The humanities research process – what could the future look like?

Friday, May 30th, 2008 | endrina tay

Looking at the range of interests represented so far on the blog, I also wanted to share an idea that caught my imagination raised recently by Geoffrey Rockwell, digital humanist and TAPoR director, at last week’s New Horizons in Teaching and Research 2008 Conference at the University of Virginia.  The humanities research process has made quantum leaps in terms of widespread access through mass digitization efforts such as Google Books and the Internet Archive, and the development of citation tools like Zotero and text analysis tools.  These enabling tools have and are making significant impact on the discovery and selection stages in the humanities research process.  These however are discrete steps in the whole process.  Geoffrey envisioned the day when there would be a comprehensive tool or suite of tools that would carry research data from the very beginning stages of search & discovery, through selection, text analysis, and right through to publication.  He painted a future where humanities scholars can move and relate research material through the entire research cycle, not just portions of it.  What would a tool or suite of tools like that look like?

Research commons for scholars

Friday, May 30th, 2008 | endrina tay

I’m intrigued by Chris Blanchard’s Pronetos project.  At the International Center for Jefferson Studies (ICJS) at Monticello, we’ve been exploring ways to build an online community of Jefferson scholars, historians and research fellows (past, present & future), where they can identify and link up with other scholars working in similar topics relating to the life, times, and legacy of Thomas Jefferson.  We think of it as an extension of the physical space and community we provide at Kenwood for scholarly exchange and discourse, and a means for fellows and scholars from all over the globe to continue conversations beyond their time at ICJS.  We’ll like to see a research commons emerge that incorporates collaboration, sharing of sources, critiquing of draft papers, joint development of conferences & symposia, reviews & recommendations, a repository of research papers, toolkits for historical analysis, etc.

I can definitely see the potential of creating a social network built around a specialized focus, but linking out to a wider network of Early American historians, and then also to scholars in Pronetos and other scholarly social networks.

I’d be interested to learn from folks about other F/OSS like Pronetos out there.  What do folks think about adapting Facebook, or Mediawiki to do something similar?  Is there a good way to manage different discussion threads over time so there’s some coherence?  How do we encourage scholars who are less comfortable with technology to participate?  How do we incentivize participation, contribute content, and share research?  In other words, how do we enlarge participation beyond the 20% who contribute 80% of the content?  And how do we remove real and perceived barriers to participation from the remaining 80% of folks whom we want to draw in?

Development practices

Thursday, May 29th, 2008 | travis brown

This probably falls at least partly under the general heading of sustainability, but I would be interested in a mini-session or discussion about development practices and patterns for small teams in academic settings.

My development team was recently expanded from myself to myself and two undergraduate programmers, and we’re currently in the process of setting up a system with a few basic tools: Mercurial for distributed revision control, Trac for bug tracking, task management, and documentation, and some ad-hoc mod_rewrite sorcery so that we can easily deploy and try out our own revisions and each other’s.

I would be curious to hear about other people’s experiences in similar situations. What worked? What didn’t?

a moveable feast

Thursday, May 29th, 2008 |

I’m coming late to the blog party, and can’t believe what an amazing group of people we have here! Dan, can we all crash for the week?

My initial proposal to THATcamp was to set up a kind of birds-of-a-feather session on policy and management issues around open source development in higher ed — so I was glad to see that Tom is thinking more broadly, but along similar lines. (And of course all the sustainability talk fits right in here.)

My department at UVA supports and contributes to a number of open source faculty projects, and we also have a few of our own going on right now: Blacklight (which my colleague Bess may present), Fathom (a kind of showcase/social networking portal project being built, at least initially, for the digital humanities community at UVA), and a new, still nameless, web-services framework for delivering GIS data for a variety of scholarly applications. (Can’t link to the latter two yet; developers would squeal, but sneak peeks are possible.)

These are three projects coming out of the same lab, but with radically different institutional / policy-level situations regarding their open-source status. We’re in a situation where patent and IP policies designed for big pharma can squelch digital humanities development without even noticing. It’s a vexing issue at UVA — and I suspect more broadly, too. Would anybody be interested in helping me do a kind of a survey and see if we could share approaches, successes, horror stories, etc?

Some other thoughts: we’re working a lot with geospatial data in collaborations with faculty and also in figuring out how best to manage and deliver library GIS collections at UVA. I’m a geospatial neophyte (suddenly managing GIS projects) and am eager to learn from Sean and others with more experience.

The temporal is the next dimension poised to smack us in all these geo-referenced projects, and we’re keen to explore some of the special problems around representing time in humanities data. Along those lines, maybe as a part of a session on historical visualization, I’d be happy to share some experiences from the late, lamented Temporal Modelling Project I undertook with Johanna Drucker about six or seven years ago. This was an attempt to create a visual “language” for expressing the kind of inflected temporalities you see in literary and historical documents. Can you put impatience on a timeline? What about déjà vu? Foreshadowing? Regret? (Temp Mod is also an example of an abortive DH project. Why are there so many? Foreshadowing? Regret?)

On with the random notes: if somebody can re-energize me about gaming in the humanities, please do! I used to teach (and do) game development at UVA, but I think I got Ivanhoe‘d out.

Finally, count me in on visualization and aggregation — Jeanne and Laura’s conversation about federating archival data and what you do with it once it’s all there. Collex and NINES have been fruitful, but I’m ready to imagine some next steps.

Introducing Encyclopedia Virginia

Thursday, May 29th, 2008 | matthew gaventa

Though I’m way late in doing so, I did want to just introduce my project to the folks here before we all converge (if only hours before). I don’t think it’s covering any drastically new ground but maybe ties in to a number of the different conversational threads that have been going through these posts. I’m happy to demo what we’ve got this weekend, but equally happy to watch & learn from the audience.

Encyclopedia Virginia is a new project of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Quite a few different state and regional encyclopedia projects have cropped up over the past decade; EV is one of the first to do so with a mandate to create entirely new entry content instead of simply publishing online a preexisting print encyclopedia.

We got charged, as I’m sure most of you have been, with creating a web project that would take advantage of the latest & greatest web technologies while also building itself for longterm sustainability (seeing as how an in-depth state encyclopedia like ours could be 10 years in content development alone, so we’ve got to have technology that can nimbly adjust to changing web standards, trends, etc.).

To that end, we’re borrowing a few tricks from digital libraries and archives, and encoding our entries in TEI. In some sense it’s overkill — this content is all digitally-born, so much of TEI’s capabilities w/r/t annotating archival manuscript is lost here. Hopefully, what it empowers down the road is some interoperability between EV content and other regional encyclopedia or digital library content, and some small immunity to the changing web trends over the long course of our content development.

We’ve built a custom CMS that ingests TEI and strips out various elements into your standard MySQL database for web delivery. We perform a similar task for our media objects, creating METS records for each object which the CMS ingests and strips apart. While, again, this in some ways constitutes quite a bit of overkill, it makes more sense when we try to think about the project as both an online encyclopedia and a digital library, and we’re hoping that the flexibility and openness offered by XML will reap benefits for us down the road.

So, a few different things I’d love to talk about over the course of the weekend (not including all of the great things I’ve already read — my curiosity and interest are piqued!):

  1. What is our responsibility vis-a-vis creating content that is accessible with the technologies of both today and tomorrow? How do we build digital creations that can themselves be lasting archives?
  2. Are archival standards like TEI and METS appropriate for digitally-born content? Obviously, EV is doing this, but I don’t think it’s a given that it’s always the right choice.
  3. (one close to my heart) What is the responsibility of digital archives w/r/t copyright and intellectual property? I manage EV’s media objects, finding things we can use in all kinds of archives, and struggle with this every day — as I try to get as many objects as possible delivered to the public, without getting sued. What role can humanities institutions and projects play in this culture battle? I think particularly there may be some overlap with the interest in Creative Commons that was expressed earlier.

See you on Saturday!

What Camp? THATCamp!

Short for “The Humanities and Technology Camp”, THATCamp is a BarCamp-style, user-generated “unconference” on digital humanities. THATCamp is organized and hosted by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, Digital Campus, and THATPodcast. Learn more….