I’m still relishing the conversations I took part in at THATCamp Texas in Houston last month. Some of my initial thoughts on the perks of this interdisciplinary meet-up can be found in Natalie Houston’s ProfHacker column (bit.ly/gf2yRx). She included several of the participants’ feedback, thus crowd sourcing coverage of the events in a manner quite fitting to the THATCamp spirit. In the current posting, I relate some additional aspects of THATCamp Texas that stood out for me.
The first of the two days consisted of Bootcamp sessions. I attended five in the “Creating and Managing Digital Projects Track.” Here’s a brief overview of each:
1) Building Digital Collections with Omeka
This session, run by Amanda Focke, gave an overview of how to gather, tag, and present images of documents and artifacts with the web exhibition software Omeka. Participants had hands-on practice inputting items, seeing how the Dublin Core tagging system worked, and learning about various plug-ins. We were able to check each other’s preliminary entries as well as examining the finished collections that Rice University’s library currently uses Omeka to curate.
2) Building a Web Presence with WordPress
Even if you have experience with blogging, there is a lot to be found in WordPress that might be surprising. This session, run by Chris Pound, covered how to set up and register a unique domain name, discussed differences between blogging and other more stable webpage hierarchies, showed how WordPress varied between the open source version that you host on your own and the version hosted through the WordPress servers, and ran through many of the user-controlled settings.
3) Introduction to Producing Electronic Texts Using the Text Encoding Initiative
Though I’d done a workshop involving TEI tags a couple years ago, this one was an improvement in several ways. Crucially, this session, run by Lisa Spiro, provided not just training in software, but also offered a useful overview of the history and rational for TEI, focusing in the second half on Oxygen as one way to encode this information. Furthermore, Oxygen itself had changed since I’d looked at it before (there are many improvements from version 9.2 to 12.1). Also, as I found throughout the conference, the use of Twitter was a real perk, as comments from other participants during the session and later on provided leads to other text editors that are available and let us compare our experiences validating sections of code.
4) Managing Scholarly Digital Projects from Start to Finish
This title sounds like a lot to cover in an hour, but it was a very practical session. Andrew Torget talked about the value of finding individual grants to cover sub-parts of your project rather than expecting one grant to pay for everything; planning in a stage where you refine your prototype; the long-term advantages of using open source software; and working to get the word out on a project as early and often as possible. He illustrated these themes with details from many completed digital projects that he’s been a part of.
5) Using regular expressions to match and manipulate text strings
This was the most technical of the sessions I attended, but it was clear and accessible and has proven to be very helpful. I’ve read about and even taught preliminary lessons on regular expressions before, but this session gave a super useful framework for the range of places where regex use shows up and how they could be advantageous in many projects. We tried out several exercises to capture text patterns through different regex combinations, and were left with a number of good links to online resources.
The second day was the actual “unconference” sessions of THATCamp. I attended three sessions as well as the energetic joint scheduling discussion and the dorkshorts presentations. The main sessions that I took part in were on Productivity, Crowd Sourcing, and Text Mining. And I truly wished to have a time-turner like Hermione Granger’s so that I could have attended several other interesting-looking sessions that were occurring at the same time. I addressed the crowd sourcing and text mining sessions in the Profhacker post. Both of those also resulted in group-edited Googledocs write-ups as well. (See bit.ly/hi2sUY and bit.ly/lRuJlVrespectively). So I’ll mention here just the productivity session, facilitated by Natalie Houston. This discussion offered a good chance for participants to compare the difficulties they found in juggling scholarly projects, other academic obligations, and personal life. The conversation produced both high-tech and no-tech suggestions for ways we might clear the deck in order to focus on our chosen tasks more productively. And it realistically showed how no single solution should be expected to fit every scenario.
How will I apply the things I’ve learned? At the moment, I’m working on a long-term corpus project where Andrew’s reminders of how to manage the workflow and think about funding stages of the project is proving to be immediately useful. The TEI workshop and regex session have inspired me to standardize and update the format of some other data that I’m working that has an upcoming publication deadline. And frankly, following a dozen new people on Twitter whose work is interesting and inspiring is helping me daily to connect to a larger network of digital humanities scholars. In the long term, I have hopes to attend several future THATCamps. And as a bonus experience, I’ve been in contact with other Texas campers from three local universities. We are starting talks about coordinating another THATCamp ourselves up in our end of Texas in the near future.