Gotthard Deutsch (1859–1921) taught at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati from 1891 until his death, where he produced a card index of 70,000 ‘facts’ of Jewish history. This article explores the biography of this artefact of research and poses the following question: Does Deutsch’s index constitute a great unwritten work of history, as some have claimed, or are the cards ultimately useless ‘chips from his workshop’? It may seem a curious relic of positivistic history, but closer examination allows us to interrogate the materiality of scholarly labor. The catalogue constitutes a total archive and highlights memory’s multiple registers, as both a prosthesis for personal recall and a symbol of a ‘human encyclopedia’. The article argues that this mostly forgotten scholar’s work had surprising repercussions: Deutsch’s student Jacob Rader Marcus (1896–1995) brought his teacher’s emphasis on facticity to the field of American Jewish history that he pioneered, catapulting a 19th-century positivism to the threshold of the 21st century. Deutsch’s index was at an inflection point of knowledge production, created as historians were shifting away from ‘facts’ but just before new technologies (also based on cards) enabled ‘big data’ on a larger scale. The article thus excavates a vision of monumentality but proposes we look past these objects as monuments to ‘heroic’ scholarship. Indeed, Deutsch’s index is massive but middling, especially when placed alongside those of Niklas Luhmann, Paul Otlet, or Gershom Scholem. It thus presents a necessary corrective to anointing such indexes as predecessors to the Internet and big data because we must keep their problematic positivism in perspective.
Many people take the myth of Demeter — Ceres in Latin — and her daughter Persephone to be just a metaphor for the annual cycle of planting and harvesting. It is, but there may be more to it than that. Why else would it be worth scaring participants in the Eleusinian Mysteries into saying absolutely nothing about what went on during these initiation rites into the cult of Demeter and Persephone?
Maybe the story hides a secret so valuable that it was worth protecting.
Elucidating the Eleusinian Mysteries is one small element in Scott Reynolds Nelson’s new book, Oceans of Grain. It looks at the many, many ways in which wheat and human history intertwine, which he’s been working on for years. It was finally published on 22 February this year.
Two days later, Russia invaded Ukraine.
Today, what the story of Persephone is really about. And over the next three weeks, Scott Nelson and I will be talking about how wheat has influenced human affairs, as it is still doing today.
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Western Culture and Capitalism
Left: Handwritten, drawn and illuminated leaf from a 14th Century French Book of Hours (Lewis E M 4:9) in Latin written in Gothic bookhand (License: CCO)
Right: Book cover of The 4-Hour Work Week from Amazon
Curious to see how these tools can be communally used for collaborative note taking, knowledge creation, and discussion.
If you hate them, it’s not your fault.
A🧵 of annotations
What any individual infers about their hopes and dreams for an e-reader derives from their understanding of reading in the first place. You can’t have books without bookiness. Bookiness. That’s the word Glenn Fleishman, a technology writer and longtime bookmaker, uses to describe the situation. “It’s the essence that makes someone feel like they’re using a book,” he told me. Like pornography or sandwiches, you know bookiness when you see it. Or feel it? Either way, most people can’t identify what it is in the abstract. ❧
Does this only come out because there’s something that’s book-tangential or similar and it needs to exist to describe the idea of not-book, book-adjacent, or book-like on some sort of spectrum of bookishness.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:28PM
The ancient Romans sometimes connected wax tablets with leather or cords, suggesting a prototype of binding. Replacing the wax with leaves allowed many pages to be stacked atop one another, then sewn or otherwise bound together. ❧
early book prototypes
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:30PM
In other words, as far as technologies go, the book endures for very good reason. Books work. ❧
Aside from reading words to put ideas into my brain, one of the reasons I like to read digital words is that the bigger value proposition for me is an easier method to add annotations to what I’m reading and then to be able to manipulate those notes after-the-fact. I’ve transcended books and the manual methods of note taking. Until I come up with a better word for it, digital commonplacing seems to be a useful shorthand for this new pattern of reading.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:33PM
If you have a high-quality hardbound book nearby, pick it up and look at the top and bottom edges of the binding, near the spine, with the book closed. The little stripey tubes you see are called head and tail bands (one at the top, one at the bottom). They were originally invented to reinforce stitched binding, to prevent the cover from coming apart from the leaves. Today’s mass-produced hardcover books are glued rather than sewn, which makes head and tail bands purely ornamental. And yet for those who might notice, a book feels naked without such details. ❧
It is an odd circumstance that tail bands are still used on modern books that don’t need them. From a manufacturing standpoint, the decrease in cost would dictate they disappear, however they must add some level of bookiness that they’re worth that cost.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:37PM
One site of that erosion, which may help explain ebook reticence, can be found in self-published books. For people predisposed to sneer at the practice, a lack of editing or the absence of publisher endorsement and review might justify self-published works’ second-class status. That matter is debatable. More clear is the consequence of disintermediation: Nobody takes a self-published manuscript and lays it out for printing in a manner that conforms with received standards. And so you often end up with a perfect-bound Word doc instead of a book. That odd feeling of impropriety isn’t necessarily a statement about the trustworthiness of the writer or their ideas, but a sense of dissonance at the book as an object. It’s an eerie gestalt, a foreboding feeling of unbookiness. ❧
Having helped others to self-publish in the past, I definitely do spend a bit of time putting the small sort of bookiness flourishes into their texts.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:41PM
The weird way you tap or push a whole image of a page to the side—it’s the uncanny valley of page turning, not a simulation or replacement of it. ❧
This may be the first time I’ve seen uncanny valley applied to a topic other than recognizing people versus robots or related simulacra.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:44PM
The iPad’s larger screen also scales down PDF pages to fit, making the results smaller than they would be in print. It also displays simulated print margins inside the bezel margin of the device itself, a kind of mise en abyme that still can’t actually be used for the things margins are used for, such as notes or dog-ears. ❧
It would be quite nice if a digital reader would allow actual writing in the margins, or even overlaying the text itself and then allowing the looking at the two separately.
I do quite like the infinite annotation space that Hypothes.is gives me on a laptop. I wish there were UI for it on a Kindle in a more usable and forgiving way. The digital keyboard on Kindle Paperwhite is miserable. I’ve noticed that I generally prefer reading and annotating on desktop in a browser now for general ease-of-use.
Also, I don’t see enough use of mise en abyme. This is a good one.
In Western art history, mise en abyme (French pronunciation: [miz ɑ̃n‿abim]; also mise en abîme) is a formal technique of placing a copy of an image within itself, often in a way that suggests an infinitely recurring sequence. In film theory and literary theory, it refers to the technique of inserting a story within a story. The term is derived from heraldry and literally means “placed into abyss”. It was first appropriated for modern criticism by the French author André Gide.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:49PM
Ebook devices are extremely compatible with an idea of bookiness that values holding and carrying a potentially large number of books at once; that prefers direct flow from start to finish over random access; that reads for the meaning and force of the words as text first, if not primarily; and that isn’t concerned with the use of books as stores of reader-added information or as memory palaces. ❧
Intriguing reference of a book as a memory palace here.
The verso/recto and top/middle/bottom is a piece of digital books that I do miss from the physical versions as it serves as a mnemonic journey for me to be able to remember what was where.
I wonder if Ian Bogost uses the method of loci?
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:53PM
So do all manner of other peculiarities of form, including notations of editions on the verso (the flip side) of the full title page and the running headers all throughout that rename the book you are already reading. ❧
I do dislike the running headers of digital copies of books as most annotation tools want to capture those headers in the annotation. It would be nice if they were marked up in an Aria-like method so that annotation software would semantically know to ignore them.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:56PM
Skimming through pages, the foremost feature of the codex, remains impossible in digital books. ❧
This is related to an idea that Tom Critchlow was trying to get at a bit the other day. It would definitely be interesting in this sort of setting.
(Why yes I am procrastinating my to-do list. You?)
— Tom Critchlow (@tomcritchlow) September 17, 2021
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 01:03PM
“We’ve been thoughtful,” Amazon continued, “about adding only features and experiences that preserve and enhance the reading experience.” The question of whose experience doesn’t seem to come up. ❧
They’re definitely not catering to my reading, annotating, and writing experience.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 01:04PM
This is an online commonplace book for Whitney Trettien. You're welcome to use these notes and reading lists to guide you in your own studies.
Bonus points that Whitney calls it a Whiki! 🙂
This article is an elaboration on the statements about the WWW, web design and personal websites I made in my recent talks and articles, as well as those included in the volume. As the editor (and probably the readers as well) noticed, as soon as I look for counter examples to new media products made following the cruel and hypocritical UX paradigm, I come up with a website – or more precisely, with a website of a particular genre – “the 90s GeoCities”.
Insurrection aftermath: Don’t absolve yourself
After watching many Republicans on the Sunday morning shows and hearing a few on the radio this morning, I notice that they’re actively preferring only one or two of the three solutions after Wednesday’s insurrectionist coup attempt.
The three broad options that everyone is talking about:
- Trump resigns
- 25th Amendment removal of Trump
- Impeachment in the House possibly followed by conviction in the Senate
Generally Republicans are looking more closely at options one and two (in that order) and then they’re immediately shifting the discussion to the appalling nature of the events themselves.
The important question we need to ask ourselves is why are they preferring resignation or the 25th amendment? The answer comes down to who is actively receiving the blame and who has to actively do the work to make the system function properly.
In option 1, Trump and Trump alone takes the blame and initiates the action. This lets all his Republican supporters off the hook for allowing him the bullying free reign he’s had for more than four years now.
Presently the chance that Trump resigns is hovering around zero because he is so loathe to smear his own reputation or take responsibility for anything. Resignation is too closely associated with the idea of being a “loser” which Trump cannot admit himself to be at any cost.
In option 2, Trump still takes the blame and only a small handful of primarily un-elected leaders needs to take the action.
As we’ve already seen this past week, cabinet members are either still too loyal to Trump, or have chosen to jump ship to save themselves rather than take the necessary proactive action against him.
In option 3, Trump takes the blame, but a large number of people need to take action. While almost all Democrats and a handful of Republicans can easily take this route, some Republicans are loathe to want this option.
In particular, most Republicans won’t want to take this route because it also means that they must take some of the blame for so actively supporting Donald John Trump’s lies and views for so long.
Not a single Republican I’ve seen was willing to take even an iota of responsibility for supporting Trump, his outright lies, racist policies, or insanity for the past four+ years much less the last two months. Two months in which they either actively supported his lies that the election was stolen or supported it with their acquiescence by silence. They’re still abjectly holding to the belief that the emperor is fully dressed, while only trying to admit that he’s taken off one glove. They may not want to say it but they know better.
We need to be able to admit that the Emperor is naked and that far too many of us are only half dressed at best. We need to ardently press for all three solutions to happen. We also need to advocate for a fourth option that requires sanctions of the members of congress who voted to continue to support the lie even after the insurrection.
To be the Americans we say we are or want to be, we need to hold power to account. We can’t leave the message that a future leader can do the same thing and get away with it. We need to admit our complicity in allowing Trump to pretend to lead us. We cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility.
We can’t absolve ourselves without true penance
If you’re still unsure of why we cannot absolve ourselves (and honestly even if you aren’t), then I highly recommend reading a short Twitter thread/essay from earlier this week by Lili Saintcrow. It’s a highly illustrative parable about what has been going on in America and why it continues.
Let me explain something to those of you who didn’t grow up around violently abusive white supremacists.
*They absolutely do not believe their own bullshit*, but it’s useful for them to pretend they do.
— Lili Saintcrow (@lilithsaintcrow) January 7, 2021
And for those who don’t click through, I’ll excerpt two tweets in the thread which are very important to her searing point:
Domestic abusers, white supremacists, and religious bigots all operate off the same thin but very useful playbook that exploits other people’s politeness and (I’ve got to say it) “civility.”
“Obama was born in Kenya.” “She provoked me, I had to hit her.” “Biden’s followers stormed the Capitol.” “It was Antifa.” “I thought that black child was going to shoot me.” These are all the same species of lie, and they serve the same purpose–to absolve the speaker.
Republicans (and let’s be honest, really all of us) are going to have to individually and collectively do some very hard work here, take responsibility, and stop attempting to absolve ourselves.
Without it, we’re just repeating the mistakes of ending Reconstruction after the Civil War which ushered in the despicable Jim Crow laws and have kept our nation mired in racist ideas and racist policies. If we’re not careful we’ll be heading back to an actual and far more costly Civil War. Let’s take this opportunity to admit our mistakes and actually move forward.
We all deserve better. We all need better. We all require better.
We should all demand better.
Search over numerous datasets and reconstruct the lives of people involved in the historical slave trade. Browse interconnected data, generate visualizations, and explore short biographies of enslaved and freed peoples.
Physical print sent by the author and not available in digital format (at least that I can currently find.)
This isn’t the sort of essay I was initially hoping for, but it does touch on the idea of forged church documents as a means of providing a power base for certain churches versus others as well as versus other leaders. Without an oral society with memory methods spread among various constituencies, the power structure was based solely on written (or forged) documents.
A 1935 photograph shows Thurgood Marshall, a young lawyer at the counsel table, in the Baltimore City Courthouse. Mid-argument, he stands with notes in one hand and the other outstretched to underscore a point. Marshall’s mentor, Charles Hamilton Houston, sits to his far left making notes. At Mars...
Launched in fall 2020, the Hard Histories at Hopkins Project examines the role that racism and discrimination have played at Johns Hopkins. Blending research, teaching, public engagement and the creative arts, Hard Histories aims to engage our broadest communities—at Johns Hopkins and in Baltimore—in a frank and informed exploration of how racism has been produced and permitted to persist as part of our structure and our practice.
Some great articles hiding here. Glad that Johns Hopkins is doing some research into it’s own history.