Monthly Archives: February 2007

a true story, a propos of nothing

It is 1617. Edward Coke, until recently the Lord Chief Justice of England and before that the implacable prosecutor of Guy Fawkes, Sir Walter Ralegh, and the Earl of Essex, has been fired by King James for defending the common law and sent away in disgrace. But Coke has a new reason for hope. His daughter Frances, age 15, has an opportunity to marry Sir John Villiers, brother of the Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham is King James’ “favourite”–his inseparable partner, chief adviser, and probably his platonic lover.

Unfortunately for Coke, his own wife is his most bitter enemy. She is Lady Elizabeth Hatton, a beautiful, enormously rich, young, and fashionable courtier. Coke and Lady Hatton live apart and are constantly suing one another. Lady Hatton now choses to block her daughter’s proposed marriage to Sir John Villiers. In the middle of the night, she takes Frances away to a country house called Oatlands.

She tells the girl that a very high-born nobleman, Henry de Vere, the eighth Earl of Oxford, wants to marry her. This is a complete invention, but de Vere is safely in Venice on his Grand Tour and cannot be consulted. Poor Frances writes and signs an oath “gyv[ing] myselfe absolutely to Wyffe to Henry Vere Viscount Balbroke Erl of Oxenford to whom I plyghte my trothe and inviolate vows to keepe myselfe till Death us do part: and if I even brake the leaste of these I pray God Damne mee Bodye and Soule in Hell fire in the world to come: and in theis world I humbly beseech God the Erth may open and swallow mee up quicke to the Terror of all fayhte breakers that remayne Alive.”

That is a pretty clear and forceful oath; Frances’ marriage to Sir John Villiers now seems impossible. But Edward Coke arrives with a large band of armed men and a warrant to search Oatlands. He shouts that if he is forced to kill anyone to gain entrance, that will be justifiable homicide; but if any of his men are killed, it will be murder. With the help of a battering ram, he gains entrance to the house and removes Frances.

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youth mapping this summer

This summer, my colleagues and I will help run a pilot course for adolescents in Prince George’s County, MD. We will teach these young people to identify issues or problems that they want to address, and then “map” the networks of groups and individuals that could make a difference. They will document their work for public display, although we haven’t decided what medium they should use: their art works, audio recordings, audio plus still photos, or video.

Along with colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, we have submitted a large grant proposal that would allow us to develop and pilot elaborate software for such courses. This software would allow teenagers to make diagrams of local social networks, much like the “network maps” that are popular in sociology today. However, our community partners cannot wait to find out if we get money for software-development. Therefore, we have committed to teach the pilot courses whatever happens, if necessary using old-fashioned tools like magic markers and poster board.

Two of the essential principles are: youth voice (students should be assisted in developing their own agenda and analysis, without presuppositions from us) and a particular understanding of power. “Power” will be defined not merely as official authority (like that of a mayor or a school principal) but also the capacity of ordinary residents to make a difference by working together. That is why we will help youth to map local networks of citizens.

the Jonathan Tisch College of Citizenship at Tufts

I’m just back from visiting the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University, which is a very unusual and courageous experiment. At Tufts, there are several prominent experts on “active citizenship”–political scientists, psychologists, sociologists, and staff who guide students in service projects. To build on this strength, the university founded–and Jonathan M. Tisch, the chairman of Loews Hotels, endowed–a College of Citizenship and Public Service. The College does not grant degrees, enroll students, or offer courses. Its founders felt that a standard school or college would only affect a subset of Tufts’ students and faculty. It would become a specialized program, perhaps devoted to training future civil servants. Instead, the Tisch College exists to infuse active citizenship throughout the undergraduate education, graduate and professional schools, extracurricular activities, research, and community relations of Tufts.

The Tisch College is still in its early years, but it has already produced a stream of publications, programs, and events.

Facebook and politics

(In Cambridge, MA) Students don’t give a lot of money to political candidates; they don’t have enough to give. In 2004, according to the American National Election Study, just 1.3% of young people (ages 18-25) said they had given money to any political candidate. In contrast, 10.1% of people over the age of 25 had made financial contributions.

However, the independent group Students for Obama (which started on FaceBook and now has 50,000 members) has figured out a way to have an impact. They write, “We understand that money is not exactly something we all have a lot of to spare; that’s why we put together a list of some of the things you can skip or pass on once–and donate the amount you saved. Next time you are going to spend money on one of these items, think of instead helping break the stereotype that students do not donate and do not care about the political process.” They suggest, for example, that you give up your next Starbucks Caramel Macchiato and give the $3.21 to Obama. It will be interesting to see whether this practice spreads as the ’08 campaign unfolds.

[Update: see Jose Antonio Vargas’ good article in the Washington Post, which cites our work. He says that the Obama Facebook site now has 279,000 members and rising.]

citizen media update

(en route to Boston) My colleague Jan Shaffer has issued a report entitled “Citizen Media: Fad or the Future of News? The Rise and Prospects of Hyperlocal Journalism.” Her conclusions are based on detailed interviews with the people involved in 31 citizen news ventures, plus a survey of 191 other projects. “Hyper-local” news media represent alternatives to the increasingly homogeneous news business and provide opportunities (like nothing we have seen since the 19th century) for great numbers of people to produce news. These projects encompass websites, but also low-powered radio stations, email lists, and even some printed publications. They serve neighborhoods and small towns and dispersed affinity groups. They tend to combine some original information, some news selected from commercial sources, and some opinion and analysis.

I haven’t had the chance to read Jan’s important report all the way through, but I have skimmed it and highly recommend it.