Wednesday, January 24, 2018


Two data-driven strategies that are trying to make money are the genealogist “scrapers” and the academic thesis vendors.  They’re not bad ideas, but they don’t make any money off me, because I already have two file drawers of genealogy stuff to sort and because I’m happy to provide Blackfeet info, but am keeping everything else close to my vest.  I’m not out for either reputation or money.

The way the genealogy websites work is that if anyone makes an inquiry or contribution about a name, you’re referred to all the others working on that name, but only if you join the website.  (Ancestry, etc.)  Then sometimes if there’s an accumulation of information, you are asked to “confirm” the accuracy by contacting the providers directly — “as a courtesy” but you have to join the website to do it.

There’s someone out there chasing Cochran’s and coming up with a peripheral great-grandmother of mine, in fact a person not very well liked.  Their query comes to me as a kind of spam, repeatedly.  So far no one has turned up any murderers — just a lot of alcoholics.  Looking for relatives means asking yourself if you can handle the truth.

Someone once gave me a little economics lesson.  If you know someone — let’s say seated on your right — who makes wonderful cookies, you look for someone seated on your left who loves cookies.  Then you pass the cookies, and each time the plate goes by, you take one.  Then you return the plate to the cookie maker with praise.  Everyone is happy and you get lots of cookies at no cost.  Being a “middleman” can fatten you right up.

When someone asks me for family info via email or blog, I give it to them without cost — if I know.  Some inquiries are far afield and some of what I have is still pretty much unexcavated clippings, letters, etc.  As usual, there is overemphasis on male-continuity names, though the different elaborate marketing data search businesses -- with emphasis on crime and deadbeats -- add age and place.  There’s also an no-cost association that prowls cemeteries for names and creates websites of obits with photos of headstones.  if a person is really into this stuff, there are free ways to go about it.  

Native North Americans are particularly focused on this because of entitlements to tribal corporate rebates and governmental treaty obligations.  But they all start from lists made made mostly by white military bodies at the point of treaties, so as one moves West, they get more recent and more problematic.  No one ever checks them against the grannies who sit up all night arguing about who people really were in terms of family —and before paternity tests.  Since the distribution of food was contingent on being on the list, people had every incentive to “become” whatever would get them on it.

The other profit maker is a little different and the payoff is more abstract than food.  The academic websites identify people who do “scholarly” work and invite them to post documents on the website, both titles and the PDF.  Then the list is sent to subscribers who can download and also make direct contact with authors.  My “papers” do get downloads, over a hundred on one of these websites.

I get teased for numbering ideas in a “list” on my blog, but “lists” plus computer power and sorting programs have become the basis for much of our “law and order” world, from accumulating URL’s to indexing and ordering bibliographies and textbooks.  We’re way past library 3X5 cards and those carefully crafted cabinets of drawers are sold for ingenious re-uses.

Now websites go to work monetizing the info they have by offering to tell you who read your papers, who quoted it, and what they said about it.  IF you join by paying a membership fee.  Also, there are offers to increase your readership in various ways and so on.  This service is world-wide.  If one worries about what is being said, it can be a real incentive to sign up.  The academic world is in the midst of a squeeze, a redefining of disciplines, and intense tenure competition that’s based on publishing, a stranglehold.

Quite aside from that paranoia, this is a time of people networking knowledge, partly because so much is reconfiguring, redefining, or creating entirely new concepts.  The power of creating contacts is in the sorting.  Like Wikipedia, the contents are at the mercy of the people who label and sort.  Some valuable categories don’t appear because to the people making the “lists” of categories, they don’t exist.  

One of the offers is to tell the subscriber "who is reading which" of one’s papers and whether you are mentioned in their own work.  I’m fairly sure that many of the people reading what I posted are either Blackfeet or other Western tribal academic folks.  Some of them are personally known, so they’ll praise or criticize according to our relationship and what political position they are currently occupying.  Since I’m “on the ground” here rather than on some removed campus far away, I’m not dealing with written out material, but with the actual events and interactions.  So long as I’m only interested in right here, which is pretty much true, this service is interesting but doesn’t impact my career.  At nearly eighty, I don’t need a career.

Middle Europe scholars who have a narrow background in American autochthonous historical groups, almost entirely anthropological material, will be looking through a very small peephole marked “Movies.”  It’s not likely they will benefit from much more than “fill” for papers, giving the world yet another repetition of old 19th century beliefs, such as the idea that “Indians” are vanishing or that tribes are like species with sharp edges between characteristics, with the semi-conscious template being animal breeds.

This freeform selling academic access around the world can't avoid politically influenced ideas, but how does one know what the political bias of some far away country might be?  What I’m writing now is in part an effort to save an accumulation of resources that will otherwise go into the dumpster when this house is cleared out on my demise.  Some of it was rescued from the Browning dump decades ago when the Purge of Whites swept through the library of the Museum of the Plains Indian.  No longer can people go wade through the ashes of the trash pyre to rescue discards, because the "dump" has been monetized by fencing and control, a process rather than objects.

But these monetized information indexes can still be explored for a low price, if one can distinguish between "cookies" and nonsense.  Rereading this, it's a bit confused.  I'll probably return to the subject.  

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