Archive for March, 2010

  • Digitizing Multimedia and other Challenging Objects


    As mass media moved from the printed page into the broadcasting age, more and more of our history was recorded onto specialized media devices. And each device comes with a separate, often non-compatible format. From Edward R. Murrow’s radiobroadcasts in the middle of the London blitz, to Walter Cronkite’s announcement that President Kennedy had been shot, to Martin Luther King’s last speech, the Challenger explosion, etc – they all happened in front of a microphone or a camera, and they were all recorded. And luckily, for the most part, they were saved and archived.

    We’ll begin the discussion talking about challenging digitization projects we’ve faced at MATRIX’s digital lab – odd media, poorly preserved texts, videotape from the very origins of taped television, etc. From there, I’d like to talk about how best to deal with oversize objects, multimedia, sculptures, fragile objects, etc. and how digitization as a practice for better access – rather than just the technical aspects – may sometimes provide better access for scholars and students than the physical object itself.

    We’ll talk about preserving the digital object as well as the contextualization that can happen online, creating complex digital objects. These complex digital objects become larger than any one artifact as websites; communities of learners and scholars and the original archive all contribute metadata and knowledge. Digitization is just the first step in preservation, and metadata – enabling much of the process for building complex digital objects – need not always be limited to catalogers.

  • The culture of digital media


    I am based in the MSU Department of Anthropology and am designing a new online course “US culture 101” for foreign students. This brings up at least one big question: how relevant are cross cultural issues for designing and using digital media in the humanities and social sciences? Although I’m focusing on an online course setting, a lot of these issues apply more broadly to other digital humanities settings.

    Two types of discussion could flow from this and could be worked into a variety of formats this weekend. I’m more than happy to do a short presentation, or work to blend any of this into a larger discussion, or even just discuss the big questions over lunch, coffee, etc.

  • Parking & Such


    For those who are driving to Great Lakes THATCamp, you’ll want to know where you can part.  Under normal circumstances (as with any big campuses) parking is a complete nightmare (and the parking police are relentless and draconian in their application of parking regulations).  The good thing is that, given Great Lakes THATCamp is happening on a weekend, parking won’t be such a concern.  Not only will parking places be easy to find, but parking regulations for faculty & staff only parking lots are not enforced at all – huzzah!  So, where is the best place to park?  Have a look at the handy dandy Great Lakes THATCamp Google Map for places to park (as well as a lot of other cool things in and around campus)
    View Great Lakes THATCamp in a larger map

  • Digital Material Culture Beyond Images: (How) Can We Digitize Materiality?


    I am an objects person in love with stuff and all the ways it informs. I’m also an educator who’s passionate about empowering students to mine material culture as historic evidence. Third, I’m a museum person who works to empower others to understand objects as sources of meaning about the/their past, present, and future.

    I’m excited about projects applying digital technology to material culture, and recognize we’re just getting started. Objects in museum storage – and nearly all the wonderful stuff in private collections – are only occasionally on view in public spaces. The web affords a way to “exhibit” objects to a very wide audience, potentially reaching folks who might never be able to, or wish to, enter a museum or historical society door.

    Hmmmmm. Perhaps the enormity of the number of objects, public or private, for which digital images are yet to be made (let alone made available through a website) makes my discussion topic seem absurd, premature, even a bit ungrateful . . .

    But here goes.

    Viewing an object’s digital image – even a series of images showing the object 360̊ –
    is wonderful, a huge step forward, and gets us waaaaay down the path of accessibility. The problem I’m grappling with is that material culture is . . . well, material. I want to digitize objects’ materiality to teach with, learn from, analyze. Close, hands-on study of objects gives lots of cues and clues that would be terrific if somehow made available in the digital realm. Some are visual – patterns of wear-and tear, traces of the craftpersons’ hands, views in raking light; yet information also comes from other ways of perceiving: the heft, the surface temperature, the feel or texture (think velvet) – you get the idea.

    We learn a lot from this kind of evidence about objects’ materiality. How can we convey more of that materiality in the digital realm? Can we? Should we?

    So . . . I’m interested in talking about / brainstorming what we can do – and imagine what we might be able to think about doing, or try to do – with digital technologies (now and future) to convey these and other aspects of (virtual) materiality. What technology exists that could be adapted? What might be possible with technologies not yet invented – and how might they work? Can we go beyond visual toward the object, or is it more realistic to move away from the object to context?

  • Session: Going Digital with Community History


    In 2009, I began work on the Rochester Oral History (ROHA) Project, an initiative to collect oral histories of Rochester residents (ages 55 and over) that emphasizes web-enabled sharing. Residents are invited to participate in the project by sharing memories connected to local historical sites, events, communities, individuals and institutions. Oakland University students enrolled in first-year composition courses with a community-engagement component are invited to participate in the project as researchers. Funded by a grant from Building the Civic Net (a local philanthropic organization) and the Meadow Brook Writing Project, with resources and support from the Department of Writing and Rhetoric at Oakland University, the ROHA mission includes making technology accessible to seniors, building a resource for citizens of all ages involved in local history projects, and engaging college students in digital archiving.

    This project depends on social media presence (Facebook and Twitter) for delivery, and presents special challenges and opportunities that I would like to explore, including the relationship (or conflicts or tensions) between digital delivery and traditional archiving. Maximizing old-media channels and ethos-building remain important components of the project, and I continue to seek ways to generate visibility, create value, and build relationships with community organizations, leaders and citizens.

    I would like to explore the ways that social media might create new audiences, new connections, and new delivery opportunities for community history projects.  In addition, the relationships between local physical archives and these digital endeavors present opportunities for shared work. For example, the Rochester Hills Museum has agreed to archive the ROHA oral histories, ensuring their preservation. How does “instant” digital accessibility impact the value of the contributed histories? I would like to participate in a session that covers starting a community project from the ground up, and share the encountered obstacles and serendipities. What kind of issues should mark the “end” of the project, and what does “the end” mean for a digital archive project?

  • ‘Quality’ in the age of social media: is it only in the eye of the beholder?


    My current research interests revolve around new approaches to interpretation and mobile content and experience development at museums and cultural sites. One of the key learnings I’ve taken away from this work is that social media is not about the technology, but rather about a kind of engagement that creates “a relation, a sense of collectivity, a coming community”. (Szylak 2009) This has led me to ask questions like, “What is a Museum? Who is a Curator? In the age of social media.”

    Particularly in fine art contexts, we see a lot of tension between the expertise of the curatorial/museum voice vs. the ‘citizen curator’ and crowdsourced content. Although ostensibly an advocate for a ‘social media’ kind of curatorial practice, I have been fascinated to find that I’m not immune from this conflict: at times I find myself coming down, rather awkwardly, on the side of ‘quality’ and the curator’s authority. At others, I am inspired by the courage of artists to take risks and even fail very publicly as a means of opening up new ways of seeing and engaging others in dialogue.

    So at the moment my thinking about this is taking me down the direction of a deep semantics of the art experience: if art’s unique role is to give us a way of articulating and reading something that we cannot express or understand through any other medium, then in the age of social media we can start to talk about art as platform, born of collaboration with the very audiences for whom the work is intended – as a radical form of social media.

    Similarly the curatorial role in an art context can take on a very particular inflection – something akin to opening up new ontologies for audiences, which requires both a certain expertise and authority, and a strong dialectic relationship with the museum’s audiences. In order to realize the power of the art object and experience, art interpretation needs to be about more than filling in gaps (in knowledge, in language) but also about opening up spaces in which new meanings can emerge…

    Perhaps these insights are also applicable outside of the fine arts field? I’d like to hear what the ThatCampers think!

  • [Session Bleg] Teaching Digital History/Humanities Methods?


    Hi folks. I’ve already proposed a session (on games and gaming and play – and I’ve chattered on about that subject this week at my own blog) and I don’t want to double-dip, but here is a request for a session I wouldn’t be qualified to lead myself, but one I’d certainly attend with interest if anyone else offered to lead it,  hint hint.

    Next fall I’ll be trying to fill the very big shoes of Bill Turkel, teaching our department’s grad seminar on digital history methods. I would love to steal from hear from anybody who has taught dedicated digital history or humanities courses, at any level, about their experiences, ideas, best practices, etc.

    See you soon!

  • The Present State of the Future Tense: The shared future of libraries and the humanities


    Since Earle and I submitted our proposal, our ambitions for this project have expanded considerably.  Still, that original proposal seems like a good place to start:

    Libraries and the humanities share an inextricable future but are too often discussed in mutual exclusion. As two new librarians coming from the humanities, we’d like to dig into a host of questions with fellow THATcampers, beginning with: How can librarians and humanities scholars work together today for a better tomorrow? What do our predictions about the future say about the present? What present forces–cultural, legal, commercial, and especially technological—premise our predictions? How can we best address these forces together?

    The above proposal was borne of the anecdotal sense that 1) much is at stake for both libraries and humanities departments in the popular discussions of the future of technological and institutional change, and 2) that the assumptions behind and implications of these prognostications should be articulated and discussed in their own right. Clearly, the way we talk about the future is a factor in its creation. If libraries and the humanities have a shared future, then they can benefit from a shared strategy of engagement with discussions of that future.

    Our endeavor, still in its early stages, is to identify, classify, and provide centralized access to popular texts concerning our shared future so that they can be considered in aggregate. We plan to limit ourselves to discussions with stakes for libraries and the humanities and also to provide a forum for the discussion of these texts and any prevailing trends in their premises and arguments. The hope is that focused attention to this corpus could yield a strategic benefit as we engage with these conversations as librarians, scholars, teachers, stakeholders, and above all, humanists.

    From you, we’d appreciate feedback on our tool as we begin to fill it in and make decisions about its structure and form. We’ll also share and invite comment on our organizational scheme for the texts we’re working with and, of course, invite your participation in what we hope will be an open and communal effort.

  • Digital material culture and scaling up


    As a museum collections person, I’m very interested in providing broad access to collections artifacts, metadata and contextual information.  As a public historian of technology, what I do is facilitate and empower people to make meaning out of the stuff of the past.

    With the majority of museum collections in storage (as is true for pretty much every collecting institution), the web provides an expanded exhibit space with a radically expanded participant-audience. But digitization, and the analysis of digital material culture and its metadata, is more complicated than taking a picture. Art museums have done great work on digitizing their collections and making their data available for manipulation (cf the Brooklyn Museum’s collections API), but history museums are looking through a glass darkly.  Especially for large institutions with large, diverse collections (in terms of size, level of cataloguing, access in storage, etc), the challenges of workflow and process complicate the end-user questions about metadata and interface.

    Basically I’m interested in discussing the challenges and possibilities for big material culture digitization projects, like the one we’re planning right now at my museum.

  • DH Barriers to Entry


    Gender matters when it comes to the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) pipeline. Digital humanities has been offered up as a second pipeline for women who have humanities backgrounds but are new to coding. What can we do to support these women and others who are coming to the digital humanities without Computer Science backgrounds?

    Some of the other kinds of questions I’d like to consider:

    Are there barriers to entry that are unique to the digital humanities?

    When easy/easier things like html are not considered “real” coding, does this area risk becoming a pink ghetto while “real” programming is left to men?

    Do we rank some kinds of DH over others, creating a hierarchy of geek cred depending on what kind of tools a person uses?

    How can we encourage people who’d like to work in the digital humanities?

    What are some simple things we can do to not be barriers?

    What bigger things need to happen to increase women’s participation in DH?

    Some good places to start:

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