Tag Archives: Switzerland

THATCamp Switzerland (Concluding Remarks)

THATCamp Switzerland is now over and everyone has dispersed to their various ends of the earth, which in my case means a flight out of Geneva tomorrow morning.

My impression was that the experience was a good one for those in attendance. I certainly got plenty of positive feedback. Of course, one rarely hears the negatives in situations like this, so it’s quite possible that some weren’t pleased with the whole unconference concept, but I certainly didn’t see anyone who looked unhappy or frustrated during the two days.

At the concluding session, attended by about half of those who were there when we started, several people emphasized their belief and/or hope that further connections and collaborations would grow from this THATCamp. If this one is anything like the others I’ve attended, that will certainly be the case. And, I was pleased to note, a number of people referred to my admonition on the morning of Day One to “have fun.”

If only one could say that about the other academic conferences we attend…

THATCamp Switzerland (8)

The final full session I attended was devoted to the question of digital project management, led by Radu Suciu.

Among the questions discussed were how to complete a project once the money runs out? Another was how to plan successfully for the final outcome? Another was how do we get started with a digital humanities project?

The conversation then turned to audience. We have to think through who might be using the resource–ranging from just me to many different audiences in different fields. This makes project management difficult in the extreme if we don’t know what people in those other audience groups want (or don’t) from our work.

Another was whether digital humanities projects can be anything but a collaborative/team effort? My own take on this is that none of us have the expertise we need to realize all aspects of such an endeavor and so from the beginning we need to plan collaboration into the project in a formal as well as an informal way. This can also mean, according to one of the participants, that we may do much of the initial work alone, but there is almost always a point at which we have to engage others as partners, building a community around the work we began. The evolution over time can therefore move from an idea to a community with specific details of the project being realized either by the initial researcher or the growing community over time.

The session also raised the point that, given the difficulty of realizing a digital humanities projects, shouldn’t there be some part of graduate education (formal or informal) to teach our graduate students learn how to get from start to finish on a digital project. Our second course in the Clio Wired sequence (most recent version) offers one example of a full course version of such an introduction.

THATCamp Switzerland (7)

In the afternoon the first session I attended was “How is the writing of history changing?”

The session began with a Ted Talk by Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel on Google’s n-gram viewer and what we can learn from 5 million books (500 billion words), a topic I’ve also played with here in the blog.This was a way of raising the question of “data driven history” and will this change our writing?

A second question was how has the process of writing changed (or is changing)? A third, are we going to keep writing books anyway? What are some of the truly new forms of writing? Does this mean we are thinking differently about history? Are ePubs going to be something different in the sense that 35-40 pages is an article, 200 pages is a book, but what about 100 pages, which is neither? Who is doing the writing? What is the future for collective authorship?

I raised the issue of what happens when writing is taking place in real time in public as in the case of my current research project? What does it mean that I’ll be getting comments–are those who comment co-authors, for instance? How does my writing and thinking change as a result of their input and what does that mean for authorship?

I’m also thinking about this because in my short term plan, once my book on teaching history in the digital age comes out, is an ePub tentatively titled “Edwired: The Book.” My plan is to take a selection of half a dozen or so larger issues I’ve raised in the blog that also elicited a higher degree of engagement from readers, pull them together in a sort of chapter form, add some commentary at the beginning of the chapter (new content) including a reflection both on where the issue is today and what I think about that commentary now that I’ve had more time to reflect on it.

One of the issues batted around in the room for a while revolved around the question of authorship in the digital world. If work is collectively authored, or includes comments, or other input from others, what does that mean for authorship? So, for instance, to what degree can McKenzie Wark claim authorship of Gam3r Th3ory if he incorporated content from the website where he wrote the book in public?

Another question raised was about narration in digital media. How do we tell stories differently in these new media? How is the new media working its way into our writing if writing is the core of what we do in the humanities? Does the writing process change? Does imagination change? Does our sense of time change?

Another question was related to the issue of what happens to us when we create a digital publication like Docupedia? To be specific, authors for this project were generally resistant to taking “interactive responsibility” for things they wrote, because they wanted to be done once they had submitted their work. It seems to me this is a point well worth keeping in mind, because there is certainly a danger in taking on too much interactive responsibility over time. I know journalists who speak of this issue with respect to having open comments on their stories and being glad that there is a point when the comments are closed so they don’t have to keep monitoring them.

Projects discussed were Hacking the Academy and Writing History in the Digital Age and what projects like these mean for things like the authorship question raised above?

THATCamp Switzerland (5a)

This post is a response to several of the graduate students in attendance who, during the lunch break, asked me what I would have discussed in my session on “graduate students and new media” had I not been “occupied.”

My answer is that I think we are in a generation of transition in the historical profession and in the humanities in general. By that I mean that while things digital are rapidly gaining prominence in our field(s), digital humanities remains an activity of a devoted minority. But, and I think this is a big but, I also think that 20 years from now, i.e., one full generation, digital work will be as central to what we do as non-digital work is. That is to say, I don’t expect that 20 years from now no books will be published. But I do think that 20 years from now digital forms of scholarship will be just as important as analog forms.

Note — I think it could take a full 20 years. As I wrote three years ago now, historians are a conservative tribe when it comes to the methods of our scholarship, and so I really do think that it will take 20 years before digital work is considered the same as analog work. There is certainly a degree of ageism in what I’m arguing, because I do think that some of the objection to digital work is that it is new and so suspect among those who have become very comfortable doing history the way we’ve done it for a long time. But there are also not unreasonable objections based in a view that the old forms have worked quite well for a very long time so why should we abandon them for something potentially faddish?

Nevertheless, I think the technological wave washing over us isn’t going to recede and so those studying history now need to take account of that and plan accordingly. What, then, does that mean? Here is what I would have mentioned in my session:

1. Some level of skill with digital technology is going to be essential to the historians who will take over from my generation (my anticipated retirement date, May 15, 2025 in case you were wondering). This “level of skill” could be anything from working comfortably with forms of digital writing (blogs, tweets at present), to building or working with databases, to the design of digital content, to making use of collaborative and mobile tools to further their work;

2. Writing is changing in this digital age. Those studying history today need to be able to work in these new forms, if only at a minimal level, because I’m certain that, 20 years from now, they will need to be able to write digitally as well as in the analog world;

3. Those studying history today need to manage their digital identities very carefully, because who you are online is already who you are as a historian–in fact, it might be more of who you are, because it is the you encountered by others. Now is already too late to begin thinking about that digital identity. I do not mean to suggest that they should conform those digital identities to some set of accepted norms–far from it! Instead, I am arguing that they need to think those online identities through.

Those were the points I was going to raise for sure. If there were time, I also would have mentioned that I think they should be advocating for courses–formal or informal–in the digital skills they need.