• Our Reading Rooms Are Empty: Digital Access to Materials in Special Collections and Archives


    “User demand for digitized collections [from Special Collections] remains insatiable.”

    Taking Our Pulse: The OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives

    Actually our reading rooms aren’t empty; they are bursting at the seams.  Special collections’ and archives’ use statistics zoom up each year.  In fact, we set an all time record for research visits, research hours, and circulation in October at MARBL. And yet . . . I can’t shake the nagging feeling that special collections libraries have been bypassed – left behind – because our access model is obsolete.  The age of the internet, mobile devices, social media, e-readers and the insatiable demand for digitized collections has laid bare for all to see that our ‘consulting-manuscripts-and-rare-books-in-a-staid-and-rarified-reading-room’ model is nothing but a late 19th century genteel tradition that is desperately in need of modification.  So what now?  We have content – lots and lots of rare and unique content relevant to the humanities – but how are special collections going to deliver it?  I’d love to hear thoughts, advice or even rants about this because, after all, we have nothing to lose but our 19th century chains.

  • Intersections of the Digital and the Material


    I’m interested in any and all intersections of the material and the digital.  I wonder if this broader category could serve as an umbrella under which to talk about the sorts of things that Bethany proposes as well.  This is a new area for me, but I’m particularly interested in how digital networks might influence craft, and especially traditional crafts.  So, really, I would be thrilled with any sessions that deal with the intersection of the digital and the material, particularly if we are thinking especially in terms of material production.  How does a digital interface or digitally facilitated set of relationships influence what an artist or craftsman actually produces?

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  • The Politics of Expertise


    Through my own research on the CIA and its “sister-agencies,” I’m getting the anecdotal impression that there are some discourse communities in which expertise can actually be a liability.  I’d be curious if others, working in any, any other areas, have noticed or suspect similar trends/liabilities.  I’m speculating based on my own anecdotal impressions that this issue rears up most frequently and most problematically when experts interact with non-experts.  This idea is really germinal in my brain, so I’d simply be interested in batting the idea around, hearing if others have encountered similar phenomena, and if others have noticed it, speculating a bit as to what might be behind such a notion.  In this way, I and others interested in the issues might be able to set a research agenda.  If others think this problem does exist, I’d be interested in speculating/strategizing  further about how the digital humanities, broadly conceived, might address the problem.  Is this problem, if it exists, part of a larger ethical failure, and what is the role of ethics in the digital humanities, or the role of the digital humanities in ethics?

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  • Single or Double Elimination Bracket for Developing Writing of Any Type


    I recently relocated from an institution where tons of people were working in my subfield to one where I’m the only person working in my subfield.  This shift has made the process of getting feedback on in-progress writing considerably more difficult, since I don’t have the benefit of a critical mass of colleagues working in the same area and all of the interactions that stem from such critical mass. But, of course, I know lots of people nationally whose feedback I would love to receive, and who are willing to offer it.

    Following on a recent reading of Colin Gifford Brooke’s Lingua Fracta, I’ve been thinking a lot about digital interfaces.  In the past, commenting on writing via email has been cumbersome and confusing when it involves more than two or three people.  And I don’t think blogs are less cumbersome.

    As a possible solution to both the feedback and interface problems, I’ve been thinking about sports brackets as a way to organize writing feedback, and specifically about building a Drupal installation to bring the idea to fruition.  The process might work like this.  Let’s assume the 8 scholars want to join forces and share their in-progress writing.  My idea is that the writing in need of the greatest revisions/rethinking should get the most attention.  The bracket is an effort to systematize that thought.  First, the scholars would be ranked, 1 through 8, the same way that basketball teams or wrestlers are seeded in tournaments.  The scholars/writers would be ranked according to experience, number 1 the most experienced scholar, and number 8 the least experienced.  Then the scholars would be paired the same way they are in sports tournaments:

    1 and 8

    2 and 7

    3 and 6

    4 and 5

    At this point, I really, really want to jettison any metaphors of winning or losing.  The paired scholars would exchange writing, and after providing feedback, by mutual agreement would agree which piece of writing needs the most additional work/input from additional writers.  The person and their piece of writing would move forward in the bracket.  [I have no good way of visualizing this in WordPress, so here’s a link to .pdf of a typical 8 person double elimination bracket, for visualization purposes.]

    Let’s assume that in the first round of reading that in every case the least experienced writers’ work is the one that is in the roughest shape and the most in need of additional feedback.  That work continues through the bracket.  The next round of pairings would look like this:

    8 and 7

    6 and 5

    The less experienced writers/scholars are now giving each other feedback, and it continues for another round with, say, 8 and 6 paired.  So, as one progresses through the system, presumably making revisions after each round of feedback, the least experienced writers/scholars receive the most feedback and experience reading others’ work.

    What’s in it for the experienced scholars?  Well, they could drop into a “consolation” bracket and get feedback from each other.  For example, the 1 and 2 we “eliminated” in the first round then exchange works, etc, etc

    I think all of this could be systematized in Drupal in ways that would make the exchange of writing and feedback extremely easy.  I could explain this so much better with a marker and dry erase board . . .   Just an idea.  Sorry I nipped over 500 words . . .

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  • Digital Archaeology


    A topic I’m interested in examining is Digital Archaeology. I’m not sure if there are any archaeologists besides me in attendance (a shame if it’s the case, considering how much amazing archaeology there is in the Chesapeake), but I think there is a fantastic discussion to be had about what is being done and what can be done in digital archaeology. At this point, digital archaeology has emerged in three areas: Field Technology/Methodology, Research Databases, and Public Engagement.

    Field Technology has always been a field that has adopted technologies from other fields and applied them to archaeological methods. GIS and advanced survey equipment have been the major technological adaptions, but the recent use of the iPad in Pompeii opens the door for (finally) people to conduct paperless excavations.

    A number of digital research databases have emerged, including the Comparative Archaeological Study of Colonial Chesapeake Culture and the Digital Archaeological Archives of Comparative Slavery (DAACS), housed at Monticello. These databases allow researchers to easily access numerous reports and data sets about archaeological sites, making comparative analysis that would have otherwise been expensive and time consuming a much more affordable venture.

    Public Engagement has been the most evident use of the digital environment. Archaeology has a long tradition of “public archaeology”, and new technology provides us with a number of alternatives to how we conduct our operations. Most popular are the digital reconstructions of towns and buildings such as at Colonial Williamsburg, where they are in the process of recreating the entire colonial city as it was in 1776. Such a venture is heavily reliant on archaeological research conducted at the museum. At Monticello, there is a fantastic digital representation of the entire plantation, highlighting the archaeological projects conducted throughout. Also, my work with the MSU Campus Archaeology Program has used digital social media as a means of engaging the public in learning about the process of archaeology, and to make discoveries along with us in the field. You can read a bit more about my work here (The use of digital media and digital technologies to engage community in the process of our work is a separate topic. I can write more if there’s interest. Post a comment below!).

    So, my questions are this: What are some of the challenges faced by archaeologists with these emerging technologies? How do we train students to use and engage with these technologies? How do we present them as useful things worth investing in to our colleagues/advisors/administrators? How do these technologies change the way we operate when collecting data? Do we need to change the way we think about collecting data so that it is more appropriately geared towards new technologies? What types of data would be useful for non-archaeologists, such as museum professionals, to be able to use in the public engagement portion of our discipline? What are some other new technologies that could fit into these categories, or what are some other categories of archaeology that could be added to the picture?

    These are some of the things I’m thinking about…feel free to add on below!

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  • Sunday expedition: Monticello!


    THATCampVA formally wraps up after lunch on Sunday, Dec. 19, but that won’t stop us from keeping the fun train rolling!

    The good people at Thomas Jefferson’s historic home, Monticello, have invited interested THATCampers to be their guests for a special (free!) tour of the house, including a VIP trip to the legendary Dome Room. Thomas Jefferson would so have wanted to go to THATCampVA–technophile, researcher, and inveterate tinkerer that he was.

    To get a sense of the schedule: the tour is timed so we can enjoy our closing lunch before we wind our way to Monticello. Attendees should aim to arrive at the Visitor Center at around 2:00 in order to catch the shuttle to the mountaintop.  Our two tour slots are at 2:40 and 2:50 and are limited to about twenty people each. The house tour plus Dome Room should take a little under an hour.  Then we’re free to enjoy the grounds or wander the exhibitions or head home with heads spinning from all the THATCamp-aliciousness.

    Specific details will be covered at THATCampVA once we’re all together.  However, it would be helpful to get an early sense of how many people are interested in going on this tour, so that Monticello can adjust to numbers if needed. Please drop Eric Johnson a line either @edmj or at ejohnson [at] monticello [dot] org to indicate your interest in joining us.

    Can’t wait!

  • It’s a user-generated world . . .


    While user-generated content (UGC) has been around for a long time in museums–the mid-19th century Smithsonian, for instance, asked amateur collectors to send in natural history specimens from across the country–the digital world has lowered barriers and made it easier for users to participate in the creation of knowledge at cultural heritage institutions. Recent examples include the oral history project StoryCorps, the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, or the Transcribe Bentham crowdsourcing project.

    Much has been made about how the growth of UGC affects the nature of authority and radical trust.  But there are still more fundamental questions to tackle.  The ones that interest me now are about how we look at UGC projects in the first place.

    I’d love to talk to others who want to explore the whole idea of  UGC-oriented, crowdsourced, “citizen humanities” projects, especially by analogy to citizen science projects like the venerable SETI@home or Cornell’s eBird project.  Similar conversations have taken place at THATCamp MCN and THATCamp Columbus.

    I have a particular interest in developing a vocabulary related to (or better yet, a taxonomy of) UGC projects. This would help us to better describe–for users, for funders, for everybody–what these UGC projects are, what they intend to do, and how to evaluate the success of such projects.

    But even more than that, I want to hear from other folks. Let’s take a look at a bunch of citizen humanities and citizen science projects and see what they can tell us.

  • Talkin’ One Week | One Tool, and/or Anthologize, and/or Linked Data


    Following the effort to make these posts quick and happy to read, (and my tendency toward informality and throwing up ideas to see what sticks), here’s my rundown of things I’m happy talking about with interested folks at THATCampVA — in 500 words or fewer!

    One fun recent event I was part of was One Week | One Tool, a big experiment in whether twelve digital humanists can get together and build a new DH tool in one week. Answer: Yes. But the alternative approach and process to creating a project might be an interesting thing to talk about and think about how it could offer ideas for getting other projects off the ground.

    The tool we built is Anthologize, a WP plugin to publish site content in other formats, like PDF or ePub. Happy to share ideas about how it could be used for various DH sites and projects, too. Especially interested to talk about different output formats and themes, and if/how they might be useful.

    More generally, I’m always up for talking about semantic web and linked data, and about coding for the humanities.

    So, we’ll see if interest starts to coalesce around any of those!

  • an R&D agenda for embodied interaction in DH?


    I suppose I’m a tactile tinkerer. When I have time for it, I tinker a bit with wearable computing — also called “soft circuits,” “embodied interaction,” or — arguably — augmented reality. This is the (often gendered) art or craft of sewing electronic circuitry, sensors, and microprocessors like the Lilypad Arduino into clothing, jewelry, toys, and other household goods so that they become (or make you become) aware of their/your environment in new ways.

    Bill Turkel and I taught a workshop on hacking wearables and e-textiles at THATCamp Great Lakes, we had fun with this stuff at the #pastplay symposium, and I gave away freebies at the last THATCamp Prime.

    But here’s my question for THATCampVA — which I’ve also posted to @DHanswers:

    Conceptually, I can’t get past toys and art pieces — like blinky, light-up merit badges, ambient orbs that respond to the state of my inbox, a tipsyflower brooch made of shape-memory wire & breathalyzer parts, jewelry that whines when you walk north…

    I’d like to design a project that I felt was meaningful in terms of digital humanities theory or research — something useful within, or reflective about, the field. And I’m just stuck. Any ideas?

    One thing I love about the LilyPad Arduino community is Leah Buechley’s emphasis on soft circuits as a path to teaching young girls to hack things and code. I guess what I’m looking for (and maybe will have to write) is a similar approach to wearable computing and embodied interaction for serious (eh, semi-serious) DH.

    I’ll bring my bag of silvery, conductive thread and blinky self-meriting merit badges (a fun first project) to THATCampVA for anybody who’s interested — but what I’m really bringing is this question:

    Can we collectively imagine and engineer a meaningful set of projects, or an R&D agenda, for embodied interaction in the digital humanities?

  • 500-word THATCamp session posts


    Welcome, everybody! Coming very soon to the THATCampVA site are user accounts and a page of camper bios. (You people are amazing — we can’t wait to get you all in one room!)

    Your local organizing team have decided to set a good example for session-proposal posts by writing a few to get started. The main thing we’re doing differently from other THATCamps in this regard is encouraging you to limit your posts to approximately 500 words. We’ve noticed, at other camps, that the preparatory reading and writing is getting overwhelming — and we firmly believe that an exciting and thoughtful proposal can be made with great economy. (Besides, observe how Bethany is about to cheat by linking to things she’s written elsewhere, for people interested in more detail.)


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