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The Golden Ratio by goosecommerce
May 19, 2010, 12:14 am
Filed under: History and Historians, Ivory Towers | Tags: , ,

Or, Φ Upon Lesser Calculations!

If have any interest in the whole Library of Congress / Twitter development, you should go read Dan Cohen’s smart post on the topic:

Cohen’s post is largely about how to apply the key insight from William Press’s work on the efficacy of “strong” profiling to archival practice like the LoC’s acquisition of the Twitchive (Twarchive?). He comes up with what he terms a “calculus of importance” — but what I’m going to call Press-Cohen’s law, cause that’s more internet sciency — for best allotting collection and curation resources:

In other words, if you believe that the notebooks of a known writer are likely to be 100 times more important to future historians and researchers than the blog of a nobody, you should spend 10, not 100, times the resources in preserving those notebooks over the blog. It’s still a considerable gap, but much less than the traditional (authoritarian) model would suggest. The calculus of importance thus implies that libraries and archives should consciously pursue contents such as those in the Cambridge University Library tower, even if they feel it runs counter to common sense.

An perspicuous friend and colleague of mine wondered if a corollary to Press-Cohen’s law would make sense for research, as well as archive compilation. That is, “should a historian spend only 10 times as much effort pursuing the obvious characters and institutions (or historiographies), instead of 100?”

PF&C suggested that “standard disciplinary practice already says yes” — and I would agree, and even go further and say that it is probably worthwhile to make the use of such a ratio explicit (hence the post!).

Going to a known wells and looking from a new perspective needs to be part of our practice, but within limits (you should dig in lots of new places, too). The 100/10 ratio seems a pretty reasonable rule of thumb, in a world of limited time and resources for research.

What think you, yea historians of teh internets?

PS: Isn’t quasi-social science fun?

Image cite: fd, “Golden Spirals,” Flickr, CC License

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Guess the Ref by goosecommerce

Or, Am I Doing Digital History? Like Right Now? …. How about now?


Following a conversation with fellow grad student, also excited about the applications for new media, and after perusing an old issue of Perspectives, I came back to a knot of questions that’s bothered me since I started my graduate career (oh distant day!) How does one do digital history? Am I doing it right now? How is it different than analog history? And, not to forget that classic historian’s question: So what?

Things like this keep me up at night because I cut my teeth, intellectually, reading the manifestos of the Free Software movement (now in tamer, if more ubiquitous, form as the Open Source movement/industry). My heroes were phone phreaks, Richard Stallman, white hat hackers, and Melvil Dewey (not in that order). I was the kid bothering the Barnes & Noble clerks once a month to ask if the newest issue of 2600 had arrived yet (and no, the irony of asking for a copy at a chain store was not lost on me). I was thrilled by the idea that the ethos of yippiedom could be channeled to do cool, anti-authoritarian, productive things, like make operating systems with recursive acronyms. It fit with my other nerd-love, the library, and the potential for democratic education that it represents.

All a way of saying that my predilections are entirely in the utopian internet evangelist camp.

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