Monthly Archives: November 2011

Word of the Week, 11/28-12/2/11 – OK

OK is the most successful of all Americanisms.  It has invaded hundreds of other languages and been adopted by them as a word.  H. L. Mencken claimed that U.S. troops deployed overseas during World War II found it already in use by people around the world, from the Bedouins in the Sahara to the Japanese in the Pacific.  It was also the first unscripted word spoken on the surface of the moon, uttered by Buzz Aldrin just after the lunar module touched down.

OK is ubiquitous.  Perhaps because it is such a successful word and because it is an abbreviation for something that is not immediately obvious, people want to know where the OK comes from…  [I]t has spawned dozens of explanantions.

Despite the term’s success in entrenching itself in American speech, for over a hundred years no one was really sure of the word’s origin.  The origin of OK became the Holy Grail of etymology.  Finally, in 1963-64 the Galahad of our story, Allen Walker Read of Columbia University uncovered the origin in a series of articles in the journal American Speech.

~  David Wilton, Word Myths, Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends

OK is one of those special words that more or less means assent, acceptance or understanding, at least in print.  Of course, when uttered it is a word finely nuanced by intonation and context.  It’s ability to carry biting sarcasm, enthusiastic assent, or wearied acceptance, and anything falling between these points, in two quickly stated syllables is its great value to the speaker.  That value is so evident that it has carried the word into the far reaches of the world, and beyond, as Wilton points out above.

While my 2 volume World Book Dictionary demonstrates the half dozen or so parts of speech that can be formed from OK, my OED punts on the word, seemingly, shockingly ignoring it.  (Note, that my edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is the Compact Edition from the early ’70s; other editions likely include the two-letter word.)  Ok, to business! David Wilton (author quoted above) accepts the findings of the famous American etymologist, Allen Walker Read.  This is generally regarded as the scientific origin, but some still credit other sources and new discoveries could immediately call the Read theory into question–unlike science there are no discovered “laws” in history (or etymology)!

Allen Walker Read was interested in the origins of the more colorful expressions from English.  His work, Classic American Graffiti, was rejected for publication in the U.S. because it was a bit too colorful for the standards of American publishing–even academic publishing.  While it would be published in Paris in 1935, it was not published in the States until 1977 under the title mentioned above.  (Think about that: Kinsey was able to publish–controversially, I admit–in 1948 and 1953 respectively, but Classic American Graffiti lived out its life in Paris (only 75 copies were printed even there) under its original title: Lexical Evidence from Epigraphy in Western North America: a Glossarial Study of the Low Element in the English Vocabulary, until the 1970s.)  The hunt for OK’s origins was an entertaining diversion from his professional studies.  (Allen Read, Obituary, The Economist)

According to Read’s research, OK is a relic from a fad in 1838-9 Boston newspapers of facetious abbreviations.  Similar to internet abbreviations used in texts, chats or social media updates, these ran using common idioms or clichés:

On June 18, 1838, some nine months before OK makes its appearance, the Boston Morning Post included the following: “We jumped in, and were not disappointed either with the carriage, distance, or price.  It was O.W.–(all right.)”

Clearly, the editor is abbreviating the phrase as if it were spelled oll wright.  New York papers picked up the practice in the summer of 1838, using K.G. for no go, K.Y. for  no use, and K.K.N. for commit no nuisance.

~Wilton, Word Myths

In other words, Read traced the initial OK to a bout of word play among Boston editors in 1838-9.  Again in the Boston Morning Post, one of the editors wrote: “…perhaps if he should return to Boston, via Providence, he of the [Providence] Journal, and his train-band, would have the ‘contribution box,’ et ceteras, o.k.–all correct–and cause the corks to fly, like sparks upward.”  After several instances of reuse in the same paper, the OK “product” traveled south to New York, appearing in the city’s Evening Tattler on September 2.  From there it was picked up New Orleans in October and November, before both OK and the abbreviation fad hit Philadelphia.  (Ibid.)

It is likely that the tipping point for the word would have flared out, as it did for its short-lived brethren from these editorial games, but NY Democrats formed a club, and eventually a slogan, linking their presidential candidate’s nickname, “Old Kinderhooks,” with the “all correct” OK.  Thus, they assured the public that Martin Van Buren was OK for the presidency with the “OK Club” and “I’m with OK” slogan.

There are some other theories, many of the most popular prove to be false–and the majority of these were demonstrated by Read, himself.  As far I as I can tell, this is the only theory which suggests both a word origin and a means for the word to take on popular usage.  This is relevant to my own way thinking as one who is skeptical about the importance of “firsts” that fail to catch on: see “Some thoughts about ‘Firsts’ in history”; but, etymologists are interested in both the first usage and the spread of a word or expression, so there may be more to add to the story at some point still to come.


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Planning the education vacation or extended field trip — using NYC

We just returned from an awesome trip to New York City.  It was made possible by a conference my spouse attended for work, allowing us to stay in Manhattan.  While we only had two full days, we made the most of the time, with one of the crowning achievements being our Thursday spent looking at immigration.  It was a full day, no doubt, but a really unique experience in a city that has so much to offer in that vein.   I was able to cheat a little, drawing on my experience as a program instructor for the Close Up Foundation’s New York Programs, but the process is certainly replicable!

Select your theme

Photograph of immigrants arriving in New York City (Ellis Island)

New York City has a long history, so if this city is your destination you’ve a lot of potential subjects from which to choose: architecture, finance, immigration, urban studies, terrorism, drama, etc., etc.  For your trip you might select the subject because of the city, or the city because of the subject.  We knew we were going to New York City, so I chose the subjects, in particular Thursday, accordingly.  Given enough planning a trip to another city or to the closest city can be rich with multi-disciplined projects.  For example, in wrapping up the trip, we are going to look at the science of building skyscrapers (Manhattan), compare the early art styles of Western Civilization (the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and a themed summary of our “immigration day”–that’s science, math, art, and history.

So, select your themes.  Then do your homework.  If you search for books of walking tours of New York City on you’ll get 153 results–and, that is without the tours provided in association with the local historical societies, museums, community organizations, tourism bureaus and websites.  My decision to focus on immigration for one day of education vacation was simple: 1) it is a huge element of New York City’s identity, 2) it includes places and sites that are signature destinations for visitors to the city, and 3) it was accessible, working well with our hotel’s location and public transportation.

In New York City, immigration is hugely representative of the city.  Other cities might  different themes.  Consider the following:

  • Washington, DC – U.S. government, civil involvement and responsibility, founding principles
  • Pittsburgh, PA – second industrial revolution, American industry barons, workers movements and unions, philanthropy
  • Chicago, IL – development of frontier America, American urban development, western industry, environment changes
  • Atlanta, GA – Civil Rights movement, Old South vs. New South, urban community-building, urban image-building, representative government
  • New Orleans, LA – city planning and design, transitioning identities, Civil Rights, Hurricane Katrina as a case study for government involvement, crisis management, recovery
  • San Francisco, CA – Spanish colonization, gold rush in building the American West, Chinese in America, Japanese Interment, HIV/AIDs (carefully!!), 1960s and hippie movement

These cities feed these themes well.  Obviously, I chose major cities, but similar focuses and opportunities exist for smaller cities or larger towns (including many in your own town or city!!), such as Williamsburg VA, Gettysburg PA, Taos NM, and Colorado Springs CO.  But, the advantage of your theme should be in your ability to focus on its applicability in the city, ability to stick to your time allowance, affordability, and inclusion of sites that most people would want to see when visiting the city.


We took the ferry to Liberty Island and Ellis Island from Battery Park (NYC)

As time allowance goes, check with public transportation if you are not busing.  If you are busing take some time to look at local traffic sites and get a sense for how long you will actually be commuting–check the tourism board, too, because they are there to serve you.  The occasional long ride is ok, but build some of your program into it.  Just because students are on the charter bus does not mean they have to be checked out or on down time, but having said that, they will occasionally need a chance for a mental break.  Families have the advantage, here.  Public transportation and walking are great ways to get in touch with the city you are visiting, giving you constant contact with place you are visiting, but also offering an opportunity to relax and (hopefully) get off your feet.  It does require you to do some planning in advance to be confident.  (The smart phones and apps have some limitations, so have a back up!)

Make sure you can adjust to the weather and the conditions you face.  Encourage students to carry a backpack or shoulder bag with another layer, a snack and a water bottle, in addition to cameras and wallets.  Make the decision in advance: if it rains are you packing it in?  If not, how will you deal with the rain?  I had papers that were part of my immigration tour, so I knew I would need to balance the use of that with rain cover if the weather turned foul (as it turned out, raining was minimal, but cold and wind were a little more intense and challenged the learning experience).

Most of us do not walk anymore (unless we live in a city already or have a regular exercise program), so the necessary walking involved in an educational tour of a city or a section of a city is sometimes a challenge to everyone involved.  If possible, you may want to add a bit of walking into your preparation–maybe there is an opportunity to compare the city you are visiting with a nearby city or home town, that will get you walking in advance of the trip.

Preparing the student(s)

Statue of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi who designed the Statue of Liberty and imbued her with symbols

For our immigration tour, my daughter looked at National Park Service documents, printouts and worksheets, including a history of the Statue of Liberty, her symbolism, and the immigration test.  (In history, we are covering Western Civilization, so we were focused on a handful of exhibits in the Metropolitan Museum of Art–part of her work along the way has included Art History readings, so she was able to make comparisons and identify different features in the art we viewed.)  I also gave her a values matrix, where I asked her to rate what features were important considerations for accepting immigrants and then apply those to possible cases to evaluate the intended or unintended outcomes of her policies–in the wrap up she will be asked to consider how the country regarded those values over time for immigration.

The student(s) should not be thrown into the content without some prior experience.  The visit should take the student to the next step, not serve as an introduction.  So, it is important not to neglect preparation.  By the same token, the visit should not serve as the end of the learning experience–it is a portion of the overall whole.  I know of a teacher who sent his students to investigate New Deal architecture in their home city; had he simply sent them out, even with a “script” of sorts, the experience would not represent a genuine learning experience, just an oddball field trip.  Success requires preparation and reflection, or, even better, preparation, project, and reflection.

Our Immigration Thursday in NYC

A mural of the Jewish immigrant experience in the Lower East Side (building rumored to be scheduled for demolition)

We began our day by heading to Battery Park, taking the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island–we paid for the audio tours and they were a pretty big hit!  The ferries leave at regular intervals so it is easy to adjust to one’s schedule.  (The ferries and each island also had food options for either snacks or meals.)

From there we picked up a city bus–the driver was really helpful and gracious to us–and headed in the direction of the Tenement Museum and New York City’s Lower East Side.  We probably had the time to visit the museum, but this trip it was not in our shoe-string budget, so we walked past it and headed over to the walking tour I had planned which included a number of immigrant-rich sites looking at the history of Jewish immigration.  From there we walked to Little Italy.  While Chinatown is not technically in this area, it has effectively overlapped into other neighborhoods, so we saw quite a bit of Chinatown; this demonstrates the shift from Italian immigrants to a newer wave of Chinese immigrants.  While these neighborhoods have history associated with specific ethnic groups, the natural diaspora of immigrants a few generations removed from their old country tends to lead immigrant neighborhoods to evolve and change.  We concluded our evening at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)–which has free admission on Thursdays (for the time being, at least).

This was a lot to cover!  It is a bit exhausting, but the beauty is that we covered sites and neighborhoods that are popular sites and asked penetrating questions about immigration policy.  Each site fed the next and asked questions about what it means to be an immigrant and how we should handle immigration.  This creates a bonded chain that links preparation to reflection.  It’s a great way to learn.

Sign for a beauty parlor near Little Italy and Chinatown

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Facebook’s Five Degrees of Separation and the Need for History in an ever-shrinking World

Facebook users: Five degrees of separation – The Washington Post.

The Washington Post recently published an article (linked above) about the incredible interconnectedness of the world through the use of Facebook and, by implication, other social media sources.  It reveals, as did the tweets of Egyptians at the start of the Arab Spring, how remarkably small our world has become.  With this increased contact among 1 out of 10 world citizens using Facebook, it reminds me of how important history and the other liberal arts are as necessary disciplines and groundwork for the future.

It comes down to two basic points:

  1. It is imperative that we know ourselves:  Understanding our own development and culture allows us insight into our own reactions and motivations which is essential self-knowledge, permitting us to gauge why we operate the way that we do.  Thus, it allows a greater access into a foreign culture and society as well as a better probability for successful communication and interaction.
  2. History and the liberal arts teach necessary skills for interacting with new or foreign cultures: History and the liberal arts, such as anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, and even English and literature, teach us the skills we need to meet the challenges of foreign cultures, unfamiliar customs and language, foreign habits, and new perspectives.  It gives us the discipline to pause and investigate instead of jumping to conclusions or erroneous assumptions.

New Zealand rugby team performs the Haka dance, born of south Pacific warrior tradition, in the face of the French rugby team (

These are tense, tender times when a history education and a full-bodied liberal arts education are a necessity which signals hope for future relations, both domestically and abroad.  I do not mean to suggest that math and the sciences are unnecessary–quite the opposite as they have an honored place in the liberal arts tradition and teach hypothesizing and testing of theories, and besides that, math is the universal language–but, they cannot come at the exclusion of those skills and that knowledge imparted by history and its humanistic brethren.  Nor, for that matter, do I want to suggest turning away from vocational and job training programs.  Again, quite the contrary, as my A.P. history professor pointed out many moons ago when he shared the story of a young man in the Votec program for heating and air training:  The young man began his history class rather disinterested, convinced that it was a simple waste of time.  A few years after his graduation, he returned for one of the high school football games and shared his perspective on a contemporary policy issue in light of certain historical precedents.

The need that has always existed for cultural awareness and origins not only remains relevant, its necessity becomes more pressing.  Sam Wineburg has argued, eloquently, for the need of history as a method for gaining access into a foreign culture–whether separated by time or distance or both.  The increased and incredible accessibility of the world’s citizens demands the due diligence of both students and educators.  What has always been true in grappling with domestic issues through their roots, now extends to the world at large.  We cannot fail.

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The Buñuel Riots — A Guest Blog

I’m a fan of history and film, and with recent riots hitting news (especially stupid riots) I was reminded of the most famous civil unrest at a movie theater, the Buñuel Riots. Rarely does a movie lead people to attack the screen (unless it’s with popcorn), but Lois Buñuel’s did that, twice.  Yet, early film history is like all history, full of half truths and half lies. Since we’re all starting off unclear on what exactly happened, I’ll start with what I know so far.

Lois Buñuel, a surrealist director, with the help of Salvador Dali, famed 20th century painter of melting clocks, made two notable films around the end of the silent era. One,  “Un Chien Andalou” is not for the squeamish. The other,  “L’Age d’Or,” is not for the easily offended. As for the riots, Total Film repeats what I know:  the films “literally provoked riots at screenings.” Time to find out if it was not just literal riots, but physical too.

Now onto the discovery phase <four years later>:

The first film by Buñuel, “Un Chien Andalou”, was called by Roger Ebert, “the most famous short film ever made,” (although more likely that award would go to a Wallace and Gromit or Pixar short). It is certainly the most controversial short film.

Video: Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Un Chien Andalou

Note: the opening scene may make you faint. Offenses and perversions within.

The filmmakers knew how controversial their film would be when it first premiered at Studio des Ursulines in Paris. In an article titled “When Art History Goes Bad”  the author claims fear of a riot, “prompted Dalí and Buñuel to bring sacks of rocks with them on the film’s official opening night, just in case they might need to defend themselves.” IMDB concurs. “At the Paris premiere, Luis Buñuel hid behind the screen with stones in his pockets for fear of being attacked by the confused audience. ”

Roger Ebert cautions belief in “sacks of rocks” story. In his Great Movies article on “Un Chien Andalou”, he writes:

Bunuel’s memories were sometimes a vivid rewrite of life. When he and his friends first saw Sergei Eisenstein’s revolutionary Soviet film “Battleship Potemkin,” he claimed, they left the theater and immediately began tearing up the street stones to build barricades. True?

Although it is possible Buñuel had stones on hand, he did not need them. The premiere on June 6, 1928 came and went without incident.  Film writes,  “Buñuel brought rocks in his pockets to the premiere screening to throw at the audience if they hated it, but the surrealists loved it. The film had an eight-month run at the prestigious Studio 28.” As for any riots, I’m siding with Michael Koller in Senses of Cinema  who writes, “although there are reports of disruptions of screenings, these seem to be based on false memories of events surrounding the release of Buñuel’s next film, L’Age d’Or.”  No riots. Let’s move on to the good stuff.

Video: L’Age d’Or

L’Age d’Or

Note: contains scenes of perversion, blasphemy, and dog kicking.

I can say, for certainty, the film “L’Age d’Or” caused riots. Or more accurately, a screening of L’Age d’Or at Studio 28 in Paris was the scene of a riot. Confusion over the event begins with its date. Some articles say this happened at the film premiere on November 28, 1930. Others claim it happened on December 3.  From what I can tell, the more in-depth articles claim the latter. Bernard P.E. Bentley, in “A Companion to Spanish Cinema“, writes “the film officially opened on November 28, but the riots did not start until December 3.”  IMDB agrees, and add the time of the riot occurred half way through the film screening.

  1. Here is a dossier of events, played out like a news feed:
  2. The BBCIMDBSydney Morning HeraldFilm all report ink being thrown at the screen.
  3. claims rotten eggs were thrown at the screen.
  4. The BBC and report “stink bombs.” Film says there are “smoke bombs.”
  5. claims tear gas was set off.
  6. claims members of Studio 28 were clubbed. Sydney Morning Herald says “patrons were beaten up”.
  7. The BBC adds, rioters “fired guns into the air.”
  8. Film reports chanting. claims these chants include cries of “Death to the Jews”.
  9. The BBC reports the foyer was trashed.  Film and says the lobby featured a surrealist exhibit, which was destroyed. Jim Loter says “several Surrealist paintings” were destroyed.  Sydney Morning Herald says there were painting from Dalí destroyed. IMDB says the paintings slashed included ones from  Yves Tanguy, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and Man Ray. Village Voice’s film guide states, there were Dali and Max Ernst paintings in the lobby which were slashed.
  10. Jim Loter claims there was damage to “the cinema’s projection equipment.”
  11. says “the police stormed the theater” and “patrons endeavored to set it aflame.”
  12. IMDB and placed blame the violence on the fascist “League of Patriots”. also blames the Anti-Jewish League.

Victoria Advocate says the film “led to six days of right-wing attacks on the theater.”  Village Voice says the film was shut down two days after the riots.  New York Magazine says seven days.  Film says three months.  Village Voice and New York Magazine say the police banned the film, Jim Loter blames, “the official French censor, after ordering a few scenes to be cut, banned the entire film.”  Film says it was not seen again until 1980.  More accurately copies of the film were still available but in limited supply. According to, the film was first shown at New York’s Museum Of Modern Art in 1933, and again in the 1960s. It was not widely seen until it’s official US premiere in 1979.

There are a few theories to why the riot occurred. One thought is the Fascists and Anti-Semites were led on a misguided belief that the film was the work of Jews. In fact, Buñuel was a lapsed Catholic turned Atheist. Dalí was an on-again off-again Catholic. Yet, if you were an Anti-Semite and heard of a very Anti-Christian movie being released, you might make assumptions. (Full disclosure: don’t be an Anti-Semite.)

Jim Loter believes the right-wing attack on L’Age d’Or was neither an attack on the film’s controversial images nor a misguided belief that it was the work of Jews, but the alignment in Paris between the surrealists and the Communist Party in Paris. The intellectuals behind surrealism were starting to focus on political will. This might explain why the paintings were slashed. This was an attack on Surrealists as a whole, not just the film. Buñuel’s film was just one of the intended targets. I was swayed by this argument when I originally thought the riot took place on opening night. Since the stink-bombs and rioting 30 minutes into the film inferred premeditation on the part of the rioters, why would they prepare to riot at a movie they haven’t seen yet? But a December 3rd riot means they had five days to hear about the offensive and sacrilegious imagery throughout.

The most popular reason for the riots is the most obvious reason: the film offended the audience. The film easily offends Christians (full disclosure: this includes me), capitalists, as well as the high and middle class. As for the Anti-Semitism, since the film was anti-Catholic, angered patrons assumed the director was Jewish.  The plot can be confusing, the sexuality nears pornographic, and did I mention the protagonist gleefully kicks a dog?

This all goes towards what many think is true: Buñuel wanted a riot. If he had rocks to throw at the “Un Chien Andalou” audience, it meant he was prepared. Some believe he was hoping to throw the rocks. In “British Film Institute film classics”, Rob White and Edward Buscombe theorize that Buñuel and the surrealists wanted a riot, as it would give them added attention from the media.Multiple articles mention Buñuel’s disappointment at the success of “Un Chien Andalou,” with Jim Loter stating, the director showed, “dismay at his film’s being appreciated as an artistic expression instead of a call for violent Revolution.”  Pacific Cinematheque believes the L’Age d’Or was intended to offend and “didn’t take long to hit its intended mark, meeting with howls of indignation and outrage soon after its Paris release.” This is backed up by film critic Ado Kyrou who said it was the filmmakers goal, “not to please but rather to alienate nearly all potential spectators.”

What can’t be debated is the effectiveness of the riot. It clearly succeeded.  French surrealists immediately lost interest in film. Buñuel, having burned all his bridges is Paris, left just days after the riots to begin work at MGM Studios in Hollywood. If It would be decades before he’d return to success in artistic film, and even longer for his first two films to become among the most influential in experimental cinema.

Pete Thomas writes several blogs on history and music.

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Word of the Week, 11/21-11/26/11 — nouveau riche

Nouveau riche

new rich (French)

Trade and economic growth have led to shifting fortunes between the social classes since the earliest civilizations, but during the Industrial Revolution the British borrowed the French term for those with newly acquired wealth who were breaking into aristocratic social circles for the first time.  It was used as it is today, as a derogatory term, laden with the suggestion that as the beneficiaries of new money rather than old, the “nouveau riche” would lack the taste and breeding to know how to use their wealth wisely and discreetly.

I’m sorry, darling, but we really can’t go for dinner with the new neighbors; those big china bulldogs in their driveway are so painfully nouveau riche.

~ Chloe Rhodes, A Certain “Je Ne Sais Quoi”,

The Origin of Foreign Used in English

Chloe Rhodes traces the origins of the English usage of the term to the Industrial Revolution.  Often, in my experience, the focus of the Industrial Revolution is on the workers movements–which are certainly relevant–but, it created another interesting effect in the UK as well.  While many workers shifted from crafts to lesser-paid factory work, factory owners and manufactures of mass-produced products changed the economy and created a new middle class that was wealthy, but untitled, without noble status.  As the economy shifted to manufacturing, the nobility that resisted the new economic factors were soon out-stripped by the successful merchant class.

The new situation in Britain’s economics created a real rub between the landed gentry and the successful businessmen and investors.  Once nobility did not come with a separation of wealth, and in fact sometimes led eventually to poverty, in conjunction with the workers movements Britain turned a new corner in its history.

Similarly, in the American South, with the decline of the plantation economy, a similar economic development and shift took place.  The term was applied liberally in southern America as manufacturing began to unseat the “landed gentry” of the Old South.

The term is a derogatory label for new-monied wealth, with an understanding of gauche and extravagant taste.  The idea here is that the nouveau riche are tasteless and the implication is that they lack the ability and knowledge to know how to use the wealth.  Why?  Because, the nouveau riche climbed to the summit as opposed to being born on the summit.  It is not difficult to see that the resentment for those climbing their way to the summit is in part their capability to retain the summit while the environment changes, while those born on the summit seem caught in the twilight of diminishing relevance and ability.  The nouveau riche threaten to expose the noble class as relics, especially in the early modern economy.

On the other hand, there was also a dismay at diminishing manners and morals.  Particularly in Britain, the rise of the nouveau riche signaled concern for an eventual loss of the morality that the nobility was responsible for safeguarding in society–how closely that perception represented reality is open for interpretation, but it was only in the development of philanthropic enterprises that the nouveau riche was able to mimic the former responsibility of the landed nobility to its extended household and community.

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#FF — Best historical NEW YORK CITY follows!!

In honor of our New York City trip, I’m putting out the best history related New York Twitter follows!

I point out that our trip will have something of an immigration bias in its focus–did I mention we homeschool?–so, may of my contributions, here, are reflective of that preparation!  Commence singing in your best Sinatra impression, “New York…”

1.  @NYHistory

Really wish we had the time this trip! It was awful walking past it and not being able to stop!

2.  @StatueLibrtyNPS

Great trip! The teenager was especially moved listening to the immigrants share their first sightings of Lady Liberty.

3.  @EllisIslandNPS

This is a good follow if you’re interested in Ellis Island and immigration news.

4.  @metmuseum

Frequently tweeting profiles of the pieces in their vast collection!!

5. @tenementmuseum

tenement museum
Even better than Ellis Island for current immigration policy discussions and urban life.

6. @nypl

NY Public Library
News about libraries and gems from the collection!

7.  @AFBurialGrndNPS

Great resource for history of slaves and their progeny in this country!

8. @mocamuseum

Great museum about the Chinese experience in America! Worth the trip, follow for related news.

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How Technology Preserves History — A Guest Post

Technology has always preserved history, from pen and paper to the printing press. However as we’ve entered into the digital age, we have seen digital storage become the preferred way of maintaining our history. Today, maps, music, movies and books are all available digitally. It isn’t just new media that’s digital, either. For instance, according to an article in PC World, Google is attempting to scan and archive all of the world’s books within the next decade. Google is hoping to make them available as part of a massive library. In all, the company estimates that it will digitize roughly 130 million books in the near future.

Digital technology uses computer data as preservation meaning it lasts indefinitely and it is infinitely easier to duplicate than printing books. Printing a new copy of a book to preserve its place in history is a time consuming task, not to mention difficult. It takes specialized equipment, ink, paper and other materials. To top it off, such a lengthy process must be repeated for every new copy of that book. On the other hand, making a copy of an eBook takes seconds. A few clicks of a mouse, and thousands of copies can be created almost instantly. This is why eBooks are becoming so popular today. From students taking online classes to bookworms who spend most of their time with their nose in a book, eReaders make reading on the go a breeze. Apart from easier access, data storage is also cheap and easy to obtain. In fact, the process is similar to other forms of digitally recording history. A video of a speech by President Obama, for example, can be replicated as frequently as necessary with little limitation as opposed to a video reel of President Kennedy that can be expensive and fragile to duplicate.

In addition to preserving history, technology is also preserving the present. With news being published to the web, it is stored for an indefinite amount of time. Similarly, YouTube videos will stay around for as long as the site is alive. There are even attempts in place to archive the Internet now, such as with the Wayback Machine. What the WayBack Machine does is span the web and create images of as many sites as possible. The WayBack Machine then makes these sites available as a sort of Internet museum where visitors can see what web sites looked like on a certain date, even if they are defunct. Thus, much of the web will still be accessible to curious users even when these old sites have become obsolete. This is proof that digital technology is storing and preserving our history in an exponentially more efficient manner than old technology such as books and newspapers.

Technology also preserves our history by making it easier to sort through and organize. In a library, it takes time to locate specific books and then it takes even more time to search for information in a printed book. Yet when using new technology to store information, items can be found in a matter of seconds. A lot of our history has certainly been lost over the years simply because there isn’t enough time to search physical records. For instance, little details have often  been brushed aside. However technology allows us to preserve even the tiniest details, which will guarantee that even the most esoteric bits of information are accessible.

Despite the advantages of technology, it does have its pitfalls. In the case of preserving our personal history, a virus or hard drive failure can wipe out years of family photos. Even large companies aren’t immune to server failure. This is best evidenced by the’s server failure in August; a failure that took down large sites such as FourSquare and Reddit. Should we ever reach the point of all books being digital and old copies destroyed, a single natural disaster could wipe out Google’s servers and 130 million books.

These are unlikely scenarios though, and the benefits of technology preserving history are much greater than the disadvantages. With computers preserving our history, we’re entering into a golden age of record keeping where very little can slip through the cracks. Using computer storage to preserve our history means that everything in our history can effectively live forever.

About the author: Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.  Lindsey writes for

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Word of the Week, 11/14 – 11/19/11 — metastasis

Metastasis: 1. The process by which cancer spreads from the place at which it first arose as a primary tumor to distant locations in the body.
2. The cancer resulting from the spread of the primary tumor. For example, someone with melanoma may have a metastasis in their brain. And a person with colon cancer may, fortunately, show no metastases.

Metastasis depends on the cancer cells acquiring two separate abilities — increased motility and invasiveness. Cells that metastasize are basically of the same kind as those in the original tumor. If a cancer arises in the lung and metastasizes to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are lung cancer cells. However, the cells have acquired increased motility and the ability to invade another organ.

The ancient Greeks used the word metastasis to mean “removal from one place to another.” The plural of “metastasis” is “metastases.”

Definition of Metastasis,

Perhaps motivated by the recent National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Hockey Fights Cancer and Movember movements, the word of the week is metastasis.

The story of cancer is estimated to be as old as humans; the history of cancer is confirmed to be as old as the Egyptians, who documented its existence in, most famously, the Edwin Smith Papyrus.  The document identified eight types of tumors of the breast and acknowledged no treatment for the condition.  It is Hippocrates (460-370 BCE), the “Father of Medicine,” who gave us the words carcinos and carcinoma, which the Roman physician Celsus (28-50 BCE) translated into cancer, the Latin word for “crab.”  The Roman physician Galen (130-200, CE) used the Greek word for swelling, oncos, to describe the tumor, thus giving us the study of cancer as oncology.  (“History of Cancer from” and American Cancer Society’s “The History of Cancer”)

It is interesting to note that the medical terms for cancer are of Greek and Latin origin–like so many other medical terms–but are, more uniquely, contemporary with the Greeks and Romans.  Metastasis is also of classical origin, meaning “a removing, removal.”  (Greek-English Dictionary, Liddell and Scott–the “Middle Liddell”)  In this case, however, it does not mean the removal of kakou–something bad, like cancer, for example–it means the appearance of the cancer cells in a new place in the body.

Stephen Paget, an English surgeon, first hypothesized that the spread of cancer, metastasis, was achieved because cancer cells spread through the body via blood cells, one hundred years before cellular and molecular biology could prove it accurate.  His hypothesis compared the metastasis of cancer cells to the spread of plant seeds, more of which are dispersed than take root, believing that only certain organs would prove fertile for the mutated cancerous cells.

This understanding of metastasis became a key element in recognizing the limitations of cancer surgery.  It eventually allowed doctors to develop systemic treatments used after surgery to destroy cells that had spread throughout the body and use less mutilating operations in treating many types of cancer.  Today these systemic treatments may also be used before surgery.

~ American Cancer Society, “A History of Cancer”

It is the biological process of metastasis, that necessitates early detection and quick response.  Thanks to a better awareness of cancer prevention, advanced medical procedures for early detection, and more sophisticated, targeted treatments, survivorship has dramatically increased.  In the United States alone, there are over 11 million cancer survivors, but the rate still falls well short of 100%.  Today, survivors and loved ones are the strongest, loudest advocates for early detection and fundraising for cancer research.

This post is dedicate to DARYL COLLETTE (survivor), LORI COLLETTE (co-survivor), KRISTA HEUBUSCH (advocate), SHAWN GARDNER (co-survivor, advocate), CHRIS BARRON (advocate).  

 And in memory of LEXI REEVES and HEATHER GARDNER.

Learn more about early detection of cancer by following this link to the American Cancer Society: Cancer Screening Guidelines, Early Detection of Cancer.


Filed under Historian's Journal, Word of the Week

Brush off the Dust’s Best of the Web, 11/7 – 11/10/11

1. It Started Digital Wheels Turning

A mathematician may have conceived of the computer in the 1830s!  Scientists intend to build his conception and give it a run!  If you like the history of technology, this is a must-read!  Click on the heading above to read this NY Times article.

2. Giotto Devil: Found in the Detail of Renaissance Fresco

Giotto Devil

Art history fans should take a peek at this article from the International Business Times: mostly of photographs taken of the now-renovated frescoes by Giotto in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.  After restoring the work–you may recall a recent earthquake damaged the basilica–a new figure emerged in the clouds of one of Assisi’s and Giotto’s most famous frescoes.  To see the image more clearly, click on title above the picture.

3. Birth of Edmond Halley

Portrait by Thomas Murray, c. 1687

On November 8, 1656, the man who discovered and predicted a comet that returned every 75 years was born.  Edmond Halley was part of a rich scientific community in Enlightened Europe.  Read about his other contributions and his times in this short article from History Today by clicking on the headline above.

4.  He found history, and N.H. wants it back

Here’s an interesting case!  At an estate sale in Minnesota, a man purchased the find of a lifetime: copper, pre-Revolutionary War currency plates from the colony of New Hampshire.  N.H. would, however, like to contest the claim of ownership.  It will be interesting to see where this goes!  In the meantime, read more by clicking the heading above.

5. I was a plagiarist

The author of this post, albeit at a Canadian university, writes about an experience of unintended plagiarism.  She raises some truly valid points.  Her actions did not include cutting and pasting reviews from the publisher’s site, copying a Wikipedia entry or paying someone to write her paper, rather she used an expression she thought was scholarly jargon, but actually unique to the author.  How should we respond to plagiarism and how well is it taught?  To read it click on the title above.

6. The Berlin Wall Came Down

In honor of that day here is some historical perspective:

7. History Heroes: Marc Bloch

Marc Bloch was a historian whose own history is as interesting as any of the compelling works he wrote.  His life was ended by the Nazis.  Read a story of true heroism (as opposed to all the recent scandals of enabling) by clicking on the link above from Smithsonian’s “Past Imperfect” blog.

8. Visualizations and Historical Arguments

Carte Figurative

Regarding the issue of writing history in the digital age, John Thiebault writes about visualizations in historical arguments.  He argues that the ability to turn statistics into visualizations, cartograms, that communicate historical evidence has greatly improved with computer technologies.  Read this important analysis of visual communication in argumentation.

9. DocsTeach: Veterans’ Day

From the National Archives’ DocsTeach Website you can search “veterans” and narrow further by era to look at documentary evidence of veterans.  Check it out and browse around by clicking the heading above.

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Our Universities: Why Are They Failing? Some (internet) dialogue

There is a great deal of fervor online in the academic blogosphere coming in response to this multi-book review  Our Universities: Why Are They Failing?, written by Anthony Grafton for The New York Review of Books.

The call came out from history professor and blogger Historiann, who responded to Grafton with Tony Grafton on the Higher Education Crisis and Your Turn to Talk Back and tagged some of her colleagues to respond.

(Note:  Be sure to follow the comment threads, as well!)

Answering the call:

The blog “Dr. Crazy” responded with The Epic Fail, or Failure as the Ultimate Four-Letter Word.

The blog “Notorious Ph. D.” responded with What’s the Matter with Higher Ed?.

The blog “Mictlantecuhtli” responded with For Historiann and Tony Grafton and Some Arithmetic.

The blog “More or Less Bunk” responded with It Takes Two to Tango.

The blog “Clio Bluestocking Tales” responded with The Nebulous Creature.

The blog “Teaching College-level Spanish, and other issues” responded with Reports from the Crisis in Higher Education from Middle America.

The blog “Ferule & Fescue” responded with Hope for the Humanities (part 1 of 2).  (We still await part 2 of 2.)

The blog “Roxie’s World” responded with The Care and Feeding of Adjuncts.  (This is was submitted by Roxie’s World when she learned she’d been tagged by Historiann, but is not directly a response to the call.)

The blog “An Open Letter by a Feminist” responded with The Universities Today.

The blog “” responded with Talking ‘Bout My Institution.

The blog “Lance Manyon’s Musings” responded with The Crisis in Higher Ed.

The blog “Otto’s Random Thoughts” responded with Come to Africa (A Response to Tony Grafton): Part I and, further responding to comments, Response to an Old Friend.

Comments and further discussion is welcome.  I would also be interested in further posts that I have not included, as well as other points of view.

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Filed under Editorials on education