Resource Highlight: USAFacts.org

We’ve posted before about sources of U.S. government data, but there’s a new kid on the block: USAFacts, the brainchild of Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer. The new site takes publicly available data and makes it easier to query.

Endgadget’s review is mostly glowing: “Oh, and perhaps the most important thing: it’s just beautiful, thanks to help from Seattle-based design firm Artefact. True accessibility requires elegance and simplicity, and USAFacts has it.”

Apparently Ballmer found the existing plethora of resources frustrating according to Recode: “There’s no — at least, I couldn’t find an — integrated source of data, because to me integrated is important. If everything is integrated, everything has to add to 100 percent, no numbers can be taken out of context.”  He wanted something like the 10K report that companies file with the SEC, which is a comprehensive summary report of a company’s performance through financial statements.

CNN says he’s already spent $10 million on researchers in Seattle and at the University of Pennsylvania.  Furthermore, Endgadget reports that he’s willing to spend “several million dollars a year” to keep the service up and running — an important consideration when many transparency initiatives wither after the initial burst of enthusiasm and funding.

But TechDirt notes that the site is not without problems:

“The problem with Ballmer’s site is that it’s not properly open. There isn’t (enough) linking back to source data; there aren’t ways to examine how conclusions are reached; you can’t, in most cases, download their data…In many ways, it’s a black box – it tells you what they say the numbers say, but if you want to be certain, you don’t have any way to query the data properly…It’s a useful start, but it’s honestly hard to see it as $10m worth of a start. Three things that would improve it at once: 1) link back to the source material for each dataset; 2) show the working (and any conflicts in the data; 3) make the datasets downloadable in something other than PDF.

We recommend the site as a way of getting your students’ feet wet with data.  For deeper dives, there are more complete sources, where you can also see how the data were generated and download the datasets.


BulbgraphOnOffClicking on “Questions for Thought” in the overview brings up questions to focus poor readers on the section’s content.


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Resource Highlight: Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC)

The Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) is basically a social network of archives. It’s a bit like one-stop shopping: it exists to help historians and other researchers make connections among the people they are studying by mapping the ways in which they can be connected through archival materials.

From the blog post introducing SNAC to the public:

Let’s look at an example of Shirley Chisholm in SNAC. In just the National Archives Catalog, Chisholm has an authority record and is connected to just five descriptions. There are a pictures of her, an interview, and more… But the Archives is not the only repository to collect Chisholm’s work: 51 collections in SNAC either list her as the creator or have a referenced to her. For example, Chisholm’s letters are located in the New York Public Library.

Not only can you find a single person in multiple archives using SNAC, but you can also find records for people and organizations associated with them — so for Chisholm, some associated names are “major historical figures like Presidents Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson; Shirley Bernard, a professor and an active member of the National Organization of Women; and Constance Baker Motley, an important African American judge and social reformer.” (The featured image is of the network of names associated with Chisholm’s, which also shows if the names were connected apart from their connection through Chisholm.)

This makes SNAC a tremendous tool not only for doing historical research, but for situating research in context.

 

Resource Highlight: archiv.folx.org

Looking for a hornpipe, polka, or gavotte? http://archive.folx.org/ is an online database of traditional and folk music. Find recordings, videos, sheet music, and lots of other information on ethno music from (mostly) Europe.

Sheet music for the traditional reel, “Drogheda Bay”

Note: I personally have terrible memories of being forced to square dance in gym class.  But looking back, I think that what bothered me most was that it was contextless: lining up in the gym and dancing for no reason at all was just stupid and made everyone self-conscious.  Furthermore, if you managed to achieve any kind of facility with the steps, the bell was sure to ring!  However, I’ve also been to events where there were live musicians and folk dances that were a tremendous amount of fun for everyone.  So I think the context matters a great deal for your average student.

If you’re teaching American history, for example, why not have students watch a musical movie such as “Oklahoma” in preparation, discuss what people then needed to do to prepare for a dance, and then plan your own?  Let them dress up or play instruments, and then let the jam session continue from there!

A World Without Children, or at Least a Policy Without Them!

The thought experiments of certain social theories are not far off from such stories. So very many people have attempted to imagine the nature of a human isolated from social connections. Chapter XIII in Thomas Hobbes’ book, The Leviathan would be a good example. So, would be the calculations of many rational choice theorists, those attempting to find the self-interest in just about any human interaction.

— Source: northierthanthou

An interesting meditation on how the best (certainly the most widely read and influential) science fiction is always about social science.

Whether your class is studying politics, history, economics, or geography, there is fiction that imagines what changing a particular parameter or two of that world would do to social relations.  From the fantasy world of L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz series, which can be read as an allegory of late 19th century American politics, to Ursula K. Le Guin, author of The Left Hand of Darkness, which examined gender roles and relations, science fiction can provide a window into examining your subject, helping students to make connections and evaluate arguments.

Resource Highlight: the Met Museum’s Open Access

Looking for digital images for your students to use in projects? The Metropolitan Museum of Art has made thousands of public domain images available.

On February 7, 2017, The Metropolitan Museum of Art implemented a new policy known as Open Access, which makes images of artworks it believes to be in the public domain widely and freely available for unrestricted use, and at no cost…We encourage you to explore the images of artworks the Museum believes to be in the public domain by visiting Collection and selecting the “Public Domain Artworks” filter in the left-hand column.

The featured image is a silk dress from the 1750s from the collection that is not currently on display.  For more information on the availability of images (and data from images that are still restricted), read the rest of their post here.

Famous Women Inventors for #WomensHistoryMonth

For Women’s History Month, check out one of the inventors profiled at Famous Women Inventors.  For example, Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr (pictured above):

Although better known for her Silver Screen exploits, Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) also became a pioneer in the field of wireless communications following her emigration to the United States. The international beauty icon, along with co-inventor George Anthiel, developed a “Secret Communications System” to help combat the Nazis in World War II. By manipulating radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception, the invention formed an unbreakable code to prevent classified messages from being intercepted by enemy personnel.

Lamarr is a great example of someone who doesn’t fit the geek stereotype, which can lead to a fruitful classroom discussion.  And hat tip to Gringa of the Barrio for alerting me to this resource!

[Image is a publicity still from the movie Comrade X (1940). By MGM / Clarence Bull – eBay item 262147225708 – Archive copy at the Wayback Machine (archived on 18 November 2015), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45092010%5D

Resource Highlight: Open Educational Resources @AVU

Need sources in multiple languages or from other countries? You can find open educational resources in English, French, and Portuguese at OER@AVU, an initiative of the African Virtual University.

These resources are mostly in the physical sciences, but they don’t have to be used for just that — in a global studies unit, you could use them as an example of what students in Senegal (for instance) are studying.

African Virtual University (AVU) is “a Pan African Intergovernmental Organization whose aim is to significantly increase access to quality higher education and training through the innovative use of Information and Communication Technologies.”  The governments involved are from Kenya, Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, and South Sudan.