Archive for March, 2010

  • Schedule and Scheduling


    Well folks – the time is just about on us.  Only a few days until we converge on the MSU campus for Great Lakes THATCamp.  In preparation, I wanted to say a few words about scheduling.  Check-in will start at 8am (though, we’ll be there earlier if you are wanting to come in earlier). There will be food (bagels, muffins, danishes, fresh fruit) and drink (coffee, tea, juice) for all attendees. The check in table will be located just outside the LookOut Gallery on the second floor of the Residential College of Arts & Humanities.  The layout of the building can be a tad confusing, so there will be signs spread out all over the place with directions as to where you need to go.

    » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Digital Note-taking, the semantic web, and scholarly collaboration in the age of crowdsourcing


    The project I proposed in my application is an idea for a web-based tool designed for humanities scholars engaged in historical research. After a brief introduction to the application, I’ll pose some more general questions/topics.


    As a rule, the digital tools that have transformed academic research have focused on the mundane tasks of a discipline. Empirical economists and social scientists would never practice their craft without a statistical software package like Stata or SAS—tools that dramatically improve the efficiency of the cumbersome computational tasks intrinsic to their research. In the humanities however, there is no equivalent tool. Humanists have benefitted immeasurably from bibliographic software (retrofitted to take notes), digital indices, and repositories of primary and secondary literature. (In addition, new digital tools are expanding the possibilities of sophisticated digital analysis, though they typically presume a high level of technological competency.) What’s missing is a digital tool to assist with the mundane tasks compiling, organizing, and connecting historical data: the people, institutions, locations, events, and objects of scholarly interest that are the building blocks of the stories we tell.

    HistoryMaker: The application

    My proposed project would assist with the everyday tasks of historical research organization and compilation. The core idea is to create a note-taking application that organizes one’s research with a structured framework of historical data (objects of study themselves) rather than according to the sources of information about those data (as with bibliographic software like Zotero). The application will be cloud-based. The historical “facts” will be public—open for reuse, augmentation, refinement, correction, and disputation by other scholars building their own webs of data. It will also track the provenance of each data point (both by the creator of the digital object and the cited source(s) of information). However, personal notes associated with these data points (presumably treating their significance—the real interpretive work of the humanities) would remain private (unless the researcher chose to release them).

    Over time, the application, if widely adopted, could take on two other functions. First, it could serve as a platform for collaboration in the humanities and facilitate new scholarly communities (across institutions, fields, and disciplines). Second, it could facilitate the (much-neglected) relationship between the scholarly community and the wider public. Conceived as a tool for professionals, the entry of data will be limited to those with academic training in the humanities. But the resulting web of data would constitute an authoritative base of historical knowledge that would be open for public consumption, and useful for contextualizing public debates, debunking misinformation, etc. As the record of an ongoing scholarly discourse, it will also highlight the indeterminacy of historical “facts,” and (hopefully) model civility in scholarly disputation and rigorous methodologies in research.

    General Topics/Questions

    I would be interested in helping to organize a session anound any of the following topics/questions:

    • A discussion of the state of research tools (especially for note-taking and analysis)
    • How do the digital tools we use shape the questions we ask, the answers we discover, and the stories we tell?
    • A discussion of the “state of the art” for the semantic web, promising technologies emerging out of it (i.e. that would be useful for a project like this), and how humanities folks can best utilize them.
    • How do we re-envision scholarly networks in a digital age? How do we broaden these networks to include scholars without intrinsic technological interests or proficiency?
    • Crowdsourcing (I’ll confess that I remain skeptical of it) and the role of professional scholars in constructing and curating the semantic web (especially in light of Cathy Davidson’s recent blog post)?
  • avatars


    I felt stupid for not being able to figure out how to get an avatar to show up on this digital humanities blog.  But Mark Harvey just explained to me that it magically pulls it from your account at So I went over there and it turns out I already had an account (via  I added an avatar photo, but it was for an old email address. Then I added the email address I used for this site, and assigned an avatar to that email address.  Voila, my mug showed up on the greatlakesthatcamp blog!

    Just thought I’d share in case anyone else was stumped on that one.

  • The hybrid scholarly archive and responsive digital resources


    My original submission was as follows:

    “The modern scholar conducts research using a three-part “archive” of source materials.  This 3-part archive that consists of: 1) Institutions’ physical collections of books and materials; 2) the digital texts and online materials that are available within the Library and outside of it; and 3) the “invisible college,” which is the ephemeral archive of scholarship and ideas that flows through their scholarly communications networks.  I’d like to explore how librarians, information professionals, and other researchers can support this complex and constantly evolving scholarly archive of sources and expand its power with the development of humanities computing tools.”

    To expand upon this, my session will first discuss the evolution of scholarly research and communications from the physical–research materials in libraries and archives, in-person meetings at conferences and via letters and print journals–into this three-part archive.  This new scholarly archive is particuarly marked by digital methods of research and communication such as digitized texts in digital archives and databases, e-journals and e-books, and the dynamic debates via web forums, blogs, email and chat, etc.  I believe that humanities scholars are among the most prominent types of scholars using a hybrid “archive” of both print and digital resources, and I want to explore how librarians–as well as information scientists, programmers, etc.–can support this new scholarly workflow.

    One way of supporting this workflow is through the development of resources that reflect their needs. As such, I would like to discuss specific digital tools and resources that are being developed at the University of Illinois that can support this hybrid archive of scholars’ research: These tools include MONK, a textual analysis tool recently released as a public research tool; Digital libraries and archives such as the HathiTrust Digital Library and the Farm, Field, and Fireside newspaper collection at UIUC’s History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library; and the Novelarium digitization project of 19th-century American novels that I’m currently working on.  I’d like to also consider other major outside projects, such as the digital resources built by NINES.

  • What can we learn about the digital humanities from people writing with technologies in a local coffee shop?


    No matter what your personal opinions of Jurgen Habermas (and if you don’t have any opinions about him at all, that’s fine by me), it is largely thanks to his theories that the historical coffeehouse is one of our most enduring symbols of critical conversation and rational dialogue. As many have detailed, the historical coffeehouse stands as a symbol of a kind of sociability, self-fashioning, and contact with the ideas of others that is central to public culture–and, in many ways, to the very center of what the humanities (for better and for worse) has historically stood for.

    Fast forward to 2010. As Varnelis and Friedburg, Ellis, and others have argued, Starbucks has become a symbol for contemporary coffeehouse activity, and the rational discussion central to what the coffeehouse represents has been replaced by an assumption of personal space, eyes plastered to smartphones, fingers on keyboards, and generic decor, music, and often conversation. If the coffeeshop of the 19th century was the hotbed of rational debate and deliberation, the coffeeshop of the 21st century’s relationship to the digital humanities is less apparent but not less intriguing. Alongside some of the other spaces like libraries and museums that interest the digital humanities, coffeehouses are also populated by people producing writing and meeting to engage one another–at least this is the case in Gone Wired Cafe, the local, independent coffee house I’ve been paying attention to in Lansing, Michigan. With this in mind, I wonder, what can we learn when we pay attention to the contemporary digital writers who spend time in coffee houses? What can their habits, routines, and interactions with digital technologies help us understand? How can we learn from their use and arrangement of space and time?

    I’m currently collecting video examples of work sessions of writers employing digital and social media writing during their work time in a local Michigan coffee shop. My goal is actually quite broad: to shed new light on the material and embodied movements that people make when they do new media and digital writing in their everyday lives, and to reflect on how these writing practices both affect and are affected by the material and affective states that writers inhabit. What do digital writers get out of a trip to a very material space like the coffee shop? Do they show up there for the caffeine jolt and free internet, or is something more going on that we should be taking note of? And, how do these activities relate to other kinds of engagement and spaces that we often associate with the digital humanities?

    I would like to lead a discussion in which I highlight some patterns of activity of everyday digital writers in a local coffee shop, paying attention both to what these writers do and how they understand what they do. Writers working in the coffeeshop space often cite the space as an “alternative to home” where they have a blank slate of space where they won’t be distracted. These writers also show high levels of social media usage, spending quite a lot of time on sites like Twitter and Facebook, and connecting to communities that expand far beyond the physical space of the Lansing area. In turn, Gone Wired also hosts its own active Facebook fan page, and makes use of social media for outreach.

    I would like to open up the discussion to what these kinds of activities and spaces might mean for the digital humanities, and how material spaces like coffee shops might be related to some of the spaces more traditionally associated with digital humanities work like museums and libraries, for instance. I wonder if the coffeehouse is a better contemporary symbol for the digital humanities than any of us has yet articulated. . .

  • Developing a Statewide OpenCourseWare Initiative


    I count myself among those interested in OpenCourseWare, the free and open sharing of course materials via the Internet. I post syllabi and related materials to Posterous and Scribd without explicit institutional support. I know I’m not the only one who does this at my institution or at other places of learning across the Great Lakes State. For example, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan are both current members of the OCW Consortium, “a collaboration of more than 200 higher education institutions and associated organizations from around the world creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model.” However, they are the only members in the entire state.

    With all of this in mind, I’d like to discuss the possibility of developing an OpenCourseWare initiative at the statewide level. Doing so could benefit not only the state but also every institution involved in the process. Assuming this is even an idea worth pursuing (and I hope it is), I do have some questions:

    • How/where to begin?
    • How to advertise/manage?
    • What obstacles and resistance from institutions, professors and students might we encounter?
    • Should the initiative function as an official list of links to other OpenCourseWare programs or as a repository for OCW samples? Perhaps both?
    • Should the initiative be housed within a college or university? Or should it be a wiki?
    • With only MSU and UM Does the pursuit of a statewide OpenCourseWare initiative invert the regular order? If so, what all needs to happen before it can happen?
  • Empowering the community to create the archive


    As a museum professional, I am most interested in exploring collective memory and new media initiatives and empowering underrepresented communities to document their history.

    The Arab American National Museum is a community-based institution. We will soon be celebrating our fifth anniversary as the premier institution for the documentation, preservation and celebration of Arab American history and culture. While our exhibits and collections continue to grow and evolve, we feel we can do more to permit the community to play an essential role in documenting and preserving its history. Therefore, I am interested in discussing strategies for reinventing the collection and archive by empowering the community – in our case Arab Americans – to manage its own history.

    Specifically, I am open to exploring strategies for engaging diverse communities to document their own history using online tools and placing the museum in the role of facilitator.

  • Making that first page relevant


    Academic libraries are investing in new research products called discovery layers that strive to duplicate’s Google’s “one search box that rules them all” for the scholarly landscape. But are such efforts premature? There have not been demonstrable evidence that show the search results from such discovery layers are meaningfully relevant. This is a critical failing as the majority of our readers rarely go beyond the first page of results from any search box.

    I’d like to learn from others how libraries can make better use of its data to build online services that get better the more people use it.

    Libraries have been late to apply the lessons of social networks into their systems. In fact, we are still waiting for some of the most simplest applications: most library catalogues aren’t able to sort items by the number of times an item has been circulated – even when this information is available in the system.

    Here’s another damning example: every semester academic libraries add books and articles into what are unfortunately known as ‘course reserve systems’ and this valuable information — that these items have been personally recommended by faculty for class use — is simply thrown away. But what if this information could be captured and shared among other academic libraries? That kind of canon could emerge over years of collection?

    There are opportunities to improve this situation. With the development of open source library systems such as Evergreen, VuFind, and Blacklight – librarians are finally able to access and even adjust relevance rankings.  And there is at least one discovery layer that has been designed to collect and share aggregated user information from many libraries.

    I’m particularly interested if any Great Lake Campers can foresee how future developments with Zotero Commons could be integrated with library systems to make both systems more relevant to the research work of our readers.

  • To Crowdsource or Not to Crowdsource? That is the Question.


    The proliferation of social media and social bookmarking tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Delicious and LinkedIn bring unprecedented reach to academics and practitioners searching for information. However, the advantages of speed and reach come with the disadvantages of the unknown. Do we know who we’re listening to? Do we know they’re providing the best resources for the job? I propose this session as a look at the advantages and disadvantages of crowdsourcing in the humanities, and a discussion amongst participants about their experiences with social media, including their triumphs and stumbles.


  • One Day | One Toolet


    I think I’d probably initially proposed some high(er)-brow concept regarding peer review of development work in the digital humanities, but what I’d really want to do is spend some time hacking some code with some cool people. I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to participate in the One Week | One Tool event, but I propose hijacking the idea with a more modest scope: One Day | One Toolet. I even think that trying to identify a project that resonates with several participants would be interesting (and which language, and which framework, and which design, …). Unless of course no one else is interested in hacking with me, in which case I’ll be a happy session tourist.

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