Cebula Proposal for THATCamp

Here is what I proposed for THATCamp:

I have two major interests that I would bring to ThatCamp. The first is how to make my institution, the Washington State Digital Archives, more interactive, useful, and Web 2.0ish. We have 80 million documents online but a quirky interface that does not allow much interaction. I need not only ideas on how to change, but success stories and precedents and contacts to convince my very wary state bureaucracy that we can and have to change.

Second, I am interested in all manner of digital history training. I just began directing a Public History graduate program at Eastern Washington University. How can I prepare my history MA students for the jobs that are instead of the jobs that were? How do I work with the computer science and geography departments? How do I, a traditionally trained scholar, model the new realities for my grad students? There just is not space in an already-crowded 60 credit program for a bunch of courses on web design and such. I need to integrate digital training into an existing curriculum.

16 Responses to “Cebula Proposal for THATCamp”

  1. inactinique Says:


    Your first major interest joins my major interest.

    I am working in Luxembourg ( We’re editing a digital library: (a flashy interface that we want to change). We’ve got far less documents than the Washington State Digital Archives (only 16 000 documents) but the question is the same: how to make it more interactive, usefull and Web 2.0ish.

    What about a session on this? (something like digital library and Web 2.0).

    Frédéric Clavert

  2. ewg118 Says:

    Hi Larry,

    For your first point, you could meet with the Orbis Cascade Alliance and maybe join the Northwest Digital Archives or some other aggregate project they are currently working on. The site really doesn’t seem that bad, actually.

    As for preparing your MA students for the future, the best thing you can do is introduce to them projects that use a wide variety of technologies and hope that they become interested in one and want to learn more about that technology. A lot of institutions are grappling with the concept of a digital humanities program, but each professor has his or her own idea about what “digital humanities” even means. In the past, a scholar could just take a TEI XML class and then *poof*, they’d be a digital humanities scholar. I think it’s best to stay away from actual technical training because then you are limiting your students to learning only what you are teaching. The best way to encourage students to adopt technologies in their studies is to get them interested in a particular form of technology and foster an environment in which they are willing to teach themselves the skills, providing guidance and consultation along the way.

    When you start teaching web design courses, you’re going to lose the interest of people that are more interested in visualization, text mining, and GIS–all things too complex to be taught in one class.

  3. briancroxall Says:


    As far as the second question goes, it sounds like you and Amanda French are thinking along the same lines. You don’t have the time to teach courses on just web design in your MA program. And Amanda doesn’t want to create a silo/ghetto for digital humanities. Instead, we need to learn how to integrate them together.

    @Larry and Frédéric,
    An interesting document repository that I recently stumbled across and that might serve as a model is the European NAVigator:

  4. briancroxall Says:

    Of course, now that I look at Frédéric’s profile, I realize that he works with the European NAVigator and I seem to recall that he was the one who linked me there from Twitter. And while it does present the documents in a way that isn’t quite 1997 (there’s lots of video, photos, and documents), he is (of course) right that there isn’t much there in the way of participation possibilities for users.

    I look forward to thinking about this for the next month.

  5. Anthony Says:

    ” more interactive, useful, and Web 2.0ish”

    – That’s a good concept. Even the President is taking advantage of web 2.0 sites.

  6. Tim Says:

    As a current American Studies grad student, I see plenty of room for digital integration in the syllabi that I’ve encountered thus far. I think something as simple as setting up a class blog and requiring students to share their thoughts could go a long way to increase awareness of how useful online collaboration can be.

    And, instead of worrying about adding new classes for students, train the faculty in the tools that might suit their areas of interest. They, in turn, might feel more comfortable integrating these into their teaching.

    I just finished an introductory museum studies course taught by a professional museum curator. He relied strictly on texts, lecture and discussion, supplemented by visits to the nearby museum where he worked. Fantastic course, and I learned a lot, but I couldn’t help but think that our discussions could have been enhanced by some visuals. The museums we talked about have to be among the most photographed places on Earth, and a simple Google image search would have helped to illustrate some of what he was describing.

  7. Sterling Fluharty Says:

    Larry: It is good to be back to blogging on the same site again. I think you are right in wanting to update your digital archive and move it into the 21st century. One challenge will be in figuring out how much control over the web site content you want to give to users. Do you want them to tag or comment on sources? Do you want them to upload their own content? Would you ever survey the users to see what their reasons are for using the site and what changes they would like to see made in it? The answers to these questions could help a lot in figuring out how to renovate your site.

    I am definitely interested in your second topic. In the early days, I think the emphasis in digital history courses was on things like general digital theory, reviewing noteworthy web sites, and creating basic web sites with HTML, XML, and CSS. As time went by, I think these courses paid greater attention to things like design, narrative, exhibition, and teaching and learning. The next generation of courses, perhaps advanced ones that sequentially follow these previous ones, will have to get more serious about introducing students to programming. Server-side coding will be a necessary part of helping students create Web 2.0 web sites. And computational thinking and practice with algorithms will become increasingly necessary as we move toward the semantic web and increased use of natural language processing.

    60 credits seems like a lot for a masters program. In my experience, these programs require only 30 credits. It sounds to me like there is some room in your program for throwing in some digital history courses. If that is not the case, can you give us some more details on the particulars of your program?

  8. ewg118 Says:

    I disagree that digital humanities is just about putting content on a flashy website. That is more of a shift in publication practice rather than academic practice.

  9. Frédéric Clavert Says:

    @Ethan That’s why we’re looking to more Web 2.0 features…

    @Brian There is one feature (Album) on European NAvigator that allow a user to collect documents within the site, to write teir own caption / comment, to classify them (with creation of titles) and to write an introduction on top of their collection of documents. Some teachers (from high-school and/or universitie – for instance a teacher at the political studies institute in Lyon) who use this feature to prepare a course.

    But that’s not going far enough.

  10. suzanne Says:

    Larry, I’m also very interested in that institutional change question. We can have great ideas, content, tools and users, but if there’s no buy-in (and no staff time or funding), the project doesn’t happen. I think the best avenue is developing the right vocabulary to talk to administration and other stakeholders to convince them that “web2.0ish” strategies will help carry out institutional missions better. The good questions Sterling asks about listening and about authority probably need to be defined and understood and accepted before they go through the state bureaucracy.

  11. Eric Johnson Says:

    re 2.0: I’m starting to think that there are really (at least) two flavors of 2.0 in the digital humanities world: one emphasizing the breakdown of the barriers between institution and patron/user and the other emphasizing and promoting communication among patron/users. I think the most successful 2.0 efforts do both–in essence, they promote a conversation among the institution and its constituency.

    To that end, the focus should really be on that conversation and sharing of knowledge and less on the tools themselves. A knowledge of those tools is key, of course–you have to understand whether a Flickr account or a Facebook page is the best way for your patrons to comment on images (or whether it’s best to do both, or something else altogether).

    But the point of the exercise isn’t to “do” 2.0 technology for the sake of the technology; it’s to effectively promote and capture the conversations that happen as a result of the technology. The “2.0-ness” of the exercise stems from 1.) the openness of the communication and 2.) the ease of use for non-technical users. That’s what makes blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, etc. different from what came before: the technical know-how to produce online content through these tools is virtually nonexistent.

    I think that emphasizing the conversation is also the way to sell “web 2.0” to non-2.0 administrators and stakeholders. They don’t need to understand each tool–they just need to understand the value that comes from lowering barriers and promoting communication. Let the geeks take care of the tech. 😉

    As for the second question, I definitely vote for an “across the curriculum” approach to digital history training. I don’t think there’s an area of public history that doesn’t involve a greater understanding of the digital historical world, from fundamental primary-source research to using computers in presentations to publishing to online exhibit design. If the students imbibe digital history as a matter of course, they’ll never think of it as a “thing apart.” Maybe set up a group to examine the entire curriculum to talk about how each course might be connected to the digital world?

  12. Eric Johnson Says:

    Er, when I said “That’s what makes blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, etc. different from what came before: the technical know-how to produce online content through these tools is virtually nonexistent,” I really meant “the technical know-how to produce online content through these tools is virtually unnecessary.” Or to be even clearer: as opposed to the bad old days, users these days don’t need to know much coding to get their content online because of easy-to-use publishing tools like blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.

  13. ewg118 Says:

    Is putting content online what defines digital humanities? The dissemination of knowledge and data in new and interesting ways is certainly important, but to focus a curriculum around that minute facet of technological innovation, you are casting out a potentially large segment of humanities students and scholars.

  14. Larry Cebula Says:

    Great conversation–I am getting excited to meet all of you in person.

    I agree absolutely that we should not be doing Web 2.0 stuff for its own sake. There is too much of that–witness the National Archives Experience site with its Flash gone wild.

    What I want from Web 2.0 is a better user experience and adding value to our archive. The Washington State Digital Archives where I work is much beloved of genealogists because of the millions of records we host for births, death, naturalization, etc. These people come to our archive knowing things about our records that we do not know–that Mary Smith was also known as Mary Smyth, that Chief Garry is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, that the logo for the Aberdeen Logging Company (we also have corporation records) was briefly adopted by Nirvana.

    I would like users to be able to add metadata in many categories. For marriage certificates, for instance, our searchable metadata include the names of the happy couple, the date, and I think the county. But the actual certificates (viewable online) contain lots of additional data including religious denomination, the name of the person who married them, etc. It would be great if the army of genealogists who visit our site could add those items to our searchable metadata.

  15. Frédéric Clavert Says:

    Putting documents on-line, whether 2.0ish or not, is a facet of digital history, and is of course not the main aspect of digital history.

    Eric Johnson’s right when he says that it’s not pertinent to use technology for the sake of using technologies. Our aim is to allow users to communicate with us and between us, to comment documents, etc.

    But that’s not enough. We’re trying to know who are our users and to give them the tools they need to work with the documents we provide. To give them also the possibility to provide documents. That’s where Web 2.0 technologies can be usefull.

    Quite excited to go to THATCamp and to meet all of you.

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