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

Twitter/Meta “Session” — THATCamp/DH Jargon

There’s been a lot of good, honest, appropriate posts about folks new to DH getting involved. Some responses have been focused on emphasizing the ‘friendliness’ of DH, but I have to say that to someone new to the area I don’t think that’s very convincing.

Latest example I know if is @madwomanlaugh‘s “A Glossary of Digital Humanities“.

So, I propose gathering people around a twitter hashtag two-fer: #thatcamp #jargon. Let’s get some folks who are willing to commit to following that pair of tags, and respond to questions directed at them asking questions.

A “hashtag” is something that happened in Twitter as a way to filter content. Similar to tags you are familiar with from Flickr or blogs, a hashtag is just a term preceded by a “#” hash or pound sign to signal that it is meant as one of those kinds of tags. It’s a way to include the same idea into the limited text of a Tweet. You just type along, and precede your tags with a #

So, who’s willing to join me in following the pair of hashtags, #thatcamp #jargon, and respond to questions about terms or ideas that seem confounding to people attenting THATCamp, and offer them various responses in an effort to give an introduction?

It runs the risk of too much information — if a lot of people respond to a tweeted question like

What is TEI? #thatcamp #jargon

The asker could be overwhelmed with responses. Hopefully, better that than exclusion based on knowledge not shared?

There will be gaps, and it’s an imperfect approach, but I think it might be helpful.

And yep! This is a twitter-centric approach to the issue. That’s because Twitter really is the most accessible broadcast mechanism we have, and clients offer the tools to help us focus on that pair of tags (e.g., a column in TweetDeck).

Any terms / ideas / technologies there unfamiliar? Please, join Twitter, and tweet a question about it including the hashtags #thatcamp #jargon !







WordPress at the University

For the past two years I’ve been managing WordPressMU on my campus for various purposes, including faculty portfolios and event-related blogs.  I’d like to chat with other technologist THATCampers who are using WordPress.org at their universities, with the aim of creating a list of recommended plug-ins and/or best practices for higher-ed (perhaps we could even create a wish-list of plugins that we’d like to see in development and pass that on to the THATCamp hackers).  I’m especially interested in discussing how universities are using WordPress for uses other than blogs (i.e. portfolios, event-planning, CMS, etc).

Suggestions for someone who feels a bit intimidated….

I am very excited about attending ThatCamp, but I must admit I am feeling waaaay out of my league. I know enough about computers to get through life, but aside from that I am lost. Any suggestions on how to approach this ThatCamp? After reading some of the participants bios I think that maybe I should just prepare myself to feel really, really overwhelmed. Oy. Should I be scared?? Should I bring my kazoo for acoustic night? Should I drink profusely? Any and all advice/sympathy is greatly appreciated.

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 slavebiographies.org or slavevoyages.org ? 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.

not quite a session proposal

Hello, fellow campers! I’m new to this game — this will be my first THATCamp — so I don’t think I want to propose a session. But I would like to ask for help. Consider this an informal request that can be addressed via comments here, in between-sessions conversations at the camp, or on Twitter.

Next spring I will be teaching a class called . . . well, I haven’t settled on a title yet, but for now let’s call it Digital Reading and Research. It will be an upper-divisional course, but also a kind of trial run for a general education course. (That is, if the course goes well my institution might consider creating a version of it for freshmen, possibly to be required of all freshmen.) The key purposes of the course will be:

  • to introduce students to the history of digital texts and digital humanities;
  • to situate these technologies within the larger history of humanistic scholarship;
  • to outline the controversies currently surrounding these developments, from techno-utopians (Kevin Kelly) to moderate skeptics (Nick Carr, Jaron Lanier);
  • to give students hands-on experience with some of the most useful tools available, from Google Scholar to Zotero to CommentPress to . . . whatever.

My current plan is for roughly half the course to cover the first three points and half to cover practice with the tools. So fellow campers, give me your best suggestions for how to organize this course, what texts to assign, what assignments to give — anything you got that might be helpful to someone teaching it for the first time. I would be much obliged to you!

A Better Blogging Assignment

phdstudent. Circle of Life. 2006. 11 Jun. 2012. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/phdstudent/141434759/>.I’ve got a pedagogical problem and I want you to help me.

I’m sick of student blogging.

This confession probably sounds strange coming from me, a vocal advocate for using blogs in the classroom, and for public writing more generally. But after two dozen blogs for two dozen classes, I’m looking for ways to reinvigorate my blogging assignments.

Some background: a key component of almost every one of my classes is the collaborative class blog. The pedagogical advantages of blogging are many: it’s a public space that requires students to consider questions of accountability and audience; students begin to see themselves as participating in an ongoing conversation about culture; and participation jump-starts class discussion so that I already have an idea of what’s on my students’ minds before I even enter the classroom.

My blogging guidelines typically look something like this:

Each student will contribute to the weekly class blog, posting an approximately 200-300 word response to the week’s readings. There are a number of ways to approach these open-ended posts: consider the reading in relation to its historical or theoretical context; write about an aspect of the day’s reading that you don’t understand, or something that jars you; formulate an insightful question or two about the reading and then attempt to answer your own questions; or respond to another student’s post, building upon it, disagreeing with it, or re-thinking it.

I’ve tweaked the blogging assignment over the years, in particular experimenting with the overall structure of the blog, the rhythm of postings, and my use of roles.

I’ve tried two overall structures:

  • A hub-and-spoke model, in which every student sets up his or her own blog, and I aggregate their postings on the main class blog.
  • A centralized class blog, in which all the students have accounts on the same blog, and their posts and comments all show up in the same place.

I’ve experimented with different rhythms:

  • The free-for-all model, in which students simply must post 10 (or some other number) of blog posts by the end of the semester.
  • The checkpoint model, in which students must post a specified number of posts by particular checkpoints spread throughout the semester.
  • The weekly model, in which all students (or, if using roles, a subset of students) must post every week.

Finally, I’ve increasingly relied on assigned roles, so that not every student is posting at the same time, and furthermore, so that each group of students has a specific task for that week. For example, most recently I divided a class of 25 students into four groups, rotating week-to-week from one role to the next:

  • First Readers: These students are responsible for posting initial questions and insights about the day’s material to the class blog the day before class meets.
  • Respondents: Students in this group build upon, disagree with, or clarify the first readers’ posts by the next class meeting.
  • Searchers: Students in this group find and share at least one relevant online resource. In addition to linking to the resource, the searchers provide a short evaluation of the resource, highlighting what makes it worthwhile, unusual, or, if appropriate, problematic.
  • The fourth group has the week off in terms of blogging.

I have thought a lot about student blogging. I’m fully committed to this form of student work.

And yet.

I’m tired of reading blog posts week after week, tired of evaluating blog posts week after week, tired of commenting on blog posts week after week. I don’t want off this merry-go-round, but I do want to reignite my sense of discovery and excitement about student blogging. And I want you to help me.

I propose a session in which we design a new model of student blogging—or at least, new to me. Maybe it incorporates elements of the structure, rhythm, and roles that I’ve used before, maybe it doesn’t. I’d like to learn from other teachers who’ve had success with student blogging, and from students too, about their experiences with blogging. My goal for this THATCamp session is that by the end we’d have a fully developed assignment, module, or course component, which any of us could plunk down into a syllabus and be ready to use when classes begin in the fall.

Let’s have students blog, and make it worth their while and ours too.

UPDATE: The collaborative notes for this session are online.

Circle of Life photograph courtesy of Flickr user phdstudent / Creative Commons Licensed

Staring at the Gaps: A Hazy Session

I have a big, squishy, ill-formed, hazy thought about a thing, so where better to start my first-ever session proposal for my first-ever THAT Camp?

For many of us working in early periods, the further back we go the more gaps there are in the record, be that literary, historical, cultural, scientific, or what-have-you. I’m fascinated by those gaps and what can be found by tracking them and their surroundings. I sat in recently on a presentation by some undergraduates who were trying to map the social networks around Inigo Jones and his Jacobean masques. One of their frustrations (amidst some great success) was that it was impossible to tell exactly the nature of some of the relationships they had found. To me, though, that gap in knowledge seems like an exciting point to start from as we are working out the shapes and uses of digital tools in representing knowledge.

We can hypothesize about the ur-Hamlet from references that surround it, though the text is lost. We strongly suspect there was a Love’s Labors Won because of cultural materials that gesture toward it. So what else is hiding in the gaps back there? And how can new methods of representing the relationships between texts (since I’m a text person), between events, between people expose both the gaps and the context that surrounds them?

I’m thinking about gaps most particularly in two mapping contexts:

  • First, figuring out how early modern dramatic texts relate to each other—there’s so much allusion and reference happening between 1585 and 1630 and I really want a better way to think about how the plays reach out to each other and what might come into focus (both presence and absence) if we could visualize those relationships.
  • Second, can we use the conventions of geo-spatial mapping to think about generic cataloging? My primary example is revenge tragedy, which seems especially self-aware of its tendencies toward specific features. How might we begin to map out what the genre looks like and what kinds of gaps might exist in that map? Could a more representational approach to genre help avoid the anachronism that often occludes an understanding of how the texts position themselves?

Mapping/Spatial tech idea session

Hello all,

First, let me just put it out there that this is my first THATCamp, first unconference, and first post to this blog.  I’m a PhD Candidate working on a diss that will hopefully have some awesome digital aspects.  I’m looking at Baltimore merchants from about 1790-1830 and I want to do several things with my data.  First, I’d like to map the relative locations of merchants in Baltimore (I have pretty specific info from city directories) over time.  Second, I’d like to map their Atlantic networks, which will connect to Europe, the Caribbean, and South America.  Third (and this one is only a small possibility) I’d like to map the flow of goods by volume, similar to these maps.  What I’d like to achieve in this session is a set of ideas about which applications or methods would be best suited for what I want to do, and, to see if it’s realistic for me to tackle this much digital work for what will be a mostly traditional dissertation committee.

Help a grad student out! (that should be a category)