Category Archives: Uncategorized

This is why we can’t have nice things: Elizabeth Warren, Misogyny, and the Death of Expertise

As I watched the results of Super Tuesday roll in I felt my heart breaking. Elizabeth Warren was my candidate, but she was so much more than that. As a fellow woman and policy wonk, Warren’s compassion, indignation, and attention to the small details of structural change made me believe that there was a way out of our current political morass. I lived in Boston in 2012 and had watched her defeat Scott Brown; I still think she was the Democrats’ best chance of winning the general election.

And before my fellow liberals start yelling at me, let me state upfront that I will vote for the Democratic nominee come November, whoever he may be. I would vote for a literal bag of Cheetos over the current Cheeto occupying the Oval Office. But I had hoped to vote for so much more.

Since 2016 I have placed my hope for the United States in three new developments: the #metoo movement, the number of women and minorities who ran (and won!) for office in 2018, and the initial diversity of the Democratic candidates for President. To watch that initial diversity melt away into a contest between two cisgender, heterosexual, white men in their seventies who both have histories with sexual harassment is … depressing … to say the least.

Remember back in 2015 when liberals were saying they wished Warren was running for President rather than Hillary Clinton? Remember when we covered our newsfeeds, coffee mugs, and tote bags with “nevertheless she persisted?” Remember when no one thought a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was possible until Warren made it happen? Do you? Because it felt like all that was all forgotten once she announced her candidacy for president.

Almost overnight, Warren’s reputation transformed from an eloquent, passionate, and effective politician striving to protect the most vulnerable in society into a schoolmarmish, elitist, and insufficiently progressive tool of neoliberalism. It’s as if there is a glass ceiling in national politics. As if folksy trumps informed or blue sky thinking is better than careful planning.

Warren’s withdrawal from the primaries feels like more than the last serious woman candidate leaving the race. It feels like another nail in the coffin of expertise — an erasure of the intelligence and planning required to govern. In an age when the President should be relying on experts in climatology and epidemiology to keep us safe and secure from current and future threats, don’t we want a president who listens, collates, and then plans? Isn’t that how we will survive as a republic and as a species?

But I won’t give up. I will vote for the Democratic nominee come November. Until then, I will support down ticket Democrats, especially women and minorities who will need my money and my time much more than whoever runs for President. Because no matter how much I want to hide under a blanket and eat chocolate, that is not what intelligent, dedicated and prepared women do. Well, we do hide under blankets and we do eat chocolate, but that’s not all we do.

We make plans. And, nevertheless, we persist.

Ursula K. Le Guin, Marie Kondo, and moving on

A year ago today Ursula K. Le Guin died. I cannot overstate the importance of her work to my life. In her honor, I decided to spend a year reading works by women authors only (with an exception for work materials or other necessary texts).

Over the past year I have rediscovered and been introduced to so many amazing writers. I have soared through space, cities, deserts, and oceans buoyed by the prose of Nnedi Okorafor. Jodi Taylor made me laugh until I cried and then resume laughing until I fell off the couch. I have been embraced once again by the loving prose of Madeleine L’Engle, and I read every book N.K. Jemisin has published. And that is just to name a few.

I am so glad to have had these wise women as guides to my imagination in 2018. That was a year. The world has devolved from a trash fire to a receptacle for a never ending rain of trash fires. And my own life has been upended by my decision to leave the academy.

Yesterday I sat in my now-former office in the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton University and packed up my professional life. The hardest part was the books: dense with memories, freighted with meaning, and as my husband and I put them in bags and carried them to our car, so freaking heavy.

I didn’t take all my books. As a graduate student I often expanded my library through the generosity of emeritus professors, who left their office libraries in the lounge where we could pick through their scholarly detritus and find our own (often expensive) gems. I left about half of the books there, and wrote the History Subject Librarians (it’s Princeton, they have two) to let the grad students know it was free-for-all time.

As I sorted my books, I used the KonMari method of “Tidying Up,” made even more popular by Marie Kondo’s new Netflix sensation. Contrary to popular outcry, Kondo never said that you should only keep 30 books. When she is in people’s houses, she speaks about the importance of books as carriers of meaning and statements about who we are. She then taps the books to “wake them up,” and asks her clients to choose the ones they want to bring forward into this new stage of their lives. So that’s what I did.

I am a historian of power and communication, focusing on the eighteenth century. I love John Adams, whom I met through writing a sophomore paper on his wife, Abigail. I don’t need all the 20th century history I acquired in grad school. I don’t need any of my books on the US Civil War. I don’t need multiple copies of Aristotle’s Politics or de Tocqueville’s writings, just the one with the best translation and editorial apparatus. And I certainly don’t need the books with terrible prose or arguments too pathetic to even use as a straw man.

I am a database developer and designer. I don’t need out of date computer science reference books — and I look all that stuff up online anyway. 

And not only do I not need them, I don’t want them. I don’t want them cluttering up my two bedroom apartment, which now doubles as a home office for both my husband and myself. I don’t want them hanging around and reminding me that I will never teach the American history survey. I want the books that I want to read and reference. The ones that will make me feel loved and will help me write my own book on John Adams. I want the ones that will help me find my way to the next adventure.

I am a photographer, and I need all my photos and all my photography books. They spark joy.

Leaving the academy was rough. It still is; I’ve only been out for two days. I imagine the transition will not become easy overnight. But, over the course of 2018, I discovered that what I most want no longer aligns with my job. And I remembered that I did not always want to be in the academy. 

When I was five, I wanted to be James Herriot. Into middle school I wanted to be a veterinarian and live on a horse farm. In high school, my dream job was to work on Level 5 of the Center for Disease Control after I finished my two year stint as a member of their SWAT team, going all over the world to find the origins of new epidemics. I didn’t seriously consider history as a career until college, and as bewildered as my parents were, I know they were grateful I wouldn’t be handling the world’s most dangerous diseases on a daily basis. All of these memories reminded me that new hopes and new dreams happen all the time. 

Academic history put me on a very narrow path and told me that was the only way. It even told me that I couldn’t write the kind of history that drew me into grad school, because it wasn’t fashionable enough to land me a job. I jailbroke my grad program with Digital Humanities and spent my last years in grad school happily nestled in the Scholars’ Lab, until I was hired by Brown University as the first Digital Humanities Librarian in the country. And then I was headhunted to Princeton to start their Center for Digital Humanities. Last summer I became its first Research Director. It has been a good career.

But the reasons I went into the academy are now my reasons for leaving. I wanted to be a historian because I know the power of stories to awaken new thoughts and solutions to intractable problems. Nothing inspires or humbles like a well told story, and true stories have a depth and complexity all their own.

My audience was always the intelligent non-specialist. And so the problem began. I am also a generalist and quickly found the confines of academic history and its ever-narrowing, jargon-filled output to be the opposite of what I wanted to do. Digital Humanities felt like the obvious solution. I am a programmer and a photographer as well as a historian. Digital Humanities allowed me to bring all my skills to bear and to reach wider audiences than almost any academic monograph could hope for. But then I saw the precarious state of alternative academic employment: unbalanced workloads, minimal resources, lack of support, impossible requests, and precious little job security.

So I became a manager. I wanted to find great people, give them good jobs, and create a safe working environment where they could achieve amazing things. It was rarely easy, and I made plenty of first-time-manager mistakes, but I am proud of the team I hired at Princeton and of the incredible work they do. As the manager of a new organization, my model was George Washington’s presidency. I aimed to become unnecessary, and I succeeded. Any organization that cannot exist without its founder is doomed to failure. The CDH is going to do great things from now on, and I will be cheering from the sidelines. 

But I also found that I wanted to do more. I wanted to help people. And not just the people at Princeton who, while they may suffer from the deep stress and anxiety of academic life, are some of the most resourced academics in the world. As I explored more areas of digital humanities, including Public Humanities and Post-Colonial DH, I found that I wanted to move beyond critiquing widely-used technologies to actively making them better. I also discovered that I really want to write that book about John Adams, because in today’s political climate I am dismayed to find that my interest in diplomatic expertise and its relationship to the office of President of the United States is suddenly something people care about.

I don’t know where the path will lead. First I have to integrate all my office books back into my apartment. Then some freelance consulting while I write and look for a new job. After that, no idea.

I am excited for my next adventure. I hope you are excited for yours.

Baking Gingerbread, as a DH project

Earlier today I was trying to put together slides for a workshop called “Getting Started in DH.” And I just couldn’t get started.

For the record, I have given versions of this workshop more times than I can remember.  I have slides from those workshops, and looking them over, I despaired.  DH is so big, DH has so many communities, and, like any other community of theory and practice, participating in DH can become a serious commitment.  Getting a group of people “started” in DH over a lunch talk just seemed impossible.  At least given my rotten mood on this particular Saturday afternoon.

I gave up on the slides and decided to make some gingerbread.  Technically, I decided I needed to bake something, and when my husband saw me look over the recipe for from-scratch gingerbread, his eyes went soft.

So I forged ahead even though we were missing a crucial ingredient — buttermilk.

We were also out of milk, which is how I usually make buttermilk (just add a dash of lemon juice).  But, we did have some creme fraiche hidden at the back of the fridge, and a quick google search confirmed that a blend of creme fraiche and water would work just fine as a buttermilk substitute.  Onward.

I pulled out all the ingredients and lined them up on the counter.  I got really interested in cooking the same summer I took Intro to Molecular Biology, so I cook like I’m in a lab. Although baking has always felt more like alchemy than chemistry.

As I measured and poured and stirred the batter into existence, I found myself thinking about the historical and contemporary imperial structures present in a recipe for gingerbread.

I had blackstrap molasses swirling with creme fraiche: need I say more?

My molasses and brown sugar are organic and fair trade (because seriously, if you are a scholar of early America and you don’t buy fair trade sugar products, I strongly recommend that you reconsider that decision), but I had bought them at Whole Foods, that great appropriator of other food cultures.  And fair trade isn’t cheap, so the fact that I can afford to buy it should be an important modifier on that last statement.  The recipe comes from Williams Sonoma, where the appropriation continues.   My last-minute buttermilk substitution was confirmed by a blog post written in 2009 that had been crawled by the Google bot. The list goes on and on.

Systems and structures, past and present.  Not much here that is natively “digital,” except the readout on my oven and the Google search — both of which elide vast systems of industry and manufacturing.  A great deal here that is “humanities,” because what is closer to us than the food we eat and how we make sense of the world?

And so, I decided that my gingerbread was a Digital Humanities project.  I didn’t design a database for this one, or write a single line of code, but that has never defined DH for me anyway.  I did make “a thing.”  I made it using the resources I had available to me, lab procedure, tacit knowledge, and pre-built digital tools.  I decided on the project in consultation with those it would most impact.  But none of that makes it “DH”either  — at least not for me.

What, IMHO, makes my gingerbread Digital Humanities, is that I made it thinking about the systems and structures that I participated in.  This time I didn’t have a research question, I just had a goal.  But I didn’t leave my training in history or information architecture at the door.  I brought them with me.  That doesn’t change the gingerbread.  It should taste the same.  But for me, DH is in the process, not the outcome.

And I am sick and tired of people with strong technical skills sitting on their mountains and declaring that non-programmers can’t “do DH” or that a certain project “isn’t real DH” because it doesn’t meet some imaginary standard of DIY grit and sophistication, or that somehow becoming a more diverse community will mean lowering our standards.

Digital Humanities needs both sides.  It needs all sides.  DH should be a conversation, a process, and a community.  It should not be a checklist, a test, or yet another way to exclude the people that major structural forces already exclude.

I am hardly the first person to say this.  Among the many people I have learned from, I cannot commend enough the works of Roopika Risam, Bethany Nowviskie, Miriam Posner, Deb Verhoeven, Alex Gil, and Bruce Janz.  And that is just for starters.

But I want DH, especially my new DH home, the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton, to be balm as well as a trumpet call.  I want CDH to be a place where people feel safe enough to be brave.  And I want them to feel (and be) protected, because the academy is scary enough all on its own.

So I had better write those slides.

But first, gingerbread.

Ads on LinkedIn targeting women make me want to delete my account

I have a LinkedIn profile. As someone who is about to hire three programmers to work in my research center at Princeton University, I may find it helpful in reaching top candidates. That’s assuming I don’t delete my account over the insulting banner ads I am treated to almost every time I log in.

First there are the banner ads for the National Association of Professional Women (NAPW). Google “NAPW Scam” and you will find plenty of blog posts detailing the experience of women who have paid almost $1,000 for an annual membership only to find out that the organization does not do anything for them and will not refund their money. For comparison, my membership in the Association for Computing Machinery (the premier, international professional association for Computer Scientists) only set me back $99. LinkedIn even hosts a blog post detailing these problems from LAST YEAR, The Art of the Scam: Say no to the NAPW and yet the banner ads continue.

Then I opened my account this morning to accept an Invitation and found this waiting for me:

Banner Ad Text: “NYC Egg Donation - Seeking smart, cute under 30 Donor.  Receive up to $8,000 compensation”
“NYC Egg Donation – Seeking smart, cute, under 30 Donor. Receive up to $8,000.00 compensation.”

I’m sorry. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK. Cute? Under 30? At a bare minimum, if you are going to mine my personal profile at least bother to CHECK MY AGE. I graduated from college 11 years ago. I’m 33. Your algorithm sucks.

But ageism is the least of my concerns. LinkedIn professes to be a place where you can:

  • “Build your professional identity online and stay in touch with colleagues and classmates.”
  • “Discover professional opportunities, business deals, and new ventures.”
  • “Get the latest news, inspiration, and insights you need to be great at what you do.”

(Quoted from Accessed on 31 July 2015 10:04:00.)

Apparently what I can be great at doing (or could have been 4 years ago, assuming I was sufficiently “cute”) is selling my eggs. Not conducting cutting edge research. Not finishing my dissertation. Not writing open source software. Not even looking for a job. No.

Selling. My. Eggs.

At this point I want to take a breath, and say that I really sympathize with people who want to be parents. It is a noble and wonderful calling, and it is a tribute to modern medicine that there are many (still far too expensive) treatments for people who have the misfortune of not being able to conceive the children they so desperately want to love, cherish, and raise to be strong men and women.

But don’t advertise on LinkedIn. Or, more importantly, LinkedIn shouldn’t be taking this money. What LinkedIn is saying by accepting advertising dollars from egg donation banks is that professional women should know they can make some cash on the side by selling part of their bodies.

If you want to be an egg donor, more power to you. Call the number you see on a billboard, or in the subway, or in a newspaper. Or even on some other website NOT DEVOTED TO PROFESSIONAL NETWORKING.

And for those of you thinking, so what?  Why should I care if a social media site has shitty marketing?


Professional women already have to deal with so much crap in their lives — finding a good job, getting treated like a human being at work, not being passed over for promotion — all of these are much harder for women than men.  Heck, LinkedIn sends me articles on this very issue at least once a week.  So when a site that bills itself as helping people succeed in a professional context goes and treats their clients like baby farms or easy marks, it hurts more.  Context matters.  And women who already live with the stress of being female in their profession will feel it more.

What this ad, when displayed on LinkedIn, says to professional women is: we know you have skills and smarts, but we don’t care if you to use them in your life. We just want to you to pass them on to the next generation. We don’t want your brains, honey, we just want your genes.

And given that the other ad I see most frequently is for the NAPW scam, I really don’t think LinkedIn wants my brains at all.

So will I delete my LinkedIn account? I haven’t decided. Partly because I am interested in hearing what LinkedIn will say about my concerns.

And, for the record, saying nothing in this instance definitely counts as saying something.

The value of non-rare books: paperback musings of a digital humanist

Sometime last January I realized I was book-deprived.  Since September I had been shuttling back and forth among my new office in Princeton, my rented room in town, and the apartment I used to live in with my husband in Boston.

One Saturday morning in snowbound Boston I awoke in my old bed to a no-longer-familiar sight: shelves and shelves of books filled my vision.  I immediately felt better: less lonely, less stressed, and a little more wise.  Not to downplay the effect of waking up next to my husband, but I realized it was the books.  When I moved just enough stuff to Princeton to last me the year, I had brought little more than an armful of books, most of which lived in a small bookshelf in my aforementioned office.  Most of my personal reading material I put on my Kindle.

At home, every room was stuffed with books.  None of them valuable.  None worth digitizing or preserving, and with the exception of a complete set of my mom’s novels — all first editions, all signed to me — none worth designating a “special collection.”

And yet, there they were.  Little repositories of memory, sitting on shelves and putting me in context.  There were the YA fantasy novels I’d gotten addicted to in graduate school, stories of girls with swords who killed dragons and saved kingdoms.  Black Beauty and National Velvet neighed at me from another shelf, recalling all the time I’d spent on horseback.  James Herriot smiled at me, full of love for All Creatures Great and Small and the many years I was convinced I would become a veterinarian.  Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin sailed the waves alongside Horatio Hornblower. And, holding it all together, Aslan told Lucy Pevensie she was a lioness and Galadriel reminded Frodo that even the smallest person can make a difference.

I left the bedroom (where we kept the genre fiction) and moved through the rest of the apartment.  Former professors, and all they had taught me, were lined up like shorthand notes in the spines of the books they had assigned.  My own growth as a scholar was detailed in the books I had accumulated for my dissertation.  John and Abigail Adams spoke to each other of love and intellect shared across the years and oceans they were apart.

My husband’s books were everywhere as well.  Some I had read, others I had not, but they interleaved with my library, a literary embodiment of the marriage of true minds.

I sat down in the living room, and looked at our collection of War and Peace (3 copies in two editions) and I thought about the importance of non-rare physical books.

I spend most of my days looking at lit screens.  My job as Associate Director of the Center for Digital Humanities means that I work mostly with digital surrogates of rare materials.  The disc out of alignment in my neck (I fell off several of those horses back in middle school) means that I physically cannot read anything that weighs more than one pound.

Books are heavy.  Books take up space.  And it is the information or the characters or the story that live in our imaginations and direct the course of our lives, that is alive, and not the pulped trees and chemicals which bind them into neat boxes — as fascinating and illuminating as those codices can be in a rare-book context.

And yet.  I don’t look at my Kindle and see memories.  I look at it and see a gadget.  Even though until it was invented I despaired of ever being able to read my favorite novel ever again.  War and Peace weighs substantially more than one pound!

Where does that leave me?  I don’t know.  Physical books are not going away.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something — and it isn’t Digital Humanities, I can promise you that.

But libraries are putting the focus more and more on special collections and moving their non-special/ordinary? collections off site and entering into collaborative borrowing agreements.  I can’t and won’t argue with this.  Space is limited.  Money is limited.  Time is limited.

These days I buy almost all of my books in electronic format, unless they are art books or unless I think my husband (who refuses to buy a Kindle) will want to read them.  Somedays I wonder whether that means my shelves will tell a story that basically ends in 2010.

When we finally moved to Princeton in June, I almost gave away the vast majority of my history books — everything I had kept in the half-hearted belief that I might someday teach an American history survey class to undergraduates.  My husband convinced me otherwise.

“Are these good books?”
“Then keep them.”
“We don’t have the space.”
“Your new office will have more bookshelves, right?”
“Then put the history books there.”
“But I don’t need them anymore.”
“Someone will. And then you can give them a book.”

My favorite professor from college, Margaret M. Mitchell (now Dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School and a woman with her own interesting relationship to literature) often invokes St. Augustine to say that the New Testament exists because someone had a letter and then handed that letter to someone else saying: “Take. Read. Good for you.”

Take. Read. Good for you. That to me, is the value of books.

Desiderata for A Digital Humanist: My Ada Lovelace Day Tribute to Elli Mylonas

So I always forget about Ada Lovelace Day.  Maybe it’s because my childhood hero was Marie Curie . . . and Madeline Albright — clearly I was always going to end up in DH.

But this year is important, because I want to highlight a woman I have worked with for three years, and who has taught me more about Digital Humanities than I ever thought I could (or still had to) learn.  I have been especially fortunate in DH, I’ve had many mentors, and despite other trends in the community, they have almost all been women.  But if Holly Shulman got me started, Bess Sadler taught me to code, and Bethany Nowviskie became my grownup heroElli Mylonas taught me how to be a professional Digital Humanist.

I met Elli completely by chance.  In the final hours of the 2010 Chicago Colloquium on Digital Humanities we found ourselves suddenly united in the face of a common enemy: the completely clueless (male) desk clerk who did not believe us when we told him we had already downloaded the new printer drivers AND restarted the machine, so all we required of him was to enter a user name and password so the computer could restart.  We eventually persuaded him to log onto the machine and thus achieved our ultimate goal: printing our boarding passes and getting out of Chicago.

As we headed into the final session Elli said she had enjoyed my talk and started rummaging around in her purse.  She eventually found a business card and handed it to me saying “If you ever find yourself in New England, let me know and I’ll set up a talk for you at Brown.”

When I wrote 2 months later to say I would be in Boston, Elli was as good as her word and better.  She organized my talk, gave me a tour of the campus (beautiful in the snow), and took me around to meet her colleagues — many of whom were already heading home before the blizzard really hit.  Within hours she had completely sold me on Brown University, and I vowed that if I ever had the chance to work with her,  I would take it.

That chance came just 3 months later, and I had the good fortune become the first Digital Humanities Librarian at Brown.

When I started at Brown, I had four years of DH project work under my belt, but only as a graduate student.  Elli offered to meet with me every Wednesday at 8:30am for coffee and conversation.  She told me about what she was working on and then answered any (and really all) questions I had about the university.  She brought me to all her DH project meetings, and graciously attended the few lined up for me.  And when it all became overwhelming, she told me about the early days of the Perseus Project or just talked about the avant-guard music/noise/multimedia concert she had attended the night before.

Have I mentioned at this point that she was never my boss?  And originally was in a different department?  No one asked her to do this, and when I have thanked her for keeping me afloat that first year, she was genuinely surprised that anyone wouldn’t offer this level of mentoring to a new, junior colleague.  Imagine a world where she was right.

From watching Elli (and receiving her advice), I learned not just how to ‘do’ DH, but how to manage DH projects.  She showed me how to write an agenda.  The importance of action items, how to learn the feel of a campus, how to engage stakeholders, how social contacts cut across bureaucracy, and what to do when a faculty member decides they want to apply for a grant that’s due in less than 2 weeks.  How to write a grant quickly, and how to write a grant well (but never in only 2 weeks).

I wish every new DH alt-ac could work with Elli.  And I know I am not the only person she has helped succeed.

One final note of awesomeness — Thanks to her Classics background, Elli refers to Project Outcomes as “Desiderata.”  And, really, what could be better than that?

Tales from the Port: Part 2 — Migrating the Database

In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have promised to write a blog post every night this week. The port has been going well, but I’ve been working late each night, and it’s just too hard to write clear English prose starting at midnight. So here, at last, is the promised post on migrating Project Quincy’s database from Rails to Django.

My first love in Digital Humanities is data modeling and database architecture. The actual “code” in Project Quincy is pretty basic by professional programming standards. The underlying data structure is the real intellectual achievement. I spent six months of my nine month fellowship at the Scholars’ Lab designing a database that would effectively and efficiently model historical sources and allow scholars to catalog and analyze their research in meaningful ways. I even wrote a program called DAVILA to auto-generate interactive, color coded, annotated diagrams of my schema to show other historians how the system works. After all that work had been done, designing the interface for The Early American Foreign Service Database (EAFSD) took about two weeks.

As I mentioned last time, Rails and Django are similar frameworks for connecting databases to websites. They both have procedures for creating new database instances in several open source databases: MySQL, PostgreSQL, or SQLite3. But I already have a MySQL database with all the information I’ve been entering for the last three years. I really didn’t want to redo all that work, so I kept the same underlying database and connected it to the new Django project, with a few minor changes.

In the past three years, I’ve found a few shortcomings in the data model I created. So, I’ve used the port as an opportunity to add a couple more tables. Project Quincy records a “latitude” and “longitude” point for every location in the database, but I forgot to indicate which geographic coordinate system the latitude and longitude were from. Luckily for me all my coordinates were in the same system, so my maps work properly. But I can’t count on that forever, so I added a table called CoordinateSystem. I also extended the table that records which individuals were members of a specific organization. I had a field called “role” but there was no way of creating a list of all those roles and reusing them. I added two new tables “RoleTitle” and “RoleType” to allow for lists and grouping by type.

Then there were a few changes required by Django, mostly to my Footnotes module. Since Project Quincy is designed to store scholarly research, it gives users the ability to ‘footnote’ any record in the system by attaching the record to a cited source and saying whether or not that source supports the information in the record. This is accomplished by the Validations table, which can (but does not have to) be connected to any record in the database. This type of unspecified relationship is known as a “polymorphic association,” and Rails and Django implement polymorphic associations differently. Rails uses the name of the table to create the relationship. Django makes a meta-table that holds the names of all the other tables and assigns them a numeric key. So, I had to replace my table names in the Validations Table with their new keys. Figuring out how to do this took a post to the ever helpful Stackoverflow website and I was back in business. The old Footnotes module also had a little “Users” table that kept track of the people who could upload into the system. Django comes with a very powerful authentication system which also records users, so I got rid of my little table and hooked the footnotes module directly into the django_auth_user table.

I had greater plans to include an “Events” module. But, as I started to design one, I realized that this was not a decision I should make on my own and under a deadline. Project Quincy is an open source project, and I want other scholars to use it for their research. I need to do more reading on modeling events and talk to people before I commit to one particular structure.

So how did I actually migrate the database? MySQL has a nice command for backing up and redeploying a database; it’s called mysqldump. I took a dump (yes you read that correctly:-) of the database off my server and used it to create a transition database on my local machine. I then went in made the changes to the transition database directly, safe in the knowledge that could always restore the original database if I messed up. Once I had the transition database the way I wanted it, I made a second dump and used it to populate the database Django had already created for the new project.

Once all my data was in the new database, I ran an extremely helpful Django command ‘inspectdb.’ This lovely little program examined my database and created a file with its best guess on how to represent each database table in Django syntax. Then all I had to do was check for errors, and there weren’t many. It mistook my boolean (true/false) fields for integers and wanted me to specify some additional information for self joins (tables containing more than one relationship to the same, second table).

Once I had the tables properly represented it was time to sort them into their appropriate ‘applications.’ One of the biggest diferences between Rails and Django is their file structure. Rails creates a folder (with its own nested folders) for every table in the database. Django asks developers to chunk their database into folders called applications, designed to keep similar functions together in the system. Project Quincy was always designed with six modules: Biographical, Locations, Correspondence, Citations, Organizations, and Assignments. Each of these modules has 2 to 8 database tables inside it. One of the biggest decisions I had to make in planning this port was how to use applications. Did I put everything in one app folder, create an app for every module, or find an new way of grouping my system?

To make the decision, I wrote out index cards for each module listing the tables involved and what other modules it related to. I realized that Assignments and Organizations both brought people to a location for a reason, and that I would likely be visualizing those two kinds of relationships in vary simliar ways, but what should I call the new app? I ran the idea past my father, who has been designing databases since before I was born and recently took his entire development to python and django. He suggested the name “Activities” and that my future Events module could go in the same application.

After I sorted my tables into their appropriate (and newly created applications) I synced my Django project with the underlying database. So far, everything looks good.

Ten Years Gone

Ten years ago it was Tuesday. I was riding my bike along Long Island Sound, saying goodbye to one of the few things I knew I would miss about living in Connecticut.

Ten years ago my family was three days away from moving into Brooklyn. We were finally going to be city dwellers again for the first time since I was an infant.

Ten years ago we were so excited.

Ten years ago I finished my ride, put the bike in our now almost empty garage and headed inside for a glass of water.

Ten years ago my dad called me downstairs.
    “You have to see this.”
    “I’m just going to take a shower”
    “You have to come down here right now.”

It’s all a blur after that. Once the second plane hit we knew it wasn’t an accident. When the towers fell, it was like watching the kind of movie I can never watch again.

Our phone rang off the hook. My dad used to work in the Trade Center. All our friends and family were calling to find out where he was. Later I learned that he had been invited to a breakfast at Windows on the World. He almost went because the view was so spectacular, but we were moving, and he couldn’t spare the time.

My father lost eight friends. It was days before we could track down one of his best friends. Jay was the only person I knew who wanted to get on a plane that week. He was stuck in Arizona. His wife was in White Plains.

We moved into Brooklyn. I’ll never forget the moment the smell hit me — as if everything organic was burning all at once without distinction. We joined a candlelight vigil on our new front steps. We couldn’t find our candles. I got a flashlight and pointed it up into the sky.

Then I went back to college in Chicago. At home I’d been one of the calm ones, in Chicago no one else flinched when they heard an engine overhead.

Ten years ago today, I’m still on that bike. Flying along Long Island Sound on a beautiful morning. Two months ago, I gave that bike away. I’ll probably get a new one in the Spring.

Ten years gone, and the the world isn’t really all that different. There is good and there is evil. People continue to invent ways of making the world more beautiful and kind. People continue to twist their gifts into weapons of hate and cruelty.

Ten years ago it was Tuesday. Today it is Sunday. I should get ready for church.


(with apologies to Joyce Kilmer)

I think that I shall never see
A graph as lovely as a tree.

A tree whose thick, strong root is prest
Against the lower bound at rest;

A tree that looks a little strange
While its data does self arrange;

A tree that may grow up or out
But never round and round about;

Upon whose path constraint is lain
To go forward or back again.

Graphs are made by fools like me,
But only math can make a tree.
~ Jean Bauer

Great Teachers Never Die

A new semester starts tomorrow, and I’m thinking of my grandmother, Marjorie Good. She was an artist, whether she held a paintbrush in her right hand or used her left hand to play boogie-woogie on the piano.

I’m thinking of her right now because she was also a teacher. She taught English for nineteen years at a public high school in the Western Suburbs of Chicago. She retired before I was born, but her stories resonated with a deep love for the material and for her students. Sometimes in the middle of a tale, she would stop and smile, remembering a particularly gifted young woman, or shake her head over the teenage boy she was never quite able to bring out of his shell.

She started the media studies program at her school, teaching film courses as electives and always bringing music and art into the classroom. She loved laughter and jokes, wrote her Master’s Thesis on humor in Shakespeare, calling it “Hamlet Plays the Clown,” and every year would dress up as Harpo Marx for Halloween.

She died on January 2, after four years of battling multiple myeloma with more grace and good cheer than most people can muster on their healthiest days.

Tomorrow I teach my first class as an instructor of record (as opposed to Teaching Assistant) at the University of Virginia. I created this class, slaved over the syllabus, and was really looking forward to calling her afterward to tell her how the first day went. Instead I’ll wear her necklace that my mom gave me the day before the funeral. It’s reminiscent of a Celtic wedding ring, and she wore it almost every day.

I believe great teachers live on in their students. I will do what I can to ensure that she lives on in me.