Today is the first day of my sabbatical. Don’t be fooled by the title of this post: I will not update this blog daily. Especially since most updates would be mind-numbing: read. wrote. thought. But I am posting today to indicate the kind of work I’ll do this semester–and to illustrate how technology has become inseparable from this work, though for once, I am not writing about technology itself.
Many readers of this blog (and students in my class) know that I am working on a new book. The subject is a family from Sierra Leone, who came to Grand Rapids in 2005, after surviving the decade-long civil war in their country. Right now, I am chiefly researching–that is, conducting interviews with the family and reading all I can on the conflict. Technology is playing a key role in this stage, obviously. Most of all, I have located resources that exist only online–such as the video collection by Journeyman Pictures, the Truth and Reconciliation Report at the Sierra Leone Web, and the terrific blog on the trial of Charles Taylor. I’m using del.icio.us to keep track of all these online resources. You can see my del.icio.us list here.
I’m also using the web to find and read traditional print media. You can see my bookshelf on Sierra Leone at Google Books, for instance. I have been using one feature of Google Books heavily–locate a nearby library. Just provide your zip code, and Google finds the book in the closest library. Then, thanks to GVSU’s document delivery system, I can order the book with just a few clicks. Amazing, really. And then there are the databases–full text and otherwise–that I’ve been digging into.
Beyond this kind of research, I’m using social media to connect to participants and scholars and to stream video. I’m struck by how flexible a tool the web can be. No single app is ever go to replace all if this; the web is just too good at finding and retrieving information. Reports of the death of the web? Largely exaggerated.