Archive for the ‘Session Descriptions’ Category

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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:

  • 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)?
  • 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.

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