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[sixth blog, travel course, Concordia University-Texas]

State Department Historian Mark Howe brought up something quite interesting in his session with us on Thursday. He discussed how the federal government’s archiving system will have to figure out how to archive new forms of media—specifically email and social media. I’d never considered this before.

People are known to demonize new technologies. They may be rightfully skeptical of how a new technology will take the place of what they have now—if it will improve current technology or fail, and how. Howe said, for example, that historians demonized the telegram when it replaced hand-written letters; they didn’t know if and how to archive messages sent via telegram. Howe also noted that historians later demonized radio, television, and the internet for the same reasons.

Some people in business—as well as historians and society at large—are demonizing email and social media because we haven’t developed a sound, definite, consistent methodology explaining how to communicate/document/archive information. However, the massive shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 is something we can no longer speculate about. It’s definite. The shift has already occurred. It’s therefore imperative for businesses of all types to embrace email and social media—after all, this type of shift in communication has happened time after time in history. From the Pony Express to telegrams, from radio to YouTube, it’s clear we’re capable of adjusting the way our businesses and agencies communicate to reflect the latest technology.

For historians, this may include a new software program or email plug-in that automatically archives valuable email threads. Email or comment threads may become valuable archived materials in 50, 30, or even 10 years. Those doing research on Barack Obama’s presidency in 2050 may be reading instant messaging records at the National Archives. We must not consider this “ridiculous” or “inefficient;” it’s a completely logical possibility. Perhaps the technology is too new for us to imagine this—especially since there’s not a traditional system for archiving text messages, chat sessions, emails, and Facebook comments.

It would be foolish for us to, at any point in our lives, become resistant to change and adjustment.

You can view some of my favorite photos from the trip on my photoblog.

[fifth blog, travel course, Concordia University-Texas]

Does the Newseum accomplish its goal to enable visitors to learn the role of media and understand the rights and responsibilities that come with the freedom of expression?

I believe the Newseum accomplishes its goal with ease. The mere subject matter of the Newseum communicated this point.

The gallery of Pulitzer Prize-winning photos reminded me how valuable images and stories from the “ground zero” of a story are to someone learning the truth of what actually happened. For example, one photo showed American soldiers guarding a Vietnamese highway as thick smoke billowed over the road. A naked Vietnamese child ran toward the camera; the photographer recalled her screaming, in Vietnamese, “it’s so hot!” Her clothes were burned off by napalm gas.

While some may deem the photo inappropriate for public media in America, it’s quite obvious that the photo was a valuable educational tool. I stood in front of it imagining myself, standing on that highway, seeing a girl who’d had her clothes burned off by napalm and thought, “God, this is what war is like.”

This is why freedom of the press is important. It (ideally) communicates truth and contributes positively to the collective intelligence of a society. We have the right to know the truth, and the responsibility to communicate it accurately, without bias. This is the message I got from the Newseum in the first ten minutes of my visit.

What Newseum exhibit takes you offguard/doesn’t seem to fit in with communication at first glance?

Actually, the giant piece of the Berlin Wall didn’t seem to fit in at first glance. I soon realized, though, that I was viewing it through a historical lens instead of thinking of how it related to communication. As soon as I began to read the Newseum’s detailed description of communication during the division of Berlin, I understood why it was in the Newseum instead of the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Freedom of the press is, I think, a completely positive concept for a society. In fact, I have a hard time understanding how anyone could argue against it without glorifying the potential perversion of truth. The truth is what mass media—in the journalistic sector, not in entertainment—is devoted to presenting. Who wishes World News Tonight’s Charles Gibson would let the government review and edit his material before reporting it to the public?

You can view some of my favorite photos from the trip on my photoblog.

[fourth blog, travel course, Concordia University]

The Statue of Liberty was given to the United States by France in 1886. The statue was originally known as Liberty Enlightening the World; the title “Statue of Liberty” became a more common name for the massive copper statue. Lady Liberty, as the statue is sometimes called, commemorates the centennial of the United States (1876), and was a gesture of friendship between France and the US.

The meaning to immigrants, however, was different. To those entering New York Harbor en route to Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty was one of the first sights to gaze upon– their first glimpse of America. Not knowing Liberty’s intended symbolism and meaning, they were free to think whatever they pleased. We can logically suppose that immigrants let the statue become the symbol of their hope for a new life in America. To some, Lady Liberty may have meant freedom from misfortunes back home. To others, the statue may have meant a clean slate from their past, or promised success at a career they hoped to begin in the United States.

This begs the classic question of meaning: is meaning determined solely by the receiver of a message, or is meaning agreed upon by a majority or organization of people? Is the meaning of the statue limited to its original intent, or have the meanings people have given it added to the statue’s ultimate meaning? Can a person or organization control how their meaning is perceived by the public or intended audience? Surely they can do things to ensure a higher likelihood that their message will be received accurately, but ultimately, they can’t ensure their meaning will be perceived in the way they want.

Take Calvin Klein’s Times Square advertisement for example. The ad features a man and woman– sweaty, in underwear, the woman preparing to mount the man for sex. We can suppose what the message of the ad may be…a sexual appeal that intends to make people believe Calvin Klein is a sexy, attractive brand. Still, some will receive it as lame, offensive, or in my case, amusing.

So, what can one do to help to ensure their meaning will be received accurately? Being completely explicit seems to ensure accuracy. However, an explicit message may neglect a particular demographic. Ideally, an advertisement will appeal to people at multiple levels of income and intelligence. Letting the meaning belong to the receiver is in some cases advantageous to the advertiser since it doesn’t exclude anyone.

So, what for the Statue of Liberty? In the early 1900s, Lady Liberty couldn’t broadcast her meaning to boats traversing New York Harbor. It was also difficult to get a message out to mass numbers of people: knowledge spread via word of mouth (a less than reliable medium), through books (reaching only those who are willing to seek out and purchase a copy), through schooling (which in most cases wasn’t required), and through advertisements (usually limited to urban areas).

I suppose the meaning of the Statue of Liberty exists in two areas: the original intent and the meanings those who have looked upon it have given the statue. I choose to accept the statue’s original intent as its meaning, but believe each is acceptable so long as the original intent is understood and used to guide personal meaning. After all, believing anything we want about the statue with neglect to its purpose devalues the original meaning entirely and trivializes the statue.

You can view some of my favorite photos from the trip on my photoblog.


[third post, travel course, Concordia University]

What did you think upon your arrival to Harvard’s campus?
I first noticed the brick wall surrounding Harvard’s primary campus, limiting access to specific gates. I’d only seen this in photos of Oxford University in the UK. Entering the campus through a gate made me think of entering differently. I felt like a true visitor. In contrast, when I enter the University of Texas at Austin’s open campus, I maintain complete anonymity. In Harvard’s small Cambridge campus, I didn’t feel that way.

I just felt cold. The weather? 14 degrees outside, with a stiff wind that created a -4 degree wind chill. It was hard to pay attention to the history of John Harvard while my feet and face were freezing over.

Are there any physical characteristics about Harvard’s campus that encourage knowledge?
What a strange question. I suppose I’ll use relevant 21st century language to describe Harvard’s general architectural appearance and say that Harvard looks very “Hogwarts-esque.” Old, red-brick buildings surround two quads.

Yale University, Southwestern University, Grinnell College, and Anderson University all look similar to Harvard in a physical sense. I don’t know if it’s architecture that encourages knowledge. If it is, and if Harvard does a particularly good job, we imply that Harvard’s style of architecture is superior to different architectural styles in that it better promotes education and intellectualism. I don’t think anyone’s interested in making that claim.

You can view some of my favorite photos from the trip on my photoblog.


[second post, travel course, Concordia University]

Monumental places are funny. One day, two men have a conversation on a street corner that changes the future for their country. The next day, it’s still a street corner…but the place itself marks the geographical point in which history was essentially altered. Is the site special? Well, no. It’s just a street corner. But it actually is special, or significant, because of what happened there.

For example, consider Boston’s Freedom Trail. 16 nationally significant historic sites are included in the trail– roughly a 2.5-mile walk through Boston’s North End and Charlestown. The sites include Old North Church (the location from which the famous “One if by land, and two if by sea” signal is said to have been sent), Boston Common (the nation’s first public park), Old State House (Boston’s oldest public building), Copp’s Hill Burial Ground, and Bunker Hill Monument (site of first battle of the Revolutionary War).

Today, some of the sites are surrounded by modern environments. The Old State House sits across from a four-story Borders. High-rise condos, corporate chain stores, and a handful of Dunkin Donuts line the streets bordering Boston Common. My first reaction visiting these sites was not one of awe or intrigue. Instead, I had to stretch my mind to imagine what the site was like 200 years ago.

Perhaps this places a special importance on communication at monuments. How can a historical society or national park service use communication to enhance visitors’ cognitive recognition of historical events? Signage, maps, and photos come to mind immediately. I think signage may be the most effective and reasonable means of communication in this context.

I was pleased with the signage along Boston’s Freedom Trail. Each location had at least one sign explaining why it was significant in American history. While the descriptions were brief and could obviously not provide a thorough recount of the site’s history, they were able to help visitors grasp the context of the historical event without requiring them to have any previous knowledge or experience in history.

This, I think, is a great challenge: writing briefly and writing to people with widely varying levels of education in American history. Perhaps this is why most historical locations switch out their signs every few years…it’s hard to truly believe you’ve done it right.

The Old State House’s signs helped me recognize its significance by enabling me to imagine what happened there. They were brief, but thorough enough to give me a decent grasp of what happened there. Standing in front of a sign mounted to its side, I imagined 7,000 colonial Americans standing outside the meeting house, anxiously awaiting news from the meeting inside (should Boston refuse the tea sent to the colonies by King George of England?). I imagined people becoming frustrated the meeting was taking so long, and that Boston Governor Hutchinson kept refusing to engage in such a protest. I imagined them slowly moving toward the Charles River to dump tea off the boat.

I’ll continue my theme from my last post by concluding “communication is the framework that supports our economy, society, and progress.”

You can view some of my favorite photos from the trip on my photoblog.


[first post, travel course, Concordia University]

Over 4.5 million people live in the greater Boston, Massachusetts metropolitan area. The metro stretches from Providence, Rhode Island in the south to Portsmouth, New Hampshire in the north. Over a third of the metro’s residents use commute via public transit; Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) operates the fourth-busiest rapid transit system in the country.

MBTA’s subway system was the first underground transit network in the US, built in 1897. The rail system was then confined to downtown Boston; today, the rail system expands to the north, south, and west of the central city.

Ideally, a mass transit system should cater to the greatest number of city residents and keep cars off the roads. A citizen should never be beyond reasonable walking distance from a train station or bus connection. Boston seems to have achieved this. This explains why nearly 31 percent of Bostonians commute to work via public transit.

The flow of people is essential to the flow of communication– in fact, it practically is the flow of communication. Transportation is a basic need in our society; we use transportation networks to travel anywhere. Ideas, innovations, and progress move along roads, telephone networks, subways, planes, elevated rails, etc. Their efficiency is dependent upon this transportation network.

While it’s likely no one on the MTBA Red Line is thinking about this, Boston’s train system is supporting the efficiency of its economy and society. I look forward to comparing it to similar rail systems in New York, Washington, and Chicago.

You can view some of my favorite photos from the trip on my photoblog.

West Texas is quite bizarre.

An eclectic blend of sprawling cattle ranches, quirky railroad towns, and wide-open desert, Texas west of the Pecos River is starkly different than every other part of the state.

Particularly bizarre is Loving County, Texas– the least populated county in the entire United States. Loving County is home to roughly 70 people (rounded up from the official 2000 figure of 67), 15 of which populate the county seat of Mentone. There aren’t many people there. Imagining a small community of people living in the blazing Chihuahuan Desert is pretty easy. Imagining the practicalities of running a county here– government, public works, a school system– is a little mind-boggling.

As you may have hypothesized, normal aspects of civilized, American life like buying groceries and, well, taking a hot shower are very different in Loving County. This blog, unfortunately, is mostly reporting facts– but honestly, I find the facts interesting enough to allow them to speak for themselves. Here are some “Lovely” facts about the desolate community:

  • In 1930 the population of Loving County was a bustling 600. In 1950, the number had dwindled to 225. In 1970 the population had fallen to 73, all Caucasian. After a brief peak in 1980 to 100 residents, the number has dropped steadily.
  • The county closed its school system in 1972, when just two students were enrolled. Students were transferred to Winkler County’s school system, a short 35-mile drive away.
  • A survey of the 1980 population discovered that only four county residents were college graduates.
  • In the summer of 1988 Loving County piped drinking water to a 500-gallon tank in Mentone for use by residents– the first time drinkable water was actually piped in.
  • Also in 1988, petroleum gave the small population of Loving County the highest per-capita income of all US counties– $34,173. Not bad for a county whose county seat was abandoned twice.
  • The county seat, Mentone, used to boast a whopping five cafes and five gas stations in its heyday. The small community now comprises of a courthouse, two stop signs, a gas station, a post office, and a cafe. Oh, and that 500-gallon water tank.

Having grown up in a large city, it’s fascinating for me to imagine a county in which sherrifs only thirty years ago didn’t carry a gun since they knew everyone in the county. Also, Loving County doesn’t have a grocery store. Or a medical facility. Or a bank. Or a library. Of course, 75 percent of the world doesn’t have these amenities. But Loving County is in Texas, just six hours from Austin– which changes my perception.

With so many people migrating to urban areas to live and work, you have to wonder what will become of Loving County in the next 50 years. Keep in mind Mentone was abandoned twice in the 1900s. If the oil the county is floating on runs dry, it could happen again. But what would the state do if people abandoned the place, or if it was no longer capable of producing a county-level government? Would they de-activate Loving County and divide its land to the adjacent Reeves County or Winkler County? Counties just don’t lose their people every day. Perhaps Loving County should be put on the “endangered species” list.

I’d like to take a road trip through West Texas soon and visit such bizarre attractions as the Marfa Lights (http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Marfa_lights), Wink Sinks (http://ceed.utpb.edu/the-wink-sinks-project/about-the-wink-sinks/), and the incredibly tiny town of Mentone (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mentone,_Texas).

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