Looking back on THATCamp Texas

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.

Please evaluate THATCamp Texas

Amanda French here, THATCamp Coordinator. It sounds like THATCamp Texas went very well indeed — many thanks to everyone who contributed their time and talent to organizing and teaching, especially Lisa Spiro, Andrew Torget, and Anita Riley.

If you could, please take just a moment to evaluate THATCamp Texas. Note that there are only *two required fields*: which THATCamp you went to (Texas!) and a rating of how useful it was for you on a scale of 1 to 5. Answer those two questions alone, and we’ll evaluate you as “hooray.” 🙂 Answering the other questions is optional, but I’ll read the responses with interest and with an eye to improving upcoming THATCamps.

You can write me at with any questions or comments. Cheers, and thanks.

Crowdsourcing Notes

We had a great discussion in the crowdsourcing session, with special thanks to Ben Brumfield for sharing his expertise and the Collaborative Manuscript Transcription Blog and to Elizabeth Hansen for sharing her practical experience with the Texas Archive of the Moving Image.  We took notes in a Google Doc, which you can see here: Crowdsourcing.

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Notes from Pedagogy Sessions

During the two THATcampTX sessions on pedagogy, we kept collaborative notes in a google doc. you can find that google doc here: Digital Humanities Pedagogy Assignments.  It contains practical suggestions for ways to integrate technology assignments into courses, as well as a theoretical discussion of what should go into a course on digital humanities.  If you have other suggestions please post them to the doc.  We touched on proposed sessions including:

Student-Generated DH Tool Reviews

DH Pedagogy



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THATCamp Texas emerged from two experiences.  In 2008, I was lucky enough to attend the very first THATCamp at George Mason University’s CHNM and became convinced that holding an unconference is one of the best ways to start conversations, exchange ideas, generate enthusiasm and energy, build community and launch collaborations.  Last year, Caleb McDaniel and I hosted Andrew Torget for a terrific lecture here at Rice.  During his visit, Andrew and I discussed our shared desire to build up the digital humanities community in the Texas region and agreed that holding a THATCamp would be a great way to advance that goal.  Hence THATCamp Texas.

THATCamps are fundamentally collaborative endeavors, so many people deserve thanks for their hard work in making THATCamp a success, including:


  • Andrew Torget of UNT is the ideal collaborator, enthusiastic, smart, and upbeat. Andrew was willing do whatever needed to be done, whether serving as emcee, leading a BootCamp session, or lugging a cooler.  THATCamp Texas wouldn’t have happened without him.
  • Anita Riley of UH likewise was crucial to the success of THATCamp; she offered helpful suggestions about logistics, made the name tags, put together a BootCamp session,  and pitched in to do whatever it took to keep THATCamp Texas running smoothly, such as keeping sessions on schedule and assisting with refreshments.

BootCamp Instructors

  • Amanda Focke of Rice taught a wonderful session on Omeka–and she even brought donuts!
  • Kim Ricker and Jean Niswonger of Rice led not one but two well-received sessions on GIS
  • Chris Pound of Rice offered a great workshop on WordPress
  • Hadley Wickham of Rice taught an excellent session on data visualization using the open source R package that he created, ggplot2
  • Ben Brumfield, developer of FromthePage, introduced a grateful group to the wonders of regular expressions (and, as a veteran THATCamp coordinator, provided great advice)
  • Lina Dib, artist and anthropology grad student at Rice, and Roland von Kurnatowski of TX-RX Labs brought THATCamp Texas to a perfect close with their fun and illuminating “Art, Hackers and Arduino Microcontrollers: Show ‘n Tell ‘n Play” session.


  • Geneva Henry of Fondren Library’s Center for Digital Scholarship provided funding to cover the (relatively modest) cost of the event.


  • Linda Spiro, Ginny Martin and Janice Lindquist pitched in with THATCamp (Ginny even came in early on a Saturday to unlock for us)
  • DMC staff, particularly Nadalia Liu and Scott Gunther, helped get everything ready for THATCamp

THATCamp, the Mothership

  • Amanda French, the head “counselor” for THATCamp, provided great advice  With all of the information and templates available on the THATCamp site, it’s relatively easy to put on a THATCamp (at least compared to your typical conference)


THATCamp would have been a big flop if participants didn’t contribute their energy and ideas.  Thanks to everyone who came to THATCamp Texas, particularly those who helped spread the word about the event, contributed session proposals, facilitated sessions, Tweeted sessions, and donated to help cover our catering costs.

Text Mining Session from #ThatCampTX

Dr. John Garrigus and I took both took notes on the Text Mining session, led by Andrew Torget and Caleb McDaniel during the final session timeslot at THATCamp Texas. Here is the link to the editable Google Doc that includes both mine and Dr. Garrigus’ notes. Feel free to add additional thoughts, hyperlinks to resources, etc.

Thanks again to Lisa, Andrew, and Anita for organizing an outstanding THATCamp!

want to share your experience?

As Lisa mentioned during the wrap-up session, Profhacker was dreamed up at ThatCamp 2009 at CHNM. ProfHacker publishes advice, reviews, tips, and commentary on technology, pedagogy, productivity, and other topics relevant to those who work in and around academic institutions. I’ve been a regular contributor for the site since August 2009.

I’ll be writing a post about my experience at ThatCampTX,  but since I could only attend one session at a time, I’d like to invite you to share yours as well for inclusion in my post.

If you’d like, write a brief answer to one or more of these questions and email it to me (nmhouston [at] gmail [dot] com) by noon Thursday, so I can add some other perspectives.

What did you expect, coming to ThatCampTX?

What was your ThatCampTX experience like?

What’s your biggest take-away from the weekend?


Let me know if you have any questions!

Dork Shorts Presenters

Check out who presented what projects as part of THATCamp Texas’ Dork Shorts session.


After THATCamp Texas wraps us, please help us know what went well and what could have gone better by filling out a brief evaluation form.  Thanks!

THATCamp Texas Schedule

Check out the THATCamp Texas schedule here.


THATCamp Texas on Twitter: #thatcamptx

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