• Campers

    Tim Gloege

    I am an independent scholar with training in History (Ph.D., U. Notre Dame, 2007). My technological experience is primarily in the area of relational database design and a little pre-Web 2.0 development. While writing my dissertation, I created a database to organize 20,000+ digital photographs of primary sources. My experiences with it (both positive and negative) inspired my current project: an application to organize historical data and construct historical narratives. In my spare time I am revising my dissertation for publication.

    My Posts

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

    Wednesday, March 17th, 2010 | tgloege

    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.

    Background

    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)?