Archive for April, 2012

  • Public humanities and the digital humanities


    Hailing as I originally do from the museum and library world, I have a particular interest in the more outward-facing aspects of the humanities–and in the digital humanities, the aspects of the field that might particularly be considered “public” or “open.”  I’d love to get into a conversation about this stuff.  Maybe we can take a look at how audiences are examined in digital projects, or talk about the degree to which digital humanities projects are (or aren’t) by their very nature forms of public scholarship.  What makes a scholarly effort “public” in the first place, and is there anything particular to digital work that supports or undermines that idea?  Maybe we can talk about crowdsourcing and its role in digital research and scholarship.  In short, if the phrase “public humanities” catches your attention, I’d love to chat.

  • Tools for Curation and Exhibition of Digital Archives and Scholarly Editions


    I’m interested in learning about various resources for the curation and exhibition of digital archives and scholarly editions with extensive critical apparatus. While I have my own project I’m looking to start this summer, which I describe below, I’m interested in general discussion of what’s available, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how they play with other online resources.

    In particular, I’m looking to create an electronic edition of the 100-page travel journal and accompanying 200 photographs Walter J. Ong kept during the three years he spent traveling throughout Europe doing research his dissertation, which he published as Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue and The Ramus and Talon Inventory. As these three years were formative for Ong’s academic career (the people he met, a series of lectures he gave in France on behalf of the US State Department, insights he had, and the connections he maintained via correspondence) I’d like to use this route book as a framework for presenting and contextualizing the thousands of pages of material in the Walter J. Ong Manuscript Collection dating to this period.

    Saint Louis University’s Archives currently use Content dm to host digital materials and early on when I was helping process the Collection, we created a web site to make some select items available. I’m finally starting to think of this project seriously and I’m assuming I want something more flexible and elegant than Content dm. Based upon my preliminary searching, I’m assuming Omeka may be the best resource for my needs.

  • Sharing Data / What Data?


    I attended a symposium earlier this month entitled “Sharing and Sustaining Research Data,” wherein the participants specifically discussed scientific datasets.  One of the presentations that really excited me was David E. Schindel’s talk on “DNA Barcoding and Early Data Release.” During this presentation, Schindel discussed the Fort Lauderdale Principles, 2003, which he described as being a new paradigm for accelerating Cybertaxonomy development (much like the Bermuda Principles, 1996, which continue to encourage the rapid dissemination of genomic data).

    I’ll summarize the Fort Lauderdale Principles as follows:  when it comes to sharing data, there are three groups that are responsible for ensuring the success of the “community resource system:”

    1. Funders
    2. Producers
    3. Users

    Furthermore, producers must commit to “making data broadly available prior to publication,” and users should respect the expressed research intents of the producers.   This requires that data should be published before the research (or, as the case may be in many DH projects, even before the website).

    Therefore, I’d like to discuss how such data-sharing tenets do or do not fit into the current Digital Humanities landscape.  I have seen online discussions and articles, such as Christine Borgman’s “The Digital Future is Now: A Call to Action for the Humanities,” but what have been the results so far?  Or, if I’m completely mistaken and such systems for data sharing already exist (maybe GitHub has become the de facto standard, for instance?), I’d love to learn more about those systems during this THATCamp, too.

  • Speaking (digital) truth to (analog) power


    [NOTE: I proposed this session for THATCamp Prime last summer and it didn’t fly. If at first you don’t succeed…]

    According to Urban Dictionary (most credible source EVER!), the phrase “speak truth to power” means:

    A phrase coined by the Quakers during in the mid-1950s. It was a call for the United States to stand firm against fascism and other forms of totalitarianism; it is a phrase that seems to unnerve political right, with reason.


    A vacuous phrase used by some on the political Left, especially the denizens of the Democratic Underground website. Ostensibly, it means to verbally confront or challenge conservative politicians and conservative ideals using the overwhelmingly logical and moral arguments of liberalism. Doing so would, naturally of course, devastate the target individual, leaving them a stuttering, stammering bowl of defeated jelly. That or cause them to experience an epiphany that would have such a profound, worldview-changing effect that they would immediately go out and buy a Che t-shirt and start reading Noam Chomsky. Unfortunately, the individuals who would use this phrase have little or no understanding of either liberalism or conservatism, and the “truth” that they speak consists mainly of epithets and talking points, memorized by rote, which they learned from other, equally vapid liberals. As such “speak truth to power” joins other feel-good but ultimately meaningless gems from Leftist history such as “right on”, “up against the wall”. “question everything” and the ever-popular “fuck you, pig”.

    (Well, OK, then…)

    Seeking out slightly more credible sources for the origin of the phrase leads one to a Quaker pamphlet from the 1950s. As a “trained” political scientist, I think of Aaron Wildavsky’s book and, more recently, a book by Manning Marable. Across these sources, I believe the phrase is about questioning reasoning of “the state;” it’s about bringing information (maybe evidence?) to the table with those who are in formal positions of power who may not want to “hear” it.

    I suspect other THATCamp attendees find themselves in positions like those that I find myself in where I have opportunities to “speak truth to power.” I get coded as “the technology guy” and “volunteered” onto any/all task forces and/or committees (let’s call them task committees) that have any connection at all to technology. Often, those task committees are led by someone with formal decision-making authority who may or may not *really* want to hear what you say.

    We all know the perils of committee work, but there are obvious advocacy opportunities presented by this work as well. So, I’m proposing a session where we share advocacy strategies. We might discuss our “tactics” within the realm of formal committee work, but even outside of it. There, the overlap with Mark Sample’s ideas around “tactical collaboration” are obvious, so perhaps we can convince Mark to grace us with his presence (and his ideas) as part of the session.


  • the soul of wit


    Hey, campers! If you haven’t posted your session idea yet, please remember: these can (and, really, in the best spirit of THATCamp, should) be tentative, informal, even half-baked. Bake ’em on Saturday with your new friends and colleagues! Our suggested length for posts is well under 300 words.

    There’s also no need to prepare for THATCamp sessions. If you propose a topic, you should be willing to get the ball rolling with a question or two, or a very quick demo (preferably not even of your own stuff). This keeps the bar for entry low and the ideas flowing — you can give your paper at plenty of other conferences!

    The more session ideas we see on the blog over the next day or so, the more fun we’ll all have on Saturday morning, watching THATCampVA staff negotiate with the crowd to create a program that belongs to everybody. We can’t wait to see you in Charlottesville this weekend!

  • Distributed Scholarly Collaboration


    Now that I’m out of the application woods, I’d love to have a conversation about the more difficult DH task I’ve been working on: how to form, organize, and motivate distributed scholarly platforms, like the one I’m contemplating under the “Modernist Letters Project.”  I think building the infrastructure for quicker, more transparent, open-source scholarly knowledge creation  and review will be one of the major projects for the next decade, as it has already been in the case of NINES.  And I tend to think that the new platforms that are successful will be both field and object-specific (thus, in my field, the Modernist Journals Project, now Modernist Versions Project, etc.).

    I’ll work through today referencing and organizing this problem, but it seems to me that first of all this should be approached by examining the following questions: I’d appreciate others’ thoughts about this, or sources to look at.

    A. What has worked (NINES, Whitman Archive) and why?

    B.  What hasn’t been successful?

    C.  What sorts of contracts for collaboration are most succesful? What organizational structures, forms? (I know Lynn Siemens has written a good deal on this.)

    D. How does the work get incentivized?  How credited?  What are good models for developing pedagogical units, etc (an interest of one of my collaborators)?

    E. How do we include the non-digital (native) scholars in the field?  What sorts of  ongoing mechanisms for peer-review could be included?

    I’ll come back and reference this a bit later, as well, once I’ve gone through some of the available material.  Folks interested in participating in the Modernist Letters Project are particularly welcome to get involved here, of course.

  • Would you like fries with that?


    No, I’m not talking about employment and DH or #alt-ac anything like that… I’m picking up a conversation that Tom Scheinfeldt addresses in his blog post “Where’s the Beef? Does Digital Humanities Have to Answer Questions?” The post, republished in Debates in the Digital Humanities, equates DH to the role Robert Hooke played for 40 years until his death in 1703. As someone whose job it was “to prepare public demonstrations of scientific phenomena for the fellows’ meetings,” Hooke demonstrated scientific curiosities that at first had no apparent purpose. Answers did come, eventually, but not until the 18th and 19th centuries.

    I raise this in light of what many of us will be doing in the workshops (and having read about research other THATCampVAers have discussed–GIS, sound, image modeling, etc–as well as my own work with visualizations) and I wonder if at some point we all don’t address a similar question: “What do visualizations in the humanities really do?” Are we at a point where we could argue that visualizations produce “new” knowledge? I am coming at these questions from two perspectives. First, as someone who uses visualizations to explain ways to reconsider the structural underpinnings of a particular genre of poetry. Readers’ expectations of digitally enabled visualizations are often that they should “tell us something new.” And yet, most visualizations don’t–not yet, anyway. Most tell us what we already know, differently.  Secondly, I work in a disciplinary area intimately concerned with the historical tensions between meaning-making in spatial and temporal forms of representation. Western thought creates a binary relationship between images and words, and images are frequently viewed with suspicion. How do we know what they say? For this reason, images on their own aren’t really considered “scholarship.” That’s something that might change, but hasn’t yet. However, as we make spatial arguments to address humanities questions, what role can we see visualizations having in the changing climate of scholarly conversation/publication?

    So, I guess what I’m saying (rather circuitously) is that I’d like to have a session in which we think through what visualizations in humanities do. Considered in conjunction with the workshops and the “show and tell” sesson on Saturday afternoon, I’m interesting in thinking about: What are visual analyses? What can we reasonably assert is their value now and their potential value? What is the value in displaying humanities data if it doesn’t tell us something we don’t already know? Are visualizations the “fries” to the DH burger, or are they a meal of their own? (Ok, I’ve extended that metaphor *way* too far… and now I’m hungry.)

    Looking forward to seeing everyone this weekend!

  • News in the Classroom / Dynamic Syllabi


    Given all the tools most of us use to manage our daily reading habits, I’d like to hear how this could be used to the classroom. Not every class wants to engage with the news of the day, but I can imagine many advantages to having students engage with very recent events. Since we obviously can’t build these into a syllabus before hand, I’m wondering if anyone has experience (or wants to brainstorm about) using RSS feeds, or something else, in a class: how do we keep our students and ourselves up to date on recent events? How could we ensure we all have the same focus? Or the same information? Or usefully contrasting information (can some students watch Fox, some the Daily Show)?

  • three thoughts


    I have three ideas for sessions this year — and will also be keeping one eye on this guy:

    Pinterest Wunderkammer: For years, I’ve fantasized about creating the perfect interface for a digital humanities cabinet of wonders, but never had time to follow through. Have they beaten me to it? I didn’t pay much attention to Pinterest at first, but then started to see some startling collections. I especially find the temporal dimension fascinating: if you follow this woman’s feed, you can watch her move through varying aesthetic obsessions over time — coherent washes of color, for instance, even across diverse assemblages. So it’s fluid, performative collection-building — or beautifully diachronic fixing. There’s plenty to read about Wunderkammern, but I’d like to have a conversation with some immediate implications for building.

    Quantified Self: At past THATCamps, I’ve co-hosted workshops and conversations on physical computing (especially wearables). I also started a Zotero group for research and inspiration on soft circuits. Now I’m getting interested in the “quantified self” movement (see Wolfram for an extreme example) and am thinking about melding the two. My FitBit has an API. My phone knows where I’ve been. Anybody else interested in the intersection of DH, quantified self, and physical computing?

    Rethinking the Graduate “Methods” Course: I wrote this thing. Now I’m hosting these conversations and running this program. I also spend a lot of time thinking about how well qualified lots of these people are to help train the next generation of humanities faculty and knowledge workers. Wanna talk about it?

  • Possibilities for Local History



    As the librarian for UVa’s School of Architecture, I work with many scholars who are deeply interested in the history of communities.  Often, the interest is local (Charlottesville), but our historians and urban planners are also digging into communities throughout the United States and the world.  While the research is often centered on architecture and urban planning, it extends to interdisciplinary aspects of food planning, use of public space, and many other directions.  In terms of media, it encompasses images, texts, primary documents, maps, oral histories, planning documents, and just about anything else you can imagine.  I find so many wonderful new ways of discovering local history resources, many of which are the direct result of DH technologies like Omeka, GIS, etc.  But, implementation is scattered, and often limited to the silo of a single institutional collection.


    I’d love to create a vision for the ideal local history portal for researchers.  I imagine that it would combine multiple aspects of some of my favorite sites (HistoryPin, WhatWasThere, the NYPL MapWarper, Visualizing Emancipation), along with characteristics of tools like Omeka (and I have a feeling I’ll be adding NeatLine to that list soon).  It would also need to transcend silos of individual institutional collections—bringing together photos, documents, etc. from the local historical society, university archives, local planning and preservation org, public library, and more—while allowing those institutions to promote and “brand” their own resources.


    I’m hopeful that there’s a group of folks that might be interested in playing a game of “Imagine going to one site for a city/town and being able to….”.  I would guess that many of us will contribute knowledge of projects that are inching us closer to this research utopia, and we might also come up with some “boy, it would be great if someone developed…” ideas as well.  At the end, we might walk away with a road-map to some amazing possibilities, and hopefully some excited people that might want to collaborate to make that a reality.

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