Google Maps Recognizes Black Lives Matter Plaza

Washington D.C.:

Black Lives Matter Plaza

Here is WFTV 9:

A sign on the street now identifies that section of 16th Street near the White House as “Black Lives Matter Plaza.”

City workers and local artists painted the street that leads to the White House with “Black Lives Matter” in bright yellow letters. The mural stretches across the entire width of 16th Street to the north of Lafayette Square and ends near St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Read the entire piece here.

What Colleges and Universities Can Learn from the Silicon Valley (Ironically, its not what you might think)

Neem 1Today we recorded Episode 54 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Our guest was Western Washington historian Johann Neem, author of What’s the Point of College: Seeking Purpose in an Age of Reform.  I don’t want to give too much away because I want you to listen to our conversation,  but let me offer a teaser.  At one point during the interview I asked Neem about his passage from his book:

…forward-looking companies try to emulate traditional colleges by building large, idyllic campuses where people can interact and be creative. “There is something magical about sharing meals,” said former Google CFO Patrick Pichette on why Google discourages telecommuting. “There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking at the computer, ‘What do you think of this?'”  That sounds a lot like the traditional college experience, but, in new model universities, fundamental aspects of traditional ones–such as personalized teaching, green lawns, academic freedom, shared governance, meaningful exposure to the liberal arts and sciences, and time and autonomy for reflection–are deemed irrelevant.

Oh the irony!

As Silicon Valley tries to promote face-to-face interaction in real places that resemble the traditional college campus, universities seem to be moving away from such a model through its increasing commitment to displaced online education and a delivery system that makes human connection more difficult.

See how Neem developed his thoughts in Episode 54.  It will drop in a week or so.  Stay tuned.

Want to Work at Google? Take Some Humanities Courses. Or Better Yet, MAJOR in the Humanities!

Google

Fascinating piece here from Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post:

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

Those traits sound more like what one gains as an English or theater major than as a programmer. Could it be that top Google employees were succeeding despite their technical training, not because of it?  After bringing in anthropologists and ethnographers to dive even deeper into the data, the company enlarged its previous hiring practices to include humanities majors, artists, and even the MBAs that, initially, Brin and Page viewed with disdain.

Read the entire piece here.

OAH 2018 Dispatch: Digital History

History_Hero_11_061615_Messiah

Messiah College students engaged in the Digital Harrisburg Initiative

We are pleased to add this dispatch from Gabriel Loiacono to our coverage of the 2018 meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Sacramento. Gabe is Associate Professor of History and Director of the University Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and is currently writing a book tentatively titled: “Five Lives Shaped by the Poor Law: Stories of Welfare in the Early Republic.”  Gabe writes:

This dispatch is about two digital history panels. I had a wonderful conference overall, including my own panel, “Beyond Northern Exceptionalism” (#AM2347). I will say nothing about that panel except that its genesis was on this blog when I read an interview with my co-panelist Christy Clark-Pujara about her book Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island. I read the interview and the book, reached out to Christy, and with Chad Montrie, Stephen Kantrowitz, and Sharon Romeo, we had a thoroughly enjoyable panel.

Now on to Digital History….

Giddiness and Guilt. I alternate between those two sensations when using digitized primary sources for my research and writing. The OAH panel “Consequences of Digital Technologies for History: A Roundtable Discussion on the Digital Future of the Historian’s Craft” (#AM2675) helped me to think about why that is. Panelist Lara Putnam caused much introspection in the audience when she said, and I paraphrase: “if you are feeling shameful about having used digitized sources, and that’s why you’re not citing the sources’ digital formats, we need to talk about that.” I, for one, have felt that shame and this panel helped me to think about why.

Panelists Andreas Fickers, Lara Putnam, Jason Rhody, and Jennifer Guiliano offered really thoughtful critiques about how, precisely, primary sources and the historian’s craft are changed by digitization. Fickers emphasized how we really need to think about the digital tools we use, how search engines are not neutral, and how sources are manipulated in the process of digitization. He offers a model of “thinkering,” thinking while tinkering, in order to come up with updated methodologies to fit our updated tools. Putnam pointed out how there have always been problems with how our sources are collected, preserved, and found, but some problems are new, like algorithmic bias. Now is the moment to “retro-engineer” old problems while thinking about new ones.

Putnam also pointed to what is lost in moving from the “analog” methods of finding and reading an old newspaper, and the digital method of encountering it as a search result. In particular, much of the contextual information about the newspaper, from other issues to what the rest of the issue says to where you can find this newspaper can disappear in a digital search. Rhody and Guiliano both referenced the ethics of google searches and Guiliano called into question the ethics of ancestry.com’s business model. Leaning on the work of communications studies scholar Safiya Noble (see Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism), they underlined how google searches of women or people color often turn up biased results. To what extent do biased results shape our and our students’ historical research? Moreover, how are historians of our period going to cope with using billions of tweets as sources?

The panelists only began to answer these questions. Guiliano warned that we better start learning statistical methods and how algorithms work. All underlined how important it is that we develop some methodology that takes into account the differences that digital tools make in our research and understanding.

This Digital History panel had my mental wheels spinning, and I decided to take in the next session in that room: “Teaching Historical Literacy in the Digital Age” (#AM2581). To my surprise, the rest of the audience was totally different, which was too bad. These panels spoke to the same big questions and there could have been a rich inter-panel conversation had more people listened to both. Four two-year college professors and one high school teacher made up this panel: Abigail Feely, Chris Padgett, Elise Robison, Rob Marchie, and Sara Ball. Where the first panel focused on theory and research methodology, this panel focused on the practice of teaching. The teaching expertise of the panelists shone in one after another example of how to harness digital platforms for teaching and how to help students think critically about digital sources. One of my favorites was to assign students to critique a website or even a google search in terms of what was missing and how dated or well-rounded the sources behind these digital resources were. Another favorite was to ask students to take digital photos of something (such as the suburb nearby) before students even knew they would be focusing on Levittown the following week.

Perhaps the single most exciting point I took from this panel was that historians’ skills are precisely the skills that students need to navigate the digital age. Evaluating the source (archival or digital) that you are looking at is what we teach. Likewise, building up context and the ability to take apart the argument being presented to you are skills that we teach! This was an exciting clarion call for us historians. Let’s tackle these new problems in research and teaching with our old methodologies, and develop new methodologies for new sources.

There were other digital history panels that I could not make. I bet those were good too. What an exciting series of issues to tackle at the OAH.

What Happened to the Greatest Library in the World?

LibraryTurns out it was illegal.

Check out Jamie Somers’s piece at The Atlantic on Google’s failed attempt to scan every out of print book in the world.

Here is a taste:

Although academics and library enthusiasts like [Harvard historian Robert] Darnton were thrilled by the prospect of opening up out-of-print books, they saw the settlement as a kind of deal with the devil. Yes, it would create the greatest library there’s ever been—but at the expense of creating perhaps the largest bookstore, too, run by what they saw as a powerful monopolist. In their view, there had to be a better way to unlock all those books. “Indeed, most elements of the GBS settlement would seem to be in the public interest, except for the fact that the settlement restricts the benefits of the deal to Google,” the Berkeley law professor Pamela Samuelson wrote.

Certainly Google’s competitors felt put out by the deal. Microsoft, predictably, argued that it would further cement Google’s position as the world’s dominant search engine, by making it the only one that could legally mine out-of-print books. By using those books in results for user’s long-tail queries, Google would have an unfair advantage over competitors. Google’s response to this objection was simply that anyone could scan books and show them in search results if they wanted—and that doing so was fair use. (Earlier this year, a Second Circuit court ruled finally that Google’s scanning of books and display of snippets was, in fact, fair use.)

There was this hypothesis that there was this huge competitive advantage,” Clancy said to me, regarding Google’s access to the books corpus. But he said that the data never ended up being a core part of any project at Google, simply because the amount of information on the web itself dwarfed anything available in books. “You don’t need to go to a book to know when Woodrow Wilson was born,” he said. The books data was helpful, and interesting for researchers, but “the degree to which the naysayers characterized this as being the strategic motivation for the whole project—that was malarkey.”

Amazon, for its part, worried that the settlement allowed Google to set up a bookstore that no one else could. Anyone else who wanted to sell out-of-print books, they argued, would have to clear rights on a book-by-book basis, which was as good as impossible, whereas the class action agreement gave Google a license to all of the books at once.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Google is Looking for Potential Employees Who Demonstrate "Intellectual Humility"

This a very interesting post on why Google does not often hire college graduates from the so-called “top schools.”  Here is a taste:

Google looks for the ability to step back and embrace other people’s ideas when they’re better. “It’s ‘intellectual humility.’ Without humility, you are unable to learn,” Bock says. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure.”

This reminds me of something I once read in a book called Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past:

As historian John Cairns notes, empathy “is the passport to gaining a genuine entry into the past as a foreign land, and something distinct from our time.  Empathy requires the historian to step into the shoes of historical actors in order to see the world as they did, to understand them on their own terms and not ours.  Historian John Lewis Gaddis writes, “Getting inside other people’s minds requires that your own mind be open to their impressions–their hopes and fears, their beliefs and dreams, their sense of right and wrong, their perception of the world and where they sit within it…

The practice of empathy will inevitably lead to humility.  It does so in one of three ways.  First, an engagement with the past in all its breadth and fullness, the entry into such a “foreign country,” should decenter us.  It makes us realize our own smallness in the vast course of human history….Second, the practice of history cultivates humility because of the limited nature of the discipline.  Since historians are often so far removed from the past they study, there is no way of ever knowing for sure that their interpretations are correct.  Because of the “pastness of the past,” the historian must come to grips with his or her own finiteness, realizing that he or she can never fully understand it in all its fullness and complexity….Third, history teaches humility in the sense that the past can sometimes shame us.  In the process of seeing ourselves as part of a larger human story, we also see that the people who have gone before us were capable of tremendous atrocities.  The story of human history is filled with accounts of slavery, violence, scientific racism, injustice, genocide, and other dark episodes that might make us embarrassed to be part of the human race.  If our fellow human beings can engage in such sad, wrong, or disgraceful acts, then what is stopping us from doing the same?  History reminds us of the inherent weakness in the human condition and the very real possibility that our fellow human beings are capable of horrendous things.  This should humble us, for “there but for the grace of God, go I.”

Let’s hope someone at Google reads this and starts hiring some well-trained history majors.