Archive for March, 2011

BootCamp, Session Ideas, Hotels & Twitter

With THATCamp Texas just three weeks away, we wanted to give you some updated information and make a couple of requests.

1) BootCamp registration is now open! We’ve got some terrific workshops on topics such as data visualization, building digital collections, creating GIS maps, and even crafting your own simple electronics project. Unfortunately, we can only accommodate 10-15 people in each workshop due to space restrictions and our desire to make the sessions as interactive as possible. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis, so please register ASAP. You can access the registration form and read descriptions of the workshops at

2) The conversation has already begun on the THATCamp Texas blog at, as THATCampers have posted and commented on some outstanding session ideas. If you haven’t done so already, please create your profile (using the login that you were sent last week) and submit a brief session proposal. So that we can group all of the proposals together, use the category “Session Ideas.” We encourage you to comment on posts by other participants, particularly those related to your own interests. The conversations on the THATCamp blog lay the foundation for a successful unconference by fostering the exchange of ideas and the building of relationships, so please participate!

If you’re unfamiliar with WordPress, no sweat—see or get in touch with us with any questions. A quick overview: To post to the blog, login at You’ll reach a dashboard. Click ‘Add New Post’ to post your session idea. To change your THATCamp Texas profile, click ‘Edit my Profile’ under your user name on the upper left hand corner of the page.

3) Check out for information about hotel options close to Rice. Rates range from $79-$130 (hotels that are closer to Rice typically cost more.) You’ll likely be able to receive a discount if you ask for the “Rice rate.” Also, you’re welcome to post a roommate request to the THATCamp Texas blog; use the category “Roommates.”

4) Don’t forget to follow THATCamp Texas on Twitter at thatcamptexas. We’ll probably be releasing some information about THATCamp Texas on Twitter first.

Let us know if you have any questions. We look forward to seeing you in a few weeks!

Bringing DH to the LAM World

I would like to propose a session about how people are forging fruitful partnerships between DH (digital humanities) initiatives and the world of LAMs (libraries, archives, and museums).

In my own experiences in the LAM world, I have witnessed many opportunities for symbiotic partnerships between the two go unexplored.  At museums in particular, many important cultural heritage collections remain hidden, due to lack of technological infrastructure, as well as fears about treading into new policy territory, exhausting resources, transgressing museum traditions, or ceding control of collections by making information available online.

Many museum collections are cultural heritage treasure troves and could become incredibly powerful scholarly resources if combined with DH tools and strategies like linked data and information visualization.  Additionally, museum professionals have great expertise to offer in the way of understanding and serving users, as well as organizing and presenting visual information. There exists a growing contingent of technology-friendly professionals within the greater museum community, but many of them work for larger, more generously funded institutions like the Smithsonian, or they are working on finite, grant-funded projects. At museum conferences, too many of the conversations focus on “making the case” for broader technology implementation to policy-makers, as opposed to actually implementing powerful digital collections solutions.

If LAMs were more routinely and directly engaged with the DH community, and more dialogue focused on the goal of sharing resources and combining available and developing DH tools with long-standing LAM knowledge, expertise, and traditions, I sense that both communities of practice would be benefited.

I would love to hear about other people’s experiences working at the intersection of DH and LAM practices, and to gain new insights into how to bring the two closer together.

Looking forward to meeting you all!

Identifying and Motivating Citizen X-ists

I’ve got several session ideas rattling around my head.  I doubt I could talk about any of them for more than 20 minutes, but if one of them fits well with another THATCamper’s interests, perhaps we can put a session together.

The last year or so has seen a lot of buzz about Citizen Scientists, Citizen Archivists, and many yet-unlabeled communities of people who volunteer their Serious Leisure time collaborating with institutions and each other to produce and enhance scholarship.  Institutions are becoming interested in engaging that public via their own on-line presences and harnessing public enthusiasm to perform costly tasks, spread the word about the institution, and enhance their understanding of their own collections.  Less well understood is the difficulty of finding those passionate volunteers and the nuances of keeping volunteers motivated.

I’ve been blogging about crowd-sourcing within my own niche (manuscript transcription) for a few years, and one of the subjects I’ve tracked is the varying assumptions about volunteer motivation built into different tools. Some applications (Digitalkoot) rely entirely on game-like features as incentives, while others (uScript, VeleHanden) enforce a rigid accounting scheme.  There is a real trade-off between these extrinsic motivations and the intrinsic forces that keep volunteers participating in projects like Wikisource or Van Papier Naar Digitaal, and project managers run the risk of de-motivating their volunteers.  Very few projects (OldWeather and USGS’s Bird Phenology Program among them) have balanced these well, but those have seen amazing results.

As a software developer my focus has been on the features of a web application, but finding volunteer communities to use the applications is equally important.  I’ve got a few ideas about what makes a successful on-line volunteer project but I’d love to hear from people from different backgrounds who have more experience in both on-line and real-world outreach.

Engaging the public.

Recently I attended the OAH conference in Houston. One of the sessions, “Texas Textbook Controversy” (which I live-tweeted:!/search/txtxtbk) continually returned to the topic of engaging the public in what historians do.

For Example, here are three of the tweets I made that quoted @historianess:
.@historianess We need to engage the public in what we do, that the way we think about the past is constantly changing.#OAH2011 #TXTXTBK

.@historianess We don’t do a terribly good job of engaging the public. #OAH2011 #TXTXTBK

.@historianess We as a profession…need to be a lot more open about what we do. #OAH2011 #TXTXTBK

My idea for a session proposal would be to have an open dialogue about how we can use public-friendly digital technology – ie, twitter, tumblr, etc. to engage the public in what we do professionally. This could involve lots of different methods. Something that would coincide with the OAH session’s emphasis on interaction between higher education (historians specifically) and the elementary and secondary teachers might involve integrating lesson plans (and educational standards) into a department’s current research projects and vice versa. Several museums and websites do a great job of this by presenting information for teachers to use in creating lessons, however, there is very little interaction taking place – and therefore – very little exchange of ideas or engagement with the public.
I admit that I only have a few ideas about implementing this. And, even fewer specific goals that would be considered measurable objectives. However, I think this is a worthwhile discussion to have, and that I, and others, could learn from the exchange.
A final thought: considering the challenges facing many departments with funding, I think we miss a great opportunity to gain public support for our profession (including missing an opportunity to encourage future scholars into our fields) by failing to engage the public. Considering the ease of many sites online, and considering that many of these sites are free, it appears a real waste for departments (and professionals) to not take advantage of them. While this may seem obvious to those of us that applied to THAT Camp (we are likely to be biased towards using digital means already), perhaps we can gain further insight from one another about how to engage the public and which methods are most advantageous.

Combining Text-Mining and Visualization

I’d like to propose a session on getting the most out of text-mining historical documents through visualizations.  There has been a lot of attention recently lavished (rightfully, for the most part) on Google’s n-gram tool and the recent Science article.  And text-mining has been gaining a lot of attention from humanists, particularly as easily adopted new tools and programs become available.

I’m working on two big projects that try to extract meaningful patterns from large collections (newspapers in one, transcribed manuscripts in another) and then make sense of those patterns through visualizations.  Most of this happens in the form of mapping (geography and time being the two most common threads in these sources), but also in other forms of graphing and visualizations (word clouds, for instance).

A major challenge, it seems to me, is that there is not a widely understood common vocabulary for how to visualize large-scale language patterns.  How, for example, do you visualize the most commonly used words in a particular historical newspaper as they spread out across both time and space simultaneously?

We’ve been experimenting with that in our projects, but I’d like to hash this issue out with folks working on similar (or not so similar!) problems.

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