Archive for the ‘Session Ideas’ Category

Digital Publishing-Getting Beyond the Manuscript

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Here is the original submission I made to THATCamp followed by some additional background ideas and thoughts:

Forget the philosophic arguments, I think most people at THATCamp are probably convinced that in the future scholarly manuscripts will appear first in the realm of the digital, I am interested in the practical questions here: What are born digital manuscripts going to look like and what do we need to start writing them? There are already several examples, Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence, Wark’s Gamer Theory, but I want to think about what the next step is. What kind of publishing platform should be used (is it simply a matter of modifying a content management system like WordPress)? Currently the options are not very inviting to academics without a high degree of digital literacy. What will it take to make this publishing platform an option for a wider range of scholars? What tools and features are needed (beyond say Comment Press), something like a shared reference manager, or at least open API, to connect these digital manuscripts (Zotero)? Maybe born digital manuscripts will just be the Beta version of some books which are later published (again i.e. Gamer Theory)? But, I am also interested in thinking about what a born digital manuscript can do that an analog one cannot.

Additional Thoughts:

So I should start by saying that this proposal is a bit self serving. I am working on “a book,” (the proverbial tenure book), but writing it first for the web. That is rather than releasing the manuscript as a beta version of the book online for free, or writing a book and digitally distributing it, I want to leverage the web to do things that cannot be accomplished in a manuscript form. It is pretty clear that the current academic publishing model will not hold. As I indicated in the original proposal above, I think that most participants at THATCamp are probably convinced that the future of academic publishing is in some ways digital (although the degree to which it will be digital is probably a point of difference). But, in working with this project I have come to realize that the tools for self digital publishing are really in the early stages, a pre-alpha release almost. Yes, there are options, primarily blogs, but for the most part these tend to mimic “book centered” ways of distributing information. To be sure there are examples of web tools which break from this model, namely CommentPress, but I am interested in thinking about what other tools might be developed and how can we integrate them. And at this point I think you have to be fairly tech savvy or have a “technical support team” to be able to do anything beyond a simple blog, or digital distribution of a manuscript (say as a downloadable .pdf). For me one of the early models we can look to is MacKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory, but he had several people handling the “tech side.” For me I can get the tech help to do the things I cannot on my own, but is seems pretty clear that until the tools are simple and widely available digital publishing will either remain obscure or overly simple/conservative (just a version of the manuscript).

So, what tools do we need to be developing here? Should we be thinking about tools or about data structures and than developing tools around that? (I realize this is not an either or proposition.) I am imagining something like WordPress with a series of easy to install plugins that would open up web publishing to a much wider range of scholars. Perhaps a “publisher” could host these installs and provide technical support making it even easier for academics. I have a fairly good idea of what I personally want for my project, but am interested in thinking about/hearing about what other scholars, particularly those from other disciplines would need/want.

Mobile digital collections

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

I’d like to share some work we have done at NC State to bring digital collections to the mobile environment. Now that libraries have made large parts of their photograph and image collections available in digital form on the desktop, the next step is to deliver them via mobile devices that, through the integration of (relatively) large touch screen, faster processors, high-speed connectivity and location-awareness, are becoming an increasingly attractive platform.

“WolfWalk,” a prototype application for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch, is our attempt to leverage these technologies to provide access to a small subset of our library’s digital collections, in this case historic images of buildings on the NC State campus. Users can access these images, together with short descriptions of the buildings, through an alphabetical list or a map interface. Instead of having to access print photographs in a controlled library environment or viewing digital surrogates on the desktop, “WolfWalk” allows users to view these images “in the wild,” i.e., they can view them while at the same time experiencing the real object. Also, by (eventually) making use of the device’s location awareness, we can add a serendipitous aspect to the process of discovering images. Instead of having to browse through a search interface or a virtual representation of our campus, the campus becomes the interface when the application shows users buildings, related images and descriptions in their vicinity.

I’d be interested in hearing what others think about the impact of the mobile medium not only on digital collections, but also how these new technologies and practices could be leveraged in other contexts related to work in the digital humanities.

Visualization, Literary Study, and the Survey Class

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

I hope I’ve not missed the boat on the pre-un-conference-idea-generating-posts! In brief, I’d like to meet up people interested in a web project visually weighting by color simple semantic relations in literary texts and/or putting together an NEH grant for said project. Caveat: I’m not an expert on this. Here’s my initial proposal, though in retrospect it looks rather stilted and sad:

For the past year or so, I’ve been interested in putting together a small team of like-minded folks to help bring to fruition a data visualization project that could benefit less-prepared college students, teachers in the humanities, and researchers alike. Often, underprepared or at-risk educational populations struggle to connect literary study with the so-called “real world,” leading to a saddening lack of interest in the possibilities of the English language, much less literary study. I am currently working with Doug Eyman, a colleague at GMU, to develop a web application drawing on WordNet—and particularly the range of semantic similarity extensions built around WordNet—to visually mark up and weight by color the semantic patterns emerging from small uploaded portions of text. This kind of application can not only help students attend more fully to the structures of representation in literature and the larger world around them—through the means of a tool emphatically of the “real world”—but also enable scholars to unearth unexpected connections in larger bodies of text. Like literary texts to many students, the existing semantic similarity tools available through the open source community can seem inaccessible, even foreign, to a lay audience; this project seeks to lay open the language that so many fear, while enabling the critical thinking involved in literary analysis. Ultimately, we hope to extend this application with a collaborative and growing database of user-generated annotations, and perhaps with time, to fold in a historically-conscious dictionary as well. We are seeking an NEH Digital Humanities startup grant to pursue this project fully, and I’d like the opportunity to throw our idea into the ring at THATcamp to explore its problems as well as possibilities, even gathering more collaborators along the way.

Here’s a hand-colored version of something like what I’m thinking; I used WordNet::Similarity to generate the numbers indicating degree of relatedness, and then broke those numbers into a visual weighting system. Implementation hurdles do come out pretty clearly when you see how the numbers are generated, so I’m hoping someone out there will have better insights into the how of it all.

To a related, larger point: I always have the sneaking suspicion that this has been done before–Jodi Schneider mentioned LiveInk, a program that reformats text according to its semantic units, so that readers can more effectively grasp and retain content. This strikes me as simlar, as well, to the kinds of issues raised by Douglas Knox–using scale and format to retrieve “structured information.” Do the much-better-informed Campers out there know of an already-existing project like this? I wish the checklist of visual thinking tools that George Brett proposes were already here!

To a related, larger point: I always have the sneaking suspicion that this has been done before–Jodi Schneider mentioned LiveInk, a program that reformats text according to its semantic units, so that readers can more effectively grasp and retain content. This strikes me as simlar, as well, to the kinds of issues raised by Douglas Knox–using scale and format to retrieve “structured information.” Do the much-better-informed Campers out there know of an already-existing project like this? I wish the checklist of visual thinking tools that George Brett proposes were already here…

Visual Thinking & Tools Discussion

Monday, June 15th, 2009

A tweet by @WhyHereNow (Brooke Bryan) “thinking about how we create tools to do things, then the tools come to change the things that we do. #thatcamp spurred me to suggest a discussion about using visualization tools like mind maps or concept maps or other graphical diagrams to augment research, information management, collaboration, as well as other work processes.

I have personally used mind maps to brainstorm ideas for a long time. Lately I take the early model and expand it into a visual notebook to store collected materials as well as do quick show and tell for colleagues. Recently I learned how to use multi dimensional maps for analytical purposes using the Issue Based Information System methodology.

Mind maps can be much more than quick brainstorm sketches. The available range of stand-alone and networked applications, along with a host of Web 2.0 mapping tools continue to expand. The many ways these tools are being used, with the tips and tricks of the experts, and with advice about which one to use for what result are bits of information that really ought to be shared.

So, I’m proposing an informal session that could grow into an online annotated check list of tools, or at least or at least contribute to another resource like Digital Research Tools (DiRT).

Digital Collections of Material Culture

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Hello, everyone! I’ve been reading over everyone’s posts and comments, and letting it all percolate – but today’s my day to finally post my own thoughts.

Here’s my original proposal:

“Digital collections of material culture – how to make them, share them, and help students actually learn something from them!

– “quick and dirty” ways for faculty to develop digital collections for the classroom, without giving up on metadata. For the recent workshop we held at Vassar, I’ve been working on demo collections (see ) to evaluate 8 different tools,  including Omeka. In each, you can view the same 8 historic costumes and their metadata, with 43 jpeg images and 1 QTVR. I’m developing my work as a template, with support documentation, for others to use.

-how students can use digital collections and contribute to them, without requiring a huge technological learning curve, especially for students with non-traditional learning styles

-the potential of union catalogs”

Of course these issues cross over in many ways with issues that have already been posted. So, I’m not sure if this needs to be a session, or if it’s more about bringing this material culture perspective to other relevant sessions. That probably depends on how many other material culture people are coming – anyone?

Deep Digital Collections / The Thing-ness of Things

Projects that successfully represent 3D objects are still pretty rare. Current systems of image representation are not sufficient – 1 image per object is not enough. Artifacts also continue to defy controlled vocabularies and metadata schema. For example, one of my current projects involves studying a historic dress inside and out – I have over 100 detail images and complex data (see a sample blog post that shows the complexity of the object).

I’m working to create digital access to the Vassar College Costume Collection, our collection of historic clothing, with about 540 objects dating from the 1820’s to today. Just to clarify, in the field of costume history, the term “costume” refers to all clothing, not theatrical costume.  For about 7 years I’ve been exploring different ways of digitizing this collection, giving students access to a database of the objects, and then sharing their research projects, in a variety of digital formats, as virtual exhibitions.

“Quick and Dirty” Classroom Tools / Low Tech Digital Humanities

In my demos, you can view the same 8 historic costumes and their metadata, with 43 jpeg images and 1 QTVR, in Omeka, CollectiveAccess, Greenstone, Luna Insight, ContentDM, VCat, Filemaker, Excel, and GoogleDocs.

My inquiry has developed beyond the initial comparison of different available tools, to explore a kind of “division of labor” in the process. My approach has been very much on the DIY side, but couched in a collaborative experience. I initially created my demos for a NITLE sponsored workshop at Vassar this past March (entitled “Digital Objects in the Classroom”). Our workshop emphasized the importance of collaboration, and we asked participating institutions to send teams of faculty, librarians, instructional technologists, and media specialists. Perhaps ironically, the demos have mostly been my own work (with wonderful help from Vassar’s Systems Administrator and Visual Resources Librarian). I continue to search for the perfect compromise – for faculty and students to be able to quickly and independently get resources both into and out of collections, while administrators feel comfortable with the security and maintenance of the technology involved.

Student Contributions

Even if you’re not working in a traditional academic setting, I encourage you to view your audience as students. We can use technology as part of a suite of pedagogical tools to provide differentiated instruction for different styles of learners.  What I imagine is a way for students to add to the conversation in ways beyond tagging and commenting – to contribute their own images and research.  Our work in the last couple of years has reinforced this in a backward kind of way. We envisioned a large grant might allow us to carefully photograph and catalog much of the collection, which we could then present to students (on a platter?). Such a grant hasn’t come through yet, but the students have kept on coming! So, each semester brings us a new project, with new research about some of the objects, new photographs that students have taken to support their research, new citations of and links to supporting references. And the database grows. And I wonder, if we did present the virtual collection to students on a platter, would they be as inspired to work with the objects doing their own research? Would it seem as fresh to them? We need to keep the focus on our students and not on technology for its own sake.

Union Catalogs / Federated Searches

For each of our collections we’re working hard to structure our metadata and to define controlled vocabularies. But most of the time we aren’t taking advantage of the sharing that structured metadata allows. Either collections aren’t having their data harvested, or if they are, they’re going into giant collections like OAIster where it can be hard to find them. We need more union catalogs for material culture objects that are oriented for specific disciplines. By harvesting for a more specific kind of union catalog, we can transcend the “dumbing down” of data for Dublin Core standards and create variations that allow for richer data in each of our fields. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but building on Dublin Core or VRA or CDWA can really benefit our specific fields. For collections that have a strong visual component, some form of image needs to be a part of what is harvested and shows up in the federated search.

I look forward to reading your comments – and to meeting you all in person later this month!

Literary mapping and spatial markup

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the uses of digital maps in literary study, partly because I’ve been thinking about the connections between place and memory for a long time, and partly because I got interested in GIS a few years ago, while working in the UVa Library’s Scholars’ Lab along with some extremely smart geospatial data specialists. There’s been talk of a “spatial turn” in the humanities lately, and there are already models for what I’m interested in doing. Franco Moretti’s maps of literary places in Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900 and Barbara Piatti’s in-progress Literary Atlas of Europe have helped me think about the patterns that a map can help reveal in a work of fiction. I’m very much looking forward to hearing about Barbara Hui’s LitMap project, which looks a lot like what I’d like to make: a visualization of places named in a text and stages in characters’ journeys.

Since I came to the digital humanities via a crash course in TEI markup, I tend to think first of markup languages as a way to represent places, and capture place-related metadata, within a literary text. The TEI encoding scheme includes place, location, placeName, and geogName elements, which can be used to encode a fair amount of geographic detail, which can then be keyed to a gazetteer of place names. But there are also markup languages specifically for representing geospatial information (GML, SpatialML), and for displaying it in programs like Google Earth (KML). Using some combination of a database of texts, geographic markup, and map display tools seems like a logical approach to the problem of visualizing places in literature.

But (as I’ve said on my own blog, with a different set of examples) I’m also interested in spatial information that’s harder to represent. There are a lot of ways in which literary settings don’t translate well to points on a map. Lots of authors invent fictitious, and even when one can identify more or less where they’re supposed to be, one can’t supply exact coordinates. Consider Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence, both set in New York at the turn of the century and in the 1870s, respectively. One of my ongoing Google Maps experiments is a map of named places in both novels, focused on New York and Newport, Rhode Island. Both novels explore an intricate, minutely-grained social world, in which a character’s address says a great deal about his or her status. In some cases, the reader can precisely identify streets, points, and landmarks. And I think you can learn quite a lot about the world of Edith Wharton’s novels by looking at the spatial relationships between high society and everyone else, or between old and new money, or between a character’s point of entry into the world of the novel and where (physically and spatially) he or she ends up.

But in other cases the locations are harder to pin down. One can surmise where Skuytercliff, the van der Luydens’ country house in The Age of Innocence, is (somewhere on the Hudson River, not far from Peekskill), but it’s a fictional house whose exact location is left vague. The blob labeled “Skuytercliff” on my map represents a conjecture. And of course geoparsing won’t work if the place names are imaginary and the coordinates are unknown. So: what do we do with unreal places that still have some connection to the geography of the real world? And what if we want to visualize a writer’s completely imaginary spaces? What if we move out of fiction and into less setting-dependent literary forms, like poetry? How would one even begin to map settings in the work of, say, Jorge Luis Borges? Are there limits to the usefulness of visualization when we use it to analyze things that are fundamentally made out of words? Are some texts “mappable” and others much less so? (I’m pretty sure the answer to that last one is “yes.” I have yet to encounter an approach to literature that works equally well for everything from all time periods.)

So what I’d like to bring to the table at THATCamp is a set of questions to bounce off of people who’ve done more work with cartographic tools than I have. In some ways, my interests resonate with Robert Nelson’s post on standards, since I’m also thinking about what to do when the objects of humanistic study (in this case, literature) turn out to be too complex for the standards and data models that we have. If we end up having that session on standards, I’d like to be in on it. But I hope there are also enough people for a session on mapping and the representation of place.

How to get money, money, money for wild and crazy times!!

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Okay, not really.  But I do think this topic is particularly important right now.

This was my original proposal:
I’d like to talk about the role of faculty, IT, and administrators in collaborating to shape institutional strategic plans and planning in general for academic computing and the digital humanities.  I’ve spent nearly 18 months now involved in various strategic and practical planning committees at UMW regarding digital resources and goals for the humanities and social sciences.  Making sure that resources are allocated to the digital humanities requires broad commitments within administrative and strategic planning.  [Not as sexy or fun as WPMU or Omeka plug-ins, but sadly, just as important….]  I’d like to share my own experiences in the area and hear from others about theirs.

And today I would simply add that as UMW is closing in on a first draft of its strategic plan, I’m even more convinced that the college/university-wide planning process is something with which digital humanists need to be engaged.  In this time of dwindling economic resources, however, we also need to be, pardon the pun, strategic about it.  I think we need to figure out when we need to explain concepts, tools, the very notion of what digital humanities is and its place in the curriculum (something even THATCampers seem to be debating), when we need to do full-on DH evangelizing, and when we need to back off from our evangelizing in order to ease fears and/or recognize budgetary realities.  In any case, who else has had to make the case for Digital Humanities or academic technology as part of these processes?

Disciplinary Heresies and the Digital Humanities

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

Cross-posted at Clio Machine:

(This post is a continuation of some of the questions I raised in my original THATCamp proposal.)

Are the humanities inherently valuable, both in terms of the skills they impart to students and because the value of humanistic scholarship cannot be validated by external (often quantitative) measures?  Or are the humanities experiencing a crisis of funding and enrollments because they have not adequately or persuasively justified their worth?  These debates have recently resurfaced in the popular press and in academic arenas.  Some commentators would point to the recession as the primary reason for why these questions are being asked.  We should also consider the possibility that the mainstreaming of the digital humanities over last couple of years is another (but overlooked) reason for why questions about the value and worth of the traditional humanities are being taken more seriously.


A Giant EduGraph

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Hi all,

Really exciting stuff so far! (Can we make this a week-long event?)

Here’s what I’m up to, thinking about, and hoping to get guidance about from the Manhattan-Project-scale brainpower at THATCamp.

I’ve been working on ways to use semantic web stuff to expose and connect more info about what actually goes on in our classes, and especially in our WPMU environment, UMWBlogs. So far, I’ve been slowly working on scraping techniques and visualizations of the blog data at Semantic UMW. It sounds like this is similar stuff to Eric’s interest and Sterling’s interest — making connections — but in the domain of students and teachers and what they study.

The next phase of it is to get from the blog to the classroom. I want to ask and answer questions like:

  • Who’s studying the Semantic Web?
  • Is anyone teaching with “Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist”?
  • Anyone teaching from a Constructivist viewpoint?
  • What graduation requirements can I meet through courses that study things I’m interested in?
  • Can I study viral videos and meet a graduation requirement at the same time?
  • I’m a recruiter with a marketing firm. I need someone who has used Drupal, and is familiar with Linked Open Data.

I’d love to brainstorm about other kinds of questions/scenarios that people would like to answer!

(Here‘s a test/demo of an earlier version, with a handful of both fake and real data. Hopefully I’ll have demos of the updated version ready to roll by THATCamp.)

Part of the mission, and one of the things I’d like to hear thoughts about, is a types classification for the things that classes study. Here’s the run-down of it right now. Love to talk about where this succeeds and fails at being a general vocabulary for what classes study. — maybe even whether there are things in LOC I need to learn from?

Agent (Person / Group)
–Social Phenomenon
–Natural Phenomenon
–Natural Object

So, that’s the kinds of stuff I’d like to share and get feedback about.

I’ve got a handful of posts on this idea (warning! some contain serious RDF geekery, some do not).

And for the folks who are interested and are familiar with SPARQL, here’s an endpoint containing the current state of the vocabs, in graphs named . Also a set of sample data in graph

Zotero and Semantic Search

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Here is my original proposal for THATCamp, which I hoped would fit in with session ideas from the rest of you:

I would like to discuss theoretical issues in digital history in a way that is accessible and understandable to beginning digital humanists.  This is probably the common thread running through my interests and research.  I really wonder, for instance, whether digital history has its own research agenda or whether it simply facilitates the research agenda of traditional academic history.  I believe that Zotero will need a good theory for its subject indexing before it can launch a recommendation service.  Are any digital historians planning on producing any non-proprietary controlled vocabularies?  We need to have a good discussion of what the semantic web means for digital history.  Are we going to sit on our hands while information scientists hardwire the Internet with presentist ontologies?  Can digital historians create algorithmic definitions for historical context that formally describe the concepts, terms, and the relationships that prevailed in particular times and places?  What do digital historians hope to accomplish with text mining?  Are we going to pursue automatic summarization, categorization, clustering, concept extraction, entity relation, and sentiment analysis?  What methods from other disciplines should we consider when pursuing text mining?  What should be our stance on the attempt to reduce the “reading” of texts to computational algorithms and mathematical operations?  Will the programmers among us be switching over to parallel programming as chip manufacturers begin producing massively multi-core processors?  How prepared will we be to exploit the full capabilities of high-performance computing once it arrives on personal computers in the next few years?

Here is a post that just went up at my blog that addresses some of these issues and questions:

Zotero and Semantic Search

The good news is that Zotero 2.0 has arrived.  This long-awaited version allows a user to share her or his database/library of notes and citations with others and to collaborate on research in groups.  This will be a tremendous help to scholars who are coauthoring papers.  It also has a lot of potential for teaching research methods to students and facilitating their group projects.


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