch the audience build over these past eight months. The majority of my contacts on Twitter are my age or beyond, i.e. mid-career professionals. In keeping with Tumblr’s own demographic, meanwhile, I’d say my audience is a mix of youth (including many high school students) as well as college students and young professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, non-profit and NGO associates, and the like. While there’s some overlap with my Twitter audience, I’d say the demographic is rather different. And that seems quite valuable.

Just a week ago, meanwhile, I received two bits of very good news for the site. One was that I had one of my posts featured for the first time by Tumblr editors. The post shared a recent story of Hong Kong’s highest court ruling in favor of allowing a transgender woman to marry, a ruling that was a major event both in Hong Kong and globally.

At the same time, I also received an invitation to have Gulou featured on Tumbr’s spotlight page for news services. It’s now introduced there alongside established media (Reuters, LA Times, CNN, USA Today, etc.) and also accompanies other, less traditional but equally popular sites for news consumption (e.g. The Daily Show) on the same page.

I’m just beginning to ponder the implications. What does it mean that an individual’s site—one person’s own, simple Tumblr—is beside the site of a news agency like, say, Reuters, a major news organization founded in 1851 (and now owned by The Thompson Corporation)? More immediately, at least for a scholar of China and Asian Studies, what does it mean that a microblogging, pop media site such as Tumblr is interested in featuring stories from that region at its top-most news page?

On a more practical note, I’m also wondering what it means that another corporation, Yahoo, has just bought Tumblr for, apparently, $1.1 billion cash. For now, it’s a reminder that I have to get going on the plan to back up my Gulou content at Tumblr to my own domain. While the Gulou conversation (with or without martinis) will continue, I’m sure, I find myself less and less apt to trust other online venues (hello, Google Reader…). So I’ll be trying to catch up on my own project reclaim here (many thanks to Jim Groom for advice on this score) while contemplating the deeper implications of the intersections of new media, scholarship, and global/public audiences.

*Title reference, yes, to Philip Levine’s “Drum” — “Leo’s Tool and Die, 1950” poem.



Summer Reading ’13

May 12th, 2013 § 4 comments § permalink


Summer’s here!

I donned my regalia for Commencement yesterday, rolling up my jeans under the gown, and had a lovely time cheering my students in the Class of 2013 as they crossed the podium on a fine Saturday morning. I also celebrated the end of the school year over tea today, on a lazy Sunday morning, by composing a list for summer reading.

Here’s the collection of titles so far:

All We Know: Three Lives by Lisa Cohen (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012). Reviewing this biography of three lesbian acquaintances who lived as members of ‘cafe society’ during the early to mid twentieth century, Terry Castle notes:

Cohen’s book itself is one of these odd, wayward, portentous things; you don’t quite know where it’s come from; you are stunned by its depths; and you hope its excellence and pertinence and originality will not lead, doomfully, to its sinking without a trace, as fine things connected with the subject of lesbianism have had a way of doing for so long. It’s a major work of scholarship and interpretation…

Looks like a great read, and bio’s are a favorite genre of mine for summer, as the next item also reveals.

Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life by Jonathan Sperber (Liveright). In his review at the NYRB, John Grey notes this work as both “subtly revisionist” and “likely to be definitive for many years to come.” One reason is that Sperber’s biography of Marx is the first, as Grey notes, that’s “situating Marx fully in the nineteenth century.” Such contextualization, of course, makes historians such as myself positively gleeful. All aboard, esp. all you Frankfurt School freaks!

Writing War: Soldiers Record the Japanese Empire by Aaron William Moore (Harvard UP). A study of diaries composed by men fighting on all sides of the Asia-Pacific theater of World War Two, including those written by Japanese, Chinese Nationalist, and American servicemen. As Moore notes in his intro, an examination of these diaries reveals not only the significance of the China conflict in World War Two more broadly, but also, importantly, the “diaries show us the way in which wartime states ultimately relied on the proactive support of their citizens to carry out the most brutal conflict in history.” It’s a work that I’ve been looking forward to read both as a historian of East Asia and as a resident of another age (sadly) of warfare today…

Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey by GB Tran (Villard). I’ve also been thinking much lately about complexities of life as a first-generation American, and especially about issues of memory, narrative, and elision related to our parents’ own life experiences amid the mid-twentieth century wars. Mix those themes together with a graphic novel and memoir, two favorite genres for the summer, and we’ve got another title for the list.

But perhaps it’s time to add some lighter items for reading whie lounging at the beach and the cafe this summer, including…

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum (Penguin). Does this count as a lighter title? As an old Edward Gorey fan with an affection for the gothic, this seems like a  no-brainer  of a selection for my list (cue nefarious, muh-waah-haa-haa laughter here.)

The Diviners by Libba Bray (Little, Brown). “Because,” as reviewer Elizabeth Burns notes, “of the sheer fun and terror.” And because I’m a fan of YA works.

Finally, I’ve also been eyeing another YA novel, namely John Green’s The Fault in our Stars (Dutton). I’ve added it to the list in part because I myself am a c. survivor (yes, full disclosure, but not to dwell on it here) and what I’ve read in this work so far rings so true. But that’s also a reason I may not be up for bringing it to the beach… I’m still deciding. On the other hand, I’ve found the beach to be just the right place for contemplating the Big Stuff sometimes, so we’ll see.

Other suggestions?

 Image: “12” by S. Fernsebner / All Rights Reserved