Graphs, Maps, and Trees

When reading Franco Moretti ‘s “Graphs, Maps, and Trees”, I felt that I saw him focus on two main points. First of all, he brings up that scholars of literary history tend to spend plenty of time documenting the classics of a given period, buy pay almost no attention to the average, everyday works that were published in said period. The second point regarded his philosophy of studying stories and trends in stories by using, “graphs, maps, and trees”.
On one hand, reading his first point makes perfect sense. There seems something almost perfectly human and expected in people focusing on the major works of a given era rather than what was written and read from week-to-week by the ordinary people. We are a big event kind of species. And yet, somehow, this seems truly tragic. How can a person be a real historian if they do not have some knowledge of what reading a book for the average person would look like? In this sense, his book is not just a description of a style of analytical thinking. It is a bold call to action for historians to delve into the past and really immerse themselves in the writings of the time.
The second part of his argument brings to mind the Robin Williams movie, “Dead Poet’s Society”. In this movie, at the beginning of the school year at an elite prep school, Williams, playing the unorthodox English teacher of a group of young men, has them tear out the pages of their literature books that teach students how to judge the greatness of a work based on charts. As this (and the rest of the movie) make clear, Williams character greatly prefers the qualitative over quantitative.
However, there is a place for everything, and this work by Mr. Moretti would seem to provide the answer. Fine, he says. You can’t use quantitative methods to analyze the book itself on a merit basis. But you can to find its place in history, to chart not only the progression of actions within the book, but the place of the book in the genre predominant of whatever time the book is from. This is what I approve most of his system…the reliance of these charts for analyzing trends. In previous posts, the method of using pictures to tell history as a future way of communicating it on the internet was discussed. While the chart system Moretti proposes is not something that could only come about in the internet age, it does make said idea more in depth. If we truly are living in the age of the database, this system would seem perfect for taking that information and molding it to tell the story of history.

Congress and the Internet First Draft

Since the birth of the internet, Congress has enacted a variety of legislation dealing with how the public uses the internet.  These range from the regulation of internet gambling to net neutrality to the discussion of the internet kill switch[i].  Clearly, Congress is concerned with how the American people are using the internet.

But what about our Congressmen and Senators themselves?  That is the subject of this essay, where a variety of questions will be asked about the relationship between Congress and the Internet.  These questions are: how do Congressmen use the internet, was Congress fast or slow to adopt the use of the internet, and has the development of the internet played a major role in political campaigning?  A survey of several pieces of literature reveals not only the nature of Congress’s use of the internet, but raises important questions regarding both the timing and future of its use.

First, a brief history of the internet.  This is important because it provides a general framework for us to consider these questions about Congress.  Its origins date back to 1969, when the Department of Defense had four computers connected[ii].  After years of development, it entered widespread public use between 1994 and 1995[iii].

Now, let us look at the history of the use of the internet by members of Congress.  The internet came to Congress in 1995[iv].  This owes much to the efforts of then Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich[v].  His efforts resulted in the inauguration of a number of computer systems through which Congressmen could communicate with each other and the public.  They include making it mandatory for committees to make information available online, and THOMAS (, which provides, “bill summaries and status updates, committee reports, the Congressional Record, etc. to both the public and Congressmen”[vi].  A couple of years later, the U.S. Senate set up the Legislative Information Retrieval System[vii].  The immediate result of all these efforts was that:

By the spring of 1996, 117 members and 58 Senators maintained sites on the internet. By the spring of 1997, 240 House members and 83 Senators were on the internet.  By the end of 1999, 432 House members maintained internet sites, along with all 100 members of the U.S. Senate[viii].


This is an amazing transformation to have occurred in sixteen years. Why emphasize that Congress has been utterly transformed in such a short period of time?  The research uncovered an interesting fact about Congress.  It has traditionally been very reluctant to adopt new technologies.  This point is emphasized in Congress and the Internet: Highlights. In the 1870’s, Thomas Edison believed that his idea to install electronic voting machines in Congress would be readily accepted[ix].  Instead, it was defeated by a vote of 86 to 82[x].  Why did this happen?  When he made a similar appeal to this Massachusetts State legislator, he was shut down because it was felt his machine would interfere with the minority’s ability to delay legislation[xi].  The same could be said of Congress.  As the article points out about Congress’s attitude:

Change often brings in its wake both pluses and minuses and has the potential to change the distribution of influence within Congress.               Before lawmakers sign on to change, they want to know: Who stands to win or lose power with the new technology? Are there electoral risks associated with its use? What are its costs and benefits? Will Members become too dependent on the technology? How long will it be before the technology becomes obsolete?[xii]


It would take 100 years before electronic voting was used in the House[xiii].  Similar obstacles were faced by television.  Congressional hearings were not televised till the 1970’s, the argument being that people would use their presence as an opportunity to grandstand (those who thought that are probably laughing right now)[xiv].

Why then, was the internet adopted relatively quickly?  The article “The Rise of the Cyber-Legislator: Congress and the Internet in the Last 20th Century” emphasizes the role that leaders played in pushing its use through.  So many innovations were brought to Congress because the Speaker of the House pushed.  The beginning of the article states that the entire study that formed the meat of the material showed that “Ideological extremists and party leaders are consistently more embracing of the internet’s essential characteristics: a national focus and the provision of links to outside sites”[xv].  This suggests the technological revolution moved at a quicker pace in part because it was a top-down approach, rather than a grassroots, which would have had to contend with established interests.  Also perhaps, it’s in part because we live in a far more technological society.  While it was 100 years before electronic voting was used in Congress, it was only about 60 from the invention of television[xvi].  There seems to be a natural lessoning of the time technology spends outside of Congress.  Perhaps then, the internet is simply at some level the inheritor of the trend of increasing technology and new innovations coming out and being accepted sooner.

Thus, we have covered the introduction of Internet use into Congress.  However, there are still the questions regarding how Congressmen use the internet in Congress and during campaigns. Congress and the Internet: Highlights brings up that “both the House and

Senate prohibit Members from using electronic devices on the floor for concern that

they would disrupt the deliberative process”[xvii].  In addition to responding to emails, the article spoke greatly of the rising use of the internet to communicate directly with voters and “virtual town halls”[xviii].  It does seem to emphasize that only a few have done this so far, indicating that we are actually on the threshold of realizing the internet’s potential for Congressmen rather than living in the middle of it[xix].

And as for campaigns, the effect also seems to be small for the moment.  It should be emphasized that “26% of Americans mention the internet either first or second as their main source of election news”[xx].  This figure comes from an article talking about how traditional sources of news are declining, but still used by the majority for issues related to elections[xxi].  Overall, as a tool to communicate with constituents, the internet does not seem to have reached its full potential.

In conclusion, what can we tell about Congress and the Internet?  Despite traditional hostility towards the internet, top-down pressure resulted in the mass and relatively fast introduction of the internet to the halls of Congress.  As can be gathered from the fact that so many parts of Congress place their proceedings online, a sort of transparency does seem to have been enforced[xxii].  Still, the full potential of the internet has yet to be realized by our leaders.  That is something we should probably expect to see in the coming years.

[i] “Internet Gambling Curbs Enacted”, In J. Austin (Ed.), CQ almanac 2006 (62nd ed.), Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 2007, URL:;

“Net Neutrality”, New York Times, 2010, URL:; Bianca Bosker, “Internet ‘Kill Switch’ Approved By Senate Homeland Security Committee”, Huffington Post,  06/25/10, updated 08/25/10, URL:

[iv] John Messmer, “The Rise of the Cyber-Legislator: Congress and the Internet in the Last 20th Century”, 15, URL:

[v] Walter J. Oleszek, “Congress and the Internet: Highlights”, Congressional Research Service, 2007, 11, URL:

[vi] Olezek, 11-12

[vii] Olezek, 11-12

[viii] John Messmer, “The Rise of the Cyber-Legislator: Congress and the Internet in the Last 20th Century”, 15, URL:

[ix] Olezek, 6

[x] Olezek, 6

[xi] Olezek, 7

[xii] Olezek, 5

[xiii] Olezek, 7

[xiv] Olezek, 8

[xv] Messmer, 11

[xvi] “Television History-The First 75 Years”, URL:

[xvii] Olezek, 14

[xviii] Olezek, 13

[xix] Olezek, 13

[xx] “Internet’s Broader Role in Campaign 2008 Social Networking and Online Videos Take Off”, PEW Research Center, 2008, URL:

[xxi] “Internet’s Broader Role in Campaign 2008 Social Networking and Online Videos Take Off”

[xxii] Messmer, 187

9/11 Archive

All of us here at AU and in this class were alive on September 11, 2001. Not only that, we all have direct firsthand knowledge of the event, whether we lost loved ones or just remember hearing about it on the news for the first time. However, as the years role by, and generations grow up who never remember it, how will history describe 9/11? What will learning about that event look and feel like? In previous times, people went to libraries to read books or hear recordings of radio broadcasts and televised speeches. What will it be for our children?
If they will be using the September 11 Digital Archive, then they will be in good hands. The organization, “funded by a major grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and organized by the American Social History Project at the City University of New York Graduate Center and the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University”, organizes and records stories and facts from 9/11 (Abo 9/11 archive).
What’s so great about this database? What I was struck by was how precisely it was organized. When you go to the front page, go to the top and click on browse. You then go to another page which breaks the available information down into categories like stories, documents, etc. Within these categories, there are further subdivisions, like for stories, which break the information down into categories based on where the stories came from. This preciseness makes finding information a process that is easy because of the way everything flows. It’s quick, efficient and to the point, perfectly suited for the internet age.
That being said, the site isn’t perfect. The fact that some of the same pieces of information appear under the link browse as for the link research seems a little redundant. Also, there is information about flyers that were on the streets of NY during 9/11. It seems meant to capture the mood, but the website puts so much information into the attack rather than setting up what a day in NY would have been like back than that it makes little sense…It seems like something that belongs in an exhibit made years after the attack. But overall, the website is a solid way to record and present information on 9/11 that could serve our children well.


“About the September 11 Digital Archive”, American Social History Project (2004):

Balance and History: A Proposal

Writers of revisionist history look at the events of the past that have been taken for granted, investigate, and bring to life stories that were forgotten, ignored, or misrepresented. While they can be reviled by those who hold that interpretations of history are not wrong by virtue of being traditional (and not all revisionist claims are true) their work can serve an undeniably vital purpose of bringing to the forefront stories from history that have been ignored, giving us fuller view of history (
The internet presents us with an opportunity for utilizing the possibility of revisionist history as a learning tool. To do this, I propose creating a web site that compares traditional and revisionist views of history. On the home page of this website, visitors would find a timeline of historical events. When they clicked on name of an event, they would be taken to a separate page for that event. On that page there would be a description of the event from the traditional point of view, another from the revisionist point of you, a counter-argument from the traditional side, and a counter-argument from the revisionist side. This page would also include pictures of the event, which would be selected to try and create a balanced view of it (ie both sides are represented), trying to realize the practical potential of using pictures as a tool of communicating history that a previous post on spoke of.
Obviously, many website have interactive timelines of events. And there are a number of websites, such as and that compares different views on political issues. The goal of my project is to create a website that is like one of these sides, but where the comparisons being made are about history rather than politics. As far as the literal use of this idea, I did not find websites that seemed to correspond to what I am imagining this would be.
By the end of the month, I could a webpage bought from or Dreamhost. I would then spend the month of March doing research on one or two historical events. Then, in one or two weekends, I could play with the graphics of the site and get the text on, which I imagine would not be terribly difficult and easy to access information on. What is great about this is that it is a continuous process. After the end of the semester, I could keep researching and putting the views of different historians (all cited of course) for different events. It would be a continuous process.
To promote the website, I could submit it to Open Directory Project (, an online directory recommended by Web Marketing Today ( I could also utilize my facebook and twitter accounts. And finally, using the recommendations of Communicating Design, I have devised the following personas for this website:
John Ambrose: John is a student of history of American University, majoring in Political Science and minoring in history. He has a major paper to write involving interpreting an event, and his paper will probably combine elements of politics and history. He wants his work to cover as both sides as best as he can, and the classes he has taken have already opened his eyes to issues of bias in the way history and the news are told. The website would be a great place for him to begin his quest, especially since the bibliography it would include would enable him to find more in depth sources to read.
Sam Everest: Mr. Everest is an average citizen, sick of all the spin and interpretations. She too, would like to get a view on events that is more impartial. While he lacks the time or interest to go and read mountains of books on certain events, having a list of different arguments at his fingertips would make him feel very well rounded.

Congress and the Internet: A Proposal

For my print project, I would like to research the history of the use of the internet by Congressmen and Senators.  The paper would follow the history of the internet in the 1990’s and 2000’s.  It would deal with attitudes within both houses, the pioneers who first utilized it, and the successes and failures legislators in the U.S. had in utilizing the internet for winning campaigns and winning public approval for their programs.

To complete my research, I shall use two general sources of information.  First of all, I will look at books and online journal articles available at the American University Library.  Secondly, I shall look for articles on  While I will use internet search engines, it should be said that this third category will require me to inspect the origins of my sources carefully.  Thus, I will probably rely on the American University Library and JSTOR more so for the project.

A preliminary investigation suggests that there is plenty of literature to choose from.  From general search of the internet, I found timelines of the internet’s birth and major milestones, which will be useful for putting any shifts in Congressional actions in context.  Through the website of the American University Library, I have found a 2008 article calling on Congress to utilize new media to deal with public concern about the bailouts, along with providing individual examples of Congressmen who did.  Book titles include Dennis Johnson’s Congress Online: Bridging the Gap Between Citizens and their Representatives, CAPWEB: the Internet Guide to the US Congress, Congress and the ?Youtube War?, and a variety of newspapers dealing with current event stories about particular bills regarding regulation of the internet.  From JSTOR, there are articles like, Deep Democracy, Thin Citizenship: The Impact of Digital Media in Political Campaign Strategy, Unraveling the Effects of the Internet on Political Participation?, and Free Advertising: How the Media Amplify Campaign Messages. Overall, these sources seem to have a focus towards use of the internet for campaigning rather than general use.  Still, I feel there is enough information to begin a look into the relationship between the American Congress and the World Wide Web.