Saturday, March 13, 2010


Today's THATCAMP Socal at Occidental College brought together a number of people working on digital humanities projects in the area. I have often argued that Southern California is a site of "regional advantage" in the digital humanities, so it was nice to see that dynamic on display during the day's "unconference," although Virtualpolitik friends Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Steve Anderson were unable to attend at the last minute.

The day started with general introductions and planning for sessions. In the first session on "Geographic Systems in the Humanities," UCHRI's Barbara Hui talked about her Litmap project, where she has provided definitions and explanations of the theoretical concepts behind the work, which includes a mapping of The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald, which connects a reading of the book with an ability to visualize the map of the narrative. Hui recommended Beginning Google Maps Mashups for novices starting to work with Google maps. Her mashup uses AJAX and PHP too. Many in attendance talked about the era before ESRSI, when there was a "steep learning curve" in mapping projects, and recommended resources at Lookback maps. Hui plans to attend the O'Reilly conference Where 2.0 at the end of the month.

Other mapping projects were described by Holly Willis, who talked about the Departures project at KCET. Ronan Hallowell discussed the REMAP project and how geotagged photos might construct a compelling history of Los Angeles in a scholarly social network supported by Ning. There were also plugs for University of Virginia's Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship
and, a literary atlas of Europe or "literary metaspace." Others mentioned the UCSB geowiki that uses Second Life and information from a Zelda constructed map to show how cognitive mapping and other forms of game mapping, which might include frustrations as well as thoroughfares, could be shown. Finally, Jackson Stakeman showed parts of it only eats itself. Participants went off to their divided session thinking about the idea of "Graceful Degradation" in their own web design strategies.

Willis demonstrated the much anticipated 2.0 release of Sophie, a multimedia authoring tool created by Bob Stein, formerly of the Voyager Company and the TK3 reader. Sophie was created in Squeak first and now is available in a Java version, which was released on January 15. Having used earlier versions of the software, I appreciated improvements in the timeline and layers, although I cringed when presenters described it as having an "interface like PowerPoint." Willis also reminded attendees of the memory of the late Anne Friedberg, who had argued for "possibilities for authoring that are rich and exciting" and wondered if possibly "we don’t have the imagination yet to author in this environment." Willis took participants through the hierarchy of "books," "pages," and "frames" that organizes the software and showed how "halos" that allow rotation off the grid, "chain halos" that could be seen as "how text works," the systems Javascript interpreter, and the materials for a "comment page" that provides a window to the web. Although she apologized for the fact that some editing and Flash embedding were disabled right now, she talked about the robustness of HTML five. With an applet that still takes five minutes to load, the group talked about the limitations and virtues of the programming language Small Talk, upon which Squeak is based, and discussed how Java runs differently on different machines. They also ruminated about the "Alice and Wonderland" of this software, which could created a "book inside a book." As the session wound down there were more philosophical questions about "what is the difference between a book and a website" and the issue of providing an "extended reading place for extended thought." There was also speculation about "emotional responses to a book." People mentioned Frans Masereel's Die Stadt before moving on to a technical discussion of import and export annotation sets. As a reading experience, designers speculated that it would probably be easier to adapt for Android than for iPad users. Sophie is currently supporting five projects in the digital humanities.

I led a session about "curating our teaching," which ostensibly dealt with a very practical subject -- creating online teaching portfolios and thinking about dos and don'ts for the job market, but was meant to facilitate a broader discussion about self-presentation, institutional rhetoric, and the digital humanities. I think it did do that, but it was also part of one of the more remarkable parts of the two-track sessions at the conference, where participants had entirely gender segregated themselves, as this Twapper record of the conference Twitter stream shows. With only one exception the male participants were upstairs at "Data Visualizations + DH Platform" while I led the feminized" session on "Electronic Portfolios." Our group also talked about how "playfulness" can be misread by the serious academy and looked at examples like this video welcome by VP friend Mark Marino.

As we all moved upstairs for the final session on "Digital Pedagogy and Multimedia Literacy," Joshua McVeigh found himself leading an impassioned discussion about the video "3.5 til infinity," which was created by students at Stanford, who were on a trip to study natural selection and Darwin's legacy in the Galapagos Islands. It turns out that there are tons of "Darwin raps" of various kinds on YouTube. I often find myself wary of what I call the "Vanilla Ice Problem" when so-called "nerd rap" is celebrated by the digital humanities community. Stakeman raised a somewhat different issue about "too much focus on student product" in certain digital humanities discussions. As he put it, ""the digital humanities needs to do some sit-ups to get some more strength."

This led into an argument about how to grade such works and whether it was better to rely on rubrics that evaluate the final product by set criteria or a looser overview of process. I found myself disagreeing with rubric opponent Edward O’Neil as the IML multimedia rubric was discussed. Stakeman showed his own work with IML 346, where students were encouraged to take on Jersey Shore nicknames to protect their privacy as FERPA-protected students in an online environment. He also talked about the logistical problems of orchestrating the "first wave" of student input, which often consists of what he called "night before commenting." See a thread here. Although many used Commentpress to facilitate online class discussions there were also fans of Digressit in the room.

The last examples came from the universally praised Neon Tommy from Annenberg Digital News, which aggregates the work of highly skilled journalism students, and the possibly less successful mashups from content from Brave New Films, where students were encouraged to create opposing viewpoint videos based on "pasting and juxtaposition" like "Vietnam and Afghanistan."

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