• Session Proposal: Crowdsourcing


    “How many digital humanists does it take to change a lightbulb?”
    “Yay, crowdsourcing!”
    Melissa Terras

    Crowdsourcing seems to be a favorite THATCamp session idea, appearing in at least half a dozen of the THATCamps held since 2008.  Sessions I’ve participated in have developed from the basic “what is crowdsourcing” in 2009 to the more practical “how do you find and motivate volunteers” in 2011.  At THATCamp AHA2012, however, we are fortunate to have campers who are experts at running crowdsourced projects, including Chris Lintott of GalaxyZoo, OldWeather and AncientLives and Jen Wolfe of  the University of Iowa Civil War Diaries and Letters transcription project.  Though both run popular projects, their implementation could not be more different: the Zooniverse team developed sophisticated crowdsourcing software themselves, while  UIowa decided on a low-tech, partly-manual process to minimize the IT load on their team.  I think that range of perspectives should lead to an interesting discussion, and hope that other campers who have experience with crowdsourcing or are just interested in the subject will join in.

    Here are some questions that have been on my mind which might serve as conversation starters:

    • Are some tasks inappropriate for volunteer crowdsourcing?  Although it seems like people are willing to volunteer their time on the most obscure of subjects–including bugs and leaves–it still may not pay to invite volunteers to do data-entry on your institution’s old account books.  Is it possible to predict in advance whether your material is suitable for the crowd?
    • If a project won’t attract volunteer effort, might it still be worthwhile to use crowdsource-for-pay systems like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or various freelancing sites?  If so, how do you ensure accuracy?  (One recent project introduced known bad data to transcripts before paying users to proofread and transcribed a 19th-century diary for thirty cents a page.)
    • Volunteers seem to participate according to a power-law distribution in which a few users contribute the majority of the effort. (See the Transcribe Bentham leaderboard or the North American Bird Phenology Program’s top fifty transcribers chart for examples.)
      • Is this something we should be concerned  about or a phenomenon we should embrace?
      • Do all projects demonstrate the same participation patterns?  (My own small efforts have shown small-scale projects to be even more lop-sided than the large ones.)
      • How do we find those few passionate volunteers?  Where does a small project find a target-rich environment for its outreach efforts?
    • Is it important to provide users with context?  Christine Madsen argues that libraries and archives should stop presenting entire manuscript pages to users, as this can make their tasks feel more like work.  On the other hand, Andie Thomer and Rob Guralnick believe that context is an important tool for motivating volunteers and enabling accuracy.

    I hope that my fellow campers will add their own questions to these in the comments to this post.

    Tags: ,

  • Session Proposal: Activating the Archive


    I would like to propose a session on the question of the digital archive.

    At a panel at HASTAC 2011 (see hastac2011.org/schedule/conference-program/ and scroll down to Sessions D3 (Lightning Talks) – Rackham West Conference Room), I was struck that all of our digital humanities/history projects were driven by questions of how to design, use, and produce new historical knowledge from digital repositories. Intersecting dilemmas, goals, concerns, and ideas kept arising among the presentations. These suggested to me that there is an important discussion to continue to have about how archives might be transformed for the better in the digital age. This discussion might include what past practices should be discarded, what we should (pardon the pun) preserve from analog archival traditions, and most of all how we might reimagine the archive in the digital medium.

    Here are a set of questions that might serve to shape such a session:

    • Does the digital create new possibilities for archival study? There are the obvious possibilities of wider, more democratic access to the archive. There is the opportunity for quantitatively studying “big data” of archival materials. But how else, as historians, might we reimagine the archive—and the power of the archive—for the digital age? What might the archive look like in the digital realm? What might it be able to do (or not do) as compared to the analog archive?
    • What new theoretical questions does the digital archive raise? Do we need to rethink the boundedness or porousness of the archive, the authority of it, the nature of archival materials in the virtual realm?
    • What are the new methodological issues that digital archives present? How might historians contribute to the design, interface, and tools used to arrange, access, and make use of digital repositories (a good recent book on this topic is a collaboration between an archivist and a historian, Francis X. Blouin Jr. and William G. Rosenberg’s Processing the Past: Contesting Authorities in History and the Archives)?
    • Might previously separate parts of the process of “making” history—the archive, the research workshop, the publication, and the scholarly conversation/debate that follows publication—intertwine and interact in new, productive ways?
    • Does the digital archive bring us back to core historical questions about connecting evidence to argument in compelling ways (that’s a leading question, I admit, since I think it does)?
    • In the digital medium, does the archive, typically the precinct of primary sources, provide a starting point, a launching pad, for new modes of historiography to emerge?

    Michael Kramer,

    Tags: , , , , , ,

  • THATCamp Check In; AHA Registration


    As Amanda notd, THATCamp AHA participants will check in outside Parlor C in the Sheraton.

    Those of you who are registered for the AHA meeting should note that AHA registration opens at noon on Thursday, so you won’t be able to pick up your AHA badge before attending THATCamp. Registration, located in the Sheraton’s River Exhibition Hall B, is open until 7 p.m. Thursday evening so you will be able to pick up your AHA badge immediately afterward.


    Debbie Doyle

    American Historical Association

  • Preparing for THATCamp AHA


    Hi all — Amanda French here, THATCamp Coordinator and co-organizer (which is rare) of THATCamp American Historical Association, even though I won’t be there. (I’ll be at the Modern Language Association meeting instead, since I’m a *literary* historian.) As we get closer to THATCamp AHA on Thursday, January 5th, I wanted to give you a few important logistical details, especially about proposing sessions.

    Proposing sessions

    Now is the time to start thinking about what you’d like to do or talk about at THATCamp AHA. If you’re not familiar with the unconference model, you might want to read our About page, but also and especially our page on Proposing a Session. If you’re stuck, you might think about it this way: describe whatever professional problem is currently bothering you most, and pose your session proposal in such a way that you’ll get help with that problem. You don’t *have* to propose a session, but since unconferences are participant-driven, if no one proposes anything, then there won’t be an unconference. (That never happens.)

    To propose a session, log in at aha2012.thatcamp.org/wp-login.php and write a blog post outlining your session idea. To write and publish your blog post, go to Posts –> Add New, write your post, and then click Publish. Your blog post will be published to the main page of the THATCamp AHA site, which will allow us all to read and comment on it. Do please plan to visit the THATCamp AHA site fairly often in the coming days to see what people are proposing and to comment on the proposals.

    In the first 90-minute session on Thursday at 12pm, everyone will discuss and vote on the session proposals in a process run by Dan Cohen, and you’ll have a chance then to propose last-minute session ideas or to ask for a particular time slot. Some sessions might not make it on to the schedule, and some might be combined with other sessions. If your session proposal makes it to the program, you will be expected to facilitate it, but very often that just consists of making the first and the last remarks. You can engage in more structured activities aimed at producing a document or other result if you like: it’s your session, so as long as it doesn’t consist of you giving a presentation, you can run it as you choose. The one exception to the “no presentations” rule is if you’d like to teach people a particular skill, and you can certainly offer to do that, though even then we encourage workshops to involve hands-on exercises.

    We have pre-scheduled several workshops, and you can see their times and rooms on the schedule. (Note that there’s been a room change: workshops that were in “Parlor B” are now one floor up in “Michigan B.”) By 1:30 on Thursday, the rest of the time slots on the schedule will be filled, and you’ll refer to that web page to see where to go.

    The most important thing to remember is that unconferences are casual, spontaneous, fun, collegial, open, non-hierarchical, inquiry-driven, and (ideally) productive. (Well, that’s several things.) Apart from that, there’s not much else to know. If you’re curious about other THATCamps, try doing a Twitter search on THATCamp, or check out some of the websites for one of the fifty-plus other THATCamps.


    On Thursday, 1/5, we’ll be checking in THATCamp AHA participants at a table outside Parlor C in the Sheraton. See our Travel page for a map to the hotel. You can pick up your THATCamp AHA badge starting at about 11:15am, and we’ll begin the crucial first all-hands scheduling session promptly at noon. You’re welcome to bring lunch and eat it during that session; unfortunately, our budget didn’t run to either food or coffee. We made sure, however, that the budget would run to wi-fi, which will be available in all the rooms. We recommend that you bring a laptop, especially if you plan to attend one or more of the workshops. Unconferences are deliberately informal, so dress is casual. Wear whatever you like (that’s warm).

    Instead of running a wait list, we overbooked our capacity a bit, anticipating a few cancellations. Therefore, there are currently 111 people registered for THATCamp AHA: see our list of Participants to check out who’s coming, and consider updating your own profile when you log in. To add a picture, upload one at gravatar.com — it will automatically appear on all Gravatar-enabled sites.

    I think that’s about it. Questions? Write me at . Hope you have a fun and productive and enlightening THATCamp.

  • Housing / Room-share for ThatCamp and AHA


    Hello fellow campers!

    I’m looking for a place to stay or a room to share for ThatCamp and the AHA, and I’m guessing that I’m not the only one, so I thought I’d start a thread.

    If you have:

    • A couch to spare
    • A spot on the floor
    • A hotel/motel room with an extra bed
    • &c

    I, and probably several others, would like to know about it.


  • Workshops and Fellowships


    We’ve just confirmed that we will be offering technology skills workshops at THATCamp AHA. On the roster already is a blogging workshop by Professor Dan Cohen of dancohen.org, and we’ll be letting you know more in December as we confirm topics and instructors.

    Offering workshops means that we can also offer small fellowships courtesy of the Mellon Foundation. If you are registered for THATCamp AHA and are a graduate student or faculty member in the humanities, you can apply for a fellowship until Monday, December 4. Fellowships are granted in the amount of $500 or $250. (Be advised that fellowship funds might not arrive until after THATCamp AHA has taken place.) The deadline isn’t far away, but the fellowship application isn’t onerous: just a 1- to 3-paragraph essay.

    Spread the word . . .

  • How do you teach THAT?


    Greetings, THAT Campers!  I teach a graduate seminar on “museums in a digital age” and undergraduate courses in public history and museum studies at Western Michigan U.  I try to incorporate digital aspects of museum work into my teaching whenever possible, covering topics such as content management systems, metadata, virtual worlds, museum websites, social media for museums, in-gallery interactives, grantwriting, etc, etc.

    Finding materials for humanities and technology instruction can be a tricky enterprise, mainly because it requires looking in numerous and non-traditional places.  I find that use a mix of traditional/academic/print readings, conference papers (mainly from past years’ Museums and the Web), TED talks, and cool museum tech-y YouTube videos.  

    Course organization can also be a challenge.  Should one organize by type of technology (eg, augmented reality), by broad tech topic (eg, virtuality), by broad non-tech topic (eg, interpretation and learning), etc?  Finally, finding institutional (and even student) buy-in can sometimes be a challenge.  I feel as if I need to keep re-iterating my case for the incorporation of digital technology throughout my courses (not just in a ‘technology unit’).

    So, I’d like to talk with others who teach at the intersection of the humanities and technology.  How do you teach THAT?  What sorts of readings do you assign?  How do you organize your courses?  How do you make the case for teaching THAT to your institution and to your students?  I’d love it if a Twitter-based ‘How do you teach THAT?’ support group or some such thing came out of this session.  Anyone else have thoughts on coming together and talking about teaching THAT?

  • Registration is now open


    We have opened registration for THATCamp AHA! We will be accepting the first 100 registrants, after which we will close registration.

  • Announcing THATCamp American Historical Association


    Hi all,

    We’re pleased to announce that there will be a THATCamp at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. THATCamp AHA will take place from 12pm to 6pm on Thursday, January 5th, 2012.

    Registration for THATCamp AHA should open in early October. Watch this space for more information.

    Amanda French

    THATCamp Coordinator


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