Open Codex HISTORICAL entry

2007 Jun 19 | Steinhardt LaTeX template

Given a wretched experience with using Microsoft Word for my Masters thesis 10 years ago, I decided to try LaTeX this time around. One might think that Microsoft Word has improved, but my tinkering has shown it is still quite dangerous. Word's notions of styles are extremely frustrating, and have changed over time. Additionally, creating multi-document files, or very large files risks corruption. Furthermore, given I work in an interdisciplinary space, it is useful to be able to format a document, including footnotes and bibliography, as, say, either historical or sociological: LaTeX is quite good at this.

That said, LaTeX is a pain. Granted, I prefer a simple structured text markup language over a corruptible proprietary binary blob, but LaTeX is like the Perl of markup languages, and I am a Python guy. (To be fair, TeX and LaTeX are now decades old.) No doubt, regardless of what you want to do, there is a way to do it in LaTeX. The problem is, like Perl, there are too many ways to do it. There are dozens of packages that appeared to do the same thing, though many are different enough to make you wonder why the difference is important. It is difficult to discern the present best practices and most of the documentation is in annoying PDF. Even understanding LaTeX syntax is a confounding task. Does '[]' mean an optional parameter to a command? Mostly yes, but sometimes no. The only way I could get a handle on the world of LaTeX was to purchase Tex for the Impatient and The LaTeX Companion.

In any case, when I do have a problem the LaTeX community on comp.text.tex is extremely helpful. So even though there is a steep learning curve, when I ascend a particular hill, that challenge stays behind me. There is no equivalent to Microsoft Word kicking me down the mountain.

Like all colleges, Steinhardt has a particular format they require for doctoral dissertations. Unfortunately, its specification is sometimes ambiguous, and more a creature of typewriting, than computer typesetting. (For example, section headings are supposed to be underlined!) In any case, I thought I would share the fruits of my frustrations: steinhard-pkg-opts.tex. I haven't yet received approval that this is sufficient, nor am I an expert in LaTeX, but, should someone else at Steinhardt need such a thing, this might be a start.

2006 May 26 | Style, Discipline, and Literatures

Now that my proposal is done, I'm looking forward to the actual dissertation. (I really enjoyed writing my Master's thesis.) However, that doesn't mean I look upon the project without concern. One concern is with the form of the dissertation (as a genre) and interdisciplinary work. In the proposal, beyond the actual research questions and methods, the text was not as focused as it might've been as I was not reporting findings, proposing a theory, telling a story, or making an argument -- beyond that the concepts covered were important to me. (I was thinking that I have conveyed my findings, written stories, and made arguments in existing work and will do so more completely in the dissertation.) Fortunately, the proposal is done, but I want to make sure the dissertation doesn't feel the same way. This raises a number of questions from the secondary literature.

First, I have not yet chosen a "discipline." Beyond a focus on collaboration and technology I feel I could be writing to new media, organizational studies, communication, or STS scholars. I'm happy to pull from a diverse set of disciplines -- look at my committee -- but it can also create some challenges.

Second, my two inspirations don't make much use of secondary literature. Sheeran simply dropped the theoretical argument he made in his dissertation from his book -- with no loss in my humble opinion. Morton was writing a history and employed primary sources in order to tell his story and make his argument. I will be doing much the same, but I want to be informed and employ (diverse) social science and theory where appropriate. Popular press social science books do this sort of thing (e.g., Jared Diamond, Robert Wright, Malcolm Gladwell etc.) but these are not historical works either.

So, I am not confident in the style in which I will be writing. I haven't yet been struck with a great example in this disciplinary style/literature; Siva's work is close and perhaps my issue is related to those he raises in his recent piece on "Critical Information Studies." (Though my concern with "critical" studies is present even there: I believe it is important to go beyond pejorative critique and recognize -- and even contribute to -- things we might find to be good. Though, of course, we need to be open to the phenomenon, and as scholars, like to find surprises and novelty.)

Open Communities, Media, Source, and Standards

by Joseph Reagle