First days, first impressions

by Trent

Sunday the students all arrived in Amsterdam, at the van Ostadestraat Bicycle Hotel, a nice family-run establishment in Amsterdam’s de Pijp neighborhood by the Albert Cuypmarkt. Some of them had been in Europe for a couple of weeks already, some flew in directly from Seattle, many came by way of Icelandair with a long stopover in Reykjavik. For those who flew in that day, it was the end of a pretty long, tiring day, but as tired as most everybody was, they fought through the jet lag to stay up long enough to get oriented and go out for the first night’s explorations of the neighborhood.

Earlier versions of the program started out in Rotterdam and then moved to Amsterdam after three weeks. Last year’s wonderful crew urged us to switch things around this year, however, because by the end of the program most of them were tired and preferred the ease and coziness of Rotterdam to the buzz and howl that is central Amsterdam. So far, after one day at least, that doesn’t seem like a bad idea, coupled with the hotel and neighborhood switch.

We hadn’t made specific arrangements to do so beforehand, but Clement and Gerrit, the owner and manager of the hotel, let us hold class in the lobby Monday morning since it was raining like pitch and howling windy. The lecture was an introduction to social research and a quick overview of the assignments. Not the most scintillating material in its own right but the folks made it really interesting. Here’s a summary of an observation Andrew McKenna made about the differences between research in the social sciences and the humanities:

“Humanists analyze the byproducts of the artistic expressions of individuals. Social scientist farm data and extract it from society.

If Milton hadn’t written Paradise Lost then the node of data wouldn’t exist. He didn’t write it to provide information for researchers; there was an incentive to help people understand an emotion, a journey, or some abstract and existential state of mind. With social scientists they extract the data from the collective consciousness of society, shape it and present it in a way that is usefull and make connections in order to extract higher order ideas and concepts. That data exists even though we may not know it. It is though the aggregation of data across a population that forms nodes of information for researchers to bite into.

The perspective of the two types of research differ as well. Humanistic research looks at human nature and uses these artistic expressions to analyze its nuances and the deeper levels of what motivates us and makes us tick. From there, larger generalizations can be extrapolated across the human race or at least others in a similar situation socioeconomically, geographically, etc. Social science research will look at trends and connections between individuals and their actions/choices and from there derive more fundamental principles about decision making processes and human nature. One is an inside out and the other an outside in.”

Somebody's asparagus risotto

The opening dinner / celebration was at the Koffiehuis van den Volksbond in the lovely Plantage neighborhood. Even though I (a/k/a Trent or “The Director”) had been there several times over the years, I still managed to get us lost along the way, so we showed up a few minutes late. Just a few, honestly. Dinner was well worth the wait, though.

Today we had our first guest lecture from Paul Wouters, the director of the Virtual Knowledge Studio, on the nature of e-research, competing models for understanding information and communication technology, and some of the emergent areas of research and development at the VKS. Paul fielded a lively Q & A session afterwards and then stuck around at lunch (graciously provided by the VKS) to answer yet more questions and talk about life, research, and information initiatives in Holland.

In closing, here’s an observation from Molly Riley from one of her first excursions into Amsterdam:

Maandag 23 Augustus 2010
The most striking thing about this beautiful Dutch city, Amsterdam, is the flow of people walking, people on bicycles, bicycles, bicycles, on motorcycles, in compact cars, and on the trams. These transportations are at times plodding, but move unceasingly and with an elegant seamlessness.

This morning, my first in the country, I saw two noteworthy sights. In a heavy morning downpour, a man, focused and primly erect on his bicycle pedaled down Ferdinand Bolstraat. He wore an enormous plum-colored and hooded poncho, tented around both his body and his brown leather briefcase propped in his front basket. And that enormous purple poncho flailed behind him as he rode like a flag in a storm or a kite in the windy Spring. He was in earnest and unfazed. And he certainly did not crash.

Also this: a man in a suit and tie and a charcoal grey overcoat rode a black bike. He had stylish black rimmed glasses and carried a pointed umbrella over his head as he rode. He pulled up under the eave of a tabacconist, a tabakshop, and tossed his umbrella into his front basket. He leaned back, he lit a cigarette. And he took his time.

Paul Wouters and Karl Eckler


About netherlanders2010

We are 21 students, one teacher, and a few info-groupies on a study abroad program in the Netherlands from August 22-September 17 2010. We will be working with faculty and researchers from the Virtual Knowledge Studio, the Erasmus Studio, and the Continuous Access to Cultural Heritage (CATCH) in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Hilversum, to study the ways in which research informs design in information systems and practice in the Netherlands. Plus, we'll spend a lot of time wandering around, going to libraries, museums, and the Oude Sluis, and doing whatever strikes our individual and collective fancies. Alstublieft!
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