Saturday, 23 April 2011

Tone image and rank versus fact

A hairy tale of how plum jobs can go sour
August 15, 2003

Producing an official history of a university can be tough. Michael North reports on how a clash of cultures can leave historians and PR departments trading accusations of spin and irrelevance

Given the stereotype of academics as a somewhat eccentric bunch, most people would expect a university to have had at least a few distinctly bizarre characters in its past. The University of Southampton is no exception. It had a postwar dean of chemistry, a Professor Adam, who kept a tame duck and was a keen dancer. The wife of a colleague recalled that he tangoed endlessly with her and quacked with each step. The university also had an early benefactor, William Darwin, a brother of Charles, who was described by another brother as "so clean and wholesome that you could eat a mutton chop off his face".

These anecdotes were unearthed by historian Thomas Hinde, one of the writers of The University of Southampton: An Illustrated History . But they do not appear in the book. They were cut from the final draft in the course of an acrimonious row over content. Ultimately, Hinde removed his name from the publication and complained that the university's external relations department had "spun" his history so that "it resembles a limited company's annual report". In reply, Southampton says Hinde "failed to understand the complexity of the university and the complexity of the project", and that "his work just wasn't of a high enough quality".

Writing a university's history may seem like a pleasant job for a retired academic, but disputes such as Southampton's show how difficult the task can be. Sylvia Harrop, author of A Decade of Change: A History of Liverpool University from 1981-1991 , knows this well. "Writing an institutional history, and especially a university history, opens a Pandora's box," she says. "There are so many vested interests, many egos, many feathers to ruffle - especially with the more recent material."

Hinde has a pedigree of writing the histories of educational establishments, including numerous private schools and the University of Greenwich. He was paid £7,000 for more than two years' research on the Southampton project. A similar sum was used to employ two other writers to finish the book. Hinde, who says he has been "too angry" to read the published volume, was furious at deletions that he felt were key to a true account of the university's history.

These included mention of a computer system bought by the university in the 1970s, the ICL 2970, that was considered "a million-pound mistake" by staff who suggested that it should be "transported to the end of the Royal Pier and there given a sharp push". Also edited out was an account of how cuts in government funding in 1981 led vice-chancellor John Roberts to propose radical surgery in the arts faculties.

Hinde was particularly surprised that much of his historical colour was excised. "They (the university) crossed out every reference I made to members of staff having any sort of facial hair. It was incredible." He adds: "The university wanted something dull and inoffensive that the vice-chancellor would give away to distinguished visitors. They wanted something to sell."

Joyce Lewis, a Southampton external relations officer and a key member of the project's advisory committee, disputes Hinde's claims. She says the historian focused far too much on the early history when the brief was to mainly write about the university's 50 years up to the Queen's golden jubilee. Hinde insists that he wrote "exactly what was required". Lewis says she cut out "long-winded accounts of historical debates that were not relevant to the history and subsequent development of the institution, and many descriptions of eccentric behaviour attributed to obscure characters from the history of Southampton's predecessor institutions. While amusing, they didn't really add anything to the overall story of the university's development."
On the point of facial hair, Lewis comments: "Even the women had moustaches. It got a bit strange." She adds: "The revisions and rewriting had nothing to do with propaganda, selling the university or anything as outlandish as that."

The publisher of Southampton's history, Hamish McGibbon, managing director of publishers James and James, does not, however, find the idea of a book that promotes the university "outlandish". He says such histories are commissioned because the institutions want the books "to do something for them: to encourage past pupils to come to the schools; to give to foreign ministers. That's their function." McGibbon is saddened by the episode, particularly as Hinde is a family friend who had written for him before. He says, diplomatically, that there was "a certain lack of rapport between Hinde and Lewis" that led to the historians exclusion from the book's rewrite.

He also says there was "a clash of generations and cultures" between an elderly author and a modern university. "The problem with this book was that for the first time he (Hinde) encountered a client who wanted a lot of input. Writing about distinguished public schools is not a problem. You write the story and get on (with the institution) like a house on fire."

Harrop agrees that the retired academic historians likely to be writing university histories will often be "old school" and have "a wholly different way of approaching the task from that of a public relations department. Historians are trained to pull together all the evidence they can find and make judgements on that basis. PR people pick plums out."

Harrop, former dean of Liverpool's faculty of education, explains that when she started writing her history, the university did not have a "slick PR department". But there was a change of vice-chancellor that prompted her to amend her book's conclusion. "I finished with violins swelling and a conclusion that looked to a splendid future for the university. I would have liked it to be a critical conclusion looking back at fair and critical assessments of the past ten yearsI but my own intuition was telling me it would not have been politic and acceptable."

A change of vice-chancellor at Keele University put a stop to John Kolbert's official university history. When Kolbert, a published historian, retired in 1990 from his post as a senior assistant registrar, vice-chancellor Brian Fender asked him to write Keele's history for its 50th anniversary in 1999. But when Fender retired in 1995, he was succeeded by Janet Finch. She was not enamoured with Kolbert's work. Finch wrote to him in August 1998: "The way in which you write about this period (1979 onwards) takes on an overtly political tone ... a book with these political overtones would be a sad and inaccurate statement of Keele's image of itself."

The university subsequently assigned the copyright to Kolbert so that he could publish his work elsewhere. But he had to sign a contract stating that no publicity or material in the book would assert that Keele had commissioned it, endorsed it, collaborated on it or attempted to suppress it.

Kolbert published at a personal cost of £8,000. He still feels aggrieved by the university's actions. "I had been at Keele for 25 years. I had direct first or secondhand knowledge of the whole period. I wanted the facts to speak for themselves. I was drawing on comment that was in the public domain at the time - for example when Keele's budget was cut by 34 per cent in 1981, and the sale of the Turner collection in 1998. What am I meant to do, pretend it didn't happen?"

Kolbert's colleagues are puzzled by the university's actions. Arthur Tough, former deputy registrar at Keele, says: "It seemed to me that his book was an interesting story told very well, and it was generally liked by a lot of people at the university. If you ask someone to write a history, you expect them to take some sort of view."

A Keele University spokesperson says Finch had been particularly concerned with the handling of the post-1970 era. "Mr Kolbert's account went beyond the factual and sought to provide a particular and more personal interpretation of events," he says. He adds that two specialist publishers declined to publish the manuscript, one being very critical of its content.

Nevertheless, the university honoured its contractual payments to Kolbert and assigned him the copyright.

Hugh Torrens, emeritus professor of geology and technology at Keele, calls the disclaimer in the inside cover of Kolbert's book (in line with his contract with Keele) "childish and tiresome". "The university was trying to spin things, just like the present government. It is a nonsense for a university to feel proud of its 50 years then disagree (with its history) because of some comments."
Facts, however, can get sidelined when the institution commissioning the history is paying. Harrop says: "Historians gather evidence and make judgements based on it. But in this case, you are subject to judgements of management. If research turns out not as they want it, it is buried."
Harrop says there are probably piles of her history gathering dust at Liverpool, neglected by one target audience. "I don't think university staff read these books. It's difficult to put any juicy gossip in."

Friday, 22 April 2011

how you can build a taxonomy-based product catalog in drupal commerce

This is an attempt to follow the instructions, as attempts to install Commerce Kickstart have failed.

If you look over here in my sidebar you will see that I have a catalog bloc
On the mouse curser moving over this block, a dotted rectangle shows round it on the screen and an editing link like a cogwheel on the top right. If you set-up a site and log-in as administrator, the cogwheel will link you to the admin menu for that bloc or go via admin > structure > blocs and remember what it is called in that theme..

that lists out catalog catagories ["coffee holders", "conference swag", and "wearables"]
...that are actually Taxonomy Terms linking them to their Taxonomy Term Pages:
[this shows differently on the video because it shows the site when logged-on as admin. For admin, the term page shows a coffee holder with two tabs, "view" "edit", a paragraph describing the coffee mug and an add-to-cart form with a drop-down list, that moves your page from the one about black mugs to white mugs]

Looking over here at the sidebar I see 

-coffee holders, description
--commerce guys mug in white, image, description, $10.00
---"read more" screen has a drop down menu for white or black and an add-to-cart button
-conference swag, description
--messenger bag, image, description, $15---"read more" screen has an add-to-cart button
--keyring pen, image of 3 pens, description, $4---"read more" screen has an add-to-cart button

-wearables, description
--cap, image, description $12---"read more" screen has an add-to-cart button
--T shirt called "e-commerce with Drupal", description, $8---"read more" screen has an add-to-cart button and select button options S, M, L, XL
--T shirt called "looking for smiling faces", description, $8
---"read more" screen has an add-to-cart button and select button options S, M, L, XL
--T shirt called "all tied-up", description, $8
---"read more" screen has an add-to-cart button and select button options S, M, L, XL

[Taxonomy]-Term Pages in Drupal 7 have been enhanced a little bit, allowing you to specify
♦custom urls, [eg] allowing you to
♦display a discription on a page, and giving you
♦both a view and a quick edit link here to edit the Taxonomy Term settings.
This particular one - Coffee Holders - has the description and it shows all of my -er different coffee holder products on the demo website.

This ["read more" link under the mug picture] is just a Node Teaser List of Product Display Nodes. The Product Display Node being a special node type that I've made that has both a
♦ Product Reference Field on it, that turns into this handy dynamic Add To Cart Form, and then it also has a
♦ Taxonomy Term Reference Field on it,
which you can see here lets me to tag this [Product Display] Node with a particular taxonomy term and links it back to its term page.

1 Create a taxonomy vocabulary

Now if you wanted to build something like this yourself, the first thing you would need to do, is to create a taxonomy vocabulary for your catalog:
admin>structure>taxonomy>edit vocabulary [pictures at about 1'24" on the video]
So you can see here my catalog vocabulary, and if we look at the terms I've listed, my three terms are each present, and each one of them has a name, a description, and a custom url alias that just provides a nice search engine friendly url for this term page on the front.

2 Go build a menu; enable a bloc

Once you've listed out each of your taxonomy terms, the next step is to go build a menu for this.
So I'm going to go to stucture>menus, and you can see here that I have a catalog menu, where I have manually added links to each of the term pages.
[screen shows remembered "search engine friendly url" typed into the box. This can be found by going back to >structure>taxonomy>edit vocabulary to cut-and-paste]
Er - Whenever you create these links you can actually use the search engine friendly path that you have defined, and whenever you save this menu link, it will be converted to the actual Drupal path that has been assigned to that taxonomy term.
Whenever you create a menu you automatically get a block, that you can then enable, to show that menu in any of your sidebars. Here ...
structure>blocks [first option on the structure tab] can see my catalog menu block has been placed into the first sidebar. This is a region in the Corolla theme which now has to be installed after Adaptive Themes Core. Once installed it has a tab on the blocks menu. From that tab you see the options shown in the video, where shopping cart, catalog, user menu and user login are all selected for the first sidebar, and I've configured this bloc...
[from the "configure" link on the "catalog" line] not appear on checkout pages - notice I've used checkout asterisk so it will block all of the checkout pages, so that whenever you go to checkout and are in any step of the checkout process, er you do not have a sidebar. I did this to reduce distraction and noise on the checkout form so that the customer doesn't have distraction and when they're trying to complete the checkout process and give you their nolas.
Once you have
♦ built the taxonomy vocabulary,
♦ the menu item,
♦ put your bloc in place...

3 Create a Product node type

the next step is to actually have nodes showing-up in your teaser lists. Drupal Commerce will install a default product type whenever you first enable everything.
store>products second tab is "product type"
On this demo site I also have a T shirt product type, um, for my T-shirt products, er: I'll discuss that in a different screencast [about sized products].
Once you have product types though, the next step is to create a product display node type. So I'm going to go to my Content Types menu.
structure>content type second option on the structure list
You see here I have a product display node type, and the reason being: even though I have product types in the back end, I can list out all the products on my website on the back end, there is no automatic point of display for them on the front end. We've separated-out the front end from the back end in Drupal Commerce, er so that you have a lot more freedom to detirmine how you want to display products to your customers. Whether it's through product display nodes as I am , or some other method involving Views, or Pagemanager and Panels, or something else entirely!

If we look at the fields that I have put on this product display node type, you can see both my product reference field, and my [Taxonomy] Term reference field.

I like the autocomplete textfield widget... it lets me enter products on this node, using the product SKU with the product title with an autocomplete. And I can have as many as I want to, without having to bother with the multi-select select list, or perhaps just an overwhelming checkboxes list if you have many products on the website.
I also have a catalog catagory term reference select list.
So what you do is:
whenever you add a term reference field, you have to choose which vocabulary this is for, and then of course the widget select list autocomplete radios [radio buttons] so that on the product page - which I'll go to this right now - um so that on its edit form, you get to specify how exactly... - I'm denoting which catalog catagory this belongs to. So you can see here my Product Reference Field with the autocomplete, my catalog term reference field with the select list, and again how this is presented on the front end, with an add to cart form, and a link going back to the term page.

Well those are all the things that you need to know [sic], to build your taxonomy-based Drupal Commerce product catalog. Let me pull-up a .pdf here that shows you the different steps: [in a different order on screen]

♦ Create a "Catalog" taxonomy vocabulary, with terms for each of your categories.
♦ Create a "Product display" node type using a product reference field and a term reference field, and create nodes for your products.
♦ Create a "Catalog" menu and display its block.