Small-Scale Digital Archiving Sans Institutional Support (relatedly, Kickstarter)

If you have a discrete set of sources that you think could make an interesting digital archive, but you’re not going to be executing the project with the financial support and institutional imprimatur of a library, archive, or university, how do you get started? How do you get copyright? How do you fund your labor (or maybe just some of it)? How do you find collaborators, and maybe fund their labor as well? How do you choose the kind of CMS that’s right for the project? How do you help your project gain visibility after it goes live? How do you plan for long-term sustainability moving forward?

As a soon-to-be-finished PhD in a humanities field, with several ideas for small-scale archiving projects but no sure source of continuing institutional support, I’m wondering if there are enough people with the same needs to constitute a session.

The session could be of interest to people who find themselves in the same position as myself, people who’ve independently created specialized archives of this kind, people who’ve worked with Kickstarter (successfully or un-!), or people who just know a lot about digital archiving, copyright, or grant-writing.

Issues of copyright are, of course, crucial here (for example, I’d love to do a full-text, searchable archive of Sassy magazine—but without the prestige & cash of an institution backing me up, I’m not sure I could secure that copyright), but I’m also interested in questions of labor and compensation. Is there any way to work on this kind of a project while, if not getting paid a ton, at least receiving some compensation for the time spent scanning and formatting?

I’m very interested in talking about using Kickstarter as a source of funding for this kind of a project. Trevor Owens wrote a blog post last year pointing out that many DH projects have found funding this way, and linking to some examples. What kinds of projects end up getting funded? How have they framed their projects to appeal to the public? What kinds of outcomes do they promise? What do their budgets include? What swag do they offer their funders?

If people know about ways of getting small-scale non-Kickstarter grant funding for this kind of a project, that’d also be great to add to the discussion.

As a product of this session, I suggest we could produce a GoogleDoc outlining best practices for getting small digital humanities projects funded on Kickstarter.

Comic Books + Playing with Scholarship

A few weeks ago, I finished rereading Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot’s graphic novel Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes. The work combines memoir with a serious examination of not only James Joyce’s daughter Lucia but also of the very act of literary biographical scholarship itself. I grew up on lessons learned in comic books, from Larry Gonick’s epic Cartoon History of the Universe (among other indispensable guides and histories) to Scott McCloud’s metaworks.

Taking the graphic novel as a scholarly text and transforming it into digital can make things even more interesting. The digital editions of graphic novels, including the CD version (with animations, billed as “interactive literature”) of Cartoon History of the Universe and the many layers of Art Spiegelman’s Meta Maus, add another dimension to the form. Comic books evolving online are already texts of study for the digitally-minded humanities, but can they also offer inspiration for rethinking our own forms of communication?

Often, the comic form is still associated with simplicity or beginners. Series of graphic scholarship spawn titles like McLuhan for Beginners that suggest comics are only a tool for transitioning to the “real” monographs. But of course, McLuhan himself used experimental forms in his scholarship–The Medium is the Massage has more more in common with graphic novels than it does with his text-heavier volumes.

These forms offer a starting point for experimenting with public, accessible scholarship that launches away from the confines of the traditional monograph. I propose a session for THATCamp brainstorming ideas for future forms of scholarship inspired by these types of experiments and comic books.

DH and Libraries

This session is becoming a THATCamp tradition so, while I’ll propose it, I am doing so merely as the representative of a movement.

University libraries have always been a hub of activity for scholars working on projects. Increasingly those projects are digital and libraries are looking for ways to support that work. Whether you are a librarian or a scholar, this session is a good way to share problems, solutions and dreams.

This conversation can take several paths; what tools are needed in libraries? what skills do librarians need? what kinds of opportunities exist for graduate students in terms of both training and career options?

I’m keeping this short on purpose so others can expand it in the comments section.

General Discussion: Public Scholars Unite!

I’m working on a project to bring more scholars on Asia into social media and public discourse with the Association of Asian Studies. I’d like to start a discussion about what it takes for historians, anthropologists, political scientists — all kinds of scholars, really — to begin writing and communicating for mass consumption. I’m looking for ideas, good examples of what works and what doesn’t, and a deeper discussion about the role of scholars’ work in how the broader public thinks about the world.

A bit about me — I’m a journalist who keeps one foot in academia and one in mass media. I’ve co-edited a book about everyday lives in China with stories by journalists and scholars, and edited an online magazine published at UCLA that also helped get scholars writing for broader audiences. This is my first time at THATCamp and I’m really looking forward to the weekend.

(You can read more about the project, called Asia Beat, in a short proposal we wrote for the Knight News Challenge and more about me on my website.)

Digitization and its discontents

Now that digitization is part of almost every cultural heritage institution’s workflow, how are we doing?  I’m still seeing real tensions and unresolved arguments over metadata (how minimal can we get without making our work undiscoverable?), process, staffing, interfaces, preservation and discovery. (This can also be an opportunity to talk about the problems with Google Books’ digitization model and its omissions.)  And funding, of course:  plain vanilla digitization projects are less fundable than they used to be.  And when is 3D scanning going to be cheap enough for mass digitization of museum objects?  Let’s discuss where we are and where we’re going in terms of digitization and providing digital access to collections of all sorts.

Idea: The Submit Bit

One thing I’ve noticed in all the many THATCamps I’ve been to over the past three years (I should really count sometime, but at least a dozen) is that there’s less “less yack, more hack” than there used to be. The default session at a THATCamp, in fact, is a discussion. As I often say, though, I’m a humanist, so for me, a good discussion *is* a good, productive outcome. And the “yack” you get at traditional non-un-conferences is so often bad yack, the “sage on the stage” kind of yack, whereas at THATCamp we actually get to talk to one another, which frankly I love. My other hoary THATCamp chestnut is “an unconference is to a conference what a seminar is to a lecture,” and if I didn’t love seminars I’d never have earned my PhD.

Nevertheless, I do sometimes wonder how we could bring back the emphasis on productivity, and I have an idea about that that we could try out here. I’ve scheduled in a half-hour demonstration (aka “demo”) session on Sunday for people to show off what they’ve built in the hackathon, but here’s the idea: we make that longer, say an hour at least, and open it up to anyone who’s produced something, anything, this weekend — including a blog post, a web site, a wiki, a bibliography, what have you. Could also be open to people who’ve expanded on existing resources (added a bunch of entries to the DiRT wiki or the Digital Humanities Glossary, for instance). I’m basically thinking of it as another round of Dork Shorts (2-minute lightning talks), but limited to things done this weekend at THATCamp. I came up with a cutesy name for it: “The Submit Bit.” As in, the bit where people submit what they did this week for public admiration. If it works, we could include it in the THATCamp documentation as a way to increase the emphasis on productivity.

I know not everyone’s staying through Sunday, but folks could send me a link to their thing (via email or a comment on this post) and I could show it for them. We could rejigger the Sunday schedule so that there’s one 90-minute slot for breakout sessions in the morning from 10-11:30 and then an hour for demos in front of all THATCamp from 11:30-12:30 before we wrap up. Or do a 10-11 breakout ssessions and then The Submit Bit from 11-12 and wrap up early around 12:15.

What do you think?

open peer review in practice

This is really a selfish proposal: I want to take advantage of Jack Doughtery being at THATCamp by having a conversation in which we rigorously analyze and critique the experience of conducting open peer reviews. Jack, with Kristen Nawrotzki, co-edited Writing History in the Digital Age, a volume of essays that was open peer-reviewed and that will be published by Univeristy of Michigan Press. I’ve guest-edited an issue of Shakespeare Quarterly on Shakespeare and Performance that went through an open peer review and, as an Associate Editor of SQ, have been involved with our earlier open peer review of an issue on Shakespeare and New Media and am currently involved with a soon-to-be-announced open-peer-reviewed issue. As far as I know, Jack and I are among the very very few people to have edited open peer review projects in the humanities (we are all, of course, indebted to Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolesence, and maybe if the session happens and we tweet loudly enough, she’ll be able to be part of the conversation too).

I’d like to take a hard look at the actual practice of open peer review. What worked well and what didn’t? What changes would we make to the model we used? Is it sustainable, or under what conditions might it be sustainable? I’ve written about my experience, but I would benefit from a conversations with others about the nitty-gritty details and the larger questions about the value and use of open peer review in the humanities.

For some analysis that’s already out there, I recommend Jack et al’s recent post “Conclusions: What We Learned from Writing History in the Digital Age.” There’s also a cluster of essays at the Postmedieval Forum on “The State(s) of peer review.”

Just Playing Around

One of the great things about an unconference is that we can make them what we want them to be. It’s true that the theme of a THATCamp is an emphasis on the combination of The Humanities And Technology, something that is conflated–too often, perhaps, and on occasion incorrectly–with the digital humanities.

Over the last several years, I’ve had the opportunity to hear a lot of origin stories from those working in DH. And one of the things I’ve learned from these tales is that people often get their start down this path through screwing around in their spare time. It’s what Steve Ramsay has called the screwmeneutical imperative. For myself, I more or less stumbled down the rabbit hole when I read Franco Moretti’s Graphs Maps Trees while finishing my dissertation and decided that I should start making maps. It’s not what my dissertation needed at that moment, but it was a doorway into thinking differently about everything I’d done prior to that point. Fast-forward five years, and I’m a full-fledged digital humanities tactician.

DH, as well as other combinatorial excursions into the humanities and technology, in other words, come from just playing around. For this reason, Ethan Watrall and I would like to propose a session dedicated to play. Specifically, we’re thinking games – non-digital games (card, board, miniature, etc). We’re each going to bring one or two with us, but we’d like to invite you to bring one along.

A few ground rules:

  • Given the length of sessions, the games you bring need to be able to be taught and played in less than 60 minutes. Less than 30 minutes is perhaps ideal. So, this means no crazy 8-hour sessions of Twilight Imperium, 3rd edition.
  • We’re primarily interested in designer (ish) games (some info on what a designer board game is). This means no Monopoly, Risk, Clue, etc. We wouldn’t have time anyway.
  • If you bring a game, you’ll need to be prepared to teach it.
  • Bragging rights must be CC-licensed.

What do you think? What will you bring to play? To start things off, here is what we will bring:

Brian: Incan Gold, Carcassonne, Small World Underground (for after parties, only)
Ethan: at least Munchkin (the original card game)

Designing the Ultimate Tool[Kit] for Studying Videogames

Pac-ManScholarly disciplines usually have a consensually recognizable array of tools they use to study the primary materials of that discipline. Most often in the humanities it’s simply books and other documents, along with something to write with, although of course the digital humanities are bringing exciting new computational tools to bear on more traditional material.

In this session I want to sketch out a package of existing tools—and better yet, come up with an original, ultimate tool—that videogame studies scholars can use as they research individual games, specific platforms, entire genres, and various playing contexts. The field of film studies provides an instructive example of the kind of tool(kit) I’m describing. There’s the Cinemetrics database, Stephen Mamber’s use of thumbnail databases and timelines, the Film Study app, and a host of other ways to analyze, study, and make sense of cinema using digital tools.

In a similar fashion, let’s think of tools for studying videogames that go beyond screenshots and video capture. Imagine we’ve been awarded a grant of $50,000. What would we build? What would the ultimate digital tool for studying videogames look like? What would it do? What new modes of knowing might it enable? What new modes of knowing do we want to enable?

UPDATE: The collaborative notes for this session are online.

Pac-Man photograph courtesy of Flickr user joyrex / Creative Commons Licensed

How the Sausage is Made: Transparency in Scholarly Research Online

Does the public care about how scholarship is produced in your discipline and should they? In my own field, for example, the public has a voracious appetite for history but very rarely does this public pick up a history journal or academic monograph rather than military history or a presidential biography. This session would cover the forms available for scholars to present their ongoing research online and the stakes in doing so. My own feeling is that the UP monograph will remain key to promotion in research institutions, so perhaps developing engaging and scholarly forms to present ‘how the sausage is made’ can present another route to better engage with the public or our students.

One obvious form is the scholarly blog. Dan Cohen has come up with The Blessay:  “a manifestation of the convergence of journalism and scholarship in mid-length forms online.” Tim Carmody has pointed to an audience: para-academic, post-collegiate white-collar workers and artists, with occasional breakthroughs either all the way to a ‘high academic’ or to a ‘mass culture’ audience.” I like best Chad Black’s post, “Eighty Square Blocks of Data”. I think this example blends scholarly musings and presentation of material in a way that could draw in a diverse audience.

Are there other forms? Are we limited to the text and uploaded media that we can put on a blog or are there ways of plugging in our audiences to databases or digital repositories such as or ? How does one cultivate an audience? How do we think strategically about putting our thoughts and materials out there in a way that won’t haunt us when we shop a manuscript and the publisher realizes much of the content is already online and freely available? How do we start to make the sausage publicly and in a way that engages new audiences? Should we be trying to get people to watch us make sausuage, or is the process inherently undesirable to be viewed? Finally, I think this session could build on last year’s “What can we learn from journalism” session where we discussed producing short-form arguments with new media.