Archive for June, 2011

Announcing the THATCamp Junior Dates

I’m pleased to announce that our THATCamp Junior project—making a film with our kids—will take place on Friday and Saturday, 8-9 July, in Atlanta. We know it’s not much advanced notice, but we invite others to come and play along with us. Get in touch with me via Twitter if you’re interested!

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Announcing #alt-ac: Playing on Both Teams, Winning on One

I’m tremendously excited to announce the release of #alt-academy, spearheaded by Bethany Nowviskie and involving 32 initial contributors, including myself. Built in the MediaCommons framework, you are welcome to not only read the essays in the collection, but also respond to the authors’ essays. What’s more, the collection will grow in the future and the call for further contributions has already been posted.

The #alt-academy evolved in response to a series of tweets on 20 November 2009, including one from myself asking Bethany (and other alt-ackers) to provide signposts for getting started on an #alt-ac career. Now that I’m in the beginning of just such a career, I’m pleased to provide my own signposts, idiosyncratic though they may be. To that end, my essay—”Playing on Both Teams, Winning on One“—compares and contrasts my experiences applying to tenure-track and #alt-ac jobs (finding, applying, and interviewing). More importantly—for me, at least—are my reflections on the feelings and appearance of failure that one may (inevitably?) feel on transitioning from traditional academic careers and into a new position.

I’ve not had a chance to read much of the collection yet, but it’s where I’m going to be spending my free time in the coming week. I look forward to seeing others’ thoughts about my own essay as well as the larger conversations that will spiral out from the project as a whole.

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Coming to MLA12…Building Digital Humanities in the Undergraduate Classroom

I’m excited to say that the electronic roundtable that Kathi Berens and I proposed for the 2012 MLA Convention has been accepted. The session grew out of proposals that were originally submitted to Kathy Harris‘s roundtable on digital pedagogy. She received so many great abstracts that she couldn’t include them all. Consequently she asked Kathi and I, who had separately sent her abstracts, if we would consider putting forward a session of our own using some of the abstracts that seemed thematically related.

Something that’s interesting about MLA sessions is that one works very hard on the proposal to be something that speaks to the program committee, but that session proposal is then condensed into less than 200 words that will appear in the actual program. Such a process allows the session to change in the nine months following the proposal. The proposal becomes something of a lost document then. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Who wants to read abstracts, after all, of sessions?

But since this proposal reflects some significant intellectual labor on the part of Kathi and myself and because I like to make public those things that I write, I want to share our proposal for #MLA12. Feel free to print out a copy to read again and again.

Building Digital Humanities in the Undergraduate Classroom: An Electronic Roundtable

At the “History and Future of Digital Humanities” panel at the 2011 MLA, Stephen Ramsay discussed the perennial problem of defining what “counts” as work within the digital humanities. Taking what he knew would be a provocative stance, Ramsay declared, “Personally, I think Digital Humanities is about building things. […I]f you are not making anything, you are not […] a digital humanist.” This declaration incited passionate debate in the weeks immediately following the Convention and prompted Ramsay to clarify his remarks: “Building is, for us, a new kind of hermeneutic — one that is quite a bit more radical than taking the traditional methods of humanistic inquiry and applying them to digital objects.” Building allows the maker to look at an object, a text, or some piece of information anew, producing discoveries that would not be found otherwise. The “radical” potential of the digital humanities that Ramsay envisions is that building and interpreting is a lapidary process: slicing facets of the same gem.

Barriers to participation in the digital humanities have lowered during the last five years, as a handful of simple tools permit the creation of digital artifacts that nevertheless yield significant opportunity for interpretation. With a few rapid clicks of a mouse, a scholar can drop descriptive markers into Bing Maps or plot points within Google Earth. In a short time, one can create a rough map of Huckleberry Finn’s trip down the Mississippi River or visualize the approximate size of the titular object in Donald Barthelme’s story “The Balloon,” acts that literally help you new things about the text. Indeed, the tools to map events and objects are simple enough to be quickly introduced into the undergraduate classroom. Such ease of use is especially important in this context, where faculty cannot assume that students have prior (or continued) technical training: tools have to be simple to use so that the intellectual endeavor can focus on the simultaneous and recursive practices of building and interpreting. Undergraduates bring various digital skill sets into the classroom, but their preparation as interpreters of text is routinely underdeveloped. Through the act of building, students create new vantage points from which to apply humanistic hermeneutics. What’s more, since undergraduates are accustomed to consuming information without assessing how media shapes their consumption, building digital artifacts helps them perceive the literally built, constructed nature of digital engagement.

In this digital roundtable, panelists will present undergraduate work that has been created in response to assignments designed to foster the building/interpretation feedback loop of the digital humanities in undergraduates. The projects featured present a full range of technical complexity: from low-barrier-to-entry platforms like woices (dropping audio files on a Google map) to multimodal, geospatial timelines of key years in American literary history, to a map of early modern London that students annotate encyclopedically, street-by-street.

The seventy-five minute session will begin with an overview of the projects. Each presenter (or team of co-presenters) will show-and-tell for five minutes. Then attendees will be free to circulate and review the projects of most interest to them for half an hour. The intended audience of this roundtable will include those with different vectors of interest in the projects: novice-to-expert technical engagement; collaboratively produced student projects or individually produced ones; and the degree to which institutional support is required to do the project.  In the final ten minutes of the session, the co-presiders will facilitate discussion among attendees.

Attendees of this digital roundtable will gain: 1) off-the-shelf assignments vetted for optimal implementation, assessment, and desired learning outcomes; and 2) an overview of the wide range of projects, from simple to complex, that engage undergraduates in digital humanities praxis. Implicitly, this roundtable sends the message that “building stuff” is foundational to the digital humanities and, crucially, that the technical barriers to participation can be very low. The ease of clearing professional barriers to begin work in the digital humanities is demonstrated by the diversity of our panelists: tenured and tenure-track professors, a program director, post-docs, a graduate student, librarian, an adjunct, and an E-Learning project manager. Digital humanities veterans and novices alike will find projects at this roundtable that build fresh insights about how they can stimulate both collaborative construction and humanistic inquiry in their undergraduate teaching.


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THATCamp Junior

If my memory doesn’t fail me, it was shortly after last year’s THATCamp at CHNM when a few friends and I started kicking around the idea of THATCamp Junior. I’m not exactly sure what made us think of the idea: it could have been the post-unconference love that made us want to all hang out again as soon as possible; it could have been Jason’s sending his son to “Adventures in Game Design” camp; but most likely it was the realization that we each had one or more children around the same age and the assumption that if their parents enjoyed each other’s company then of course the children would have as much fun with one another. The idea was to get our kids hacking, building, and learning alongside their parents, who would be able to help with different sessions based on their skill sets.

The idea of TC Jr got batted around a few other times in the subsequent months. It got so far this spring that my co-conspirators and I had begun a collaborative Google Doc (my preferred platform for conspiracies, although my vaporware-to-real ratio on such conspiracies is always in flux) and had chosen some dates for the summer. We even had a venue. We hit a snag, however, when we needed to decide whether or not we would make the event open to a large group of people or just restrict it to our friends. Restricting attendees seemed very counter to the idea of THATCamps, but I knew that if I was going to pitch the idea to my wife that we should take our family on a vacation to a place with a bunch of people she had never met that I was going to have be able to sell her on the people involved being very cool. Moreover, THATCamps work best when you have a limited attendance; the largest of them have been about 125 people. You hit that Dunbar number pretty quickly when you’re bringing entire families to an event.

Resolving this problem of inclusivity as well as how crazy everyone’s summer schedules are led to the GDoc being abandoned. On the evening before the camp started a week and a half ago, I found myself talking with Dan Cohen about some of the activities he does with his twin seven year-olds, I found myself starting to talk about TC Jr again. Since I had yet to propose a session for the Camp and since I knew that THATCamp session can be devoted to helping someone with a project they’re stuck on, I decided to propose a session on TC Jr. The session ended up being combined with one proposed by Christina Jenkins on thinking about getting K-12 students the training that they need to be ready for the digital humanities in college. Many people attending the session were interested in both ideas, but it quickly became apparent that the two ideas weren’t close enough to have in one conversation. A small group (David Morgen, Leeann Hunter, Raf Alvarado, and myself) broke off to try to tease out the TC Jr conundrum.

I had previously imagined TC Jr as a mini programming or digital humanities bootcamp. In a short week’s time, my kids would have the basics of programming down, better understand social media, and have their WordPress theme’s chosen. In between, we would throw Frisbees and work with LEGO Mindstorms. But when sitting down with people face-to-face rather than working solo and asynchronously in a GDoc, I was forced finally to articulate what it is that I would like for my children to get out of such an event. And in the end, what I think would be most valuable about TC Jr for my children is twofold.


First, they could use the chance to interact with other children of their same age. For a variety of reasons, some related to where we live in Atlanta, some related to where our extended family lives, and some related to nothing more than life playing out, our children don’t have many other children to play with. Bringing my kids to a one-time meetup with others certainly wouldn’t change their daily lives, but being able to spend 2-3 days with a lot of other kids could be transformative. Something like bringing a bunch of digital humanists together to one physical location.

But even more important than this interaction, what I think the real advantage of taking the THATCamp model to a group of kids is the self-generative nature of an unconference. THATCamps play out not according to the whims of a program committee but according to what the Campers want to do that very day and what they themselves bring to the table. And while I think it would be cool to teach my kids something about programming (maybe I could learn at the same time, right?), having an adult standing at the front of the room teaching them isn’t really what a THATCamp is all about. In some ways, perhaps, I need a TC Jr to help me loosen up and let the kids take the reins about what they would like to learn or make. Who knows what might come out of such an exchange?

Other children and self-directed experience, then, were my chief concerns. But those of us talking knew from our own THATCamp experience that some structure is necessary for an event to come off. So we started talking about activities that children could be in charge of and that their parents, aunts, or uncles could help them make a reality. Based on another secret, collaborative Google Doc (see above re:vaporware), David and I suggested the kids launching a website talking about music. But that seemed hard for a range of kids to be able to participate in. The next idea, which quickly gained traction, was making a movie. The kids could script it; they could film it using something simple like a Flip; they could make costumes out of whatever we had lying around. The adults could provide muscle and help with editing the footage together in iMovie and uploading it to YouTube or any other place the kids would like so they could show it off. And I took a solemn oath, right there outside CHNM, that I would add in as much terrible earthquake effects as the kids wanted. The advantage of making a movie tied in with one of David’s hopes for TC Jr: helping his children understand that they can be creators rather than just passive consumers.

Since THATCamp is about more hack than yak, we not only wanted to come up with a plan but to make sure the plan is carried through. Since three out of the four of us in the conversation were based in Atlanta, we are going to host TC Jr here, this summer; we’ll share the date as soon as we’ve finalized it. It might be a drive, but any and all are welcome to come and we can even try to help you find some place to stay.

Perhaps there’s space for a TC Jr that looks a lot more like a regular—if there can be such a thing—THATCamp or a bootcamp. Goodness knows, I learned plenty during Jeremy Boggs‘s, Amanda French‘s, and Tom Scheinfeldt‘s BootCamp sessions this year. But for now, I think the best model for TC Jr—or at least our TC Jr—is something closer to THATCamp Bay Area’s “THATCamp Project.” This is an experiment. We’ll be sharing what happens and look forward to your feedback!


**It’s worth saying that while I’m using the plural pronoun “we” throughout this post represents my take on the proceedings and that Raf, David, and Leeann share none of the guilt for my inability to write a succinct post. **


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Session Proposal for THATCamp CHNM 2011

I’m about as late as can be in getting up my THATCamp session proposal. But I wanted to put it here for posterity as well:

At various times over the last year, there have been conversations about holding a THATCamp that was aimed at parents and kids. I know that we aren’t all parents, but for those of us who are, I’d be interested in having a session where we tease out what a THATCamp Junior would look like, whether it would be one event or joint local events, and how we can go about making it something real.

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