“Out-of-the-Box” Solutions

Not to be confused with the phrase, “thinking outside the box,” of course.

As Laurie Allen (@librlaurie) and I continue to build our support for digital scholarship at Haverford College, we are frequently asked by faculty and staff members to describe exactly what we mean by the phrase “digital scholarship.”  While the both of us are willing to speak theoretically on the topic all day long, we think a more effective strategy in “selling” our services to faculty is to show examples of what we’ve done and what we can do.  To this end, we have begun (with the help of our highly-skilled student workers) to develop templates for several web-based platforms like Omeka and WordPress for various types of digital scholarship projects that can be built quickly and simply.  I often refer to these as our “out-of-the-box solutions.”  Laurie frequently uses the phrase “digital toolboxes,” but whatever moniker we use, we feel that providing some parameters for our services will help encourage faculty to dip their toes into the digital scholarship pool.  Once we’ve worked with faculty members on simpler projects, the door will hopefully be open to more ambitious projects in the near future.

My hope is that our THATCamp@Penn experience will provide exposure to additional platforms or tools that would allow us to expand our suite of “out-of-the-box” solutions, and I would like to discuss the viability of this approach in general.  Does this seem like an effective strategy for building library support for digital scholarship, particularly at a liberal arts college?  Or do we run the risk of severely limiting the types of work we can do in the future?

I look forward to discussing these questions with fellow THATCampers in April!

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Identifying Common Needs

Digital Humanities covers a lot of ground.  I often assume that each new project must be a highly customized creation for a specific research interest and will have little in common with other projects.  But I want to challenge that assumption.  I’ll be listening to identify ideas for new tools or services that can be applied to a variety of projects in the future.  For example, I sometimes hear about the need to create interactive maps, including those showing borders that no longer exist.  Or tools that allow researchers to create text overlays on high resolution images of historical documents – making it easy to see both the original and translated text.   So, what are the tools that would be really useful to a variety of interests?  That’s what I want to find out.

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Collborations between Faculty and Subject Librarians/ Curators

The availability of new digital tools provides more opportunities to design creative course projects which would be helpful in developing students’ critical thinking skills. Not only would these kinds of projects make the research process exciting, but also more personal to the students. I am interested in learning about successful collaborations between faculty and subject librarians/ curators in using some of the freely available digital tools to promote learning and research in the humanities disciplines. How can they work together to make humanities research engaging and exciting for students? What would be some good approaches for successful collaborations?

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Digital Humanities Toolboxes

Even though there are now countless example projects to point to in the world of Digital Scholarship, I’m still looking for more ways to encourage faculty to think about the opportunities for their own research and teaching on our own small campus. As we build a program to expand our capacity to partner with faculty and students in the creation of new forms of scholarship, my colleague (@MikeZarafonetis) and I have been working with our awesome student workers on creating “Digital Toolboxes”. I’m hoping these toolboxes will serve two functions. First, by providing a couple of models for each tool (Omeka and WordPress to start), we’ll help faculty see clear, local examples of the kinds of projects they can engage in (using material from our own Library Special Collections). And secondly, by experimenting in small sample projects and documenting our process, we’ll increase our skill and ability in working with those tools. I’m hoping THATCamp@Penn can help us discover more “use cases” for these toolboxes, maybe find some local partners, and/or throw the whole notion up in the air and help us discover something new!

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Mediated Engagements

THATCampers might be interested in this conference hosted by the Center for the Humanities at Temple, where I’m currently a fellow. It will be a great opportunity to listen to really smart people talk about the politics of digital representation from a different angle!

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Presenting Research Online

Through THATCamp Philly, I became interested in using Omeka as a platform for presenting my own research and gathering materials from interested readers to effectively create a user-generated digital archive. Since I work on a topic of public interest in the very recent past (my dissertation is on African American AIDS activism) I think this would probably be a good way to present my work online while producing the raw material for others to do history on the same topic. Recent examples of this approach that I’ve seen include the Bracero History Archive and Matthew Frye Jacobson’s Historian’s Eye. Perhaps we could talk about the pleasures and perils of merging our own research with such a platform, or theoretical and methodological issues related to curating user-generated content.

Categories: Session Proposals | 1 Comment

New ways of preparing and publishing critical editions

I have read and am reading a few interesting books on critical thinking and critical editions in the digital environment. The critical editions can be more than texts, but can include artwork and music. What advantages do we have in moving from a primarily print environment to a primarily digital environment? In fact, does “primarily” even need to enter into the question? Perhaps the question is how do we take advantage of the best of print and digital in creating the critical edition of the future? I’d like to be able to think about not only the technological aspects of preparing an edition, but also think about how the person coming to that edition will read and think about it, how the edition and its various aspects will help those absorbing this new work make connections with what they already know and from there, spin their thoughts in new directions; how it will allow the calculations of “distant reading” and also the focus and consideration of “close reading.”

Categories: Publishing, Session Proposals | 1 Comment

How Individuals React Towards Technology

I would like to investigate attributes such as: how many encounters with a given technology are necessary before an individual becomes comfortable using it? Is this truly an individual characteristic or is it possible to identify a general threshold? In what ways should introduction to a given technology be tailored to increase individual self-efficacy? In cases, where a technology is adopted as a supportive tool for content knowledge, how do we know whether it is in fact increasing an individual’s understanding of the content? E.g., how does representation of knowledge through a web based medium change understanding of content? Finally, I am interested in exploring what makes people resist use of technology and why?

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Making sensible decisions about tools

I would like to discuss at THATCamp@Penn ways to make better sense of the multitudes of tech tools we use at Penn. I can think of more than ten tools that faculty and graduate students use to create websites, and at least a handful of individual-use database tools. So many options are available for annotating PDFs, working with references, making screen videos, sharing files with students, helping students to create digital content, and presenting research. The number of tools keeps growing. Many tools do many things – the overlaps are complicated, and change over time.  When I encounter a new tool – Mendeley comes to mind – I would love to know of a local place to look up who at Penn is using that tool already, how they use it, and why they chose it. I would love to find examples of projects for that tool, so I know if it is worth my time to learn it and possibly switch to it.

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What do you want to discuss at THATCamp@Penn?

Please take a minute to post on the THATCamp@Penn blog – introduce yourself to our learning community, and share a little bit about what you would like to discuss on April 25. What would make our unconference a success for you? Feel free to share links, images, videos, etc. See also THATCamp’s advice on and examples of proposing an unconference session for help.

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