Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I'll grant you that (part II)

Here are three announcements posted on the site recently.

Department of the Interior
Bureau of Reclamation, Great Plains Region
Measuring In-Situ Denitrification in Both the Native Groundwater and a Tracer Test in the Tile Drainage System of the Oakes Test Area in Southeastern North Dakota

Department of the Interior
Bureau of Land Management
Shared Cadastral Information System, Alaska

National Endowment for the Humanities
Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities

I know nothing about these things. I do enjoy the way they sound, though – I mean, denitrification is just fun to say! And it’s also fun (kind of like that game Balderdash) to speculate, theorize, guess, or make up stuff about these topics. I’m also reminded of Bill Proxmire, the late senator from Wisconsin, who used to give out his golden fleece awards for pointless and expensive government projects. Not that any of these fit that description. But they might.

Let’s start with digital humanities. “Digital humanities” seems like an advanced topic all by itself, yet the NEH will pay somebody to run institutes on advanced topics (plural) in digital humanities. I confess, I’m having trouble imagining what a digital humanity might be. If I write a poem and post it on a blog (there’s an idea for someone!), am I engaging in a digital humanity? If so, where’s my grant money?

And what about cadastral information systems (shared, no less)? OK, I had to look that one up. Turns out that cadastral surveying is an ancient profession. Mssrs. Mason and Dixon and Thomas Jefferson were among its practitioners. It is a particular kind of land survey designed to establish ownership boundaries – where my land stops and yours starts. In a place like Alaska, that’s especially important, because the federal government owns huge chunks of that state and sometimes private or corporate landowners covet the federal land and will invest great sums to dispute the boundaries. Without a definitive cadastral survey, you could have a...cadastrophe. Reminds me of the story told by H. Allen Smith about the Texas rancher who was accused of being a land grabber. He said, “Nope, I only want the land that adjoins mine.”

Denitrification. I wish I could find a way to work that word into an ordinary conversation. I guess having nitrites or nitrates in ground water isn’t a good thing, so figuring out how to get rid of them is a worthy pursuit, and doing it in Southeastern North Dakota (which borders Northeastern South Dakota) is as good a place as any to start. It’s an interesting landscape. And, apropos of nothing, there’s a little town there with the perfect name: Minor.

1 comment:

Christopher Tassava said...

Great post! My job entails quite a bit of searching and scanning, so I'm likewise impressed and confused by the craziness of some announcements. I'm trying to get something ginned up here at Carleton for that NEH program, though: "digital humanities" are in our case nothing more than the usual humanities with the addition of digital tools, concepts, and methods.

Random Thought 1:
Perhaps "digital humanity" could be the newsman's cry on seeing a computer-generated Hindenburg explode?

Random Thought 2:
Couldn't a hot-dog shop like Tiny's attract new customers by saying that their dogs are denitrified?