Seth Flaxman's Independent Study With Todd Gitlin

Dear Professor Todd Gitlin,

Welcome to my paperless final project! (the future is now!) I'll give you a few moments to read as I come over to your office to talk about the project.

I originally embarked to (1) argue with sociological/historical/political science/enlightenment precision why twenty-first century liberal student activism demands the construction of liberal student institutions and to detail (2) how it is possible to overcome with institutional solutions the major obstacles faced by student led liberal organizations. This argument was going to take the form of a handbook on why students should, and how they could, build liberal student organizations on their college campus.

Yet, as these crazy senior projects always do, this project has evolved. Originally, I was going to wait until after graduation to turn this handbook into a useful wiki for College Democrats chapters around the country, allowing them all to add their institutional solutions for solving our common problems. I decided that there was no reason to wait to turn this project into a useful organizing tool, and so I wrote it all on a wiki.

However, this project took the form of a wiki for several very important reasons, not just because I thought it would be more accesible in this medium and useful for the Columbia Dems:

  • The project turned into a test of wiki technology as a twenty-first century tool for building the much needed institutional memory required by student activism. That is, I am looking to see if the above points (1) and (2) could be written with the input of multiple activists on our wiki in order to test whether this project could be taken to a national level.
  • It turned out that the evidence I needed to cite for the project as originally intended was more than anything else the collective personal experiences of the members of the College Democrats, in addition to explanations for how the organization works, and some history of what the organization has done in the past. This type of evidence can be collected most honestly and accurately on a wiki because every time an activist in the organization shares a personal experience by making an edit on the wiki they are also also acting as a "recorded-to-the-very- second-of-their-post" primary-source, as every edit is recorded and viewable below on the history button (i.e. a wiki footnote). Indeed, although most of the project and wiki was written by myself, much of the historical information on the wiki was recorded by Dems members, and having them watch everything I write without editing it has helped reinforce that my perspective and interpretation of past events is accurate.
  • A handbook as I originally intended to write using traditional mediums (paper instead of an online wiki) would have to be written linearly with our institutional examples being explained before a theoretical explanation for why they work was given. Now we can just link to a description of our institution's different parts within an explanation of its theoretical purpose and create a new 3-dimensional medium for an academic paper.
  • If we can pull this off, it will prove that horizontal/democratic institutional memory building (ie. a wiki) can be a successful tool for building an institutional memory for liberal student institutions. One of the major realizations I made while working this past semester on the project was that institutional solutions can only go so far in solving the inherent problems with liberal activism. Indeed, it looks like the best institutional solution may just be the creation of a wiki in order to remember the lessons of the past.
  • I have created a username and password for you if you would like to have a hand in the wiki/handbook yourself. Your username is "" and your password is "". Don't forget to edit out your password from this page.

That all said, enjoy, the project can be found by clicking this run-on sentence, I have entitled this experimental wiki-handbook, The Blue Print.


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