Project Progress

Over the last few weeks I have been gathering material for my project on the Fafnir Company.  Fafner was a manufacturer of ball bearings and for many years one of the largest employers in New Britain. During the research phase of my project I have relied heavily on source material that i found at the New Britain Industrial Museum and the New Britain Public Library.  Although I initially worried about not being able to find enough useful information, I ended up finding more than enough.  Most of the physical sources I was able to find were in the form of company publications, personal histories, and newspaper articles.  Many of these sources contain technical information that ywould not be condusive to a public history exhibit, but there is also plenty of material that focuses on the human side of the company.

During the course of my research, one thing that I learned was that Fafnir was highly regarded by the men and women who worked for the company.  Fafnir employees understood the importance of what they were doing (especially during the war years) and were paid a fair wage that they could raise a family on.  I have a friend whose mother worked with Fafnir for many years and I think I would like to interview him about his mothers experiences for this project.

One of the thing that I have struggled with is finding Information about the later years of the company.  Most of the information that I found is from Fafnirs heyday from about 1920-1960.  In the 70s and 80s the Fafnir company began to decline and be bought out by other corporations. Company publications were discontinued and there is generally less information avalible.  I want to document the history of Fafnir with chronological uniformity, but this has made it somewhat difficult. 



After creating an account on Delicious, I spent a little bit of time doing various searches for different topics that I was curious about.  I tried different searches using subjects, people, and time periods.  Some of what i found was very interesting and i saved some of this material.  In other cases I found material that was not what I had been looking for.  I feel as though a lot of the material that i found could have been accessed through other mediums such as internet search engines or twitter.  However the fact that Delicious can draw material from sites like twitter does make it a unique resource.  I think the more useful part of Delicious is its ability to store articles and essays and compile a personal database.  I know that a lot of times when i find material that i would like to use or just find useful, i have to either save the link or simply remember where i found it.  Delicious’s ability to store material in a single place is very convienent and the feature that i was most impressed by.  It actually reminded me of Zotero, which i signed up for a couple of weeks ago in that it is such a good organizational tool.  Overall i think that this is something I will use in the future to manage my scholarly research 

Intellectual Freedom and Copyright Law

Let me begin by saying that balancing the publics right to intellectual freedom with the need to protect ideas with copyright law is no easy task.  As a student tend to sympathize with the publics right to access information. But i’m sure this will change somewhat when it comes time for me to publish my own work.  I think what we have here is a clash of competing interests and i think both sides make good arguements.  On the one hand authors need a reliable system which will protect their origional ideas from theft and distortion, and also to guarantee that they will recieve any profits that may result from their intellectual labor.  On the other hand the public should have unhindered access to humanity’s collective knowledge.  As long as people do not attribute it to themselves or use it to secure personal profit, I believe that this kind of intellectual freedom benefits society as a whole.  The case for intellectual freedom becomes even stronger if the author’s research and scholarship was funded by public money. 

Finding a happy medium between these two obligations is a delicate task to say the least, but with the rise of the internet copyright lay becomes even more vulnerable to interpretation and proverbial grey areas.  In many cases, copyright law on the internet becomes unenforcable as a practical matter.  Take Rosenzweig and Cohen’s example of the teacher who photocopies an Allen Ginzberg poem to hand out to her students.  This is technically a violation of copyright law, even though no one notices and Mr. Ginzberg is not deprived of monetary profit or credit for authorship.  Does that mean its ok?  I would say yes but its a tricky question nonetheless.  Problems such as this will no doubt continue to surface as our means for distuibuting and sharing information become more and more refined.    

Conducting research on the web

In my time at CCSU i have had to write several research based papers and for every one I have searched online for sources.  The internet is perhaps the most powerful communication tool that we have ever had.  The amount of information available online is stupifying, and this information can be accessed by an enormous audience.  So it is only natural that historians and others would use the internet to conduct research. In my own experience the internet has been extremely useful as a starting point whan beginning a research paper because it is so broad.  Internet searches can giveme a broad overview of a topic very quickly.  They can also provide me with a variety of more specialized sources, not just online but in analoge format as well.   It can take a huge amount of information that would be overwhelming to me and focus it to the point that it becomes much more managable. 

Without the internet, many of the sources i have looked at while doing research would be unavailable of prohibitively difficult to access. I took a look at the papers of the War Department Online.  I was surprised by how easy it was to sift through their archives and find documents pertaining to a specific person or event.  Without this online database i would not know how to access these documents much less how to find the one i was looking for.  For instance, the War Department organizes their archives chronologically from 1781-1803.  But you can also search for a person, and you will get all the documents affiliated with that particular person.  Same thing with keyword.  This accessability and organization are what make this online archive unique. 

There are however certain disadvantages to using digital rather than analogue sources.  Many people enjoy the “feel” of a physical source.  I admit that this is a somewhat abstract complaint, but it is one that i sympathise with.  Physical sources engage all five senses, you can feel the texture of the paper.  You can look at it from different angles or get up close to observe details.  Analogue sources are somewhat more engaging to me as i think they are to many historians.

Wikipedia analysis: Iron Felix

I took a look at Wikipedia’s page on Felix Dzerzhinsky, a member of the Bolshevik Party and head of the secret police following the October Revolution.  Dzerzhinsky is a controversial figure in post-Soviet Russia and there are differing interpretations of his legacy, making an objective Wikipedia entry challenging.  I have learned about Dzerzhinsky in college and when I read through his Wikipedia entry I did not find any glaring factual errors.  He was of Polish descent, served as head of the Cheka, and died in 1926 while giving a speech.  I was surprised by the length and amount of information contained in his entry.  Given that he is a somewhat obscure, non-Westerner I had expected that his entry might be relatively brief.  

While i was impressed by the article, there were some problems with the citation.  Of the 29 citations, I was able to use hyperlinks to access only eight, three of which were written in Russian.  The rest of the citations were for books which i would not be able to consult without going to a library, and a few links were to pages that had been taken down. 

This page was created in February 2002 and since that time has been edited over 500 times.  Most of the edits appear to be only small corrections and additions.  Revisions to the article usually involve the addition or subtraction of between 10 and a couple hundred characters.  Occasionally however more durastic changes are made throughout the history of the article.  I did not look through the entire history, but from what i did see there were no instances of vandalism to the article, which surprised me.  Given that Dzerzhinsky is a controversial figure I would have thought that there would be people who tried to use his page as a platform to voice their opinions, but this does not appear to be the case.  For the most part it seems as though contributers have done their best to objectively write about Dzerzhinsky.  Impressive to say the least.     

Sept. 16: Scavanger Hunt

In searching for an editorial for a labor dispute involving teachers before 1970, I began by using a few different search engines including Google, Yahoo, and Bing.  I was unable to find what i was looking for there, so i switched my search to the historical Hartford Courant database.  I began by using the advanced search feature to limit my results to before 1970 and then searched for ‘editorial’, ‘labor dispute, and ‘teacher’.  Sure enough the first result was an opinion piece from 1968 about a teachers strike in Florida.

In searching for the first documented use of solar power in the United States, i started by trying to search the question word-for-word.  I was not able to find the information that i was looking for with that so i began playing with different searches to try and isolate the information that i was looking for.  Finally one of my searches, ‘solar energy United States history’ brought me to a slideshow on a Dept. of Energy webpage. After reading through i learned that Clarence Kemp patented the first solar water heater in 1891.

The third item was probably the toughest because I don’t exactly know what a ballot initative is? That seemed like a good starting point, so i began by searching for ‘California ballot initative’. I modified this search slightly to include ‘history’, and the first result was a California government web page which gave me the history of ballot initatives.  There were other sources that contained the information that i was looking for but, coming as it did from a government website, i feel that my first result was the most authoritative. This source also gave me a brief description of voting data.

Dan Cohen

Dan Cohen makes a persuasive arguement for why academics should blog.  He also tries to reassure people who may be wary about blogging for a variety of reason.  Cohen views the blog as an an invaluable medium from which to share ideas.  What is unique about blogging is that you can reach a wide audience quickly and relatively easily compared to other methods of disseminating information, such as through books or journals.  I was particularly impressed by his arguement that blogging is a great way for up and coming academcs to establish themselves and encourage discussion among members of an academic field.  Cohen also says that through blogs, academics can reach beyond their traditional audience and reach a more diverse group of individuals. 

Cohen also tries to assuage typical concerns that people have when starting a blog.  One concern that i would have would be that i simply do not have enough to say and therefore it would not be worthwhile for me to blog.  it was interesting to learn that there are methods whereby blog followers can be alerted each time i make a new blog post so that even if i don’t blog regularly, my posts will not go unnoticed.