Forming Nations, Reforming Empires

It was a long time (more than 3 years from the first conference meetings to now) in the making, but the special issue of Early American Studies that I co-edited and co-wrote the introduction to is “live” on Project Muse, and paper copies are wending their way from Penn Press.  Historians don’t tend to write with other people, and learning to do so was a challenge, but I think that the issue and our introduction to it are much better for both Jerusha and my contributions.  It was a great learning experience, and I’m both delighted with the final product, and to have completed this particular project.

Mass observation

I was living in Cork for the last inauguration, but came home from the archives early to watch.  Though Twitter existed in 2009, trending hash-tags were not yet a “thing,” and one group tried to track impressions of Obama’s first inauguration using the Mass Observation technique pioneered in Britain in the mid-20th century.  The January the 20th project tracked international impressions of the inauguration, and posted them with little analysis.  The original Mass Observation project is searchable by topic, and includes diaries, surveys and photographs.  The dominant themes include “sexual behavior,” “reading habits” and “bird watching.”  Twitter is something like a perpetual modern-day Mass Observation – there were more than 14,000 tweets per minute during today’s inauguration ceremony.  Trending topics included the musical performances, #inaug2013, #fourmoreyears, and FLOTUS’s bangs.

“Are you a math person? You look like a math person.”

Having submitted my dissertation for review, I find myself with some time on my hands.  While many people have suggested that this would be an opportune moment to relax my father, who is also an academic, suggested that it merely freed up time to begin new projects! Write articles! Learn new skills!  Having taken one morning off this week to drink cocoa and read a novel, I think I’m all done relaxing and ready to get started.

A few years ago, after a thrilling session on network analysis at the AHA, I decided that I was going to teach myself network analysis.  That, much like undergraduate attempts in stat classes on linear regression analysis populated by econ majors, didn’t go quite as planned, and I mostly gave up and began to rely in IBM’s online ManyEyes software, which produces nice, if slightly clunky visual representations of data.  But just yesterday, I received notice of Indiana University’s free MOOC on information visualization (referred to as IVMOOC, which is really quite fun to say), which is offered just when I need something to occupy my time/keep me from compulsively re-editing a document I’ve already turned in.  The preliminary survey for the course suggests that it’s mostly geared towards people who already have data-driven backgrounds, so for the next eight weeks, I expect to feel much like I did when confronted with Chi-squared problems in my senior year of college – completely over my head, but having loads of fun.

At the same time, I also hope to get acquainted with the open source Quantum GIS software, which seems like it would be a pretty nifty way to deal with the map-making problems I’ve been confronting recently.

Also revising one article.  Also writing another article about the movement of information in the mid-nineteenth century, which hopefully utilizes some of what I’ve picked up from IVMOOC and Quantum GIS.

At any rate, the enthusiasm made possible by my new-found time must have been obvious to the woman sitting next to me during my novel-reading/cocoa-drinking morning off.  As she got up from her seat next to me at the cafe, she turned and said “Are you a math person?  You look like a math person.”  We’ll see.