Gaddis-The voice of reason for Hist 615

Those of us that graduate Clio II together last semester and bellied up for another round this fall realize what we’re in for. The impression I get is that most of the “repeat offenders” have simply taken and deep breath, sighed the sigh of complete surrender (which only a student fresh out of Clio II can do) and offered our souls to the MAC gods for yet another 5 months of sleepless nights, dejected looks by significant others, and blissful conversations/shouting matches with inanimate objects that can’t possibly understand what it is WE want THEM to do for us.

It’s not that we fear learning the new programs of this semester, or that we think said learning will be terribly difficult (really, can it get much worse then learning Dreamweaver in a matter of weeks?) Our “deer in the headlights” looks has been replaced with an air of cockiness that only comes from a web design student who has four or five hacks up their sleeve and now clearly thinks him/herself a master of the universe. All this is not to say we approach 615 afraid of nothing. What I, and I assume many of my fellow “repeaters,” fear is selling our souls to yet another project that will never meet our expectations. While our final project may wow the class, the Clio II graduates know true personal zen will not be accomplished. In the end, we will end up ripping ourselves away from what has become an obsessed goal of trying to address every little detail for fear of imminent lose of sanity. My fall semester resolution…listen to John Gaddis.

“We avoid the literal in making maps, because to do otherwise would not be to represent at all but rather to replicate. We’d find ourselves drowning in detail: the distillation that’s required for the comprehension and transmission of vicarious experience would be lost.” (p. 32) Avoid replication…fresh out of Clio II…doubtful. Clio II students LOVE detail…we spend hours making sure things line up perfectly in different browsers and rollovers are timed right, and font and color are pleasing to the eye (an, of course, are screen readable.) The nature of many aspects of my Clio II projects were replication. Replicating design element, replicating code for rounded edges and drop down nav bars, etc, etc. I plan to keep this in mind as I start to drown in the detail of my projects this semester. Gaddis also writes “despite their obvious utility, there’s no such thing as a single correct map.” (p.33) Important to keep in mind come November when I become convinced that there is only one way to do an architectural reconstruction. I pledge to also come to terms with the concept of simulating a historical narrative based on limited generalizations (which I think will prove to be easier said then done with the sort of projects we’ll be working on.) Finally, I’m going to learn to say “when,” to appreciate the concept that at some point, according to Gaddis, you have to stop tracking a historical event or risk introducing “diminishing relevance” into a project. (I suppose this is a good principal to keep in mind as you design a website. You can have a site riddled with cool little design tricks, but do they actually take away from the true message of the site if only employee because it took you a week to learn how to do them.)

I think Gaddis had us over-achievers from Clio II in mind when he wrote Landscape of History, and I don’t want to disappoint him. So, as I feel this post has reached a point of diminishing relevance, I’m going to go to the pool…

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One response to “Gaddis-The voice of reason for Hist 615

  1. The question is, are we experts like warrant officers, with several sea voyages under our belts, or are we experts like the midshipmen freshly graduated from Annapolis? Do we know just enough to get ourselves in trouble, or do we have secret insights and little tingles that tell us when something is wrong?
    For better answers to that, I recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Blink: the Power of Thinking Without Thinking.” (yeah, like you have time for a non-assigned read.) Failing that, we need feedback. Electricians have a handy method of feedback–if you must touch something that may be “hot” (electrified) touch it with the back of your hand. You might get shocked, but it will minimize any danger. We need such structures in Digital History. An extra pair of eyes, a test procedure on multiple platforms, a good reference guide. With maps, what is our safety net? Well, maybe it will be a careful overview, or a helpful stranger to try and follow our directions. Our future is misty, just like the landscape on the cover of this week’s reading.

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