The (non-textual) Future of Digital Humanities

After reading Fred’s proposal about R (and now Lincoln’s about scripting languages), I’ve been thinking about how much DH is focused on the analysis of text. This is understandable, given the interests and backgrounds of most people involved in the community, but I’d like to have a discussion of other areas in which community members are interested and are producing innovative work. This could include a conversation about trends and new directions in DH, which would be great for us newbies who are trying to get a sense of where this field is headed.

I can think of a few non-textual areas that seem to get a fair share of attention. That would be with geographical information and images, with Trevor’s proposal as an example of the latter. Is anyone doing work that’s even more original? Two more examples that come to mind are William Turkel’s work with sound and Kathryn Tomasek’s with financial information, though the latter might fit more into the text-centric mold. Regardless, if you’re working on an original project, non-textual or otherwise, let’s meet and share. We might discover new directions to take DH.

Of course, we should also talk about the technologies that are driving our new projects. What programming language or application are you using? Have you had success with an application that hasn’t had much attention?

Working Group for Digital Historians

THATCamp offers a gathering of individuals from many disciplinary and professional backgrounds, and that mix of experiences is one of the things that make it such a great opportunity for collaboration. But, so much work in the digital humanities is driven forward by literary and media studies, I’d like to propose that the historians in the crowd take an hour to talk about ways to form a loose affiliation of those individuals who share our disciplinary commitments and questions.

I think it might make sense to strengthen/create some channels that will let us share questions and methods with others historians (academic, public, independent, and enthusiast). I’m not sure that the outcome of this session might be: a working group? a group blog? an aggregator of conference sessions and meeting events? What do you think we need to grow the sense of community and innovation among digital historians?

Blogs in the classroom

I would be interested in having a conversation about using blogs to enhance student engagement with course material. How do you use blogs? For research? For reflection? What has/has not worked for you (or: what would you like to do with a blog?)? What skills can blogs help students develop? Is the class blog an intermediate step in some larger project or is it the final product? What is its relationship to other assignments? If there is interest, we can extend the discussion to the use of other social media in the classroom, e.g., Twitter.

Distant, Close, Big, Small: Rethinking the Scale of Things

In the digital humanities we often talk about distant reading and big data. In the more traditional humanities we often talk about close reading and the importance of small details. But it seems to me that both approaches to cultural material—distant, close, big, small—fail to reckon with what it means to change the scale of things.

The premise of this proposal is that changing the scale of something is one of the most transformative modes of producing knowledge. I’m thinking of actual, visual scale. Imagine a short passage from literature, blown up to fill an entire poster board, which students take turns annotating. The words in the story, once lost in a sea of text, become a separate entity, manipulable in an entirely new tactile way. Or take a panel from a graphic novel or a historical photograph, and zoom, zoom, zoom using a document camera. What do we see now that wasn’t there before?

As I said, I’m thinking of visual scale, but certainly there are other magnitudinal changes to consider. The size of a textual corpus is another obvious scale adjustment, but what about the other senses, like touch or sound? I’m drawn personally to theorizing closeness—to seeing the world in a grain of sand—but it’s just as crucial to rethink the distant and far.

In this session we’d discuss tools and techniques for changing the scale of things, what changing the scale of things means for teaching and research, and in general strive to move beyond the binary distinction between distant and close in order to think about scale in new and inventive ways.


Talking about challenges and competitions for local and broad innovation

I’d meant to blog about this following the talk at WebWise about competitions, but sadly never did it. So I’ll try to redeem myself here.

Challenges/Competitions, much like THATCamp Prime’s own Maker Challenge, are a great way to facilitate open and wacky innovation.

Anyone want to talk about experiences or ideas with them? What works and what doesn’t? Best practices for them to get the most out of them? Ideas or plans to take away to implement one locally?

Let’s see if coders and organizers can get together to put together some principles and ideas for how to make these things work on whatever scale.




Tools and Tactics for Advocacy and Outreach

N.B.: I began this post before seeing John Glover‘s Shock and Awe proposal. These could easily be combined.

For those lucky enough to have jobs that directly relate to the Digital Humanities, whether you’re working in academia, museums, libraries, or archives, part of your job is to advocate to the unconvinced. While those that created the position may have seen the importance of digital work– or were at least keeping up with trends and understand that DH is the new hotness– many of your colleagues may be less convinced.

We have to find ways to advocate to those in our fields about the advantages of digital work– and persuade them to invest time, money, and energy into digital projects. Likewise, we have to reach out to our audiences and get them to use our digital tools and resources.

I’d like to propose a discussion on best practices for advocacy and outreach. What do you find helps convince your institutions to get onboard with projects you can’t do alone? How do you shift institutional inertia and get people to work together who may be skeptical about DH projects? How do you raise awareness of your projects when they’re ready to go live? How do you convince people outside your institution that it’s worth investing energy and time into your projects?

I see this as a wide-ranging and rather loose conversation, an opportunity people to share across disciplinary, institutional, and other boundaries about what has worked for them, what has not, and why they think that is. Topics might include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • How do you persuade the curatorial department of your museum to do the extra work so that your online exhibit might be more than just an online version of the physical exhibit?
  • How do you talk to fellow academics who are inveterately analog when you feel they might benefit from DH approaches?
  • How do you convince an archive that textual records are important to digitize too– not just the photos that drive a lot of hits?
  • How do you work to gain the trust and efforts of a community to contribute materials for an online archive, transcription project, etc?
  • Twitter: is it really useful for outreach, or are you just preaching to the choir?
  • How do you weigh the need to do advocacy and outreach against the needs to actually produce scholarship/tools/databases/etc?
  • Is there ever going to be an end to “What is the Digital Humanities and…” panels at every conference? Is it better to integrate DH scholarship with the rest of the group or to put DH at center stage?
  • How do you reach out to other comparable institutions so they know about your projects, and perhaps either send interested parties your way or even collaborate?

…This may not be a super-groundbreaking topic– it’s something we’ve all talked about amongst ourselves. But I think it’s one of those perennial discussions we have to keep having as we all navigate a fairly new and frequently-shifting landscape.

Shock & Awe, Business Cards, and the DH Elevator Pitch

We all have to summarize research, promote ourselves, and win over indifferent audiences, but how do we do all of those things simultaneously when our listeners don’t understand our aims or vocabulary? Elevator pitches are about presenting a product or idea, using a distilled message to make a sale or win over a key player, but summarizing DH for people used to authority and concision can be a challenge.

I’d like to talk about good approaches to advocating effectively and quickly for DH, whether talking with the general public, administrators, or potential donors. I think doing DH in the open means, at least right now, not just putting files online, ensuring public access, going CC, etc.: I think we have to be able to communicate to the people who don’t come knocking at our door. I categorized this as a “Talk” session, but depending on who’s interested, we might want to play around with practice pitches + instant feedback, or role playing. Here are some conversation sparks:

Shock & Awe. What are some of our favorite phrases or facts for talking about the power or breadth of digital humanities approaches? How about sharing our favorite sites or apps to showcase on phone or tablet?

Business Cards. How do you represent yourself–DH first, middle, or last? Do you use any jargon? Do you give people formal business, cards, informal cards, share your Twitter handle?

If you’re at an institution without a huge DH presence, or you’re meeting with someone who’s not that interested in it, how do you demonstrate the value of DH? What are some good strategies to use when your Provost/Dean/Principal/Lead asks why you haven’t produced a monograph (or three) yet?

Finally, why do I care about this? I’m a librarian, and while I work with students and faculty “doing” DH, I also work with people who have varying levels of awareness of it, or who might be interested but have little time to find an entry point. Maybe most of all, I want to be able to speak more effectively with people who are interested in contributing time, money, or energy to DH efforts, but who need convincing.

Let’s Make a (Book) Deal

Updated for THATCamp CHNM session on Sat June 8th, 2013, 11am – 12:30pm

Here’s the deal: I’ll teach two key stages of creating a book with open-source WordPress tools, and in turn, will ask participants to post an idea or comment on our open-access book-in-progress, Web Writing: Why & How for Teaching & Learning, sponsored by Trinity College (CT). Sign up to receive free temporary admin account for hands-on PressBooks tutorial.

See demonstration of two tools in WordPress workflow:

  • CommentPress for developmental editing of draft texts at book, page, and paragraph-level
  • PressBooks for publishing across multiple formats (web, PDF, Kindle and ePub readers)

Both tools can run on self-hosted WordPress sites (not, see basics here

See how it works page for system requirements, how to install back-end, and comparisons

Hands-on tutorial with PressBooks temp admin accounts to upload content & create your own book

What works, and what could be improved, with PressBooks? Login & share thoughts on notepad

How can authors and publishers work together to use these tools? See Anvil Academic example

Invitation: shape direction of Web Writing book by sharing essay idea or commenting on others

* * * * * * * *
Original session proposal, June 5th: This scholarly communication session idea expands on Sarah Werner’s proposal on building a repository of publishing contracts, and Joan Troyano’s suggestion to brainstorm new ways to publish humanities scholarship. Can we make a deal to learn from one another? In the spirit of legendary game show host Monty Hall, choose one of these doors to see what you can win at this session:

Door #1: Negotiating with Publishers about Paywalls and Open Access: I have more questions than answers on this topic, and would love to learn more from others’ experiences (see Sarah Werner, Working with a Contributor’s Contract). But in my view, scholars need better negotiating skills as publishers  continue to reposition themselves with respect to the web, and that means (1) understand the motivations of other parties and (2) know your next best option than the one you’re facing at that particular moment. A THATCamp discussion with rich examples might benefit from by my public dialogues with open-access publishers Anvil Academic and my recent exchange with Michigan Publishing/University of Michigan Press, in addition to correspondence, contracts, and reflections in the “how this book evolved” section of Writing History in the Digital Age (co-edited with Kristen Nawrotzki).

Door #2: Hands-on Tutorial with PressBooks: Looking for better digital publishing tools? Hugh McGuire and colleagues recently released the open-source PressBooks plugin for WordPress Multisite, which transforms your content into polished publications for multiple readers: PDF for print, web-book for online reading, Mobi for Kindle, ePUB for iBooks, Nook, etc. My colleagues Carlos Espinosa (Trinfo Cafe) and Korey Jackson (Anvil Academic) and I created a WordPress-based publishing workflow demonstration site at If THATCampers desire hands-on access, I can instantly create sub-site admin accounts and a 5-minute tutorial on creating your own publication in PressBooks, to compare with related tools such as Anthologize.

Door #3: Take a chance on the Mystery Door* (It’s a surprise, just like the game show. Read more about the related Monty Hall Problem.)

WebWritingA-400pxSo what’s the deal? If you choose any of the doors above, then you agree to post a comment on a book-in-progress, Web Writing: Why & How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning. This freely accessible, open peer-review volume explores why & how faculty and students use web-based authoring, annotating, and publishing tools in the liberal arts. My editorial team and I are particularly interested in works that blend the “why & how” by making effective use of the open web platform to blend thoughtful insights with illustrative examples (including links, screenshots, images, etc.). The book’s sponsor, the Center for Teaching and Learning at Trinity College, will award $300 subventions to 5 outstanding proposals, with preference given to authors in greater financial need (e.g. students or faculty not in full-time, tenure-track positions). If you’re a prospective contributor, or just an interested reader, post a comment on our Call for Ideas & Essay Proposals page before June 15th. Full drafts are not due until August 15th, 2013. Learn about our editorial process and timeline for the Fall 2013 open peer review and freely-accessible digital publication, possibly with a scholarly press. See more at

*Void where prohibited by law. Gambling is not necessarily endorsed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History & New Media, except for spending ridiculous numbers of hours to prepare and submit grant proposals that have very long odds of being funded.

Intermediate Omeka

Because of popular demand, and because an extra slot opened up in the schedule, I’ve agreed to teach an Intermediate Omeka workshop on Saturday. (I may have to end it a bit early to set things up for challenge voting, though.)

Mostly what I’ll do in this session is answer any questions that people have left over from the Intro to Omeka workshop, but chances are I’ll demonstrate how to obtain server space, how to install the server-side version of Omeka, how to install themes and plugins from, and how to customize a server-side installation of Omeka.

Great (and simple) Omeka exhibits

Installing Omeka

  • Hosting Suggestions –
  • Preparing to Install Omeka –
  • Installation step by step –
    • Customizing Omeka

      There are many helpful documents on the Omeka Documentation page. The “Recipes” near the bottom are particularly helpful to beginners. See, for instance, the Recipe for how to set a default thumbnail image for items that don’t have an associated image file: That’s a very similar process to the example we went over briefly in class for my project at of setting a regular thumbnail instead of a square thumbnail for items such as that do have an uploaded image. See also the full list of PHP Functions for Omeka — these are “template” pieces of code that will make a particular common thing happen (such as showing the thumbnail or the square thumbnail).

      Note that any competent graphic designer who knows HTML and CSS can customize the look and feel of Omeka, and any competent PHP developer can customize the functionality of Omeka. You can pick up HTML, CSS, and PHP skills yourself from the Internet or from a book, but if you need extensive customization, you should hire someone. (You could for instance hire someone from the “Designer / Developer Marketplace” on the Omeka forums.) It’s kind of like your car: you can learn to change the oil, gap the spark plugs, and rebuild the carburetor yourself if you want to, or you can pay someone else to do all that. The Omeka team at the Center for History and New Media is like the team of Detroit-based engineers at General Motors, but there are designers and developers everywhere who, like auto mechanics, can work on your specific problems.