How did this happen?

Like many Democrats, I sat down on my couch with a beer Tuesday and turned on CNN. I expected at worst a modest victory for Hillary Clinton, and at best a resounding national rebuke to the Trump campaign. According to my text logs, by 9:00PM it was evident things were not going according to plan. “I’m surprised about Virginia, no poll had that red” I typed as the returns started to come in. As we know, Virginia did vote Democratic, but the fact that it was even up for grabs seemed concerning. By 9:26 I wrote “This is uncomfortably close” and at 9:57 all I could manage was “This is Fucked.”

Like so many, I have spent the last day trying to come to terms with what has happened. Naturally, the finger pointing started right away. Some argued Democrats should have nominated Bernie Sanders, a talking point I saw on Facebook from both Trump and Hillary voters. My despair at 1AM on Election Night made me write on the timeline of a gloating Bernie Bro acquaintance that now was not the time to be smug. They replied that my movement of “middle-class kids from Long Island with advanced degrees had failed.” By now I felt a little drunk and a little confused, having discovered I was part of a movement of Long Islanders with advanced degrees. I sat with the lights out in my living room and fell asleep to Wolf Blitzer and John King searching desperately for unaccounted Hillary votes in Michigan and Wisconsin.

By sunrise, I had found out that Trump had made a victory speech around 3am during the few hours I managed to sleep. The pundit and thought piece industry quickly began to churn out post-mortems on the Clinton campaign. They varied between white people who are probably racists won the night, the working class rebuked the elites, the democrats ran an establishment candidate when the country wanted to “drain the swamp”, college educated people are out of touch, and people of color did not turn out enough, and when they did some voted Republican.

I spent yesterday in the doldrums and did not feel like eating or doing much at all besides watching The Simpsons. I felt especially terrible for religious minorities and people of color. My privilege means that I will be able to escape the next four years relatively unscathed. I also spent most of yesterday coming to the conclusion that I was unhappy with mostly everything I have read about why the Democrats lost, which led me on my own voyage to opine.

I realize now that I had totally taken for granted the coalition of people who put and kept Obama in office, and believed they would also deliver a victory to Clinton. Unlike so many newspaper and magazine columnists, I did not have to look far to find Trump supporters. They dwelled in my own family and some even had four year and advanced degrees. In retrospect I should have been alarmed that these family members voted for Obama in 2012 and now had swung to Trump. How did I justify to myself their perplexing change in allegiances? Arrogantly, I assumed it was partly because I was not around to lead the family debate. It was easy to fall under the spell of Trump when he was the candidate that offered everything and promised to restore a fuzzy and nostalgic version of the United States that baby-boomers have false memories of. It was easy to fall for Trump when you knew people in the FDNY and NYPD who felt under siege by Black Lives Matter.

I believed that although Trump enjoyed more support than Romney or McCain did, ultimately the same coalition of level headed people who could discern rhetoric from fact would deliver victory to Clinton. Sure, that turned out true in New York, but I have never spent more than a day in Michigan, and have certainly never been to Wisconsin (though I have heard good things!). In these two states, along with Pennsylvania, that coalition dissolved. How?

I have come to the conclusion that Trump won because he told people what they wanted to hear and Clinton told people what they needed to hear. Clinton’s big-tent of multiculturalism, pragmatism, and internationalism succumbed to the very wonkiness  that made me and others support her. It does not matter if the economy is doing well if you do not feel that. Obama won in 2008 running on uplifting phrases and quite honestly an implausible optimism rooted deeply in emotion. In summer 2008 I thought Obama was just running on catch phrases and charisma, and I initially supported the self-proclaimed maverick and compromiser John McCain. Ultimately I voted for Obama because I believed McCain gave in to the powerful right-wing forces of his own party, and because Sarah Palin was unequivocally unqualified to be VP.

I failed to realize that Trump was using emotion to cruise to the White House. He unleashed something powerful that people merely felt. You don’t have to explain yourself if you feel something is right. People felt Trump was right, and it was not just white people. Trump managed to snag 30% of the Hispanic vote. The United States has been exceptionally good at assimilating immigrants into mainstream society, and it seems many Latino people, especially the second and third generation are becoming as indistinguishable from the “majority” as an Italian American or Irish American. It is easy to think Trump is not talking about you when Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio flanked Donald Trump on the debate stage. This 30% were likely swept up in the same emotional current that white voters found themselves in.

The point of this little thought piece is not to say Hillary Clinton was a soulless candidate lacking in emotion and charisma. As a woman, Hillary was in a bad spot. If she was too rhapsodic she would have been pegged as an “emotional woman.” Unfortunately, Donald Trump had the advantage of gender and the skill of being a master at appealing to emotion. I hope in four years we can reignite the spark of hope and change that gave us the best President of my lifetime.

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The Liberalization of Academic Journals

I was inspired to write my final blog post of the semester based on an article I read in The Economist earlier today. In the open and boundless digital world we live in, where memes of cats and 10 free New York Times articles (or unlimited in private browsing) are one simple click away, academic journals seem byzantine at best. In the two years between my bachelor degree and graduate studies, the world of journal access simply vanished. Trying to access Jstor or a similar journal database, I was tersely informed by my institution that as an alumni I had no access. After spending tens of thousands of dollars at my University, it was the equivalent of “thanks for the memories (and the cash), and good luck.” I was stranded. It was puzzling to say the least, after spending years thinking the Internet was all free and wonderful, or at the most $7.99 for my Netflix, I would have to spend major cash to read Jstor. Even when in university the process of getting into the journals was laborious, I had to first log in to my institution and navigate through the library website to get journal access. Surely this outmoded way can’t last?

The well respected British journal Nature,will soon be a little more open. Subscribers to any of the 49 journals owned by the group that publishes Nature will be allowed to link to articles that can be read by the public. 100 media outlets, like The Economist will also get this privilege. To explain this simply, readers of Nature and selected media outlets will now be able to link to journal articles in Nature. Instead of hitting a pay-wall, people will be able to read the article. While this is not quite open access, it is a good step.

In general I am wary about opening all academic journals to the public, but Nature and other similar journals are starting an interesting experiment. Opening up linking to articles by actual subscribers and select publications is a good way to start to open up this digital pay wall.

Google and Historians

Google was started in 1998 by two Ph.D. students as a new and improved type of search engine. Fast forward over 15 years and Google is now a massive multinational corporation with a stock price of over $500 a share. The point of this post is to reflect upon how Google and the products it creates have fostered a new way to exhibit and utilize history. What started out as a way to find current information has transformed into a way to recreate the past. In particular, I will be looking at Google Earth and Google Maps, two similar products that have transitioned from not just showing the present, but diving into the past.

Google Earth went live in June of 2005. I eagerly downloaded and installed the program that summer, and watched it tax my single core Pentium 4 processor. Google Earth was easily one of the most awesome and liberating programs I had ever used. Instantly, I was free to fly around like a bird and view the earth below. As a child, whenever I saw an aerial photograph I was always very interested, but they were so hard to come by. Now, I was totally in control. I remember visiting fenced off and hard to reach places, and finally getting an idea about what I had only imagined before. Google Earth would largely function this way until the release of Google Earth 5. This version included historical aerial photography. Although the earliest photos from my area were from around 1994, it was immensely interesting to me. 1994 was the year I moved to Long Island and I remembered many old houses, empty lots, and even farms when driving around with my mother, or as the school bus meandered through the neighborhood. Now I had my validation, and even the ability to pinpoint when these changes happened. At last I could also discover if those houses I remembered actually did go up between 1994 and 2000, which was the next available year of photography.

Another great feature of Google Earth is the user created historical information. Users from around the world can retrace and recreate former landmarks and routes on Google Earth or Maps and superimpose them on the modern day street/landscape. One of my favorites, that I only recently found is the recreation of the route of the Long Island Motor Parkway. The LIMP was one of the worlds first limited access toll roads, basically a highway, and it was privately owned. It was sold to NY in 1938 and shutdown and faded into ruins. Most of the route is gone today, but old stretches of pavement and asphalt occasionally poke out of the forest floor along the route if one knows where to look. Knowing where to look has become much easier thanks to the Google Maps route created in 2013. I first discovered this two months ago. My original idea for Digital History Project #1 was to create a KML file documenting the route of the LIMP. When I discovered someone beat me to this only one year ago, I was disheartened… but managed to move on.

My point with all this is that Google has simultaneously managed to monopolize and democratize this type of history. Through the servers of this massive corporation we can have a window upon the world of yesterday. At the same time we too can contribute to Google in their mission to recreate the past. If it is a good idea to aid this massive and rich corporation for free is something that remains to be seen.

Digital History Project #2

In my second post on this blog I outlined my proposal to document the redevelopment of the Grumman Aircraft Corporation site in Bethpage, New York. In the second major project for this class I want to expand upon this project and make it into a website coded with CSS and XHTML. Creating a full website with a fly out navigation will allow for an easy and accessible way to access the history of this interesting location.

I have established three goals for expansion of this project. The first, like I mentioned before is placing the project into a wider historical context. The Grumman site was not alone during this period. Many other industries, not only defense were shuttered in the 1980s and 1990s. Unlike Grumman, many were never redeveloped, though Grumman is fairly unique because of the relatively populated and affluent County it was located in. By examining some common themes in the deindustrialization occurring in the United States during this period we can examine if Grumman presents a unique or common situation. Is the redevelopment of the Grumman site a success compared to similar projects in North America?

My second goal is to incorporate the Grumman story into the wider narrative of Long Island, and especially Bethpage. As I mentioned in my first project, Grumman was carefully protected by Congress members from New York, until the end of the Cold War when defense cuts made holding such a position untenable. I want to examine further Grumman’s relationship with the community. Of particular interest is the allegations that Grumman contaminated drinking water in Bethpage, and donated land for a park that was later found to be toxic. Most of these allegations concerning environmental issues were not brought forward until the late 1990s. I wonder if this is because Grumman was already vacated from the site, and the jobs already gone. Would this have become a major issue if Grumman was still manufacturing and providing jobs for the community?

My final goal is to create a website that has a clean layout and is easy and intuitive to navigate. I intend to do this by implementing a slide out CSS based menu in the left navigation pane of the site. It is also my goal that the website passes the W3 CSS/XHTML validator, which means it is coded to a high standard, and following accepted and modern practices. I have not been using any content creating programs, I have been manually coding this website using XHTML and CSS in notepad. The files are then uploaded into an existing server I already have been paying for. I believe that coding the website manually offers several advantages. The author of the site is in total control, and is able to customize their site as they see fit. Most importantly, they are not beholden to third party apps and programs that can either require frequent upgrades that cost money to stay up to date. Also to be considered is that certain applications or toolkits can become unsupported. What if WordPress shut down tomorrow?

Do History Students Learn from Video Games?

Recently, in class we discussed the educational merits of gaming. The consensus seemed to be that many of us believed video games had at least some educational value. During my K-12 years, video games were probably one of my top three sources of historical knowledge. The other two were The History Channel, and of course my school issued text books. My favorite games grounded in some sort of reality were simulations like Civilization and Sim City, first person shooters like Medal of Honor, and stealth games like Metal Gear Solid. I think Metal Gear Solid and Civilization IV  are particularly interesting examples, as both games are of very different genres and have very different aims. However, both are grounded in reality (not in some sort of fantasy universe), and aim to educate the player in very different ways. Civilization IV is about controlling the destiny of an entire civilization, and guiding them to an open ended victory based on your own terms. Metal Gear Solid is an action game with a strong theme against nuclear proliferation. Though a game like Metal Gear Solid would never be considered in the classroom because of the inherent violence in games about war and conflict, it carries a deeper and more nuanced message about history and culture than a broad game with sweeping generalizations like Civilization.

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Forgive my parents for letting me play an “M” rated game at age 12.

Metal Gear Solid is a 1998 game for the PlayStation created by Hideo Kojima, a game designer from Japan. The game centers around a protagonist named Solid Snake. He is a special forces operative sent to Alaska after terrorists have commandeered a military base that disposes of retired nuclear warheads. The base is actually a front for a project called Metal Gear, an immensely destructive weapon capable of launching undetectable intercontinental range nuclear warheads. The game features lengthy cutscenes that explain the complicated and twisting story, but also serve to push the nuclear disarmament position of the games creator. In fact, the game concludes with text on the screen that says the amount of nuclear weapons still in existence when the game was released in 1998, despite promises reached at the end of the Cold War to reduce stockpiles to much lower levels.

The games cinematic quality, and it’s attention to detail add to the immersive sense of Metal Gear Solid. Part of this attention to detail is the use of real world military equipment, such as the M1A1 Abrams tank or the PSG1 rifle. However, some fictional elements are introduced, and this is where the problem begins.

The main element of the story about the bipedal tank that launches nuclear warheads was obviously fictional, even to a 12 year old like myself playing the game. However, since many of the less farfetched aspects of the game like a radio controlled missile were mixed with actual real world military equipment, it was easy for lines to be blurred. Years later, when I found out some of these items in the game didn’t actually exist, I was a little surprised. The vast majority of the equipment used by the protagonist were real world things, so it was easy to slip in one or two fictional ones and never question the authenticity. To further compound this problem was the immersive nature of the game. The player has the ability to make radio contact with an “expert” who would explain the background of any situation or piece of equipment found by the player. For actual real world equipment the real background of the item in question was explained carefully. However, this information was of course fabricated for the invented items. It was easy for lines to be blurred, and to mistake fiction for reality.

The pixelated protagonist, Solid Snake.
The pixelated protagonist, Solid Snake.

It is admittedly a stretch to say Metal Gear Solid has any type of educational value inside a classroom. However, people interested in military history could potentially mistake some fictional aspects of the game for fact. This is a problematic aspect of gaming not just for Metal Gear Solid, but for all games, even for simulation games like Civilization.

There are numerous articles about how the Civilization series of games has been implemented inside the classroom. Despite how much I love the Civilization series, I think the game has little academic utility. The incredibly open ended aspect of the game, combined with the generic qualities each civilization possesses makes the game arguably less educational than the post Cold War nuclear disarmament message found in Metal Gear Solid.

Instead of being presented with a clear narrative and a historical background, players are thrust into 4000 B.C. and have to control a civilization as an omnipotent overlord for the next 6000 years. Each civilization is basically identical with a few characteristics of units that are supposed to fit in with the reputation of that particular society. For example, the Romans are imperialistic and organized, and the Dutch are financial and creative. The Romans have a powerful unique unit called the Praetorian and the English have a redcoat unit. These relatively hollow differences don’t actually provide any historical details. In fact players would have to head to the in game Encyclopedia aptly called the “Civlopedia” to find any historical information.

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Not exactly an intuitive interface.

Though I highly doubt any educator will be firing up their copy of Metal Gear Solid to explain Japan’s postwar pacifism and apprehensions about nuclear weapons, games with more narrow narratives and themes are easier to draw conclusions from and encourage critical discussion than a game about being an overlord of vastly similar civilizations for 6000 years. Civilization’s utility in the classroom has been overplayed (no pun intended), and to believe that a micro-management top down game like Civilization would appeal to more casual gamers, let alone non gamers, is a tough sell for me. Civilization is a very particular type of game, that requires hours to learn even the basic concepts of management.

Fleeting Exhibitions Preserved Forever

This week, I was particularly excited by the BBC video (http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-24179644) that explained how the London Science Museum in Great Britain used 275 laser scanners to model the entire shipping exhibit in 3D, composed of over 250GB of data. (http://www.gizmag.com/shipping-gallery-3d/28844/, check out this article for more info) The Gallery opened in 1963 and was replaced with an exhibit on the Information Age.  I have embedded a video from the museum that shows just how technically and functionally powerful this type of 3D modeling is.

I believe that virtually recreating an exhibit is an incredibly effective tool for preserving temporary installations and increasing accessibility for those who may not be able to visit a museum.

Most major museums, and many small ones have at least one new exhibit once a year or so. These exhibits are well researched and curated, and often remain in place for six months to a year. Afterwards they are thrown into storage, probably never to see the light of day again. All the utility of the exhibit, not to mention the hard work of the curatorial team is lost. This could have been the fate of the shipping gallery in London, but a preservation solution was found through technology. Now, this exhibit is preserved forever down to the tiniest detail. This way, the exhibit remains accessible to interested people. It may not be physically possible to visit it any longer, but this is surely the next best thing. I believe it is important to preserve exhibits that are taken down for several reasons. For museum professionals it also provides keen insight into the evolution of exhibit design over the years. A gallery planned in 1963 is incredibly different from how galleries and exhibitions are planned and installed today. These 3D models offer the ability to study the history of exhibit design and interpretation of objects. More importantly, it allows people to digitally revisit or visit for the first an exhibition or gallery that interests them.

Another merit of 3D exhibition modelling is increasing accessibility to those with special needs or disabilities. People who may be unable to visit a museum now have the opportunity to visit an exhibition or gallery from the comfort and convenience of their home if it is uploaded to the internet.

Although you can visit the Met in NYC through Google Earth and stroll through the corridors, there are several limitations to reproducing exhibitions through photography. The most unfortunate that I noticed immediately is that the cameras used were not of a high enough resolution. Although I could get a decent sense of the object themselves, the labels are virtually illegible. On Google Earth, the user is really getting only half the experience, and missing out on a great amount of context. 3D Mapping could easily alleviate this issue, and when a user clicks on an object that interests them a corresponding label could pop up and provide the require information. Another problem with Google Earth, especially in rooms with windows is natural light. This can cast a glare or shadow making it much harder to see some details.

3D modelling no doubt has a bright future and many practical uses. Hopefully more museums will realize this and embark on projects to recreate their collections and exhibitions digitally, especially exhibits that may be closing soon.

Digital History Project Proposal Option A: Digital Landscaping

Location: Grumman Aircraft Corporation, Bethpage, L.I., N.Y.

By 1994 the Cold War was history, and the military industrial complex that made a fortune peddling the newest wares to the military started to wind down and consolidate. A victim of this period of mergers and acquisitions was the Grumman Corporation, headquartered in Bethpage N.Y. on Long Island. Some of Grumman’s notable design achievements include the L.E.M. (Lunar Excursion Model) developed for the Apollo Program and fighter jets like the F-14 Tomcat, which was featured in the movie Top Gun. In 1994 Grumman merged with Northrop to create Northrop-Grumman. The majority of the buildings, and the airfield were redeveloped into a business park, and besides plaques and the names of a few roads, little evidence exists of the massive research, design, and testing facility. Hundreds of people on Long Island lost their jobs in 1994, including some of my neighbors.

Grumman 1994
The Grumman Aircraft Corporation Site in 1994. Image from Google Earth
grumman today
The site in 2014, most traces of the airfield and signs of the former use of the area have vanished over the last 20 years. Image from Google Earth

Grumman opened the site at Bethpage in 1936. At the time, most of the land in the area was undeveloped farm land and open plains. This area was known as the Hempstead Plains, and was some of the largest expanse of prairie east of the Appalachian Mountains. This open land was an idea place for early aviation, since the lack of trees and buildings made emergency landings less precarious. By the 1950s the area was mostly built up in the post-war housing boom. Grumman remained, and the airfield continued to see active use. When Grumman merged with Northrop in 1994 the airfield was immediately closed and many of the buildings were sold off. Northrop-Grumman retained some property, which it still uses today. Over the next 15 years the site would be redeveloped. The runways were replaced with housing and warehouses, and by 2007 virtually no trace of the runway remained. Many new buildings were erected on the site, and larger buildings were converted for new uses, including a movie studio with a massive green screen.

This project will trace the evolution of the Grumman site from the post war period until today using aerial photography, archival maps, and Google Earth. We will see how the Grumman expanded throughout the Cold War era and then contracted to the tiny presence it maintains on the site today. Of particular interest will be how the airfield was redeveloped starting in the mid 1990s, and how it was done in a piecemeal fashion. Using overlays and historic photos we will be able to to watch this redevelopment unfold.

This project is important because Grumman was a major manufacturing power during the mid 20th century that made many contributions to the American military and space program. By examining the development of their headquarters we can see trends in military and manned space exploration spendings that coincides with developments at the location. We can also see how up and coming companies in the 1990s purchased property on the land for development.

References:

Northrop Grumman Heritage Page:

http://www.northropgrumman.com/AboutUs/OurHeritage/Pages/default.aspx

Edward J. Smits, Nassau: Suburbia USA., 1974