• (hack)session proposal: data seeks skills


    I’m an old school archival historian flirting with the digital side like a drunk in a bar – ie. without any skill set to speak of. So here goes with my pick up line …

    I’m interested in academic networks in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As we know, academic careers are highly mobile, but traditional archives tend to lock such individuals in national frames of reference.

    I’ll bring with me a pretty messy set of excel files that detail the career trajectories of professors at the universities of Cape Town, Manchester, Sydney, and Toronto in the period 1850-1939.  They include information about the place of birth, study, and work of about 400 individuals. I had a pretty amateur stab at qualitative analysis here Pietsch – ‘Wandering Scholars’ JHG (2010)

    I’d like to learn more about ways that some of the data I’ve gathered could be visualised. It’s probably not detailed enough to do much with networks, but does tell us about movement between different institutions.

    It could all end badly, but whaddyasay?

  • Session Proposal: Programming in the Humanities


    Over the course of my training as a digital historian, I have had two opportunities where classroom instruction involved learning a programming language. The first was in Prof. Stephen Ramsay’s Electronic Text course during the fall of 2010 where I formally learned Ruby. The other was this past fall in a digital humanities seminar with Prof. William Thomas where I self-taught myself Objective-C in a month to build an iOS application.

    I am, most broadly, interested in this idea of programming in the humanities as separate from Software Studies (Lev Manovich et al.), Critical Code Studies (Mark Marino et al.), and Platform Studies (Ian Bogost et al.) (hat tip to Steve Ramsay for pointing out this distinction to me recently). The digital humanities perspective on code is different, and perhaps this is an area for discussion.

    I propose a general discussion about the nature and training of humanities programming:

    • How do we help prepare graduate students and faculty in the basics of programming?
    • Or, should they be concerned with programming at all (Steve says yes)? Is it just nice to have, or essential? Is programming best left to the professionals?
    • What are the benefits and pitfalls of taking the time to learn a programming language (or several)? How do you decide which language is best?
    • How might programming knowledge shape careers?
    • What mentoring services or formal instruction can be introduced to graduate training in humanities programming?
    • How does building shape the way we think, research, teach (see Kathi Berens, e.g.)?
    • How failure produces results.


  • Visualizing Networks


    “Communities and Networks” is the theme for this year’s AHA meeting, so let’s talk about them from a digital humanities historian’s perspective.

    In my own research I keep wishing there was a way that I could easily and dynamically visualize the various layers of relationship that exist within or across the groups of people I’m studying. Working on dissident Philadelphia Quakers during the American Revolution I’ve made some terrific discoveries by dipping into genealogical resources, for example: three of the dozen men involved in a Revolutionary-era business venture were closely related through marriage before any of it started because A had married the widowed mother of B while C had been married to B’s wife’s sister before she died quite young, perhaps in childbirth. And my interest in the business venture comes from noticing a correlation between individuals’ involvement in it (1775) and in a seemingly unrelated dispute on the religious front (1781). But that’s just one example within the community I’m studying, and the set of relationships quickly starts to get quite complicated. How do I see them all?

    I’ve looked at (and experimented with) some genealogical software and it’s got room for lots of details as annotations, but is mostly geared toward showing trees: all someone’s ancestors or all someone’s descendants–which for my purposes is limited and flat. What I want to see is more like a rhizome or a social molecule or a Facebook for historians with multiple facets, different types of relationships, metadata, footnotes and visualization tools (and sure, GIS) built in.  And it’s not just about family connections, but all manner of social and cultural connections between people that may or may not end up being significant—but how will I know until I can see them?

    Though the critical impulses may be similar, this poses a different methodological problem than working with specific texts via data mining or network analysis, because the bits of evidence that add up to layers of relationship are gathered from many different idiosyncratic and specific historical sources in a process that isn’t close to being mechanizable yet, if ever. (My research boundaries, in other words, are not delimited by a  set of texts or sources; given time and survival, everything that exists is fair game.)  And my interest at this point is less in displaying some final product on the open Web (though that’s surely a worthy goal as well) than in visualizing the networks so that I can make better sense of them, for the purposes of interpreting them to address historical-cultural questions.

    I have some examples of experimental diagrams I’d like to share with interested colleagues to see if they’re interpretable or useful. I’d also love for us to talk about what historians might need in the way of purpose-built network-visualization software—and what we need to learn (in terms of computing, information theory, etc.) to create that most effectively. Or… are there projects out there that already address these needs? Jean Bauer, who I’m hoping will join the session, is working on Project Quincy and DAVILA. Is there existing multi-use software–I’ve wondered about DEVONthink for example–that can somehow bend to these purposes?

    So, if any aspect of this ethnographically-inspired digital-historical prosopographical fantasy appeals to you–how to specify it, build it, use it, improve it–I’d love for us to chat.

    (An earlier version of this session took place at THATCamp Virginia in December 2010.)

  • Post-THATCamp Happy Hour


    I’ve reserved some post-THATCamp pre-prandial time and space at a nearby pub. They’ll be expecting a large group at D4 Irish Pub & Café at about 6:15pm — they’re saving a spot by the fireplace, even. The pub is located just a couple of blocks away at 345 Ohio St. — it’s on the map on the Travel page. All are welcome, even non-THATCampers.

  • Session Proposal: Best Practices and New Ideas for Open-Access Publications


    The academy needs open-access. As Bethany Nowviskie has pointed out in a memorable (and revolting) phrase, much of the intellectual product of the academy is “fight club soap.” We produce scholarly work at great cost to our institutions and the donors and governments that fund them, only to hand them over to for-profit publishers, who sell them back to our libraries at ruinous cost. This cost is exorbitant for the wealthiest universities and prohibitive for everyone else, exacerbating the divide between haves and have-nots, and locking our scholarly work behind paywalls where hardly anyone reads it.

    Thankfully, there is no reason why we need to continue in this way. The economics of publishing that favored the printed, bound, and distributed academic journal are now untenable, and instead we have the opportunity though the internet for open-access publications, that is, publications which are available online, for free, regardless of the user’s affiliation. Open-access scholarly publications are the academy’s chance to cash in on the idea that “information wants only to be free.” But like anything worth doing, creating open-acccess publications will take a lot of work.

    I’ve recently accepted the opportunity to be the web editor for the Journal of Southern Religion, an online journal that has been open-access since 1998. (It’s remarkable how prescient the editors of JSR were about the opportunities of open-access in its first issue.) I’ve been tasked with a redesign of the site, but also with thinking through what the journal should look like in the future.

    My session proposal, then, combines both the large question of open-access with the specific issues I’m going to face over the next year or so. I’d like to talk with scholars, librarians, technologists (anyone, actually) about the best practices and new ideas for open-access publications. For example, we might try answering these types of questions:

    • What new ways of publishing can an online, OA journal take advantage of?
    • What are the technical requirements of an OA journal?
    • What is the best use of web 2.0 technologies?
    • Is there a better way to handle citations than footnotes?
    • How can an OA journal keep its back catalog useable into the future?
    • What are the best software options for running an OA journal?

    It would be best if this session could produce a deliverable, probably in the form of a report or syllabus listing best practices, useful readings, and possible future directions for open-access journals. We could write this collaboratively during the time we have for the session.

    If you have any ideas, links to open-access publications that are doing good work, or readings that would helpful, please leave them in the comments below. Thanks!

    I’ve cross-proposed this session, which I originally proposed for THATCamp New England 2011 but which was sparsely attended.. A new group at THATCamp AHA might have different ideas and different experiences.

    Tags: , ,

  • Session proposal: No More Plan B?


    You may have seen “No More Plan B,” in which AHA president Anthony Grafton and executive director Jim Grossman argue that it’s time to devote serious attention to preparing history grad students for jobs outside the professoriate.

    You may also have seen the responses: one from grad student Dan Allosso, one from historian Rohan Maitzen, one from Tenured Radical, and a response-to-the-responses from Grafton and Grossman.

    THATCamp AHA seems like the perfect place to discuss our own responses to this line of thought. I’m particularly interested in:

    • what it means to prepare grad students for non-traditional careers. What has to change?
    • what these careers might be.
    • what the AHA’s role might be.
    • whether this direction marks an accommodation to academic casualization, as some have argued (for example, in the comments here).
    • how we might create mentoring and advocacy opportunities for history grad students who are dealing with this unsettling time for the profession.

  • Unsession Proposal: Epic brain dump!, or, THATCampception


    I got this idea talking to a guy about a New Year’s Eve party he was at with a martial arts club. They did a thing where everyone taught one quick lesson about something. Sounded very THATCampy to me, so I’d like to suggest giving it a whirl here.

    So, maybe one session where everyone there aims to teach, in five to ten minutes, something about DH, kinda like Dork Shorts, but less about projects and more about knowledge and skills-sharing (depending on how many people show up, might have to enforce a time limit!). So, you might teach the group about a particular tool you like (any Prof- or Grad Hackers here?), or about some general knowledge or technique you use — a habit for managing RSS or Twitter feeds. Or maybe a quick lesson about some detailed technology (what is Object Oriented programming? or what does a MySQL database look like and do, anyway?). I think it could be a fun way for people to share something that they’ve learned recently and present it to others — always a good way to reinforce newly acquired knowledge!

    We’d have to be versatile in the session depending on how many people (if any!) are interested, and we could riff along based on what people want to hear more about, depending on time. In that way, I guess it’d be a kind of THATCamp within a THATCamp. I imagine very short lessons that would span a lot of knowledge and interest–very quickly presented–that would be a nice brain-dump and exposure of who’s interested in what kinds of things, and who has skills that other people are looking to learn more about.

    Whaddya think?

  • Session Proposal: Electronic Publishing and the Practice of History


    We’d like to propose a general discussion session on the present and future of electronic publishing in the historical profession.

    We have all been involved in the creation of a new professional organization, the Society for U.S. Intellectual History, which came into being during the summer of 2011.  (We’re so new that we do not even have a website yet, though you can find out about us on the U.S. Intellectual History blog, which is affiliated with S-USIH.)  S-USIH’s two major, existing projects are our blog and our conference, both of which predate the existence of the Society. But one of the reasons that we wanted to form a society is that we are interesting in exploring the possibility of creating some sort of journal. I think we all feel that this will likely be an electronic journal. But this immediately raises a series of questions that we have only begun to explore.

    What forms might an e-journal take?  Does an e-journal differ simply in its method of distribution? Or does its electronic format potentially allow us to promote and distribute different forms of scholarship from those that might appear in a printed journal? How does an e-journal credential itself in our discipline?  How have other e-journals answered these questions?

    Or is the very idea of an e-journal—an electronic version of a form created in a print-bound world—a failure to explore the horizons of electronic publishing and digital scholarship?  Should the publication program of a new professional society in 2012 take an entirely different form?

    In this session, we’d hope to gather those interested in exploring these questions in a more general context.  Among the general questions we’re particularly interested in exploring: What are the new scholarly possibilities opened up by electronic publication?  What are the expenses—in hardware, software, bandwith, etc.—associated with a serious e-publication program? How can some vital technologies associated with traditional scholarly publication—e.g. peer review—be translated to an electronic age?

    Ben Alpers, ude.u1495973449o@sre1495973449plab1495973449
    Lauren Kientz Anderson, moc.l1495973449iamg@1495973449nosre1495973449dnazt1495973449neik.1495973449l1495973449
    Ray Haberski, ude.n1495973449airam1495973449@iksr1495973449ebah1495973449
    Andrew Hartman, ude.u1495973449tsli@1495973449amtra1495973449ha1495973449
    Tim Lacy, moc.l1495973449iamg@1495973449ycal.1495973449n.yht1495973449omit1495973449

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  • Session Proposal – Graduate Training in the Digital Humanities


    My department is in the process of developing a digital humanities certification program. I will be serving as the graduate liaison and would love to hear about others’ experiences in developing digital humanities courses and curricula for history graduate programs. This session could also serve as a workshop to generate a collection of resources and articles for introducing and training graduate students in the digital humanities. Some questions and topics for discussion:

    • What sorts of courses, skills, and readings should be included in a digital humanities program? What sorts of work-arounds are there for departments who want to offer these certifications but don’t have the necessary faculty or DH centers (combining courses and camps like THATCamp or DHSI, for example)?
    • How do graduate students incorporate digital humanities into their degrees for ‘credit’? Meaning, how do we place dh training alongside other C.V. builders (articles, reviews, conferences) in a competitive job market?
    • What sorts of parallels are there between graduate training in the digital humanities and the current tenure and promotion system for junior faculty? Can the issue of getting tenure credit for DH work be addressed alongside the development of new forms of training graduate students?

    Many graduate students are self-taught in the DH world, often times by learning from blogs, conferences, and mentorship outside their institutions. Perhaps there is a way to make this a more concerted and organized effort. At the very least, such a session would be useful in both assessing how different programs approach the issue and in creating a list of resources.

    Alex Galarza, ude.u1495973449sm@1a1495973449zrala1495973449g1495973449

  • Session Proposal: Going off the grid.


    I work at a university with slow servers, a bad e-mail client, an outdated version of a terrible LMS (which starts with “Black” and ends with “board”), frightfully old computers in the offices and the classrooms and not nearly enough tech support for any of these things.  What I’d like to see/hear/do at THATCampAHA is figure out how I can gather all the tech I need to do my job and keep these tools under my control rather than my employer’s.  I’m not just talking about teaching paperless, I’m talking about finding everything needed to become essentially a technological free agent, no longer dependent on edtech help that isn’t there.

    While I’m not sure if I have much to contribute to this session beyond the idea, I’ll certainly do everything I can to explain what I’m thinking once we all arrive in Chicago.

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