DH Commons

I’ve been working with a group of digital humanists from a variety of institutional types who are seeking to break down silos between large and small institutions in the world of digital humanities.  We are especially interested in how we can can help the isolated digital humanist connect with the rest of the community.

DHCommons seeks to ameliorate the isolation of digital humanists at colleges and universities without the institutional infrastructure to support digital scholarship. At a number of research institutions, digital humanities centers reduce isolation by providing technology, expertise, and mentoring to scholars. Such resources, however, are not available to many scholars, especially at smaller institutions. Lone digital humanists must independently (and repeatedly) argue for the value of their work. Their disconnection prevents them from learning about standards, resources, and ongoing projects, so that their work may not inter-operate with other projects or may reduplicate efforts. To address these challenges, DHCommons will build an inter-institutional infrastructure for digital humanities collaboration through several related innovations:
  • A new hub at dhcommons.org will help digital humanists discover and contact potential collaborators: to find and join projects.
  • Microgrants to encourage scholars to develop curriculum in conjunction with existing projects, travel to partner digital humanities centers for training or project mentoring, etc.
  • Expertise sharing among schools without digital humanities infrastructure
Groups like CenterNet are helping by connecting centers, and THATCamps certainly help isolated digital humanists build regional ties.  DHCommons hopes to complement these efforts.  We envision a dual audience, both identified and potential digital humanists.
As we develop this idea, we are seeking the following input:
  • How does the technology and human infrastructure relate to one another?
  • Do you know of failed experiments with similar projects? (or successful ones?)
  • How do you compel and encourage participation?
  • How do we launch such a thing?
  • What would be most useful for you?
  • One idea we had was using microgrants to encourage development of curricular modules, e.g., student reviews of Tools in the DiRT wiki (which I proposed as another session)
  • What elements would the technology tool need, e.g., profile lists the tools they use, projects looking for collaboraters,etc.?
  • With what resources or hubs should this integrate, e.g., DHAnswers, etc.?
  • What kind of help would you want from such an effort?
  • What questions are we not asking?

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Student-Generated DH Tool Reviews

Last month at the TILTS symposium at the University of Texas, the twitter stream generated some discussion around the need for tool reviews, e.g., in the Digital Research Tools (DiRT) wiki.  One suggestion was to incorporate developing reviews into coursework.  I’d be interested in organizing a session that figured out how to do that.  Questions to consider include:

  • What level of student? Graduate? Undergraduate?
  • Are there criteria or templates for a good review?  For example, what projects use this tool? Can we cross-reference it with other resources, e.g., DHAnswers.
  • What methods or process could we establish to help reviewers?
  • How could we turn a review into an individual or group assignment? How do we scaffold this task?
  • Can we prioritize tools to cover?

This idea is connected with another project in which I’ve been involved, DHCommons which seeks to help isolated digital humanists.  It also may connects with some other sessions that I’ve seen proposed, e.g.,


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THATCamp Texas Final Details

We’re looking forward to THATCamp Texas, which is now just a few days away. Before everyone arrives, we wanted to give you some information about logistics. Please forgive the length, but we’ve got a lot to cover!

1) Where to Go, When to Get There

BootCamp sessions will run on Friday from 9 until 4:30, with breaks for sustenance and socializing. If you’ve registered for the first BootCamp session, please arrive at the Digital Media Center, Herring 129 (home base for Friday), by 8:45 a.m. Except for the sessions on Simple Augmented Reality, Regular Expressions, and Arduino Micro-Controllers, all BootCamp sessions are full—in fact, they will probably be a little crowded, but we wanted to accommodate as many people as we could. On Friday, we probably won’t be providing food until lunchtime. (Unless you’ve made other arrangements, we’ll be having banh mi sandwiches on Friday. Yum!). We plan to end around 4:30.

THATCamp Texas will kick off at 9 a.m. on Saturday with breakfast. We’ll congregate in the Kyle Morrow Room in Fondren Library, which is on the third floor of the building. Anyone who does not have a Rice ID will need to enter on the east (Central Quad/ Willy’s Statue) side of the building.

Not sure where Fondren Library and Herring Hall are? Check out the THATCamp Texas map, available as a PDF or Google Map.

2) Where to Park

You have several options for parking, including:

  • the Central Garage, the most expensive option ($1 for every 15 minutes, with a maximum of $11/day), but closest to THATCamp events
  • the West Lot ($1 for every 30 minutes, with a maximum of $11/day), about a five minute walk from THATCamp events
  • the Greenbriar Lot, which costs $1/day and is about 15 minutes away from THATCamp events

3) What to Do Before THATCamp Texas

To get the most out of THATCamp Texas, we strongly encourage you to:

a) post a brief session proposal to the THATCamp Texas blog, texas2011.thatcamp.org/ (you should have already been sent login info, but let us know if you have any trouble)

b) read and comment on session proposals contributed by your fellow THATCampers. Some exciting ideas are being shared on the THATCamp Texas blog, so we encourage you to dive in (if you haven’t already.)

c) follow thatcamptexas on Twitter. We hope that THATCampers trade ideas and build community via Twitter, and we encourage everyone to use #thatcampTX for THATCamp-related exchanges. If you’re new to Twitter, see chronicle.com/blogPost/blogPost-content/26065/ for a useful introduction.

4) What to Bring

a. A laptop, particularly if you plan to participate in a BootCamp session. (We will have a few laptops available for the BootCamp sessions.) If you’re not from Rice, you should be able to connect to the wireless network as a visitor; see docs.rice.edu/confluence/display/ITTUT/Connect+on-campus

Remember, if you have signed up for the TEI workshop, you should download and install the trial version of Oxygen from www.oxygenxml.com/download_oxygenxml_editor.html

Likewise, if you will be participating in the ggplot2 workshop, please install Rstudio (www.rstudio.org/), and then inside Rstudio run the following R code: install.packages(“ggplot2″).

b. A powerstrip/ extension cord if you’ll need to recharge your laptop battery

c. Business cards to pass out to your new friends

d. Brochures and other hand-outs related to your project(s)

e. Questions, ideas and energy

f. $20 or so, if you are able to chip in to help cover the costs of THATCamp Texas.  (And thanks again to our sponsor, Fondren Library’s Center for Digital Scholarship.)

5) What Will Happen During THATCamp Texas

What distinguishes THATCamp is that its participants set the agenda. During our first session on Saturday at 9:30 a.m., we will collectively determine the schedule based on the session proposals that people have contributed to the blog, as well as new ideas that come up during the discussion. For more on how this will work, see thatcamp.org/plan/during/scheduling/ We hope that people who have proposed sessions will agree to serve as facilitators for them, which means that they will be responsible for initiating the conversation, moderating the discussion, and keeping time.

THATCamp is meant to be collaborative, informal, productive, non-hierarchical, inter-professional, transdisciplinary, small, open, cheap and, most of all, fun (see thatcamp.org/about/ for a more complete explanation.) There won’t be any formal presentations; instead, we will engage in open conversation and hands-on play.

During lunch on Saturday, we’ll hold “DorkShorts,” where you will have the opportunity to give a two or three minute “elevator speech” about a project.

6) What Will Happen After the BootCamp and THATCamp Texas

After spending an intense day at the BootCamp and at THATCamp Texas, unwind with fellow THATCampers. On Friday, April 15, we plan to assemble outside of Valhalla, Rice’s graduate student bar around 4:30 (weather permitting). If you prefer coffee or soda to cheap (and I mean cheap) beer, grab a beverage at the Pavilion and join us. Look for me.

After we wrap up THATCamp Texas on Saturday around 6:15, we’ll head over to the Rice Village, which is about a 15-20 minute walk away (or you can park in the Village or in the Greenbriar lot). We haven’t made reservations anywhere, since we don’t know how many people to expect. However, we’ll probably end up at the Ginger Man, a local favorite. For those seeking food, check out:

· Pasha or Istanbul Grill: Turkish

· Patu’s: Thai

· D’Amico’s: Italian

· Yum Yum Cha: dim sum

· Shiva: Indian

· Ruggles: sandwiches, salads, soups, pastries

· the Chocolate Bar: ice cream, pastries and more

· Salento: coffee

A little pricier:

· Café Rabelais: French

· Benjy’s: New American

· Prego: Italian

See also Yelp and the Rice student restaurant guide.

7) Who to Contact

If you need to get in touch, feel free to contact:

· Digital Media Center (Friday): 713-348-3635

Also, keep your eyes on the THATCamp Texas web site.

Please let us know if you have any questions, comments or concerns. We look forward to seeing you in a few days!

E-Books in the Humanities

As a collection development/management librarian, I’m very interested in how faculty and students think about library resources, and these days I spend a lot of time wondering and worrying about e-books.  In particular, I’m curious to talk to other THAT-campers about attitudes toward e-books (specifically scholarly monographs) within various humanities disciplines.  A few questions we might consider:

  • How could the e-book format change scholarship in the humanities (both in terms of the kind of work you produce and the way you use the work of others)?
  • Are there significant differences in attitudes toward e-books between humanities professors and humanities students?
  • What features or options would make e-books more appealing to humanities scholars and students?
  • Is the stereotype of humanities faculty as e-book-averse true?  If so, what are the reasons behind the aversion?
  • Do existing e-book business models have the potential to support humanities research and education?  What other models might work better?
  • How can librarians and faculty have a productive conversation about e- books in the humanities?

I’ve enjoyed reading the creative and thoughtful proposals that have been put forth so far and look forward to meeting everyone on Saturday!

Libraries, Archives, Museums, and Digital Humanities

I’d be interested in chatting about how librarians and archivists and museum professionals can work with digital humanities efforts. Could we provide an embedded librarian for your course project? Help coordinate digitization and metadata creation? Provide guidance regarding copyright? Assist with long-term digital preservation/curation?

What are we (libs/archs/museums) doing well? How could we be doing better? How can we be better partners in research? Do scholars want a partnership with libs/archs/museums or some other relationship?

DH Pedagogy

I’d be interested in talking about DH and Pedagogy – the “training up” of the next generation of DH scholars.  At UT Dallas, we have a project in the works in which we will develop tools for sharing, rating, collecting, and evaluating readings and assignments for use in DH and New Media classrooms.  The goal of the project is 1) to serve as a resource for people who teach DH–users will be able to search the DB and receive suggestions about materials on the “you may also like” model, 2) to create a persistent archive of essential DH texts and tools, and 3) attempt to bring some of the focus of DH, which has largely emphasized research, to pedagogy (see Kathy Harris’ Blog)
So, some of the things I’d like to talk about:

  • What tools do people use in the classroom?
  • What “texts” are essential to understanding the history and future of DH?
  • What are the essential skills we should be teaching people interested in digital humanities?
  • What are the resources people use for teaching, for choosing readings, for designing projects?

Ethical Research Practices and Emerging Pedagogy

I have a couple of interests that I would like to see discussed during THATCamp Texas.  I’m interested in looking at ethical research practices in digital humanities scholarship.  What does it mean that current practices are influenced by “mapping” and “data mining” practices that, while beneficial to the current modes of research practices, are instituting the same colonial structures of knowledge production that come with western modes of literary studies?  How do we negotiate the necessity of our research without creating disciplinary divides?  How can we challenge the current modes of thought that position digitisation as a process of manifest destiny (the we need to do it first, frontier rhetoric)?  Though these questions seem a bit “out there” I believe these will be conversations that will need to take place as we start to think about the culture of digital humanities research, something Alan Liu has discussed recently at the TILTS 2011 symposium.


I’m also interested in thinking about bringing digital humanities research, ethically of course, into the composition classroom.  How can we get students to work and understand texts in the same ways that we do?  What are the benefits, the downsides, and how do we do it ethically without making them laborers?  What are some of the tools that can help them develop the necessary literacies that are required of these composition classrooms?

Increasing Proprietary Database Literacy

Looking forward to meeting you all! The posts so far have been really exciting.

One of my ideas for a session is similar to Matt King’s post about procedural literacy and Jessica Murphy’s post about theorizing digital archives for graduate students. As I’ve just explained in a longer post on my own blog, many historians in my own field–the history of the early republic–have begun to use proprietary databases like those published by ProQuest and Readex as crucial parts of their research process. The evidence of this is beginning to trickle down into the scholarship published in leading journals in our field; my longer post gives a few examples.

While I am personally interested in how methods like text mining and keyword searching might be deployed in my own research, I also think the increasing use of such methods will require all historians (and I would extend this to humanists generally) to keep up to speed with differences between major proprietary databases. To evaluate, and also to write, the kinds of articles that are appearing now, I think we need an easier way to see, at a glance, what the default search conventions are in different databases (e.g., whether the text layers in these databases are created with OCR or other means, how often databases are changed, how big the databases are, and so on). What I’m imagining is something like a SHERPA/Romeo site that serves as an accessible and human-readable repository of information about proprietary databases used in humanities research.

The questions I have related to this idea are: Do similar sites already exist? Would such a site be useful? What sort of information should it include to be useful? What features (search, sorting) would make the site most useful? What costs and problems would be involved in building such a site? Would it be best housed in existing professional organizations, or cross-disciplinary? Should it be wiki-like, or maintained by a few authors? What funding would be required, and where might it be found? Could scripts or RSS feeds be used to keep the information up to date? What legal issues would be involved? Are there other, better means of helping humanities scholars (even those, like myself, who are on the margins of or new to “digital humanities” proper) abreast of relevant information about proprietary databases?

Alternatively, could many of the same needs be met by developing a “manual of style” for humanists who wish to cite the results of keyword searches in proprietary databases? How rich should the information included in such citations be and how should it be formatted? Could we collectively draw up such a “style manual” for keyword searching at THATCamp?

My other idea for a session deals more with my teaching interests. I’m currently working with undergraduate students in my Civil War history class to build an Omeka site and would be interested in learning from others about their experiences with digital project management in a classroom setting.

What helps you be productive?

I’d be interested in facilitating a discussion on personal productivity for those working on DH projects. We could talk about challenges and share tips and solutions. For instance, possible topics might include:

  • how do you manage your time between DH projects and other professional responsibilities?
  • what tools or methods have been helpful to you in organizing your personal workflow?
  • what jumpstarts your creativity?
  • what tasks do you procrastinate on?
  • if you don’t have a large team (or any team at all), how do you get everything done?
  • what do you know now that you wish you had known earlier?


Procedural Rhetorics, Procedural Literacy

Procedural literacy typically involves a critical attention to the computational processes at work in digital artifacts. Our understanding of a web page shifts if we consider it not only as a multimedia and hyperlinked text but also as a rendering of code that normally remains hidden from us. Ian Bogost argues that procedural literacy need not be limited to computational processes, that this mode of literacy encourages a more general capacity for mapping and reconfiguring systems of processes, logics, and rules. This expansive sense of procedural literacy resonates with James Paul Gee’s investment in “active learning,” an approach to education that emphasizes social practices rather than content as a static entity. Both procedural literacy and active learning highlight the importance of engaging texts (broadly defined) as embodiments of dynamic processes and configurations. Procedural rhetoric more specifically refers to the way that a text can be expressive and persuasive with reference to the procedures it embodies (Bogost privileges video games as examples of procedural rhetorics).

I would be interested in a session that considers the possibilities for teaching procedural literacy and procedural rhetorics as well as incorporating them into scholarly work. Areas of inquiry like critical code studies and video game studies would be one possible focus, but I imagine that the session could be more inclusive and expansive. For example, “digging into data” projects seem to require procedural literacy to establish algorithms through which to read texts. An algorithm functions as a sort of procedural argument: “this is a valid and helpful way to reconfigure these texts.” A recent article argued for reading David Simon’s The Wire as a sort of video game, a show deeply invested in attending to the logics and processes defining Baltimore’s drug trade and various institutional responses to it. In this sense, procedurality might be a useful concept for areas of inquiry that take us outside of the digital humanities proper.

My own interests have led me to focus on the intersection of rhetoric and video games (see the Digital Writing and Research Lab’s Rhetorical Peaks project), but I would be very interested to hear how others incorporate notions of procedurality, procedural literacy, and procedural rhetoric into their research and pedagogy.

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