Monthly Archives: January 2011

Graduate School and the iPad

I have owned an iPad since last April, but never really used it to its fullest potential on campus.  Last semester, I took a picture of all the books and articles I read through out the semester.  The fact of the matter was I downloaded all the articles from BlackBoard and recycled them at the end of the semester since I had saved a digital copy on my computer.  This made me realize that I really needed to use the iPad for more than just email, web, and entertainment.  There had to be an app that would allow me to create a folder system for my classes, and there was.  I found the app GoodReader for $2.99.  I figured it would be worth it for an app that worked on the iPad and iPhone (since I have both).  I purchased the app last fall and began to work with it.  I decided it was the best candidate for this semester.

Steve Jobs Unveils the iPad, January 27, 2010

A week before classes began, I created a folder system within GoodReader which broke down the course by week.  This would allow me to download the PDF files from BlackBoard directly to GoodReader on the iPad and place it in the proper folder.  It may sound complicated, but it makes things much easier than keeping track of a paper version of the article.  After all, printing the articles seemed like a waste of paper when I could just as easily read them on the iPad.

When the semester began, I downloaded the readings for week two for my courses and placed them within the proper folders.  I always have my iPad with me on campus, and so now when I have a free moment, I can read articles for class while on campus.  With the paper versions, I would have to bring them with me if I wanted to do that, and there is no guarantee free time will present itself.

After working with the iPad for almost a year, and experimenting with reading PDF files on it for three weeks, I can honestly say it makes my life easier.  I could have just as easily purchased a laptop (or kept my MacBook), but the iPad is much thinner and a pound lighter than the lightest MacBook Air.  The touch interface also make the reading of articles easier as I can easily adjust the zoom using a pinching motion.  As a student, the iPad does everything I want it to do and more.

Screen shot of GoodReader’s Folder System

Apple’s Steve Jobs described the iPad last year as “magical.”  But he was not far off.  There is something more intimate about the iPad over a laptop or even a desktop.  I find that I am using the iPad more than my iPhone!  I may be a little biased, but the iPad is truly a multi-talented product that has changed the way we think about computing.  That was evident at this years Consumer Electronics Show.  Over 40 new tablets were demoed and will be released by the end of this year.  The iPad is making my grad school experience a little easier, and I look forward to using it for years to come!

Next weekend, I will begin reviewing my classes by looking at HIST 696.  Until then…

-Eric

(P.S.  I wanted to take a little space to express my sincere wishes that Steve Jobs get well soon so that he may return to Apple from his Medical Leave of Absence.)

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History Day 2011

As I alluded to earlier, I have a new Teaching Assistantship this semester and that is…History Day!  I worked with History Day for three years at MSSU.  I was asked to take this position because of this experience and to make suggestions to those who work with History Day at JMU.

What is History Day?

History Day is a competition held at the local, state, and national levels in which students in Middle school and High school get to compete for scholarships.  They do so by competing at either the Junior (grades 6 -8) or Senior (grades 9-12) levels.  With in each level, there are several categories including: individual documentary, group documentary, individual exhibit, group exhibit, historic paper, individual performance, group performance, individual website, or group website.  No matter the category, students have the chance to explore a topic of their choosing under the annual theme.  Past themes have included “The Individual in History” and “Innovation in History.”  This year, the theme is “Debate & Diplomacy in History.”  History Day allows students to experience the research required for historians, and, hopefully, inspire them to continue their education with history as their emphasis.  I look forward to seeing what the students come up with.

History Day at JMU

When I was asked to work with History Day 2011 at JMU, I did not know what I was getting into.  When I worked with History Day 2010 at MSSU, I worked with an experienced professor and Missouri History Day had implemented a paperless system.  At JMU, however Virginia History Day does not control the system.  For the last several weeks, I, along with the departmental secretary and Dr. Dillard have been trying to put together a website to inform local teachers as well as a way to submit entries online.  It is proving difficult, but we are pushing forward.  March 25 is not all that far away.

I was asked to work with History Day because I have experience.  I have worked with a different system and have a different perspective.  My goals for the semester and for History Day at JMU are to create a “History Day Guide Book” with information for professors or students who run History Day at JMU in the future.  I also want to create a paperless system before History Day 2012.   We also need to have a website that will be informational for local teachers and students.  The goal is to get more people involved and making the system simpler will encourage growth.  I am excited to work with History Day and we are working to make History Day simpler for those who come after Dr. Dillard and me.  It is a challenge, but I love a challenge!

Next week, I will begin describing the courses I am taking this semester.  Until then…

-Eric

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The end of the first week…

The first week of this semester seemed to drag on forever.  My classes are spread further apart, but I really only have to be on campus Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  Four-day weekends sound nice in theory, but they are far from reality.  Those days will be spent reading, writing, and researching (the real three R’s!).   This weekend I have several things to read plus a five-page paper and that is a light load!

This semester is going to be much more involved than I had anticipated.  For HIST 696, we will write several papers, have a semester long project, as well as attend lectures by guest speakers and take field trips.  For HIST 593, we will spend the semester reading about the techniques of historic preservation while spending the semester working to get a local property on the National Register of Historic Places.  And there is HIST 673.  It is called Graduate Research and Writing Seminar.  The name makes me sick to my stomach.  This course consists of writing two twenty-page papers and submitting them to the other students for review.  Meaning, not only do we have to research and write two twenty-page papers, but we have to read everyone else’s as well.  (I will describe each course in a later blog entry)

And that brings me to the topic I have been trying to avoid….History Day.  Unlike Missouri, each region has to handle its own forms, money, and entry information.  JMU still uses a paper system and it is my job to get a more efficient online system in place.  Working with Dr. Dillard and the department secretary, I hope to have a new website in place by the end of this week!  I spent this morning designing a webpage for our secretary to implement.

Despite all the work required, I DO NOT regret graduate school nor my decision on coming to JMU.  It is going to be a long semester, but there are key strategies to making this semester doable.  Remember those twenty-page papers?  If I write those as two thesis chapters, then I am half way home before my second year of grad school begins!  And the experience I will gain from HIST 593 will look great on a resume!  HIST 696 is about Public History, my concentration, and will be a great learning experience.

Remember, as Ralph Ransom once said, “Before the reward there must be labor.”

-Eric

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Kevin Harvick Foundation

As many of you know, I am a race fan and my favorite racecar driver is Kevin Harvick.  Kevin, and his wife DeLana, started the Kevin Harvick Foundation in 2010 to help underprivileged children across the United States.  They are off to a strong start, but support is needed.  The foundation supports many localized groups in North Carolina, but also the national Boys & Girls Clubs of America.  The Boys & Girls Club has been offering support in communities nationwide since 1860.

NASCAR had a reputation of appealing to certain types of people, but the fans and drivers keep proving that they are the most giving of all professional athletes.  Whether it is the Kevin Harvick Foundation, Jeff Gordon Foundation, Jimmie Johnson Foundation, Dale Earnhardt Foundation, NASCAR Foundation, or Kyle Petty’s Victory Junction Gang Camp, these and many other drivers are giving back to their communities, and as their fans we owe it to them to support what they believe in.

You can check out the Kevin Harvick Foundation’s website, Twitter, or Facebook for more information on how you can help.  I have also listed the Kevin Harvick Foundation on my supported causes.

If you know of any other charities founded by drivers, feel free to post links in the comments section of this post.  I will add the links to the “Links” page.

-Eric

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Beginning Semester 2

The break is about over!  Classes begin at JMU on Monday and I am looking forward to getting back to work.  I have all my books and am ready to go!  This semester will be different from the first in that there will not be any uncertainty for the first few weeks.  We all know exactly what to expect.  The three courses I am taking could not sound better!  The majority of those who voted in my poll chose HIST 593 as their choice and I can certainly understand why.  Historic preservation (architectural) is a very important skill for a public historian and having the opportunity to place a historic building on the National Register of Historic Places will be a worth-while experience.

As you may have noticed, some of my more resent posts have not been about grad school, but about subjects that interest me, and, I hope, interest the readers.  I plan to do this more often this semester and share some of my historic interests.  I will also try to explain each course in more detail after I have had a few weeks to feel them out.  I think this semester will be better than the last because I am now well adept to the expectations of grad school.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I have a new position this semester.  My Teaching Assistantship assignment will be History Day.  I do not have alot of details, but should find out everything next week, so you can expect an update on History Day then.  I helped with History Day at MSSU and I look forward to doing it again!

Until next time…

-Eric

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Daniel Ellsberg: The Original WikiLeaks

The leaking of United States government documents is nothing new.  Government “secrets” have been leaked since the birth of the nation.  The information coming from WikiLeaks, however, does not contain any groundbreaking information.  The US government, however, is taking the leaks seriously because they are unsure of what is to come.  What does WikiLeaks have?  That is a question I am sure will be answered in time, but, today, I want to give a lesson in history.  The reason the US government fears WikiLeaks and how the public may react to what comes out is all due to a series of events during the Vietnam War.

It is important to say up front that this post is apolitical.  Both parties have been affected by WikiLeaks and are equally venerable to what comes out.  This is nothing new.  In fact, WikiLeaks is not the first major US document leak.  The first substantial leak that had a ripple effect was that of the “Pentagon Papers.”  The Pentagon Papers were leaked to the press in 1971 by Daniel Ellsberg.  The story of the Pentagon Papers is fascinating, and the effects of the leak ended a war and brought down a president.

Daniel Ellsberg

Dan Ellsberg was educated at Harvard where he earned his PhD in Economics.  Ellsberg had a long involvement in the Vietnam War.  He began was a war strategist for the Department of Defense under Robert McNamara in 1964.  He prepared reports which allowed for the buildup of the war.  While working at the Pentagon, he met his future wife, an anti-war protester, and he began to take part in the anti-war movement with her.  After they broke up (for a short time!), Ellsberg joined the Marines and served in Vietnam as a Lieutenant.  After serving his tour in Vietnam, he returned to work at the RAND Corporation which was a Pentagon strategy firm.  He contributed to a Top Secret report on the Vietnam War called “United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense.”  This report would soon make headlines.

After contributing to the buildup and fighting in Vietnam, Ellsberg realized the war was hopeless for the United States.  After the Tet Offensive in 1968, this became obvious to the public and the anti-war movement gained momentum.  In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson decided to not run for president and Richard Nixon ran on a campaign of “Peace with Honor” in Vietnam.  Nixon won the presidency.  Ellsberg informed Nixon’s National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, that there was not a “win” option for the war and Kissinger seemed to agree with him, but Nixon felt the United States needed to strike with full force and he expanded the war into Laos and Cambodia.

Kissinger and Nixon

Ellsberg was frustrated by Nixon’s expansion of the war and felt like he needed to take action.  He attended an anti-war rally and was inspired by the young men who were being jailed for evading the draft.  At the same time, several members of Congress were also beginning to voice their lack of support for the war and Ellsberg saw his moment.  He decided the Top Secret report should be made available to the Senators and Congressmen voicing their opposition to the war.  With that, he began to take volumes of the report home at night, and with help, copied the report page by page.  This took months as the report was 47 volumes and over 7,000 pages!

In 1970, Ellsberg made the report available to many members of Congress.  Senator J. William Fulbright was holding hearings on the war in Vietnam and Ellsberg gave copies of the report to Fulbright and other members of the committee.  The senators, however, were unwilling to quote the report on the floor of the Senate because they were unsure of their clearance levels.  This frustrated Ellsberg and he decided to take a different approach.  He gave a copy of the report to The New York Times, and despite a possible legality issue, they decided to run the story on June 13, 1971.  Nixon was unaware of the existence of such a report and an order was delivered to the Times to stop the publication of report.  Ellsberg did not give up, however.  He gave the report to The Washington Post which picked up where the Times left off.  They too received an order to cease publication.  Ellsberg gave the report to seventeen other newspapers.

New York Times Front Page, June 13, 1971

Meanwhile, on June 29, Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska agreed to read the Pentagon Papers as part of a filibuster and the report was entered into public record.  The following day, the Supreme Court ruled The New York Times was within its rights to print the papers and the publication of the papers continued.  President Nixon was furious.  Ellsberg was arrested and was facing 115 years in prison for breaking confidentiality agreements.  He was to be tried in a federal court, but a mistrial was declared in May 1973 when it became clear that Nixon’s “plumbers” (the same men who broke into the Watergate Hotel) broke into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office to steal copies of his files.  It was also made public; the Department of Justice offered the presiding judge in the case a better position if he ruled in the government’s favor.  All this meant, Ellsberg was free.

The fallout from the Pentagon Papers is most significant.  Congress voted to cut off funding for the Vietnam War, Nixon resigned as president, and, most importantly, the public knew the true intentions of the war.  The most damning piece of information to come out of the Pentagon Papers was the true intentions of the war.  A report from the Department of Defense to President Johnson was quoted saying, in essence, that the US was in Vietnam 10% to bring democracy to South Vietnam (very ironic since the US stopped democratic elections in the 1950s), 20% to keep China from ruling the area, and 70% to avoid a humiliating US defeat. The Pentagon Papers showed how five presidents (Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon) plotted a wider war in Vietnam.

Ellsberg (1970s) and Assange (Today)

Today, Daniel Ellsberg supports the efforts of WikiLeaks and continues to protest the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.  He sees himself in Julian Assange who has said he only wants to bring the truth to the public.  Since the 1970s, Ellsberg has been called a traitor, a hero, and many other things that I can not post here.  What we have learned from Ellsberg is to stand up for what you believe in.  He was prepared to face the consequences, but the bizarre circumstances kept from serving a prison sentence.   He did what he felt was right and has not asked for special recognition for it.

For more information on the Pentagon papers (and my sources) you can read Dan Ellsberg’s book Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, watch the critically acclaimed documentary “The Most Dangerous Man in America,” read Ellsberg’s Blog, or follow him on Twitter.

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