Sackler: The Art of the Qur’an

Saw a wonderful exhibition at Washington’s Sackler Museum (part of the Smithsonian), “The Art of the Qur’an: Treasures from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts

The artifacts themselves are stunning examples of book art–appreciators of the idea of craft will be engrossed–and the organization and copy of the exhibit is an elegant balance of viewpoints, culture and context. Lovely to be there on a busy day (Chinese New Year celebrations were also going on, with lots of kids bustling around) and to hear people discussing linguistic history and also praying.  D.C. at its best with the diversity of the world sharing awe and delight.

Also, should you be so inclined, the Smithsonian has created a related free iPad App. A good idea for these works, which are the ultimate in intricate & beautiful detail.






MOOCs evolve


Would Abe have been a MOOC student? (Cover of a publication from the International Correspondence Schools, c. 1908).

Now that we are half a decade or so into the MOOC revolution it’s interesting to see it sort out and calm down a bit. Although it hasn’t quite fulfilled the utopian aspirations of the early evangelists, it has provided a useful means to get content to learners (particularly in tech areas).  While it’s unclear how the business models are doing (probably not all that well), people and institutions have benefited.

As somebody who is interested in curriculum, class structure, and the rhetorical forms that educational content take (why 13 weeks? why lectures? etc.), I was puzzled by the slavish effort of MOOCs to reproduce the highly artificial structure of an on-campus course. This seemed to me a clear example of the Marshall McLuhan adage that the first thing that happens with a new medium is that you use it to deliver an old form. (Radio shows were the first thing on TV.)

There still is an excessive amount of ‘course-ness’ to the average MOOC, but Dhawal Shah reports that the format is moving from scheduled semesters to basically on demand. A “Netflix” of education.

He writes, “MOOCs are gradually being transformed from virtual classrooms to a Netflix-like experience. Many courses are no longer offered just once or twice a year, but rather are now available as a self-paced, sign up whenever you want experience Coursera courses are now offered regularly throughout the year, with new sessions starting automatically on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.”

A very welcome development, not just because mapping academic calendar conventions on MOOCs was silly, but because opening up things on demand may lead to content innovation. It happened with Netflix, and helped usher in new blood, and arguably even new formats into fiction and non-fiction television.  Education could do worse…



Why there will always be a Chicago Manual of Style

From their droll Q&A.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-4-58-33-pmQ. A sentence in a manuscript: In a landmark collection of essays, The Division of the Kingdoms: Shakespeare’s Two Versions of “King Lear,” a range of scholars made the case . . . The book title is of course in italics—but then how does one treat that comma after Lear, and then the quote mark after the comma? Would the comma be in roman, and then the quote mark in italics?

A. This situation is a sticky wicket. The quotation marks must be italic, since they are both part of an italic book title. But the comma doesn’t belong to the title. According to Chicago’s preference for putting punctuation into the same font as the “surrounding text” (6.5), the comma would be roman. But this comma is “surrounded” by italics! If only we could use “logical punctuation,” whereby the comma would go outside the quotation marks, to render the issue moot. But that would be un-American. Editors here disagree on the best solution, so style the comma as you wish with the hope that its tiny size will allow readers to ignore it.