Tag Archives: open source

THATCamp CHNM (Day 2a)

It’s Saturday morning and around 150 people are foregoing incredible June weather in the DC area to sit in an engineering auditorium to attend THATCamp Prime here at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. Yesterday’s workshops (and a live recording of Digital Campus) went quite well–per usual, lots of excellent conversation and new connections.

In his opening remarks, Dan Cohen pointed out that in an auditorium full of people, no one came here to give a talk, to put a line in his/her cv, or to interview for a job. Instead, we’re all here to be “a spark for something new” and to explore ideas — ours and the ideas of others. If you’ve ever been to a THATCamp, you need to make time in your schedule in the coming year to attend one. As I’ve written more than once in this space, and as Roy wrote many years before me, academic conferences have largely ossified–despite some attempts at innovation–over the years. Unconferences like these subvert that model in a very positive way and spur new ideas and innovation in ways that three papers with a discussant will never do.

The first session of the day was “Dork Shorts” in which people proposed ideas they are working on that they want to throw open for additional participation. In order, the ideas were about:

1. Alternate reality games
2.  Playthepast.org (games and cultural heritage)
3.  Journal of Interactive Technology & Pedagogy
4. Gradhacker.org
5. Africa Past & Present podcast
6. Open jobs at Emory, high res map scanning (still not public) with a high wow factor
7. An edited volume on disruptive pedagogy (my idea…let me know if you are interested)
8. Hacking the Accident
9. A new collaborative document platform that will run inside WordPress
10. New internal collection search system developed at the Penn Museum
11. Commentpress.org
12.  How to move large numbers of static files into Omeka automatically
13. iPad based comic book versions of great works of literature
14. Digital Culture Week
15. Mobile Museum apps from the Henry Ford Museum
16. New displays of information from Folger Library collection
17. American Archive Content Inventory Project
18. Get to know the NEH — Really. We’re nice.
19. A project on political cartoons (50,000 of them). A plea for help.
20. dhCommons
21. GoogleDoc folders for THATCamp (This THATCamp)
22. Code for archiving Twitter
23.  Making sense of DH/IT jargon for the non-coder

This list gives you an idea of the diversity of interests, skills, and anxieties of those working to expand the reach of the digital humanities.


THATCamp Switzerland (3)

In the first bootcamp session after lunch I attended a session led by Stefan Keller (University of Zurich) called “Knowledge Organization and Representation,” which was focused on various information management tools such as Zotero, Mendeley, and LitLink (new version launched officially today).

Note to self: More than one person has told me I ought to start using Prezi for presentations. After watching Stefan’s talk, I’m finally convinced I have to put in the time on this one. It is a full order of magnitude better than PowerPoint, largely because it defeats the iron law of linearity inherent in PowerPoint.

He began with a brief overview of the transition between reference management systems and knowledge management systems, i.e., from keeping track of your references (still an important function of the knowledge management systems) to managing the linkages between those references (“cross-linked knowledge spaces” he called them). Of course, these knew systems are based on the Web 2.0 principles of sharing and collaboration and many are open source. So, for instance, on my research blog on my human trafficking project, you can not only read about my research as I’m doing it, but you can also access my Zotero library for the project.

Keller then showed a clip from Minority Report (2002) showing Tom Cruise sorting through masses of data by waving his hands as a speculation on where these systems might go, which reminds me of Bill Turkel’s work on Interactive “Ambient and Tangible Devices for Knowledge Mobilization.” Keller called the possible future “interactive and collaborative knowledge production and representation systems.” Of particular interest to me was the idea that in future word processors, everything you write (not just the citations) would be stored in a database. How that would happen, i.e., how the system would decide what got stored where, isn’t clear to me, but I love the idea.

Next we got a brief introduction to LitLink. Probably the biggest differences with Zotero, the one I know, are what he calls “cross-linking of data,” the establishment of “knowledge spaces” and the creation of working groups.

What does seem different (and appealing) to me is the ability to easily connect references to specific projects you might be working on. Because we typically use sources for more than one project, being able to do that with minimal friction is great. I also like the “similar items” bar that appears on the right side of the screen for each record. I wish Zotero did that for me, given the fact that I now have so many items in my library. Finally, I like the way one can create an outline for a project in LitLink, connecting various resources to that outline, then exporting it to a word processor.

In the discussion, people asked, among other things, why one should use LitLink instead of Zotero. One answer that came up is that because LitLink is a relational database, the author is only entered once, a structure that prevents the kinds of duplication of records that I’m very guilty of in Zotero. Thus, for instance, all works by the same author are automatically related, where in Zotero, you have to make those connections manually.

As impressed as I am with LitLink, I’m not switching from Zotero, both because I am fully in the Zotero world already and would find changing difficult, but more importantly, because I personally find the Zotero user interface a bit more intuitive. I’m happy to finally see LitLink in action, but more importantly to see how the various knowledge management systems are coming up with different ways of doing what we do in scholarship. Each new innovation means that all of us benefit.

Tablets and History Education

With the appearance on the market (sort of) this week of the Kindle Fire ($199), Amazon’s competitor to Barnes & Noble’s Nook ($249), Sony’s eReader ($149), and Apple’s iPad 2 ($499), it seems like a good moment to step back and take stock of what we can expect from the tablet makers in the coming year or two and what the growing ubiquity of the tablet computer will mean for history education.






As the price pressures on these readers result in lower and lower prices, I think it’s fair to say that before long we’ll see more and more of our students toting these into class rather than a laptop. After all, they are lighter, better for reading, and now that Internet connectivity is becoming ubiquitous, they will be much more useful for teaching and learning. And as the textbook rental market matures, why wouldn’t students rent their books as ebooks to read on a tablet rather than buying a book they’ll only sell back (at a substantial loss)? And the tablets allow them to put all of their textbooks on one slim and light device, thereby saving their backs and postures from further damage at the hands of overheavy backpacks.

My long-time objection to the Kindle (over and above how ugly it is) was that students could only use it to read a book they had purchased. I encourage my students to bring their laptops to class because with those devices scattered around the room, they can look things up, share images or other content with those sitting around them, and work out problems I pose. Do they surf around too? Of course. But paying attention has always been optional at the college level.

Today, in the fall of 2011, we don’t have good assignments, classroom exercises, and other teaching and learning tools designed for these new tablets. But I suspect that it is just a matter of time before such things begin to crop up. As with laptops, there is the problem of who owns a tablet and who does not, but that is a resource issue that can be addressed by the companies making these devices (grants for students please), by the colleges and universities they attend, or by the private sector in general.

The thornier issue is what sorts of tools we ought to be designing to take advantage of these new platforms. Given that they work on various operating systems, it seems to me that the only way to go is open source.

NB: An interesting take on these issues from Robert Talbert in today’s Chronicle.

Writing a Book in Public

Yesterday I began a new blog site called Human Trafficking in Historical Perspective. This site is the online research and writing space I’m going to use for my next book project — a project still in its early days mode.

For a long time now I’ve been thinking about what happens when the entire scholarly process — or at least as much of it as possible — takes place in an open environment like a blog or a website. Certainly, I’m not the first person (or even close to the first) to do something like this. Dan Cohen just posted something in his blog on the same subject and he is much further along than I am on his project.

One wrinkle in what I’m doing on this project is that not only will my Zotero library be available for public consumption, but it is also a library that I’m building with students in the classes I have taught/am teaching/will teach on the subject of human trafficking. In this way I’m blending my own research efforts with theirs. How will that work? I’m really not sure, but it will be interesting to find out.

I’m also not sure if the final product of this work will be a book or something “book like.” In the book like category is everything from an eBook, to a website, to something that lives between those two. What that last something might be, I think we still don’t know. I suppose the project could just become a blog that is frozen in space and time with the comments turned off, or it could be something else we haven’t thought of yet. After all, like all good works of historical scholarship, this one is going to take a couple of years (at least) to complete. By the time I’m done, there is no telling what else we might have come up with as a means for displaying our work.