NPCs and little bits of history in Mafia III

Bob Whitaker has a nice piece on Zam today on NPCs in Mafia III and how their unexpected role in sharing the fruit of historical research that went into the game affected the way he played it. To quote Bob:

I’m not campaigning to turn open world games into history textbooks, but there’s something special about a game in this genre that can cause me to reconsider my open world mayhem and enjoy the experience more without random violence.

Little bits and pieces of personality delivered through detail, in short, actually detracted (somewhat) from the rather bloodthirsty norms of your average open world game. It’s an intriguing idea, perhaps an unforeseen benefit of the “bottom-up” approach to historical study bleeding into historical research beyond the academy.

From top to bottom Mafia III is a fascinating and flawed game: the game’s developers took an interesting and potentially risky (albeit purely by not taking the most expected route) choice in framing their story around an African-American Vietnam veteran in 1960s New Orleans, but the game ultimately appears to sit in somewhat of a middle ground between an urge to deconstruct and defy historical and other stereotypes and the continued broad brush of terrorist-supporting Irish hoodlums and Haitian refugee drug runners.

Still, the steps in good and bad directions both perhaps fit the willingness to drift away from standard historical retellings. In a genre where the player has the option to follow a central narrative or do whatever s/he feels like doing within the sandbox created for the game, perhaps it fits that there are two broad options between a singular, directed historical tale and the unstructured aggregations of lots of little fictional testimonies. The overlap between the two is inevitably messy. Feels somewhat familiar to this historian.

Mad Archivists, Doing More, and Space (#dlfLAC)

This past weekend I attended the Digital Library Federation Liberal Arts Colleges Pre-Conference (dlfLAC) and spent a lot of time reflecting on how I am approaching concepts of project-based learning. In particular, I quite enjoyed a talk given by Patrick Wallace, Digital Projects & Archives Librarian at Middlebury. Patrick built his talk around the concept of the “mad archivist,” a member of the campus community with a specific responsibility but who is asked to do many, many things and who has the potential to do more still. Specifically, this relates to individuals (particularly archivists or other library personnel) tasked with responsibilities grouped under an umbrella title that has the word “digital” thrown in with other words that may or may not lead to some coherent professional identity.

In short, this means that digital archivists, digital lab coordinators/leaders/facilitators, librarians working in digital humanities are effectively expected to do… well, everything. This played out rather well in Patrick’s talk as he shared with us a list of qualifications, experience and interests commonly found in job descriptions posted for various roles in the digital humanities: it was a long list. However, rather than be frustrated or intimidated, such a reality should encourage experimentation and the willingness to go abroad, beyond the home country of a narrow set of expectations.

It is important to point out that not everyone is so lucky as to be essentially left alone to go mad; indeed, this is a common problem for librarians and faculty who are eager to try new things. It is also worth nothing that a concern over potential lack of imagination can be rather crippling. I often wonder “but what can I do?” The answer is usually found in work already being done. My decisions to bring in podcast and video game assignments come directly from my own interests, particularly in the classroom. The main takeaway from Patrick’s presentation for me was the celebration of an ethos of “create, create, share and share widely.” In other words, try all kinds of things, give yourself credit that, yes, this is “work,” and that opportunities will present themselves.

The one counter-argument that should arise here is one of the more important ones: where do we find the time for such exploration? It came up at a few of the talks I attended. How do we get students involved? Perhaps more crucially, how do get faculty involved? You end up with a particular type of faculty member able and willing to join you on an exploration: she has just received tenure and she is willing to fundamentally alter a significant pillar of her pedagogy or perhaps even her research profile. This is, indeed, a particularly narrow demographic in academia in 2016.

It’s a high bar, and one that deserves a fuller discussion. I can already think of more such pessimistic counter-arguments, but for now I find myself intrigued and not a little bit inspired by Patrick’s sharing of this “mad archivist” idea. And I’m not even an archivist. In particular, I find such approaches refreshing when thinking about “interdisciplinary” work and what that is supposed to look like. Rather than wrinkle the skin between my eyes and squint at imaginary objects in the distance when the topic comes up I think, perhaps, I will instead set out to work on the idea and find out what it is when I get there.

This all coincides nicely with changes to my thinking since becoming an assistant professor at a small liberal arts college. Things really do work differently here, or at least, they can if you want them to. Working in a place that focuses so heavily on teaching gives me an advantage, I think, in creating more opportunities to go mad.

Holding Space

Patrick Wallace, Digital Projects and Archives Librarian at Middlebury

How to be (or foster) a mad archivist

I like his coat and tie

  • Why a “mad archivist”?
  • The laboratory, in theory and practice
  • Discussion!

The digital archive might have a wild unstructured idea behind it

  • He has been given a lot of latitude at Middlebury on what projects to focus on

Nice compilation of skills the digital archivists are supposed to know

  • Everything, basically

Love his slides. Great use of comic-style images

Archivist as a dreamer

  • Futurist, idealist, strategist

Libraries at LACs have people who will wear lots of hats

  • Talks about hiring people with strong personalities, clear idea of their work
    • SWEET Star Trek reference with “an ensemble crew” slide

Mad archivist as technician

  • Hacker/inventor/mnemonic geek

Kludge leads to solutions

  • Always more ideas than time
  • Few problems demand perfect solutions

Institutional authority vs. agency

  • Easier to apologize…

Mad archivist as outlier

  • Trans-everything, front facing…

Establish an identity

  • Create a mission statement for your “lab”
  • Pursue your own goals
  • Draw lines between consultation and collaboration
  • Own your own work (but license freely)
    • Makes fascinating comparison with a science lab where everyone who picks up a beaker gets official credit

Importance of making time

  • Learning is work, research is work, tweaking is work, documentation is work…

Prepare for experimentation

  • Linux + sudo privileges
  • Storage space
  • Off-network sandbox
  • Special hardware

Take notes

  • Use to observe difference between productive and wasted effort

Metrics of madness

  • For digital collections, success is measured by volume, reusability, quality, and accessibility

He pushes things out to the Internet Archive (specifically shouts out their Python library)

Share everything!!!!

  • Research, workflows, code, content
    • “be promiscuous with your archives”

Presentation template by SlidesCarnival

How (& Why) Did They Make That?

Session Map

  • Overview & Introductions
  • Archiving Campus Controversies & Student Criticism on the Web
  • Digital Humanities as Community Engagement in the Digital Watts Project
  • Voices of Industrial America: A Distance Digital Liberal Arts Seminar
  • Journal of Tolkien Research: An OA Peer-Reviewed Journal on Digital Commons
  • Facilitated Discussion
  • Open Q&A

Ten minute talks.

Archiving Campus Controversies

Historical records librarians create cannot be neutral

Time can heal, issues can be quaint

  • Not always… he shares the 1988 incident that basically led to Greek organizations being kicked off campus

They archived YikYak! He mentions “Sombrero Girl”

  • The “bathroom wall of the cellphone”, YikYak

Wallace’s discussion of how to handle the seniors’ “crush lists” and privacy

  • Who has a right to be forgotten, who decides?

Importance of being bold in the face of institutional resistance

Share it when the time is right and not be timid

  • Uses Feminist Action at Middlebury twitter account

The Digital Watts

Melanie Hubbard from Loyola Marymount University

Some interesting stuff; project helped get library started on digitizing its material

Argues project shows us how information science and humanities are good/natural together

  • I would agree

Raises the point that neither she nor the faculty member are historians… (Dermot Ryan is an Assoc. English prof)

Metadata creation process the greatest challenge faced

  • Repeats issues mentioned earlier
    • Library didn’t want it too academic, wanted to make sure the information reached the Southern Los Angeles community

Issue of terminology

  • Watts Riots/Watts Uprising/Watts Rebellion/Watts Revolt
    • In the end, source content drives label in individual cases, they went with Watts 1965 as the collection title

Fascinating. I wonder about money, frankly.

Voices of Industrial America

He shares the website with us and ALREADY it is clear to me this is something different. It looks built up from the start as an online course. It’s not the same as just replicating online courses.

They built this through COPLAC (Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges)

COPLAC and Digital Liberal Arts Seminars

  • Team-taught, multi-campus, undergraduate digital liberal arts seminars
  • Funded through Teagle
  • Two sections of Century America in spring of 2014-2015
    • Second iteration created 3 courses in 2016
  • Mellon gave them 550k to teach 12 new courses in 2017-2019

Diverse group of faculty, lots of different backgrounds (started with history, grew)

Chose 1870-1914 as a time frame because they wanted to avoid WWI, WWII

Teachers in separate locations, students in multiple locations far away (from Massachusetts to Florida)


  • Archival/primary source research
  • Technical skills
  • Metadata
  • Digital curation
  • Public presentation
  • Critical thinking

They’re not really talking about how this actually works….

She is going through their workflow

  • Clearly identified deliverables, timelines

Metadata, blog posts by students reflecting on metadata

Digital Liberal Arts at a Distance

  • Project contracts to develop understanding
  • Synchronous communication
  • Historical context
  • Technology and skill building

“I think we were able to develop chemistry”

  • They had six students


Tolkien Journal

Brad Eden, Dean of Library Services at Valparaiso

  • He speaks today as a Full Professor
  • Has a PhD in Musicology; also holds degree in Library Services

Currently 50-75 well known Tolkien scholars worldwide, and many popular enthusiasts

  • There are “only” a few journals
  • Tolkien Studies, which is expensive
    • A problem as many scholars work outside the traditional academic landscape
  • He was approached by Catholic University Press to chair a new journal

He really likes the tools (correcting misspellings after publication, viewership stats and so on)

  • So basically…. A blog! This is very cool.

He can publish as soon as he’s done with the review process…

  • He doesn’t wait for issues
    • No six month waits… (hey, it gets worse than that!)
    • Multimedia is not a hindrance; photo and video can be included

Journal is now in its third year…

He recommends the Digital Commons system… strongly

Planning to Share: Open Educational Resources (OER) for SLACs (dlfLAC notes)

Mackenzie Brooks (Wash & Lee, Digital Humanities Librarian, Asst. Prof.) and Brandon Walsh

  • Liberal Arts context
  • Resources can be professionally legible (to academics but also to language within your organization (ie tied to your official role)
  • Plan up front for different stages in a project’s life
  • What is OER? What do these words actually mean?
  • Local context vs. wider audience
  • What are you already doing?

Use of a stipend to incentivize faculty…

Brandon is talking about his working closely with a History professor on the construction of her class

  • He did digital text analysis materials (this was going to be part of the class)
  • She did the History stuff, basically.

Developing resources can be educational opportunities

  • Historian learned Markdown, Github

UCAH (University Collections of Art and History) stuff looks great.

  • Interdisciplinary lesson plans
  • Published on WordPress, shared on Facebook
  • Grant funded by ACS to provide modest stipends to toolkit creators
  • Faculty/librarian collaboration
  • Website is

Platform selection platforms; phases are not necessarily clearly separate

    • Uses markdown
      • Basically if you can write, you’re golden
      • Good for teaching markdown
      • Data is ours, site framework is hard to edit
        • This is a problem because it is new and there are some problems.
    • Takes markdown
    • Prioritizes website creation
    • Requires a background in programming
    • Integrates well with GitHub Pages for hosting

Audience point: it’s key to remember that FERPA does apply when students are putting themselves out there

  • I should double-check this… I think I’m fine as long as we’re not grading things.

WordPress might be a good place to start, and take Jekyll from there with an established workflow…

  • I’m not clear on what advantages Jekyll has… I must look this up…

Digital Scholarship Infrastructure (dlfLAC notes)

Middlebury ran a Data Camp in their winter term

  • Doing 2.0 this coming January
    • Difficulty of attending a four day workshop
  • They have done mapping workshops

Integrated Model for Support of Digital Scholarship

These three speakers are all from Rhodes

  • They want to show us pictures; lovely picture of Rhodes

Location in Memphis central to Rhodes identity

Student research not considered separate from engaged learning

  • Engaged is their language for CBL? She is specific it means engaged in the community

IT and library are merged

  • 24 people w/in community of 2,000 students and 500 faculty and staff
  • Administration is proud of their “lean” status
    • Some sympathetic chuckling in the audience… 🙂

dlfLAC posts this week!

Yesterday I spent an entire day in conference panel discussions focused on archival research and digital methods seeking to contextualize the relationship between both, with a wide range of discussions flowing out from that basic point. Presenters discussed moral challenges and obligations facing archivists, shared their own experiences in seeking to incorporate digital methods into their work, sought advice and help from peers on how to further progress their work as archivists while also including students and faculty… there was a lot going on, and this was just a pre-conference.

I attended, alongside three colleagues from Centre College, the Digital Library Federation Liberal Arts Colleges Pre-Conference, mercifully abbreviated to dlfLAC. It was a great day and I have a lot to think about, but I will need time to digest it, as my PhD advisor used to say. I very much want to share the thoughts that such digestion produces here, and so there will be some more dlfLAC content coming out this week. I am going to start by sharing my notes. If you would like to see all of my dlfLAC posts in one place, either click on the “dlfLAC” tag below or search for “dlfLAC” above.

A couple of quick notes about those notes: I am going to try and publish my OneNote notes directly to the blog. It may go well, it may… not. Even if we get away with this from a formatting point of view, my note-taking style is not the most immediately intelligible, functioning mostly as a complex hybrid of mnemonic and (when I use handwriting) hieroglyphics. You can find the schedule here. I am sharing notes on the following talks:

“Looking Backwards and Forwards: Key Findings from CLIR’s Assessment of NITLE”

“How to Be a “Mad Archivist”: Digital Project Labs, FOSS Tools, Radical Collections, and the Value of Creative R&D.”

“Grinnell In China : Bringing Undergraduates to Archival Research”

“An Integrated Model for Support for Digital Scholarship: Building Capacity among Faculty, Students and Staff”

“Planning to Share: Open Educational Resources for Small Liberal Arts Colleges”

“Closing plenary: “How (And Why) Did They Make That?””

Hopefully you can bear with me and get some use of it. As always, feel free to get in touch either via email or on twitter.

Vietnam and American Manhood

I invited my colleague Stacey Peebles to chat with my “Vietnam: War and Memory” class today, and we had a great time. Stacey focuses her work on, among other things, representations of war in film and, in particular, soldiers’ experience and memory of war.

My students have just finished watching The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now and we had a lot of fun stuff to cover. At one point, Stacey introduced the students to the work of Susan Jeffords (I just borrowed The Remasculinization of America: Gender and the Vietnam War from Stacey), and talked about masculinity in American discourse following the American war in Vietnam.

That in turn reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time on Sylvester Stallone’s Cold War period. That post will come, I promise, but for now I’m off to read some Jeffords and have a think about how traumas of Vietnam for American manhood evolved in the 1980s. More next week.

Cubs win, Cubs win

There was a moment last night, as Rajai Davis trotted around the bases having leveled things close enough to the death, that it seemed Fate had remembered the Cubs after all and was seeking to make things right, to return us all to the equilibrium we have enjoyed for over a century.

Of course, actual Cubs fans did not enjoy the consistency of failure all that much. In the end we were beleaguered with historical points: did you know that Edison and Twain were still alive when the Cubs last won the World Series? That there have been two world wars? That people didn’t even have the Internet back then?

Poor Cleveland. They had a right to sympathy based on historical futility, too, but it does not matter. They are not as pathetic as Chicago, and therefore not as deserving. Still, it’s a sliding scale. For once I watched a sporting event and wished that both teams could somehow win, when often I feel the opposite way.

What to make of all this public discussion of history? That “history will be made tonight!” unlike other times of the day and week and year when history lies dormant awaiting the call of something important to happen? I am tempted to be grateful people were acknowledging history is important at all, but beyond the corporate opportunism in the popularization of the Chicago and Cleveland droughts lay something real. People shared something last night. It was a moment.

There is a lot of talk about how the Internet has fractured previously existing media infrastructures that allowed more cohesive popular views to form, and there is a lot of truth to it, good and bad. My current class on the history of Vietnam has been coming right up against the production of a society-wide narrative led by Walter Kronkite and his colleagues in a manner difficult to imagine today. A lot of people watched the Cubs win the World Series last night, though.

It’s reaffirming too; live sport offers not just the last remaining hope of cable television, those poor underdogs whom we all pity so, but something more meaningful. Share the GIFs of Kris Bryant grinning as he scooped up the ground ball to end game seven, tell your friends about the video of Bill Murray chugging on champagne, go into Facebook feeds and wonder at the city of Chicago writhing in happiness and relief from intersection to intersection. This is what it looks like when we all share something. Remember that when ESPN and Fox Sports send out thoroughly tanned automatons to intone how much this means to Chicagoans, that it really does mean a lot and is incredibly personal to millions of people at the same time. This is what it looks like when we’re all pulling in the same direction.

Just remember this when the Cubs are gunning for their fourth straight World Series win in 2019 and everyone outside of the north side of Chicago is complaining.

Go Cubs, go.

Duterte’s foreign policy hopes in Chinese shadows

Emily Rauhala has a good piece today on Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte beginning to see some invoices come in for his recent political maneuvering. His biggest immediate problem is the very clear break former president and prominent military figure Fidel Ramos is making with his administration. As Emily writes:

The news came after Ramos, who helped Duterte get elected, put out his second scathing critique of the president’s short tenure. In a piece published Sunday, Ramos accused Duterte of “unwittingly shooting himself in the mouth” and taking “101.5 million Filipinos” down with him by insulting allies.

“He may claim that to be more ‘insulting than friendly’ to our long-established allies is part of his God-given ‘destiny.’ But, this is obviously wrong, and full of S …. T!!!,” Ramos wrote.

This is a big deal, to be sure, and is a close to immediate fallout from what appears to be an attempt by Duterte to pivot towards China while activating elements of his “base,” to borrow language from current American political discussions. American military presence in the Philippines has sometimes been controversial, as it has in other territories, and in its post-Cold-War context dates back to then president Corey Aquino’s decision to close US Naval Base Subic Bay and Clark Air Base in 1992. The Philippines and the United States have a close relationship for many reasons, but that does not mean Filipinos owe or offer Americans unqualified support.

Today, American military presence in the Philippines is most clearly seen in Special Forces assisting the Philippine government in Mindanao and the continuing practice of joint military exercises between the military forces of both governments. Duterte has publicly stated he wants both of these arrangements to end… though he soon backed down.

It’s difficult to know, for sure, what his goals are. His eagerness to publicly state his willingness to abrogate international treaties and his subsequent immediate climbdown reflect a Trumpian approach to foreign diplomacy, defined by bluster and incompetence. In theory, the move to China is a good idea and a perfectly feasible option for an independent Filipino policy. Certainly it makes Beijing happy: splitting up the ASEAN nations has been a core part of their regional policy for some time now and a Filipino president rebuking the United States is music to the ears of Xi Jinping.