Archive for March, 2010

  • Registration Fees


    Great Lakes THATCamp carries a suggested $25 registration fee – which helps pay for the meals, t-shirts, and other fun swag attendees will be receiving.  There are several ways that campers can pay their registration fee.  The easiest is by cash or cheque when you check in on Saturday morning – frankly, that is what we prefer.   Cheques should be made out to Michigan State University.  If you prefer to pay electronically, things are a little more complicated.  You’ll need to use Michigan State University’s online donation system.

    » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Active History: From Papers to a Blog


    This continues the previous post by Jim Clifford about the original ideas behind our website, After launching, we began actively soliciting papers from contributors throughout the Canadian history community. Initially, we focused on economic issues as we were in the midst of the recession, although we quickly broadened our eyes for papers on any topic that might conceivably be of interest to Canadians (our target market).

    Papers were not forthcoming. We had some promising prospects, but few materialized. We were able to get the rights to at least link to a wonderful example of ‘active history’ looking at universities in the Great Depression. Only in the last few weeks have we been able to post an original Canadian history submission, a magnificent paper by Larry Glassford on Ontario textbooks.

    Instead, we had to change our directions in two ways. » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Digital collections and the User


    Hi, everyone.  Here was my original submission:

    “I’m deeply interested in how researchers (undergrads, grad students, independent scholars, adjuncts, faculty, you name it) access and use resources within the digital humanities (e.g., NINES, Victorian Women Writers Project), and what the implications are for libraries, in terms of organizing and making these resources more accessible, as well as the implications for researchers and their work.  What affect will the digital humanities have on the nature, medium, and reception of future scholars’ work?”

    Updated post:

    While I am still keenly interested in exploring the questions above, for purposes of time and my sanity, I’m directing my questions toward college and university researchers–undergraduates, graduates, and faculty–within the field of English literature.  The reasons for my focus are my educational background (I have master’s degrees in English and library science), the existing multitude of free digital resources in English literature, and the fact that I have a ready/semi-captive audience (I coordinate the undergraduate research program at my institution and am currently a part-time doctoral student in English).  Ultimately, however, I’m interested in extending my questions about usage to researchers in other areas of the humanities as well.

    The actual questions I’m interested in are as follows:

    1. how do researchers within the field of humanities (esp. English literature) find and use free digital collections (e.g., Victorian Women’s Writers Project, Google Books, Wikipedia)?
    2. what do they use these collections and websites for? (e.g., for background research, teaching preparation, as sources in final papers)?
    3. what implications does this usage have for teaching and for scholarly communication? As websites and digital collections become a greater part of teaching and learning, to what extent are they migrating into the arena of scholarly communication?  What is the relation (if any) between the pedagogical and scholarly use of digital collections?  Are these online collections good enough for undergraduate students to use, but still largely unacceptable in the ‘higher’ circles of academia?
    4. and finally — coming at this from the other direction — how much usage (i.e., website hits and comments) do free digital collections currently receive?  What implications does this usage have for usability studies pertaining to those digital collections?

    In addition to consulting case studies, I’ve surveyed approximately 30 undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty (thus far), asking them questions 1 and 2 above.  (Since I’m still in the beginning stages of this study, I haven’t gathered as much for  questions 3 and 4.)  At my talk I will happily share both my survey and my preliminary data, and am very willing to collaborate with anyone whose interests/sessions dovetail with mine.

  • Attention and Information Filtering


    Here is the original paragraph I submitted:

    I would like to talk about the role of information filtering in digital media and research. The rhetoric surrounding “information overload” leads to all sorts of filtering techniques and technology. I am interested in the role of attention in filtering media, and how this translates to academic research, media usage, social networking and education.

    To elaborate a bit, the broader concept that interests me is that of attention. How does one direct attention effectively, sussing out signal from noise, in the age of information? In research, this means: how does one find relevant information, and what new tools might help with this? In teaching, how do we address (digital) distractions in the classroom, both for students and for ourselves, and direct attention to what is relevant — are these distractions always a problem or can they be an opportunity?

  • Instructional strategies for teaching technology that go beyond “button pushing.”


    There is no doubt that technology has changed the way we do things.  It has made some, particularly repetitive tasks simple but has also made some simple tasks more difficult.  To help users, developers try to make systems easier to use and more intuitive. But many of our students still do not know how to use many of the software tools that are core to their education.  Then, how do we teach them?

    When I did my dissertation three years ago, I looked at ways to help students learn to search online databases.  My study was based on the premise that searching is not just a task but also a problem that needs to be solved.  Therefore could it benefit from users using metacogntive tools?  I developed an instructional aid based on metacognitive questioning.  Such techniques I found helped users think about what they are doing without prescribing a step-by-step process or procedure.

    You may ask, “Why not prescribe a “how-to?”  Technically in searching, as in many other software packages, there is no “one way” to use it.  There are certain “buttons” you need to push but learning the buttons does not really teach you how to effectively do the task.  Interfaces also can be changed on a whim.  Users also come in with pre-existing knowledge and behaviors that they have found “worked before.” Teaching is more effective if you anchor to pre-existing knowledge even if it does not at times seem the most “efficient” way to do things.  If one reflects on the way they do everyday tasks, I don’t think I would be the only one to find that I do things that others would consider “inefficient,” but they work for me.

    Related to this is the overall assumption about this “net generation” by both those who are teaching and the current generation themselves; since this generation grew up with technology and use it all the time, they know how to use it.  But do they?  I have seen many instances where their knowledge and understanding is selective.

    How do we teach searching and software?  I’d like to discuss ideas and share experiences with teaching this current “net” generation and about novel instructional strategies for teaching technology that go beyond “button pushing.”

  • Text mining and the digital humanities


    There is growing interest in the digital humanities at UC Berkeley. I’m currently involved, as a computer scientist, in a project aimed at developing tools for historians to use, and exposing them to the potential applications of computer analysis to their work.

    I’d like to talk with humanities researchers about specific computational needs that humanities researchers, and historians in particular, have.  I would also like to go some way towards exposing humanities researchers to the potential applications of natural language processing, and text mining to their work.

    I’m especially interested in seeing whether we can put large, existing digital corpora, such as the new york times data collection (every article since 1987), and the Internet Archive’s ( corpus of ~1.9 million OCR-scanned books, to use for the humanities.

  • Active History: From a Conference to a Website


    Active History began as an idea for a conference at a fellow student’s post comprehensive exams party back in the winter of 2007.  In the year and a half that followed we created a vision statement, circulated a CFP, applied for funding and finally hosted a two-day symposium in September 2008.  We defined active history variously as history that listens and is responsive; history that will make a tangible difference in people’s lives; history that makes an intervention and is transformative to both practitioners and communities.

    From the early stages we recognized that we needed to engage with the internet to help achieve some of these lofty goals.  As none of us had any real experience with websites, I agreed to play around with WordPress.  I managed to create a basic website for the conference that can still be found at (now largely defunct).  We hoped to make this into more than a simple message board for the conference and we asked the conference presenters to contributed blogs in the run up to the event.  Looking back at the site it is clear this request did not resonate with  any of Active Historians attending the conference and even our request for blog posts reflecting on the conference only resulted in two posts. » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Heritage Organizations and Online Connectivity


    As social networking outlets have increased, so has our potential for connecting localized organizations interested in different aspects of the humanities.  While some local organizations have larger umbrella groups they connect with, there are several local arts, culture and heritage outlets that are relatively isolated.  I’m interested in exploring ideas for how social media can be used to help these groups connect to one another, and help each other.  I’d like participants to discuss what has worked or failed for different organizations they are involved with.

    I will be coming at this from the vantage point of the Michigan Archaeological Society. There is no umbrella group for state-level avocational archaeology groups, so we all work fairly independently, but trying to build our network with other state and territorial societies. Perhaps video conferences or chat-rooms could be organized among Board members from different states, to share ideas about increasing membership, publishing journals and improving outreach?  Is an umbrella organization necessary to maintain those kinds of connections, or can it stay informal?

    I would like to have a discussion about how other organizations are successfully using social networking, and what we can do to encourage continued success with these media.  What works for different groups, and how can those of us who are more digitally active assist these organizations?

  • Inquiry-based hacking and historical evidence


    The paragraph I initially sent in sounds to me now like I was trying for the title “Unplayful Historical Thinking,” though I don’t mean it that way at all. Here’s what I wrote:

    I’d like to talk about what a language of historical evidence might contribute to thinking about method in digital humanities. A fair amount of what I do digitally amounts to computationally-enhanced editing. It often seems to me that there can be little overt difference between querying a set of data for quality-control purposes, observing patterns and seeking inconsistencies and errors to be edited out, and performing the essentially the same query to explore a possible historical hypotheses about the data. Sometimes “data errors” might themselves amount to historical evidence. I suggest a language of evidence could help clarify issues that get muddied in item-focused battles over originals and digital surrogates, vexations over authority and authenticity, and perceptions of innovation in visualization. Historical inquiry has always looked past single documents toward pattern, with an understanding that there may be a range of hypotheses compatible with it.

    I’ve posted additional thoughts at greater length on a new personal blog. It’s great to see the range of interesting posts here, and I’m looking forward to meeting you all.

  • The future of cultural heritage (including archaeology) curricula


    There are lots of different ways that we can teach about the past and use the past to better inform ourselves about the present. Archaeology has long employed hands-on techniques in field schools and some experimental courses, but I’d like to talk about how we might best use technology and/or a combination of experiential work, “fieldwork” – writ large – and technology to improve our curricula. If we want to encourage an appreciation for cultural heritage, how can technology best be used to teach this? What approaches don’t work? How do we know? I’d love to talk with anyone who has experience in this area or even remotely related areas.

    A lot of people have used fake excavations and virtual excavations in teaching, and I’m not sure that that is the best way to learn. Does the use of Second Life in teaching about the past make cultural heritage more meaningful and more comprehensible? What about using GPS-based and geospatial techniques? I think that the cultural heritage area of study is open to a lot of different kinds of teaching methods, and that the structure of curricula can be changed in many different ways, but I’m not at all sure how to evaluate what works, what doesn’t, and what is just plain fun but silly. We at the Department of Anthropology at Michigan State are currently revising our curriculum, and we are also discussing including a focus on cultural heritage; how can we do this with an innovative, appropriate, and useful digital spin?

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