Feb 8, 2012

What Alan Lomax Can Tell Us About Research and Teaching in the Digital Age

Last week the New York Times reported that the world will soon have digital access to an unbelievable trove of recorded music and dance from around the globe, thanks to the decades-long effort by Alan Lomax and a crew of archivists who, since Lomax’s death in 2002, have worked to digitize the recordings and photographs he collected. According to the Times, this includes
some 5,000 hours of sound recordings, 400,000 feet of film, 3,000 videotapes, 5,000 photographs and piles of manuscripts.
Lomax was an ethnographer who traveled throughout the U.S. and, eventually, the world to record people playing music and talking about their art. He later became interested in dance and performance. His recordings document musical traditions from around the world and are an unparalleled resource for musicians and historians. Now, the collection is in the process of being fully digitized and made available for free on the internet. 

As I work on my dissertation and contemplate my career prospects, I am constantly confronting questions about the roles of scholarship, academia, and education in an era in which an unimaginable amount of information is available to anyone with a computer. What’s the role of researchers, writers, and educators when everyone can find the answers to their questions with a Google search? Reading about this enormous digital collection helped me figure out a way to articulate an answer. 

Feb 2, 2012

Planned Parenthood: Health Care or Feminism? Can It Be Both?

For 36 hours my Facebook feed has been overflowing with people angry at the Susan G. Komen Foundation for canceling grants to Planned Parenthood that paid for breast cancer screenings. According to the Associated Press, the grants totaled about $680,000 last year – which is not actually very much in the context of PPFA’s and the Planned Parenthood affiliates’ budgets, which totaled over $1 billion in FY 2010. 

More significant than the amount of money is the spotlight this puts on Planned Parenthood’s careful positioning as a women’s health care organization – emphasis on the health care.

For nearly a century and a half, birth control has stood at the uncomfortable crossroads of medicine and services designed to empower women. Abortion was first outlawed in America in the 19th century as part of physicians’ (who were overwhelmingly male) efforts to make maternity care their responsibility rather than leaving it up to midwives (overwhelmingly female). But doctors didn’t quite know what to do about birth control, since it was preventive rather than curative -  and they specialized in curing diseases and solving problems - so their solution was basically to not provide birth control. When Margaret Sanger founded her first clinic in 1916, she argued that women needed birth control in order to control their own lives, but she soon lost command of her own organization to male doctors who had more respectability and clout but played down the women’s empowerment side of their work. In 1942, they changed the organization’s name from the Birth Control League to Planned Parenthood so they wouldn’t scare people who were put off by the idea of women “controlling” their reproduction.