Archive for December, 2010

  • WordPress Theme Hackery


    Wondering if there’s any interest in a simple, hands-on session on using/modifying/creating WordPress themes. This session might have some traction if there are enough folks attending who have ever answered “Yes” to any of these questions:

    • Have you ever wanted to modify a theme you downloaded, and have been mystified by what’s in there?
    • Do you have some wickedly sweet code in your own custom.php file, that you’re itching to share with others?
    • Are there some things that WordPress functions do by default that you’d like to change, but don’t want to change in WP’s core files?
    • Do you want to do a bit more with your WordPress than just display your blog posts?

    This session could cover just about anything to do with WP themes: Creating one from scratch, doing simple modifications to an existing theme, child themes, writing custom functions for themes. I’m up for doing a full-blown tutorial on how to work with WordPress themes, or we could get a group together to share how they’ve used WordPress for various projects.

  • Space before Cyberspace: Confronting the Revolutionary Legacy of Geospatial Representation


    In the enhanced age of the digital world in which we live, it can be all too easy to congratulate ourselves as scholars for revolutionizing this or that method of mapping, organizing, surveying, or seeing writ-large. With all such bold claims, however, this often involves shutting off a large segment of the historical discourse at the foundations of our understanding of what the geospatial is, how we see it, and what it tells us about our socio-political and cultural realities. With this in mind, I’d be interested in a session in which we seek continuities between the original revolutions in the geo-spatial (the early-modern revolution of the atlas, the world map, and perspectival representation) and more recent renovations (the post-modern digitized, satellite enhanced, fragmented sense of the world as picture). I think this would allow traditional scholars and digital humanists alike to question their sense of the historical development of the geospatial as well as to seek out continuity rather than claim innovation.

    Some great new readings are available on this topics from theorists working with a large historical palette right up to the present day. These could include:

    –Bruno Latour’s writing on Scientific Representation: “Drawing Things Together” from Representation in Scientific Practice.

    –A reconsideration of Heidegger’s “The Age of the World Picture”

    –Readings from Alpers’s “The Art of Describing”

    –Reading from Christian Jacob’s “The Sovereign Map”

    –Readings on current practices in urban planning and cultural imagination as enhanced by Geospatial techniques.

    Rather than be guided by readings, however, the session would be most ideally suited to a consideration of images of the geospatial as they become theorized and created over time, from T-O projections all the way to Google Maps, I think a tour of the cartographic and cosmographic heritage of Western thought would be a productive start to a fascinating conversation. Some questions to tackle might be:

    –“Are we truly in a post-cartographic age? What kind of room for culture is there in the satellite image?”

    –“What kind of evolutionary patterns can be discovered in the shifting image of the world as picture?”

    –“What are the socio-political consequences as access to geospatial picture making becomes increasingly democratized? Used as the basis for both revolutions in information technology and as a major tool in the blueprinting of conventional military maneuvers and terrorist attacks alike, geospatial representation is revolutionizing the military and civilian world.”

    –“What kind of continuous aesthetic concerns can be found in the geospatial?”

    — And any other thoughts that might arise in confronting the vast history of geospatial representation.

  • Classrooms of the future (and today)


    I’m interested in talking about classroom and class design for the future:

    What should the physical space for learning include looking forward?  What are our minimum expectations?  Does the physical classroom matter any more?  [Online and blended/hybrid classes raise complicated questions about what parts of classrooms and the things we do in them (like lecture) matter, which don’t matter, and which need to change as new virtual or physical spaces for teaching emerge, issues raised in part in Rebecca and Caroline’s proposal.] For how long and in what ways will/should the classroom change?

    I’m still mulling (see my post here for one exploration of these ideas as well as this one from a colleague and this project on the spaces in which we learn), but this could well be something that goes beyond classrooms to something like “learning spaces of the future” that would combine the physical and intellectual space that classrooms, libraries, and museums occupy now and in the years to come.   It might also well overlap in fruitful ways with the proposal to talk about archives in the digital world.

    Anyone else interested in talking about learning spaces?

  • Qualifying Quantity: Text Analysis and Methodology


    The recent New York Times series on DH picked up a thread that has been fascinating me for a while:

    A history of the humanities in the 20th century could be chronicled in “isms” — formalism, Freudianism, structuralism, postcolonialism — grand intellectual cathedrals from which assorted interpretations of literature, politics and culture spread.

    The next big idea in language, history and the arts? Data.

    Members of a new generation of digitally savvy humanists argue it is time to stop looking for inspiration in the next political or philosophical “ism” and start exploring how technology is changing our understanding of the liberal arts. This latest frontier is about method, they say, using powerful technologies and vast stores of digitized materials that previous humanities scholars did not have.

    Many folks reading this will recognize here a restatement of Tom Scheindfeldt’s “Sunset for Ideology, Sunrise for Methodology” post (which I find myself constantly referencing, even if I can’t bring myself to agree with it). I’m interested in returning to this question, both in theory and in practice (as a Marxist might say), or, to adopt the argot of THATCamp, both in yacking and hacking.

    First, some “practice”: we can find a particularly remarkable instance of this sort of “methodological” work in a project also profiled by the Times: Dan Cohen and Fred Gibbs’s fascinating Victorian Books project (here is Dan Cohen’s own extended write up). On a much smaller scale, with much less expertise and far less success I have played with similar techniques myself. And just yesterday Aditi Muralidharan posted about her project WordSeer, which leverages natural language processing to open richer avenues of text analysis.

    Now, some yacking: Despite a lot of well-meaning “there is no practice without a theory, and no theory not put into practice” talk, this division seems pretty well entrenched (Matthew Jockers—whose work mining novels at the Stanford Literature Lab is another great example of this work—nicely tries to bring distant reading and close reading together in this recent comment). In part this is because of the very different skills (e.g. statistics!) required to make sense of (and make claims about) this new type of data. (Random Session Idea: “‘So, you never took a STATS class’, or ‘How Many is Enough?’: Statistics for Readers of Books”). It is also, I think, difficult to integrate this sort of data into the traditional concerns of humanities scholars. To use my perennial example: what can “distant reading” tell me about the history of sexuality (my metonymy for “things folks, say dissertating grad students, are interested in right now”)?

    So I’m interested in putting our yack where our hack is: in trying to imagine how text analysis can contribute to the things scholars, right now, actually care about; and let’s put our hack where our yack is and play with some text and the NLTK or Voyeur or whatever. Let’s try to do something interesting.

  • Network Analysis and Lit Crit


    I’ve recently gotten interested in network analysis (using ORA, Gephi, and others) to support research and criticism of both large corpora and single works. So I’d be interested in a session on the use of quantitative visualization for text-based research and discovery. I’m a literature scholar and digital humanist with my feet in both the print and digital realms, with my main research areas in Joyce, modernist periodicals (with an interest in digital infrastructures like the Modernist Journals Project), and Proust. So here are some of the topics I’d be interesting in presenting on or discussing:

    • The transition from statistical analysis to humanistic interpretation: methodological and/or theoretical problems.
    • Network representation of a single work: What can it really tell us?
    • Since most network analysis applications are designed for corporations and sociologists, are there any that are particularly useful for humanists? If not, what would one look like? And what does this say about the nature of digital humanism?
    • Digitization of print culture and dissemination platforms in the shadow of the Google Monster: Should archival projects like the MJP and others (perhaps at UVA?) start focusing more attention on the development and use of interpretive tools using Google data (and on improving Google data, which is usually not up to snuff for academic research), as opposed to digitizing materials ourselves? This is likely to be a thorny issue in applying for grants, since funding institutions like the NEH, NSA, and Melon will probably start giving out less money for digitization efforts. Maybe some strategy speculation would be of interest here.

    Aside from network analysis, I’m also intrigued by the current crisis in the humanities, with the closure of foreign language and theater departments, etc., and the responses that have come from scientists and other humanists. It would be interesting to have a discussion about the role that digital humanities plays and could play in the midst of these battles. Not sure if we need to devote a session to it, but informal discussions could be stimulating.

  • Mobile Media Culture


    Hi everyone,

    I would love to have a session devoted to discussing some issues relevant to mobile media culture. Possible topics of interest to me include:

    • Site-specific storytelling with mobile devices
    • Mobile and pervasive games
    • Performance and art using mobile media
    • Locative social media
    • Changes in spatial experiences due to mobile technologies (e.g. the reassertion of proximity)
    • Social changes brought about from the mobile internet (including site-specificity of information, effects on time/space/embodiment, and the evolution of content)
    • Mobile media and the digital divide

    Those are a handful of the big ideas that I’m interested in and we can absolutely narrow it down if you are interested in discussing some of these topics. I would also be up for either creating a location-based narrative, playing some mobile games (from geocaching to Gigaputt), or going Foursquare badge hunting with any of you during the conference!

  • A Digital(-Humanist) Ethnography


    I’m an ethnographer of contemporary rock music-cultures. And I love the experimental spirits among digital humanists. At THATcampVA, I would like to re-imagine the possibility of a digital ethnography. My main question is: how can digital technology facilitate field research and ethnographic ‘writing’?

    Rather than texts, ethnographers’ objects of intellectual interest are social interactions and cultural practices. Anthropologists and ethnomusicologists, whose primary mode of research has been participant-observation, have conventionally privileged the traditional, non-mediated, live, and experiential over the fixed, mediated, and textual, in their field participation. In the last decade or so, they have started to see the value in studying non-physical and mediated, and oftentimes software environments, thereby extending the notion of the ‘field.’ How may digital tools facilitate the processes of observing and participating in these newly defined “fields” that are now digitally mediated? Email and engagement with social media are becoming a normative mode of interaction for many individuals in many societies. Many ethnographers use digital communication methods to find, reach, and contact their informants. In my dissertation (on the Asian American experiences of indie rock music), I spent countless hours locating musicians online, using either Google or social network sites such as Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, and Last.FM. How can we as ethnographers, besides hanging out in a chat room or on a discussion forum, take a snapshot of these digital social media interactions? What are the social, political, and institutional implications of such digital contacts, versus conventional methods of flying to a distant location and meeting someone face-to-face? Digitally mediated communication allows the user to reach far. It is a technology of horizontal expansion. What does “in-depth” fieldwork look like in the milieu where communication is often digitally mediated?

    Ethnographic writing involves a set of processes distinct but related to field research. What technological extensions may further the tasks of documenting, analyzing, articulating, and representing field observations and interactions? In my dissertation, I leveraged a geo-spatial visualization tool to map the Myspace “friend” networks of the musicians in my dissertation. These visualizations enabled me see patterns of social linkage that I hadn’t anticipated. They also allowed me to generate more questions about ethnic belonging and transnational communities. So, what other digital methods could extend our capacities as ethnographic documentarians and analysts? What are the intellectual advantages (and disadvantages) of digitizing an otherwise live and non-mediated experience or interaction?

    Digital humanists have developed an emerging set of sophisticated theories around the issues of texualization and archiving. To relate to these inquiries, I find that it may be useful to consider the act of ethnographic ‘writing’ as a form of textualization. So in the instance of articulating field data, we may be creating an archive of texts that interpret cultural practices. If that’s the case, my digital maps make up a cultural archive that documents and interprets the songs and performances of the musicians in my project. More flexible than  conventional archive (a published journal article or book), a digital  archive can be closer to life because it is akin to the performative practice of  building a repertory from which agents draw scripts,  meanings, and inspirations. I’m interested to hear what everyone thinks  about the experimental possibility and pragmatic processes of the digital mapping of social and cultural practices. I’m also interested in exploring the notion of a digital archiving or mapping as a performative ethnographic “writing” process.

  • Enhancing Digital Content in Online Courses


    (Posting on behalf of Rebecca Mitchell & Caroline Miles)

    We’re both literature professors in the English department at the University of Texas-Pan American where we frequently teach fully online/reduced seat time courses; between us we have experience using Second Life, Blackboard, WebCT, Wimba, and Tegrity, to name a few technologies.

    At THATCamp we’re particularly interested in reconciling two potentially clashing ideals. Neither of us believe in teaching literature primarily through lecture, and we are interested in technologies which allow us to replicate online the student collaboration and independent literary analysis that we conduct in a live classroom.   At the same time, having worked to develop our familiarity with interfaces and software, we are now really interested in learning about other ways to build content online, not just enhancing the mode of delivery.

    We are curious about ways in which technologies relate to content outside of the classroom, and curious to learn how others ensure that content remains the focus in an online learning environment without depending on posting lecture notes/recorded lectures or turgid learning modules.

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