On Saturday, I went to THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) New England at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. I’ve known of THATCamps for several years, but this was my first chance to actually attend one. I went to four sessions: Libraries, Archives, and Museums; Customizing Omeka; Doing Digital History with Non-Digital Sources (link to notes); and Network Analysis.
This post isn’t a comprehensive record of everything that went on, but rather just a few things that I found interesting or valuable about the experience.
1. The value of collaboration. In at least two of the sessions I went to, collaboration was explicitly discussed: between colleagues in the same discipline, colleagues in similar disciplines, colleagues in totally different disciplines (historians and computer scientists!), and even professors and grad students.
The bottom line: the best DH work is collaborative.
The challenge: Collaborating is risky. Working with people who know nothing about your subject matter can make communication difficult (but remember that your collaborator has equal difficulty communicating with you).
Best practices: Communicate, communicate, communicate! And in the final outcome, be sure to give credit where credit is due–the Fair Cite initiative can help humanists correctly and fairly give collaboration credit to all people involved in the project, academic or alt-ac.
2. New tools (for me) of digital humanities: I was introduced to several tools and resources that I never knew existed and I can’t wait to explore further. The two big ones are these:
Quantum GIS: This open-source mapping software may be the answer to my mega-problems with Neatline. Trying to use the institutional copy of ArcMap through the remote desktop was a complete disaster, besides my surprise that anything from CHNM/Scholars’ Lab types would require proprietary software. Turns out–it doesn’t! My life is revolutionized!
SNAC (Social Networks and Archival Context): This is a site where Linked Open Data is used to provide access to an aggregate of archives. To be truthful, even after half a session’s worth of discussion about LOD, I still don’t really understand what it is, but the value of an aggregate of archives, including rudimentary network graphs based on the metadata in the archival records, is only going to increase as more archives get linked to this database.
What were the major takeaways from the conference for me?
1. I need to go to more THATCamps now that I’ve got a little more lingo in my vocabulary.
2. I personally have opportunities for collaboration. The sessions weren’t the only places I learned about collaboration: interaction with the other campers opened up a staggering array of potential opportunities for me. It was remarkable how many people there were doing something related to naval history or the early republic. And many of them are working with things that I can either help with or be helped by. I’m excited about the new contacts I’ve made. In fact, this week a new friend and I are going to be customizing our Omeka sites based on what we learned at THATCamp. And now I’m thinking I would like a collaborator to help me make some maps for my site as well. (Digital cartographers, I’d like to chat if you’re into drawing oceans and battle diagrams.)
If you’re interested in digital humanities, I’d recommend you try to find a THATCamp in your area to attend. Since THATCamps have proliferated like rabbits over the past few years, you should be able to find one (for instance, another THATCamp, Hybrid Pedagogy, occurred simultaneously with THATCamp New England, and before the end of 2012, there are nine more THATCamps across the globe).