Archive for the ‘Proceedings of THATCamp’ Category

  • DH and the Tech Industry


    As someone who hails from Silicon Valley and has a lot of friends working at places like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., I’ve been able to take advantage of a lot of input and exposure to new technologies as I’ve been exploring the possibilities for DH to inform my own research in Renaissance drama.

    The University typically sets itself aside from the private sector, especially in the humanities. There’s much more back-and-forth conversation in the sciences though, with professors consulting for industry and industry leaders returning to lecture at the academy. I wonder if DH should or will provide a similar bridge between private and public as tech companies might produce a tool useful for digital humanists or bibliographers/librarians/archivists/etc. might be able to do consulting for projects such as Google Books.

    This perhaps also relates to Eric’s public humanities session. We all bemoan the awful lack of metadata in the Google Books digitization project, but the truth is those texts will be the ones that the general public is most likely to access – not the carefully curated archives that DH academics have been painstakingly putting together (at the moment anyway). Is partnership with industry our best shot at getting the right (or at least better) information about humanist subjects out there? What are the possibilities or ramifications of flirting with the line between public and private DH?

  • [First Beginning]


    During the 1980’s, as a poet in Alaska, I became the amanuensis of the Dena’ina Athabaskan writer Peter Kalifornksy (1911-1993). He was among the last speakers of his language and was the first to bring it into writing. Indeed, he was considered a literary stylist. Perhaps as interesting, he became the scholar of his language, spoken by the Kenaitze people on the Kenai Peninsula, devising a theory of spelling, and explicating the Old Dena’inas’ theory of knowledge, their poetics, their spiritual cosmos, the power of the animals, law and education, their encounters with the Russians, and much else. He reflected on the very meaning of writing, and of what the language revealed to him as he delved the very process of writing.

    As he talked, I wrote. He let me ask questions. We conversed over a period of about five years, me writing as he spoke, he taking new thought from my questions. This was the spiritual, intellectual, social history of a people, come down to the mind of one man, the last one of his generation educated (he said) in the old stories.

    Together, we made a two-volume work entitled “From the First Beginning, When the Animals Were Talking.” Very thick, heavy with cross-referencing footnotes, impossible to page through without having to use all your fingers as place-holders. But full of wonders!

    I am organizing a digital edition containing this manuscript, commentaries, digital images of two of his Dena’ina manuscripts, audio files of all his writings, as recorded by himself, and visual matter. And I am experimenting with a demonstration for the iPad, using the new iBooks Author. But my first task — toe in the water — is to put up a work-in-progress site on, to be called First Beginning, a journal of development. Here, I want to learn how to use Neatline, which looks as though it’s going to be a good application for relating and annotating visual, textual, and geographical cross-references.

    Thanks, finally, to the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, where I began this work several years ago and am still an Affiliated Fellow.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • minecraft for fun!


    Hi, my name is Vic. I’m one of the kids coming to THATCamp. My proposal is about Minecraft, which is kind of like a computer game, but it’s also not, really. You can run it on a Mac or a PC, and you can use it to build many cool things, from realism to abstraction. I’ve been playing Minecraft since the start — since it was released on May 17th, 2009 (when I was five years old).

    I’m going to bring my Hackintosh and my Dad’s Mac laptop. I run a Minecraft server for me, my Dad, and my friends. I’d be happy to show it to you and teach you some building strategies. You can mine or build anything!

  • THATCamp for Kids


    We are attending with our 13-year-old, who loves writing and digital photography. I’d like to know who else is bringing kids this year, and how we might engage them? Because of Mona’s schedule, we will be late or no-show (sadly) at the Friday sessions. Maybe we can meet up with other families w/kids at the dinner that evening?

    I am a writer and writing teacher, and would be happy to host a creative writing workshop in the afternoon for any kids who want to get together to write. In particular (or instead), I am really intrigued by the possibilities for the Zen Scavenger Hunt described here. That seems like it’d be great for any age participant. I don’t know the UVa campus all that well, so I’d like to run it with someone who is more familiar with the surroundings. It is the kind of thing the kids and other participants can engage in all day (since there is no list until later), then gather in the afternoon or early evening before dinner to compare notes.

    We could run this as a regular scavenger hunt instead, with a fairly general list that stimulates creativity (“an object that fits in your hand,” “something red,” “something that was once alive,”) and/or have kids document with cameras, pen & paper, maps, and phones in case there is concern about collecting actual things (might get out of hand :-)…Would love to hear thoughts about how to put something together that is fun and flexible for families and younger participants to do.

  • Producing Digital Ethnographies “On the Spot”


    A short and sweet session proposal based on discourse and creation:

    I’d like to propose a session where we choose a place of current global significance outside of the United States. Using Google Maps as a window, I’d like for a group to then gather information and produce, in the limited time frame of the session, a google doc ethnography that tries to combine global statistics with real local knowledge and insight (restaurant reviews, local newspapers, local blogs can all be combined into an ethnographic matrix of ideas). With so much emphasis on the global and on the transnational in both literary studies and the digital humanities, this session would be a real test for how these tools can help scholars gather local knowledge and form a starting point for ethnographic engagement with a location.

  • DH Beyond Plain Text


    I’d like to propose a session to discuss what the digital humanities can (and cannot) do with binary image and sound files.

    Part of my frequent dissatisfaction with recent experiments in data mining, computational distant reading, etc., I think, comes from a tension that’s been in place in DH for a long time. The same set of McGann-Druckerites (a group among which I count myself) who were raised up on a critical methodology that emphasizes the centrality to literary interpretation of material texts, bibliographic codes, etc.—those aspects of texts that are extremely difficult to capture in digital surrogate form—now finds itself in the midst of a digital scene in which plain text, whether marked up or not, is king. As often as not, scanned or photographed images more accurately capture the material situation of a book than marked text does—and text files, though they can operate as “phonotext” with the potential to make sound, as Garrett Stewart points out, cannot embody the sounded performance of poetry in the way audio recordings can. “Multimedia” was once the buzzword that best captured the promise of computers in culture, but those messy image, sound, and video files strewn all about the Internet have proven beyond the purview of most text-heavy DH research.

    Some recent attempts to deal more readily with image and sound in DH suggest to me that there might be more we can do on this front:

    • Alex Gil‘s work as a Scholars’ Lab fellow on an edition of Aimé Césaire, which aimed to meticulously recreate the original placement and appearance of text in Césaire’s work;
    • Lev Manovich‘s work on large sets of images, memorably presented at a Scholars’ Lab talk in fall 2011;
    • and Tanya Clement‘s work on using digital tools to illuminate the meaning of sound patterns in the work of Gertrude Stein.

    I’m surely unaware of lots of great work being done on this front, and one of the purposes of the session would be to have a bit of a show-and-tell of that existing work. I’d also like to have a conversation about the possibilities for and limitations of multimedia data in relation to the digital humanities. How can we conceive of image and sound files not just as black boxes to be surrounded by metadata, but as data (or capta, as the case may be) in their own right? Do such files offer enhanced versions of the texts we work on, or are they in many respects impoverished? And of course, what knowledge can we actually produce by playing around with the multimedia treasure trove of the Internet?

  • Discussion Session Proposal: A Worldcat for Manuscripts?


    I am a medieval historian by training, and also a THATCamp newbie. I currently work as a manuscript specialist on a grant-funded DH project called “The Virtual Libraries of Reichenau and St. Gall” (, now based at the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, but which in an earlier phase of the project (before I came on board) was based at UVA’s IATH.  In a nutshell, this phase of the project reconstructs the intellectual landscape of two of the most important intellectual communities of Carolingian Europe.  We have digitized or purchased the rights to use images of about 170 Latin manuscripts that are or were owned in the Middle Ages by the Benedictine monasteries of St. Gall and Reichenau in what is today southwestern Germany / north-central Switzerland.  My work on the project mostly entails describing these manuscripts and creating TEI XML metadata for our page-images of them.

    Outside of my work on the St. Gall project, I also have used DH applications in my own scholarship, which focuses on the Venerable Bede (672/3-735) and the manuscript transmission of his works.  My work in this area has mostly focussed on database development, and so in that connection I would be very interested in a discussion of some aspects of linked data and what it means for the future.  Specifically, I’m interested in whether linked data will be the answer to what for me has become an old conundrum: namely, whereas to do serious research on medieval textual transmission you used to need to access, say, 1,000 pretty specialized books; since the digital revolution took hold you now need to access 700 pretty specialized books (half of which you might be able to find online if you look hard) and 300 different websites, one by one.  In short, access has definitely been increased dramatically, but I think there’s still a lot of room to improve in terms of leveraging technology to reduce the amount of labor expended in accessing this type of information (I’m talking essentially about eliminating busy work; obviously the hard thinking bits will always be done by scholars).  Or, to put it another way, will the growth of linked data technologies make it feasible to build a equivalent of Worldcat for medieval manuscript collections (or for that matter other types of archival/special collections)?  Can others point me in the direction of projects that have done or are attempting to do this sort of thing for other fields of study?  What would need to be done to make this happen?

    Joshua Westgard

    UCLA / Silver Spring, MD

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