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I Will Do My Best To Teach Them About Life And What It’s Worth

“See all that stuff inside, Homer? That’s why your robot never worked!”*

Here’s what I’m doing this weekend, unless a certain fetus has other plans: The Hacking as a Way of Knowing Workshop organized by the excellent Bill Turkel and the awesome Edward Jones-Imhotep.

This three-day workshop will explore the theme of E-waste and environmental data. Working in small groups, participants will be given the task of hacking some typical consumer e-waste to create reflective technological assemblages that incorporate ‘nature’ in some form while calling one or more of our basic assumptions into question.

Translation: We’re making killer robots. Reflective, nature-incorporating, assumption-questioning, killer robots. The twitterpated can follow this foolish meddling with secrets beyond our ken at #hackknow. Confession: I’ve been on Twitter for a year now (as “robotnik“) but have only managed to emit one tweet.

*I googled “that’s why your robot never worked” to be sure I had the quote right, and discovered that my own elderly LiveJournal is the number one hit for the phrase. Andy Warhol would plotz: I’ve become famous to myself.

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Digital History Hacks

I just sent the following off to Ralph Luker to add to Cliopatria‘s Hall of Fame for important history weblogs:

It seems like just yesterday I was toasting Bill Turkel’s Digital History Hacks for winning Cliopatria‘s Best New Blog Award. Now Bill is moving on from the blog to other things, and I have the sad task of bidding DHH adieu. Let’s see what I said back then:

William J. Turkel’s Digital History Hacks goes beyond new media platitudes and internet hype to demonstrate in word and deed what history in the twenty-first century will be all about. From the nuts and bolts of spidering and scraping to the loftiest questions about what historians do and why, Digital History Hacks points the way to a brave new world with infectious enthusiasm and blazing imagination.

All that proved to be true and more. Years from now, people are going to look back at Digital History Hacks and say “Something started here.” At least, I hope so. For three years, DHH offered a crash course in the history of the future. Bill’s three-year-old posts still seem three years ahead of their time. There’s still nothing else like DHH in the history blogosphere, which is a compliment to Bill but maybe also a bit of a shame. Sure, Bill has fans and followers now. (Not that he was ever interested in fans or followers–have you noticed that DHH has no comment function? how cool is that?) He’s tight with all the digital history illuminati, he’s released dozens of new history bloggers into the world, and it’s he, not I, that anchors the northern end of the UWO-GMU Axis of Digital Evil. But there’s still nobody I can think of that thinks quite as creatively or as provocatively as Bill does about what digital history is and what it might become.

I can’t list all the things I’ve learned or all the ideas I’ve stolen from Digital History Hacks, but one meta-idea which Bill taught me is that the loftiest questions about what we do are not separate from the nuts and bolts of how we do it. As above, so below: lofty philosophical issues are practical technical questions and vice versa. Change the tools available to the humanities and you have the opportunity to rethink what the humanities are. That’s what Bill’s been doing for the past three years and that’s what he continues to do.

I’m sorry to see Bill put DHH to bed, but I’m lucky enough to be privy to some of the cool new stuff he’s doing, and I promise you will see and hear more amazing things from him before too long. In the meantime, explore the archives of DHH or try working through the exercises in The Programming Historian, Bill and Alan Maceachern’s in-progress, open-source textbook on How It Is Done.

Bill sometimes says there’s more to being a musician than posing with a guitar. What he means, I think, is that there is or can be more to being a “digital historian” than having a Blogspot account and an opinion about Wikipedia. When Bill launched The Programming Historian, Mills Kelly (no slouch as a digital historian himself) wrote, “with its release, my excuses [for not learning to program] go poof.” Digital History Hacks made a lot of our excuses go poof. If we want to be part of making our profession’s future, it’s high time to stop talking and roll up our sleeves.