Category Archives: blogging

Adventures in Wiki Epistemology: Architects

Wikipedia has been making a big push to cite published sources to support the content people have added online. This year, I have been adding a lot of new content to Wikipedia after finding published sources to cite. Unfortunately, sloppy citations and unsupported speculation are just as common in print as they are online. Here are three examples from my recent, rather intense research into aspects of architectural history relating to the National Register of Historic Places listings on Oahu.

Punahou School’s Pauahi Hall: architect(s) and date completed?
A. ?, 1896 (Punahou School website)
B. ?, 1898 (NRHP #72000419, Alexander & Dodge 1941)
C. Ripley & Dickey, 1896 (Neil 1975, HJH)
D. Ripley & Reynolds, 1896 (Cheever 2003:98)

Ripley’s architectural partners were Dickey (1896-1900), Reynolds (1910-), and Davis (1913-). So the latest publication, with contributions by most of the major architects in Honolulu (Cheever 2003) seems the least reliable in this instance. Contributor Nate E. Smith, Associate AIA, was probably thinking of Ripley’s work on the University of Hawai‘i’s Hawaii Hall (1911), while Ripley was in partnership with Reynolds.

Judge Henry E. Cooper House, Manoa Valley: architect(s) and date completed?
A. Ripley & Dickey, 1897 (Neil 1975, HJH)
B. Ripley & Dickey, 1898 (Jay 1992:67)
C. Traphagen, 1898 (Cheever 2003:153)

Once again, the latest publication, with contributions by most of the major architects in Honolulu (Cheever 2003) seems the least reliable in this instance. Contributor Joseph J. Ferraro, AIA, was probably thinking of Traphagen’s work on the Punahou School President’s Home (1907).

The name of the junior architect who finished up much work contracted by Bertram Goodhue before the latter’s untimely death was:
A. Hardie Phillips (according to Honolulu sources)
B. Hardie Phillip (according to sources elsewhere)

“Hardie Phillips” sourced in Honolulu: Gaspar 1996; Haines 2009; HawaiiHistory.org: Territorial Architecture – The Golden Age; Honolulu Star Bulletin, 1 September 1997, 28 September 2003; Localism: Territorial Style Elegance in Honolulu. Historic Buildings Tour 1.0; NRHP #80001272; Smith 1996:359; Wilcox 1972:22; www.nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com.

“Hardie Phillip” in Wikipedia and elsewhere: C. Brewer Building; Anna Rice Cooke; Bertram Goodhue; Honolulu Academy of Arts; Lihiwai; Mayers Murray & Phillip; Penkiunas 1990:145-182; Sakamoto 2008:34.

Once again, the received wisdom of nearly every architect in Honolulu, and every published source based on that received wisdom, has perpetuated a minor error that every Wikipedian seems to have avoided. There is no “Hardie Phillips” in Wikipedia.

bibliography

  • Alexander, Mary C., and Charlotte P. Dodge (1941). Punahou, 1841-1941. University of California Press.
  • Cheever, David (2003). Pōhaku: The Art & Architecture of Stonework in Hawai‘i. Editions Limited.
  • Haines, Frank S., FAIA (2009). Exploring Downtown: A Walking Tour. Honolulu Chapter, American Institute of Architects.
  • Jay, Robert (1992). The Architecture of Charles W. Dickey: Hawaii and California. University of Hawaiʻi Press. (out of print)
  • Neil, J. Meredith (1975). “The Architecture of C.W. Dickey in Hawai‘i.” Hawaiian Journal of History 9:101-113.
  • Penkiunas, Daina Julia (1990). American Regional Architecture in Hawaii: Honolulu, 1915–1935. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Virginia. (Printed by UMI, Ann Arbor, 1993.)
  • Sakamoto, Dean, ed. (2008). Hawaiian Modern: The Architecture of Vladimir Ossipoff. Yale University Press.
  • Smith, George Everard Kidder (1996). Source Book of American Architecture. Princeton Architectural Press.
  • Wilcox, Gaylord (1972). “Business and Buildings: Downtown Honolulu’s Old Fashioned Block.” Hawaiian Journal of History 6:3-27.

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Holiday Hiatus

Our daughter is home for a week after her first semester teaching in Josiah Quincy Upper School. Then I head off for a small family reunion on the occasion of my father’s 84th birthday hosted by my brother who lives in the micropolitan area embracing Metropolis, Monkey’s Eyebrow, and Possum Trot. How many readers already knew where that is?

Among the university press books I will pass along to family members are In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar for my father (a retired foreign missionary and small-town pastor), The Tangierman’s Lament and Other Tales of Virginia for my brother in Virginia, and What Reconstruction Meant for my librarian brother in Kentucky.

My in-flight reading will be Great Leader, Dear Leader and Under the Heel of the Dragon, and bedtime reading will be Lipstick Jihad. Excerpts to follow in 2009.

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On the Vital Role of Hermits

The latest volume (#28) of Buddhist-Christian Studies, which has just gone online at Project MUSE (subscription required) contains a couple of anniversary memorials to Thomas Merton, who died in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1968. (It also contains several papers from a panel on the notable contributions of Masao Abe to Buddhist-Christian interfaith dialogue.)

Buddhist-Christian dialogue seems awfully passé to me in an era when positive dialogue seems all too scarce among Muslims, Christians, and Jews, on the one hand, and between crusading atheists and theists of all stripes, on the other. But I do appreciate Thomas Merton’s appreciation of the hermit life—the need to get away from it all—even though he may have been one of the most outspoken Trappists who ever lived (as my father is one of the more talkative Quakers I’ve ever met). The editor of Buddhist-Christian Studies, however, thinks Merton ignored one vital class of hermits (p. viii, n. 5):

Merton’s model of the hermit life does not exhaust the phenomenon within Western Christianity. Historically speaking, the hermit life was embraced by far more people than the limited number of professed monks whose spiritual growth had taken them beyond the life of the coenobium. For example, hermit shrine keepers were numerous throughout Christian cultures for centuries; most of these were simple laity without whom many pilgrimage sites would simply not have existed, and their identity has not yet found a modern voice. The massively popular pilgrimage churches of traditional Catholicism had at their heart the hermit-sacristan who tended the lamps and swept the floors. The professed hermit monk, the monastic hermit order, and the shrine hermit all found expression in the legal and the architectural boundaries of medieval and early modern societies.

Perhaps lay bloggers, photographers, and Wikipedists can be considered the hermit-sacristans of this information age, quietly tending our quirky little shrines that attract pilgrims who seek to escape the self-referential obsessions of the cloistered academies and the hourly tolling of alarm bells from the cathedrals of the major media.

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Registan’s Foust on Citizen Propagandists

I’ve been distracted by other projects lately (no, not watching the major-party infomercials in the U.S.) and by reading hard-to-blog chapters in books (but a good long excerpt will follow), so I’ve neglected to post a link to a blogpost by Joshua Foust on Registan (the first blog to link to mine, back in 2003) about the rise of citizen propagandists. I’ll cite just one paragraph from the full article, which is online at Columbia Journalism Review.

Non-official propaganda matters greatly, because while most bloggers issued shallow and predictable jeremiads about either the horrors of the “new Cold War” or the horrors of American-supported client states, there were some out there who were largely getting things right. Unfortunately, these sober voices were often drowned out by the overwhelming amount of citizen propagandists flooding the blogosphere. Nevertheless, they bear mentioning.

Foust’s article concerns the role of citizen propagandists in the current war between Russia and Georgia, since Registan’s regional focus is the Russian Near Abroad in Central Asia. But Foust’s thesis also applies to political blog spinmeisters, comment-thread propagators, and the lazy professional journalists who rely on their favorite blogs both to determine the newsworthiness and to frame the narratives of the “news” stories they bother to report (or not).

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Another Milestone, Another Rest Stop

I have now uploaded over 1,000 photos to my Flickr account, which I started over two years ago while on sabbatical in Japan. Now I’m headed back to Japan for one week of vacation, to Nagoya, where I might get the chance to attend a bit of the sumo tournament now underway there. I’ll also make a side trip to my old stomping ground in Kyoto, from my elementary school years there half a century ago. I recently managed by chance to get in touch with one of my elementary school classmates I haven’t seen in half a century. He was the son of an eccentric English bibliophile of some renown, not a missionary kid like most of my other classmates.

These days I’m spending more time posting photos on Flickr, and adding or refining content on Wikipedia, than posting text on this blog. In all three venues my approach is much more documentarian than artistic. Nearly everything turns into a little research project. That’s what keeps it fun for me.

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Barbarians at the Gate, Dinosaurs at the Dock

After watching a frustratingly clueless, “barbarians at the gate” NewHour segment on campaign smears (which apparently never existed before the Internet and were never spread by the old media) hosted by Gwen Ifill, who also hosts a conventional wisdom synchronization and self-congratulation session known as Washington Week (which I long ago gave up watching), I turned to NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen’s PressThink for a more critical view of the old media and, by Jove, I found it in a post called Migration Point for the Press Tribe. Here’s how it begins.

We are early in the rise of semi-pro journalism, but well into the decline of an older way of life within the tribe of professional journalists. I call them a tribe because they share a culture and a sense of destiny, and because they think they own the press—that it’s theirs somehow because they dominate the practice.

The First Amendment says to all Americans: you have a right to publish what you know, to say what you think. That right used to be abstractly held. Now it is concretely held because the power to publish has been distributed to the population at large. Projects that cause people to exercise their right to a free press strengthen the press, whether or not these projects strengthen the professional journalist’s “hold” on the press.

The professional news tribe is in the midst of a great survival drama. It has over the last few years begun to realize that it cannot live any more on the ground it settled so successfully as the industrial purveyors of one-to-many, consensus-is-ours news. The land that newsroom people have been living on—also called their business model—no long supports their best work. So they have come to a reluctant point of realization: that to continue on, to keep the professional press going, the news tribe will have to migrate across the digital divide and re-settle itself on terra nova, new ground. Or as we sometimes call it, a new platform.

Migration—which is easily sentimentalized by Americans—is a community trauma. Pulling up stakes and leaving a familiar place is hard. Within the news tribe some people don’t want to go. These are the newsroom curmudgeons, a reactionary group. Others are in denial still, or they are quietly drifting away from journalism. Many are being shed as the tribe contracts and its economy convulses. A few are admitting that it’s time to panic.

And like reluctant migrants everywhere, the people in the news tribe have to decide what to take with them, when to leave, where to land. They have to figure out what is essential to their way of life, and which parts were well adapted to the old world but may be unnecessary or a handicap in the new. They have to ask if what they know is portable. What life will be like across the digital sea is of course an unknown to the migrant. This creates an immediate crisis for the elders of the tribe, who have always known how to live.

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Applebaum Sour on Baker and Blogs

In a review entitled The Blog of War, Anne Applebaum first parodies then purees Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization (via A&L Daily).

Baker never answers the questions that he asks. That is, he has not undertaken the historian’s task of hearing multiple arguments, listening to myriad explanations, looking at a wide range of evidence and then marshaling the evidence in order to draw a conclusion. He has not even carefully examined, as other historians have done, the various arguments about the aerial bombardment of civilians–the military tactic that appears to bother him most–to make a judicious argument against its use. Instead, he has used his license as a “novelist” to excuse himself from all of the tedious work of genuine knowledge. By way of research, he has read back issues of The New York Times and The New York Herald Tribune, along with a notably limited group of other historical sources, all long familiar. From them, he has plucked bits of information, shards of the historical record that he finds compelling, or perhaps contrary to what he imagines to be the conventional wisdom–and left his readers to draw their own conclusions.

Here is where I should note, and gladly, that there are many legitimate ways to write history, even many avant-garde, non-linear, novelistic ways to write history, as the historiography of World War II itself well illustrates. There are, after all, political histories of that war, diplomatic histories, social histories, military histories, and intellectual histories, as well as histories written from American, British, Polish, Russian, German, Jewish, Japanese, Slovak, Estonian, Bulgarian, Chinese, and Italian points of view, among dozens of others. Besides all that, there are shelves of memoirs of victims and the children of victims, and perpetrators and the children of perpetrators. There are more purely literary accounts, such as W.G. Sebald’s semi-autobiographical novels, which mix fact and fiction but are nonetheless deeply committed to understanding precisely what happened and why….

But what Baker has produced is nothing like this, nothing like history. You cannot fault his scholarship, because aside from the process of accumulating a set of anecdotes, no scholarship has been conducted. Though the book purports to pronounce upon the international situation, all of Baker’s sources are in English. Almost all of the stories take place in America, Britain or Germany, as if the war was not really happening in Eastern Europe or Russia, let alone Indonesia and Singapore. He has not worked with many primary sources, other than a few memoirs, and he has not discovered any new material. He leaves out enormous chunks of the story. His description of the invasion of Poland in September, 1939, is limited to two sentences–Goering “ordered a thousand planes into Poland. There were dive-bombers over Danzig”–and he does not mention the Soviet invasion of Poland seventeen days later at all.

You cannot disagree with Baker’s argument, because no argument has been made. Baker does not build a case, he insinuates something, leaving the reader to guess what. My best paraphrase of his view goes like this: Churchill was a bully and a drunk. The Roosevelts were snobs and anti-Semites. Therefore they were not good people. Therefore their so-called “good” war must have been hypocritical. Therefore they could only have been fighting because they were in hock to the military industrial complex and they had a bloodthirsty fondness for bombing raids. Moreover, the Holocaust was in part a German response to British aggression, and the Japanese invasion of China was a response to Chinese aggression, and Britain’s very participation in the war was the result of Churchill’s aggression, especially his stubborn refusal to respond to Hitler’s “peace offensive.” Therefore the pacifists were right….

Perhaps, I wondered at one point, the whole book is a gigantic practical joke, a stunt intended to provoke scholars, anger Jews, infuriate Poles, and thereby create massive publicity for Nicholson Baker. And so my initial reaction to Human Smoke was to throw it across the room. Subsequently, I discovered that this reaction was very common, especially among practicing historians.

But then she segues into a sour diatribe on blogs and Wikipedia.

Unlike Nicholson Baker or the editors of Gawker, I cannot really supply an anecdote that will explain, in a hundred words or less, why I decided to pick up the book again and write this review. But a few days after finishing Human Smoke as well as Baker’s treatise on Wikipedia, I happened to be sitting with a group of writers, historians, and critics, all fellows at the American Academy in Berlin, talking about it. As fate would have it–Baker loves portentous and possibly significant coincidences, and who doesn’t?–we were sitting in a villa overlooking the Wannsee. Just across the lake, we could see the Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz, the place where, in 1942, the Nazis decided to exterminate the Jews of Europe.

Had the drunken Churchill and the anti-Semite Roosevelt not decided to fight World War II, none of us would have been there. There would have been no American Academy in Berlin, of course, with its prominently hung portrait of the villa’s original Jewish owners, now the Academy’s patrons; indeed, there would have been no Jews in Berlin, no Americans in Berlin, and no critics and writers in Berlin, save those approved by the Third Reich. Instead, a happy Nazi family would have been looking out over the lake, enjoying the same view.

Yet the dull truth is that we arrived at the topic of Nicholson Baker not because we were talking about the war, but because we were talking about the contemporary cult of the non-expert, or rather the anti-expert: the bloggers who assume that the “mainstream media” is always wrong, the Wikipedia readers who think that a compilation of random anecdotes is always preferable to a learned study, and of course the college students who nowadays prefer to get their news in emails from friends because it is too bothersome to read a newspaper. And the even duller truth is that Human Smoke belongs to this cult, and not to the more exotic outer reaches of the historiography of World War II.

Now, I have great respect for Applebaum’s knowledge of history and her writing of it. In fact, I think I have blogged more excerpts from her fascinating and well-done Gulag: A History than from any other book I’ve read. Nor do I have any sympathy for Baker, nor any desire to inhale the smoke he’s blowing in the book under review. I’m also getting more sour on the blogosphere these days, as it becomes less and less distinguishable from 24-hour journalism’s endless gotcha coverage and partisan shouting matches. And I’m also pretty routinely dismayed by the sloppy amateurishness of much of the stuff I find in Wikipedia (to which I’m contributing more and more these days, but only on subjects I know well).

But, geez, Anne, give us a break. Baker’s book was published by Simon and Schuster, not Gawker Media. Book publishers supposedly employ rigorous editors that blog media so often lack. Your review appeared in The New Republic, a magazine whose writers include fabulists and whose fact-checkers have repeatedly fallen down on the job. Most major media outlets have suffered similar embarrassments in recent years. Do you seriously believe that the reliability and expertise of the world’s legions of newspaper reporters are any more impressive than those of Wikipedia’s legions of contributors? News reports may claim to be the first draft of history, but they are usually the umpteenth draft of tired conventional wisdom. Finally, did the writing of purblind, partisan, and provincial-minded history only begin with blogging? Surely the writing of such history began with the advent of writing, the beginning of history.

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