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Bookmarklet for the GMU library proxy

If you are a GMU student, faculty, or staff member, you can access library resources from off campus using a library proxy. Suppose you want to access this article:

Rosenzweig, Roy. “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era.” American Historical Review 108, no. 3 (2003): 735–62.

Following that DOI will take you to this page at the Oxford University Press website. This version is behind a paywall, however: we can’t see the full article.

A paywalled version of the article.

A paywalled version of the article.

We can send that URL through the GMU proxy and get to a version where we have access by adding the following prefix:

But who wants to remember to do that? Instead we can create a bookmarklet that will send our URL through the proxy automatically. In your browser, you can create a new bookmark. You can name the bookmark whatever you want: I call mine +GMU Proxy. Then in the address field add the following JavaScript snippet.


Here is what adding the bookmark looks like in FireFox.

Adding the bookmarklet in FireFox.

Adding the bookmarklet in FireFox.

If you are on the URL that is paywalled, you can then click the bookmarklet, which will take you to the proxied URL. (Note that unlike in the video below, you will likely have to sign in with your GMU password.)

Clicking on the bookmarklet will take you to the proxied version.

Links for presentation about digital scholarship for the Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture

This weekend I am giving a presentation about the future of digital scholarship in the field of American religion at the Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture. In the presentation I’ll be sharing a number of digital projects in American religion that I’ve learned a lot from. Since the proceedings of the conference will be published later, I won’t publish my remarks here now. But for the sake of conference participants who might want to follow along, here is a list of the projects I’ll mention without notes or comment.

What makes for a good academic mentor?

I was asked to write up what I thought made someone a good academic mentor, in less than a page. Since I had to write it up quickly, here it is for further thought. This list is partial and based on my own experience, but here is what I’ve observed from watching the good mentors that I have had.

  1. What got you here is not what will get them there. Too much of mentorship is the mentor describing their own career path. While there is value in hearing other people’s stories as a quick route for understanding how the academy works, the chances that someone else will follow the same career path are nil. A good mentor helps someone else find their own way forward, based on their values, interests, and goals, as well as the changing circumstances in the academy.
  2. Where you wanted to go is not where they want to go. Too much of mentorship is the mentor trying to reproduce him- or herself via the person being mentored. But other people’s career goals—not to mention how their career fits into their personal life—can and should be very different than your own.
  3. People can find their own answers. Generally speaking, almost all of the time people can work out what their own values, interests, priorities, strengths, and so forth are. They seldom need suggestions of what to do or even how to do it. What they need is someone to talk to who genuinely listens and can help them figure those things out for themselves. Occasionally they need someone they trust to give them “permission” to do what they’ve already figured out.
  4. Explain the boring stuff. Many things about an academic career are not hard: they are hard to learn. For instance, the mechanics of grant writing are not so difficult, but they are completely opaque the first time someone does it. One of the few times when a mentor should talk more than listen or ask questions is in explaining the routine, boring things that are hidden knowledge that block people (especially women and minorities) from success.
  5. Share failures as well as successes. When I was in grad school, I got a “revise and resubmit” from a journal then never resubmitted, because I thought that was just a polite way for the editor to say, “Get lost.” I’ve used this example to illustrate how the “pipeline” of academic research works … and to show grad students how much smarter they are than me!
  6. Open doors. Whenever possible, make introductions that benefit the person being mentored.
  7. Informal mentorship trumps formal mentorship. I have had good formal mentors, but their significance was secondary to some truly generous and wise informal mentors. My point is not to critique the idea of formal mentorship. But I do think that formal mentorship is a temporary relationship to help people until they find informal mentors for themselves—which is a great outcome.
  8. Never take credit. The successes of the person being mentored belong only to them, never to the mentor. However, some bragging on their behalf is allowed.

Setting up a new Mac with dotfiles and Homebrew bundle

I recently had to set up a new Mac for work. Generally speaking, this happens so infrequently that it is worth setting up the new machine from scratch, rather than using Migration Assistant. I like to avoid carrying over the cruft that comes from several years of a constantly updated development environment, and all work files are in iCloud Drive or GitHub anyway. But still, that leaves a fair bit of set up to do to get things working correctly.

For a long time I’ve kept my dotfiles in a GitHub repository. This sets up configuration for ZSH, Neovim, Go, R, Homebrew, LaTeX, Git, and the like. While a lot of it is Mac specific, the shell and text editor configuration work fine on Linux machines, so I can easily bring settings to servers. This makes customizing my development environment fairly painless. (And Visual Studio Code now has great settings sync, so that takes care of itself.)

Of course not everything can go in a public GitHub repository. Recently, I’ve taken to having a single file (~/.env.zsh), which contains project and service credentials, as well as machine-specific settings, stored as environment variables. For example, all the projects that I create pull their database connection settings from environment variables. And setting the number of cores available on a particular makes scaling up parallel processing easier. This file, like SSH keys, is easy to move over to a new machine.

Some machine-specific settings from my environment file.

Some machine-specific settings from my environment file.

What was new to me this time was using Homebrew bundles for installing software and dependencies. While I’ve used Homebrew for a long time, I recently learned from a blog post by Casey Liss that Homebrew has for a while now supported creating a list of software to install. In addition to installing CLIs and other packages from Homebrew proper, and GUI applications as Homebrew Casks, it even supports (though not particularly reliably) installing applications from the Mac App Store.

So I set up a Brewfile for my work machine. This worked great for setting up the new machine, and it is nice to have an explicit record of the software that I need to have installed.

Syllabus for Capitalism and American Religion, fall 2020

Here is the syllabus for my class on “Capitalism and American Religion” this fall.

Church of God

For our work on the American Religious Ecologies project, we have to deal with the way that the federal Census Bureau cataloged religious groups by denomination. At a meeting this week, I conflated the denomination called “The Church of God in Christ Jesus” (an Adventist denomination) with “The Church of God in Christ” (the much larger and predominantly African American Pentecostal-Holiness denomination). Though my sharper colleagues were not confused, perhaps my mistake was understandable. Of the 214 denominations that were enumerated in the 1926 Census of Religious Bodies, here are the ones that have the phrase “Church of God” in their name:

  • Church of God (Adventist)
  • Church of God in Christ Jesus (Adventist)
  • Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God
  • Church of God (New Dunkers)
  • Church of God (Headquarters, Anderson, Ind.)
  • Church of God and Saints of Christ
  • Church of God in Christ
  • Church of God as Organized by Christ
  • Church of God (Apostolic)
  • Free Church of God in Christ
  • Church of God in Christ (Mennonite)
  • The (Original) Church of God
  • Church of God [or, Church of God (General Assembly)]

My favorite of these is The Church of God as Organized by Christ, though The (Original) Church of God gives them a run for their money.

I’d be willing to wager that very few historians of American religion could distinguish between each of these groups. And why should they be able to? The minutiae of denominational distinctives is not the stuff of historical understanding. And yet, I find that the Religious Bodies Censuses are a useful tool for focusing my attention on groups that I would otherwise pass by. Of these groups listed above, the only one that I can recall reading about in a work of academic history is Anthea Butler’s Women in the Church of God in Christ, unless you lump all the Adventists together. What are the stories of the others? As I tried to explain in an earlier post about a congregation in the Armenian Apostolic Church, you can learn a great deal from these census schedules about groups you might otherwise never pay attention to.

Course description for Religion and Capitalism

This coming fall I will be teaching a graduate seminar on “Religion and Capitalism in the United States.” I taught the course for the first time in spring 2015. I think eight significant books on the topic were published the same semester I was teaching it, and more since, so it will likely be a completely new syllabus.

My course description was due today. It’s a task that I wasn’t looking forward to, since these descriptions always seem contrived. But this one … this one I’m pretty happy with.

Religion and Capitalism in the United States

The relationship between religion and capitalism has long occupied historians of the United States, and before them it concerned the people whom historians study. In this class, you will meet many people whose religion led them to interact with capitalism in unexpected and unusual ways. You will meet the Puritans whose work ethic supposedly created capitalism, but who insisted on resting on the Sabbath; Moravian missionaries who made converts and money; slaves, slaveowners, and abolitionists who all claimed the Bible when reckoning with the capitalist system of slavery; a Protestant writer who insisted that Jesus was a businessman, and Catholics who believed Jesus called them to a kind of socialism; African American preachers who marketed their recorded sermons; Jews who mass-manufactured matzah and created Yiddish socialism; an industrialist who wrote The Gospel of Wealth, and laborers who created churches for the working class; nineteenth-century consumers who turned gift-giving into a ritual, and a twenty-first-century television personality who turned consumption into therapy; Christians whose faith turned them into environmentalists, and Christians who drilled for crude oil; converts who thought religion required poverty, and Prosperity Gospelers who thought it promised wealth. You will read primary sources from American history, secondary works in both religious history and the new history of capitalism, and excerpts from theorists of religion and capitalism. Through these readings and your own research project, you are invited make sense of this perpetual historical puzzle.

Farewell, faithful friend

When I arrived at GMU in 2014, I was issued a fifteen-inch Macbook Pro. Some people think that model is the best laptop ever made. I don’t know about that, but it was certainly the all-around best computer I’ve ever used. Not to get too sentimental, but a lot of my life happened on that computer. I wrote my first book on it. In creating this computational project, its capabilities were strained much harder than could be reasonably expected of a laptop assigned to a history department. I used it to help raise over 1 million dollars in grants. It took far too many flights to conferences and speaking gigs. And I distinctly remember using it to send out an announcement of the birth of my son from the hospital. After delaying the inevitable, I had to return the computer to the university at the end of last semester.

My 2014 Macbook Pro

A programming language and a sense of self

Recently I’ve been writing a fair bit of code in Go for a project I am working on. There is a lot to like about the language. But the thought occurred to me that maybe I like Go because it fits my (unjustifiably) beleaguered sense of self. If I used to like Ruby because it was fun, then maybe I like Go now for these reasons:

  • Go is a minimalist language. I would prefer that we just get down to work without any fuss.
  • Go is a high performance language for concurrency. There is too much to do and it all has to be done at once, so I guess we better do it quickly.
  • Go is strongly typed. Please tell me what you expect up front, then stick to it.
  • Go makes you check for errors explicitly (if err != nil). Bad things will inevitably happen, so I guess we better plan for them up front and do our best to deal with them.

Chronicling America OCR debatcher

This probably useful only for me, but I’ve made a small utility to help get the Chronicling America OCR files. The batch files from the Chronicling America bulk data downloads are .tar.bz2 files with both plain text and XML versions of the OCR text of the newspaper pages. The files are slow to unzip and dump tens of thousands of files, at least half of which you don’t need, onto your disk. So the utility process the batches without unzipping them and creates a CSV file with the text and the IDs used elsewhere in Chronicling America. You can get the utility at GitHub.

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