Contra Feedback

Dear Contra:

First of all, more than any other group you took advantage of the aesthetic possibilities of a publishing platform like Blogs@Baruch. William did a very nice job of describing the relationship between the “puzzle” of images that display on the front page and the various kinds of data you found to support the notion that it is problematic that the War on Drugs was absent from the 2012 election. You also did a nice job relying methodologically upon one of the primary themes of the course: the idea that historians need to become adept at “reading the silences,” at seeing the absence of something as historically significant and seeing value in investigating why this is the case. You do a good job of linking within your site, both to other sections and to footnotes. Your group clearly has an impressive grasp of the aesthetic and navigational potential of digital spaces.

You also have a fair amount of sources, and you have data from each of the areas that we examined in class– though, unlike other groups, you did not work with any data: you produced no charts, no maps, and did no data or text mining (it seems like you guys put the energy that could have been devoted to that into aesthetics, which is ok, but is a choice you should explain in your papers).

The most significant problem with your site, however, is the lack of an answer to your question. Saying that “there were a lot of reasons why the War on Drugs was absent” and then discussing a few is a very good beginning, but it doesn’t explain much, and doesn’t hold up as a historical argument. How are these elements related? How are they weighted against each other? What were the costs and benefits for each candidate of this situation? Even if you don’t have definitive evidence proving every connection (the “smoking gun” evidence Tom discussed with you during Monday’s class), you should deliver to the reader your best explanation about the reasons for the absence. You have spent more time with the sources than most, if not all, of your site audience. For this reason, you are prepared to give evidence-based explanations that will be valuable to the reader.

The homepage for the site is appealing, but the navigation is confusing– there’s no discernible order the way you’re presenting information. That’s okay methodologically — we certainly looked at a variety of models for navigation this semester — but it should be explained in an “About this Site” page linked at the top of the menu, and in your papers. There should be a certain amount of intentionality behind your design choices and your information architecture. Think about that some more, and reflect on it in your papers.

This page — — is emblematic of both the strengths and weaknesses of your project. Good sources, and you interpret them, but you fail to connect them to an argument.

This page — — needs more details on the sources. Follow the model we laid out on our course blog.

Finally, you did a nice job in your presentation inviting feedback from your classmates, building upon our suggestion that your embrace the potential for doing advocacy around this kind of public history work. But comments sections are a simple, easy, and rather fickle method for that type of outreach. If, perhaps, you wished to develop this space in the future it would benefit from a much more built-out system of public outreach. That, along with an exploration of a) what additional kinds of data you would need to locate and b) how you would integrate it analytically with what you’ve already done would both be valuable components of your final papers.

Luke and Tom