Coming August 11, 2009

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Organizing THATCamp Austin

We’d like to share our experience organizing THATCamp Austin with people interested in putting on their own regional THATCamps.  I’m not sure we know enough to put together an authoritative how-to, but we can certainly explain what we did.

Organizers: We had four talented co-organizers who volunteered their time.  Ben and Peter live in Austin, while Lisa and Jeanne are in Maryland but were attending SAA.  As you see in the timeline, there was plenty of work for the off-site organizers to do.  Each of us have full-time jobs and children aged between 3 and 6, so most of the work was done late at night or early in the morning.

Budget: $845 (around $490 for shirts, ca. $300 for pizza, remainder spent on office supplies, web hosting, and postage).  Initially we planned to fund our costs by asking participants to contribute around $20, but we were able to get commitments for as much as $900 from our sponsors in the week before the event.

Participants: We counted about 50 participants at 7:00.  A majority of them were attending SAA, and only 20 hands went up when we asked how many would have attended THATCamp Austin if they weren’t attending SAA.

Tools: We used WordPress for the blog, Google Docs for the applicant spreadsheet, Doodle for the timing survey, Google Groups for both the planner mailing list and application tracking, and a GMail account for correspondence.

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Suggestions for regional THATCamps

THATCamp Austin was the first regional THATCamp, but at least two more are being planned before the end of the year.  We’re trying to put together an account of how we organized the Austin event to pass along to those organizers and we need your help.  If you participated in THATCamp Austin or followed it online, please leave a comment with ideas for improving it.

So far, participants have given me these suggestions:

  • Explain how sessions will be scheduled in advance. The unconference format is new to most people, and models for scheduling sessions vary from BarCamp to OpenSpace to THATCamp.  If we had explained the need to combine session ideas into presentations, or what DorkShorts was, participants could have spent more time making those combinations themselves, and we might have spent less time at the scheduling session.
  • Post answers to applicant questions on the blog. Some participants told me that my post about what to prepare was extremely helpful.  That post was a public reply to a question I’d gotten from a participant.  The only other similar question I got was about how the scheduling process worked.  If I’d posted that answer to the blog as well, it would have addressed the previous point.
  • Four hours is too short. We only had two slots for sessions, and because we started so late in the day, our hack-fest/bonus sessions ended up adjourning immediately to a bar.
  • Ten days to discuss session ideas is too short. New session ideas were being posted in the hour before THATCamp Austin began, and really didn’t get a hearing in the scheduling process.  Some participants suggested that with a longer lead time–perhaps involving a deadline for schedule ideas–the entire scheduling process could happen on-blog, and we could have skipped the half hour spent arranging a schedule at the conference.
  • Participants were insufficiently diverse. Because we scheduled THATCamp Austin for SAA, we had a large pool of digitally-minded archivists to draw from.  However, probably two-thirds of participants were archivists, and discussions tended to be archives-heavy.  I remember hearing inclusive “we” equated with university faculty a couple of times at THATCamp 2008 — I heard it equated with archivists a lot at THATCamp Austin.  If we’d had more than 20 days from announcement to event and if we’d publicized more aggressively among the Central Texas DH community, we might have achieved more balance.

What other advice we should pass along?


Notes on an improvisational archives

Here are some of the notes I’ve been taking on my thoughts this past weekend around a rich web 2.0 archival experience, qua jazz.

Implications for a passed-down and mutable history in an internet/web archival schema. In ever-changing web environment, veracity of web information (i.e. message boards, blogs, wikis) can be difficult to track down, nevertheless collecting snapshots leads to a narrative history.

How does the archival experience retain the mutable/ever-changing quality of history? Especially in the context of a particularly flux-laden narrative, such as Af-Am/oral historical tradition, specialized interest/subgroups, or even contemporary web groups?

If we are concerned as a profession about how to engage digital records/digital history, perhaps the application of a framework that retains the inherent flux of the contents is what we need. As in jazz music, which is inherently improvised, there is still an overarching structure of a tune in which improvised information occurs, different each time but for the compositional whole. Or in free jazz, letting the improvised information determine the structure (a little more difficult).

Are there structures for information in the archival profession that allow for continually changing archival data / improvising responses? How can an archives remain unfixed as a concept and still retain value as a reliable source of networked information?

Of course, to be true to the materials & their structure, not all materials/groups of information are in flux nor should the archiving practices as such be made to reflect continual change.


Expression / Architecturally – could use Rich Media software, GLIFOS or IEEE P1599 (music), multileveled experience – (cf. Baggi, 2005). I’ve written Denis Baggi in the hopes that he might have some further ideas on whether an improvisational protocol could be written for a rich-media (or rich-content) archival experience.


Anyway, these are some of the thoughts swirling around in my head. I make no claims as to whether such an approach is realistic or possible, but it interests me, precisely because I’ve always had a personal tug-of-war between experiential time as I see it, and fixed notions of archival materials & historical relationships.

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Authorship & Influence

Hello all!

Sorry for the late post. I am writing from a Denton hotel as I speed back to Austin for THATCamp.

In my work at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities in Lincoln, Nebraska, this summer, I focused some attention on authorship attribution, and I’d love to learn more about & chat about this process and the methodology. I’d particularly like to know more about Matthew Jocker’s influence study of the Book of Mormon, which measured authorial signals using Nearest Shrunken Centroid. Any attribution campers in our midst?

The future of the archival profession! The role of the university! EAD! I would happily turn my head from attribution to engage in these issues.

See you all soon!

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Hilton Austin Group Meetup: 5pm Tuesday

Those who want to navigate with a crowd from the Hilton Austin, please meet in the lobby at 5pm with 75 cents in your pocket by the big wall-o-rock fountain. We will depart promptly at 5:15 to walk 4 short blocks down 4th street to Congress Ave to catch the #5 bus.

Can’t join the group? Many methods of navigation are described on the Location page.

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Half of the fun of an unconference is in watching and participating in the backchannel discussion.  While we don’t have a back-back-channel like some conferences, we’re off to a pretty good start with these:

  • Twitter: We’ll be using the hashtag #thatcamp to identify our tweets and scour the net for other folks who like to weigh in.  Those tweets will be archived at Twapper Keeper.
  • Wiki: The THATCamp wiki is ready to go.  Put your links, your notes, your photos, and anything else you can think of in it.  The THATCamp09 page provides a good example.
  • IRC: There is a #thatcamp channel on  ChatZilla and Pidgin are both decent IRC clients.  Type /j #thatcamp at the prompt once you’re in.

We haven’t made any plans for A/V recording, but if you’ve got equipment to set up, you’re welcome to bring it.

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Hack Fest/Bonus Sessions

THATCamp Austin is officially over at 10:00 PM on Tuesday night, but you don’t have to go home right then. While some campers will be heading to the Dog and Duck Pub for a libation and others will start their trek to the SAA hotel, any souls brave enough are welcome to hang around Mezes Hall for the Hack Fest and Bonus Sessions.

We’ll all be kicked out of the auditorium at 10, but we can keep going in the three classrooms until Peter starts to yawn.  I suggest that we hold a hack fest in the larger room and put bonus sessions in the two others.  For the hack fest, bring a problem you’re trying to solve:  I’ll bet that we’ll have some software gurus to help out on technical problems, and I hope that we’ll have folks willing to help out with purely humanistic problems.  (I’ve got a problem that’s probably fairly basic for an archivist, so this may be a selfish wish.)  The bonus sessions can be anything we didn’t have time for in the two main slots — perhaps you didn’t get to discuss a topic, or spent your DorkShorts demo fighting with laptop dongles.  Maybe there was a great topic you’d like to revisit.  We could put sign-up sheets outside the doors at 10, letting people organize then.

These are just half-baked ideas for what to do with the space while we have it, not a schedule or a program.  What do you think?

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Evolution, Irrelevance, or Extinction?

This is really two topics, but they’re related, so I’ll throw them out together and see what happens.

One is to consider the future of the archival profession as a whole–can it evolve and succeed, will it continue to exist but be largely irrelevant, or will it just die out?

We will reach a tipping point in the future when more records suitable for “archiving” are digital than not, and if the majority of our profession isn’t prepared to deal with those digital records, others will come forward who are. Imagine a future when most archivists aren’t responsible for digital records, when all the important text and image collections have been digitized (and nobody cares about the rest), and when almost no one will travel to an archives to do research. Why pay a full-time professional wage to someone who manages a largely irrelevant collection of paper? It’s a doomsday scenario, but I don’t think it’s impossible to imagine (for organizations other than national and state archives). Is the archival profession going to succeed by evolving, or is it facing irrelevance or virtual extinction?

A related but separate topic is what value small professional organizations (small in comparison to groups like ALA) like SAA can offer today and what hope there is that they (in particular SAA) can evolve and succeed, or will continue to exist but be irrelevant to most archivists, or will just die off?

What do we need something like SAA for? To organize conferences, publish a journal, provide networking opportunities, and (in theory) advocate for us. How many of those functions will most of us continue to need and what would SAA need to do to meet them? What other options do we have for achieving those goals? (You might have seen this blog post back in June, which discusses these issues in relation to the Records Management Society in the UK.)

Again, this could either be an idea for one session or two . . .


What to Prepare for your Demo

Mike Rush asked the organizer list, “What’s protocol re: PPT? Should I have slides prepared for my talk or is winging a live demo acceptable?” I responded to him via e-mail, and he encouraged me to post my response on the blog:

Regarding talks, I can only speak from my own limited experience. I never spotted a single slide deck at THATCamp 2008, perhaps outside of the DorkShorts. I think that in general people winged it in the sessions, and had something at least halfway-rehearsed at DorkShorts, lest they spend their entire 3-minute slot fighting with wireless connections and video adapters.

At the crowdsourcing transcription/annotation session I presented at, the other person with something to demo and I arrived in the room a bit ahead of time to figure out how to connect our laptops. Once the session started, our organizer turned the floor over to me to lay out some background on existing tools. I then spent about 10 or 15 minutes running through a demo of my software, with frequent interruptions and suggestions from the other participants. The other developer spent a bit more time on his demo because his software was more mature, his interruptions were more frequent, and also because we were all interested in some of the details of how he’d implemented overlapping markup. A general discussion followed which included folks hooking their laptops up to demo how some commercial packages handled visualizing document transcription.

At Dork Shorts (one of three Dork Short sessions we had that year), I had prepared a 5-minute introduction to GraphViz, which included an intro to the dot language, a well-prepared demo of generating dot by parsing a static TEI document, and a blink-and-you-miss-it display of how I’m using dot/GraphViz to visualize dynamic data within my own software. Because that session was lightly attended, I got to interact with the other participants more than I anticipate for THATCamp Austin. For this event, I plan to prepare a solid 5-minute demo, in the event that I get to demo at DorkShorts but don’t get to demo at a regular session.

None of this should be interpreted as prescriptive, however — it’s always hard to figure out how representative your own experience is, or how helpful it might be when transmuted into advice.

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Wireless Logistics – Please Read!

Hello all –

We’ve run into a slight kink with the wireless access at the conference site – we’ll need to get all your mailing addresses (the kind where you get actual snail mail) in order to get you set up.  Please reply with your full address (home or work is fine) as soon as you can to your faithful planning committee (and don’t worry, this address won’t appear anywhere).

Thanks for your patience – we look forward to seeing you all soon!


Envisioning a Digital Humanities Curriculum (plus: origin stories)

The University of Maryland, College Park, offers a unique opportunity to particularly promising incoming undergads with specific interests: participating in (perhaps “residing in” is more appropriate) a Living and Learning Program.  What does that mean?

“What are living-learning communities?
Living-learning communities are specialized residential programs initiated by and having direct connections with faculty and specific academic units/departments within the University’s Division of Academic Affairs. In partnership with Resident Life staff and other student services staff at the University, these faculty and academic administrators link the curricular and residential experiences in ways that create opportunities for deeper understanding and integration of classroom material.”

Last month, the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities was invited to submit a proposal for a Digital Humanities L&L program – we’ve dubbed it “Digital Cultures and Creativity.” While still very much in its infancy – in fact, still being evaluated! – there is plenty to be discussed around developing a curriculum (be it an L&L program, certificate or otherwise)  for the digital humanities. Especially for incoming freshman, who are quite likely to have had limited exposure to the formal field.

  • What topics and skills make up the core of DH?
  • Do courses need to be specifically tailored to DH, or can you draw on other departments in order to offer more diverse options?
  • If you do draw on other departments, how do you negotiate with the student and instructor to make sure the material maintains its relevance?
  • Could/should a DH course replace a typical required IT course?
  • Who teaches the courses? How are they structured? (Labs, lectures, discussion..)
  • And, importantly.. how do we get the younger crowd interested in (or even aware of) digital humanities and entice the first pool of applicants to a DH program?

Definitely interested in the viewpoints of any prospective or currently practicing DH educators, especially at the undergraduate (or high school?!) level.

Origin Stories

The other idea I had is more on the squishy-feely side. It is awesome that a regional THATcamp came into being so quickly and efficiently (thank you, organizers!), but it’s striking that it was done as an offshoot of an archival conference. The number of archives and library presentations at DH09 surprised me as well. Maybe it’s just because I’m a total newb, but I though it might be fun to gather round the campfire and tell the story of how we came to this wondrous land of digital humanities.


WordPress as a CMS

I’ve been working on using WP to present browseable, searchable collection level records for archival and special collection material. It is in beginning stages but I can demo and talk about some of the logic and choices behind it. It is largely inspired by Rob Cox’s work on UMarmot and a paper he gave at the PACSCL Something New for Something Old conference. I would be curious to hear how other people have been using WP as a CMS, rather than just a blogging platform. I’d also be interested in hearing about other open source CMS use to display collection information, particularly projects with Drupal.

Other things I am interested in hearing about, but wouldn’t be able to present on:  Oral history, particulary low cost, low tech barrier ways to present full oral history audio files online; discussions about oral history in general; outreach to and documentation of diverse communities; crowdsourcing.


Using Drupal to build an interactive content management system

At Dickinson College, my colleagues and I developed a Drupal-based archives reference blog as a way to better manage internal processes regarding external reference traffic while at the same time creating a new source of discoverable information. (For a little more description of the reference blog, see my guest post on Mark Matienzo’s blog.)  Building on the success of that project, we would like to use Drupal to develop a content management system for the presentation of archives/special collections material; one that is more flexible and is interactive – two things that CONTENTdm (which we use quite heavily) is not. I’d like to explore the crowdsourcing possibilities, allowing greater access to materials and allowing users the opportunity to further describe and interact with our materials (and, hopefully, with each other as well). I’d be very interested in hearing how others might imagine such a tool being designed to best serve our users and ourselves.


Twitter and embodiment

My name is John Jones (more about me), and I’m a grad student at the University of Texas at Austin.

I’m planning to present on my current Twitter research. I’m investigating the way in which Twitter conversations are rhetorically embodied; that is, the ways in which writers in digital mediums depend on embodied features of communication like their identity or physical location and use these embodied features to establish authority and agency. In short, I will discuss the role of Twitter’s textual interface in creating our cybernetic selves.

I am also interested in doing a lightning talk about my work at UT’s Computer Writing & Research Lab (CWRL). The CWRL produces research and classroom assignments centered on technology use. This summer I’ve been researching iPhone application development for education and learning and I’d like to share some of the practical insights I’ve had during this project.

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Big Buckets and Social Media

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has been encouraging Federal agencies to consider the use of “big bucket schedules,” or large aggregation schedules, to schedule records.

Flexible scheduling provides for concrete disposition instructions that may be applied to groupings of information and/or categories of records. Flexibility is in defining the record groupings, which can contain multiple records series and electronic systems. The difference from the traditional scheduling approach is that the unit to be scheduled is not the individual records series or an electronic system, but all records in all media relating to a work process, group of related work processes, or a broad program area to which the same length of retention should be applied.

Flexible scheduling using “big buckets” or large aggregations is an application of disposition instructions against a body of records grouped at a level of aggregation greater than the traditional file series or electronic systems. The goal of this type of flexible scheduling is to provide for the disposition of records at a level of aggregation that best supports the business needs of agencies, while ensuring the documentation necessary to protect legal rights and ensure government accountability. In theory, “big buckets” simplify disposition instructions in a way that may be more useful to agencies implementing an Electronic Records Management Application.

For a variety of reasons, NARA is cautious about the application of big buckets to permanent records. NARA encourages an agency to define the level of risk- i.e., the degree to which records are in danger of improper disposition- before proceeding.

However, agencies are submitting schedules applying the concepts of “big buckets” to permanent records, and NARA is approving these schedules. The National Archives will be accessioning records of all types that have been organized using big buckets.

The goal of this presentation would be to present the concepts of big bucket scheduling to a group of archivists, discuss possible advantages of big bucket schedules, and to hopefully discuss (Web 2.0 or Social Media) tools that may help archivists to describe, preserve, and provide reference service to the records aggregates.

This presentation has not been completely thought out, and I am seeking the advice of archivists who may have suggestions for NARA as it moves toward the description of these record types.


THATCamp Austin Still Has Room

We still have room for about a dozen more people at THATCamp Austin this year.  If you’ve got an idea and are willing to take your chances on leftover T-shirts, please send us an application.

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THATCamp Acceptances

Good news!

Acceptance emails have gone out and we look forward to seeing such an interesting and diverse group in Austin on August 11th.

Your email will contain instructions for signing up to post to this blog, so get registered and start posting your session and collaboration ideas. As always, if you have any questions at all, feel free to ask.

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Deadlines Approaching

Many thanks for the fantastic applications we’ve received so far – we should have many interesting sessions taking place at THATCamp Austin. Please do continue to submit applications if you’d like to attend – and remember that active participants need not be ‘presenters’ per se – there is plenty of scope for collaboration and discussion, so you can send us a topic you’d like to talk about with other campers.

The cutoff date for applicants who would like a t-shirt is July 31st.  If you’d like to take your chances on the apparel front, August 8th is the absolute final day to get your applications in.  Beginning August 1st, attendees will be sent details on how to post to this blog so that session ideas can take root before everyone arrives in Austin.

Thank you for your interest thus far – and feel free to ask any questions!

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Open Thread

Please use this thread as an initial resource to discuss THATCamp Austin planning or to pose any questions about applications or any other concerns you may have. All comments are welcomed.


THATCamp Austin 2009 – Welcome!

THATCamp Austin is a user-generated “unconference” to be held in Austin, TX, on August 11, 2009. More details are available here, and applications are now being accepted. Just include your name, your email, your Twitter handle, what you would like to present or discuss and we’ll take it from there – you can see more details here.

Whether you are in town for SAA or a local with an interest in digital humanities (since this is ‘the humanities and technology camp,’ after all), we hope to see you at Mezes Hall on the University of Texas, Austin campus!

Please visit the open thread to kick off discussions or to post any questions.

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