[SIGCIS-Members] A response to a SIGCIS Command Line panel session presentation on PLATO

Barbara B Walker bbwalker at unr.edu
Tue May 23 18:12:13 PDT 2017

We all struggle with these issues; how serendipitous that they emerge here for discussion though perhaps under slightly contentious circumstances. My understanding of how an oral conference presentation is to be done with regard to primary sources is that the written version of the talk, usually sent to a commentator beforehand, cites a variety of relevant primary sources so that the commentator can in effect act as peer reviewer. She or he in doing the commentary may clue the audience in as to whether or not the presenter has provided a sufficient paper trail of sources, and also try to locate the paper within a broader tradition of scholarly discourse. When giving the oral presentation, I myself try to include a few trenchant quotations from primary sources so that my audience knows that I am not just making things up.

But these are really matters of community culture, and in a way this very series of SIGCIS communications is part of the process of creating such a culture. So it’s worth trying to create the most effective, trustworthy and broadly acceptable culture that one can.

Barbara Walker
Department of History/308
University of Nevada, Reno
Reno, NV 89557

bbwalker at unr.edu

Webpage: http://history.unr.edu/node/49

From: Members <members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org<mailto:members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org>> on behalf of Gerardo Con Diaz <condiaz at ucdavis.edu<mailto:condiaz at ucdavis.edu>>
Date: Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at 5:24 PM
To: Jeff Tyzzer <jefftyzzer at sbcglobal.net<mailto:jefftyzzer at sbcglobal.net>>
Cc: "members at sigcis.org<mailto:members at sigcis.org>" <members at sigcis.org<mailto:members at sigcis.org>>
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] A response to a SIGCIS Command Line panel session presentation on PLATO

Hi everyone,

I would like to offer two things. First is a note on three points that can help us to engage productively with work that draws on gender and sexuality studies even if we have never encountered those perspectives. Second is a respond to Jeff Tyzzer’s awesome questions on what kinds of feedback professional historians value.

I.               We value work on gender and sexuality

Here at SIGCIS, we value and welcome the work of scholars who draw from the perspectives of gender and sexuality studies. If you have never engaged with this rich and fascinating collection of methods, I encourage you to consider these three departure points that helped me get started back when I began my graduate work:

1) Analyses of the gender politics in the history of technology may not (and probably will not) align with what participants in these histories remember, and that’s a good thing. We know well from gender and sexuality studies that we all face gender politics often without realizing it, and it would be unwise for us not to analyze something just because no one remembers it.

2) We should be careful whenever we encounter calls to preserve narrative integrity, impose methodological consistency, or adhere to arbitrary scholarly standards. These efforts can (even accidentally) perpetuate patterns of male privilege. At the very least, in practice they can end up favoring men’s analyses and actions over all others. This is antithetical to our values.

3) Privileged access to historical actors is not the only means (let alone the most reliable one) through which scholars can analyze the gender politics of a historical process. In fact one of the key first lessons from introductory oral history courses is how to deal with the fact that different participants will often have completely different perspectives on the same thing.

II.            Healthy and professional academic criticism is open and generous, not hostile

Thank you, Jeff Tyzzard, for posing your questions. I can only speak for myself, but I hope that the Q&A below will address what you asked.

How much evidence do historians include in a talk?
Conference talks and published works play very different roles in our research. For instance, it would be impossible for me to offer all the evidence I have available for an argument in a 20 minute talk. If I were to write the talk down, I would probably need between 40 and 60 citations, with many of them pointing to several sources. That's far more than what I could include in a few powerpoint slides or mention in a short talk without sounding like I'm reciting a laundry list. Critiquing a talk because it fails to showcase every bit of evidence available is unproductive; that's simply not what talks are meant to do.

What kinds of feedback are helpful?
I have found that the most helpful feedback is the one intended to help me reflect on my methods, my argument, or how I position my work in relationship with the rest of our field. Some of my most valued questions fall along these lines: What else could I do to enrich the argument? How could I articulate with greater clarity my argument's place in our collective body of work? What alternative published arguments or interpretations should I engage with? Where else could I look for sources? Did I overlook any important sources or methods?

Why don’t professional historians write full reviews of each others’ talks?
One of the many reasons why we don't write public extensive critiques of each others' talks is simply that this arrangement for feedback places the speaker at an unfair disadvantage. For instance, the person writing the critique can incorporate footnotes, hyperlinks, and all sorts of other evidentiary support; the speaker can't do that. For this reason, it is proper to reserve our sharpest critiques for each others' written work; this helps us even the playing field between the critique and the work being criticized. And even then, our critiques are directed at the work, not the person who wrote it. Certainly, we identify and highlight where authors fell short, misconstrued material, or produced a subpar analysis, but we only do so after reading the fully polished published work--the best and most thoroughly documented argument that the author can make. Anything less than this amount of professional courtesy is downright unprofessional and unacceptable.

And why take all these things into consideration in the first place?
This respect for healthy academic criticism is essential to ensure that our field remains vibrant and open--connected not just to our roots as historians of computing, but also to the larger interdisciplinary community of scholars interested in the technologies we study. One of the many things that can make professional historical work innovative is its ability to challenge our established narratives and the methods we use. This is difficult and time consuming, and talks are essential to help propel the scholars forward.

I'll be happy to write more about this. But for now, I would just like to echo Marie's note on how important it is to be collegial and supportive. This is most important when we disagree with one another. SIGCIS is a wonderful collaborative space, and our embrace of healthy and professional modes of academic criticism is essential to keep it that way.

Con Diaz

Gerardo Con Diaz
Assistant Professor
Science and Technology Studies
University of California, Davis
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