THATCamp Bay Area Google Group

October 29th, 2010

THATCamp Bay Area now has a Google Group!

Please feel free to sign up and spread the word to anyone you think would be interested in future THATCamp Bay Area meetups, unconferences, news, discussion or other events related to the humanities and technology in the area.  The list will be open to the public, and the group application just has a simple question to filter out spammers.  Just click the link below to go to the group page.

Behind the Scenes Look at Organizing THATCamp Bay Area

October 20th, 2010

From @unthinkingly: “Nap session at #THATcamp led by @lookbackmaps

It took about a week for me to recover/relax/catch-up and normalize after THATCamp Bay Area. But the exhaustion was worth it. I was so happy with how the weekend turned out, and am hopeful that this kind of collaboration will continue to grow in the Bay Area in months and years to come.  I’m extremely grateful to the many generous people worldwide involved in THATCamps, and for their support in helping us pull off this local rendition.

Now that the organizing is behind me, I wanted to share some of the ideas that worked and didn’t work with this, some of the things I learned, and break down the actual costs of a non-university hosted THATCamp, looking at money, time, emotion, and politics.

First of all, some of the things we did that I think really worked.

  • We took it outside. I was insistent that THATCamp Bay Area be held anywhere but a university, and having the Automattic Lounge space donated for our use was a huge boost.  Aside from just being an open and inspirational space, it allowed us to include, but not be limited to “digital humanities;” it gave us a very fresh space to break out of our industry cliques and normal meeting routines; and it provided neutral ground for the various academic and corporate institutions we were drawing participants from.
  • We had a party. To me, the whole weekend was a celebration–of life, of passion, of intellectual pursuit, of hobbies, etc.  But we also had the very fun Dork Shorts element along with some very smart entertainment by Megan and Rick Prelinger together with drinks on Saturday night.  The night ended in fireworks (a total accident by the way!), Scottish country dancing led by Candace Nast, and music curated by Jordan Gray.
  • We did it ourselves. This was a completely volunteer effort.  No one got paid a cent and any time we committed to it was squeezed in amongst our other jobs and projects. We set out folding chairs, brought donuts, had lunch catered by a local grocery store, chipped in to get a keg.  It was a DIY event from the get-go, and like other THATCamps I’ve been to, that constructive atmosphere was very pervasive throughout the weekend.
  • We had widespread support. We had a great core team of volunteers, and we also had a larger organizing committee that volunteered to spread the word, reach out to their respective communities and help solicit sponsorship (thanks!!).  This was the key to our success in bringing in a great group of sponsors and having so many different sectors represented in the applicant pool.
  • We used Open Space. As the principal organizer, I relied heavily on my experience with Open Space Technology and stuck pretty close to the main organizing elements (organizers, I highly recommend checking out this book).  I was careful to open and close with a circle and make clear to participants that a lot of work went in to providing the space, but that it was entirely up to them what to do with it.  The result was fantastic.

By all counts, the weekend was a great success, but it was not without some challenges:

  • We did it ourselves. There was certainly a downside to doing it all ourselves on a volunteer basis without having institutional support: it was exhausting.  Of course, part of the success was due to just how much love and energy we put into this, but I’m not sure that’s a sustainable model–nor is it entirely necessary.  It was the first THATCamp in the Bay Area, so personally, I wanted to set the bar high and put in a lot of extra effort to make sure we started off strong.
  • Sound was a problem. The majority of our space to work with was a big open room, in which we made space for three breakout sessions.  We had a fourth space outside on the patio and a fifth smaller place in a cubby on the way outside.  The good part of this is that we had a very dynamic energy and space in which people could easily drift in and out of sessions.  The down side was that it could get pretty hard to hear or focus on your sessions.  Uh, not to mention Blue Angels and Fleet Week–though that also added to the excitement in a way.
  • Bigger space? I thought we’d be lucky to get 75 applicants, so figured that was plenty of space to plan for.  But we had 110 applicants and could not accommodate everybody.  I think if the space was permitting, 110 people would have certainly been manageable, though a bit more expensive.

Financial Costs

I’ve provided a full accounting of our income and expenses for the event. On the income side, we had 4 presenting sponsors who gave $500 each, and 6 supporting sponsors who gave $200 each (we had two in-kind supporting sponsors, LookBackMaps and Prelinger Library).  I did not include the value of the space, which would be about $3,000, and was generously donated by our hosting sponsor, Automattic Inc.  About 76% of participants who weren’t volunteers or direct sponsors contributed $25.

On the expense side, the major expenses were t-shirts and catering, which included coffee, bagels, pastries, and donuts Saturday and Sunday, and lunch on Saturday.  Catering also included juices, sodas, ice, and lots of fresh fruit (great idea Cornelius!), etc.

We have a surplus of $522.04, which I propose be used to support future THATCamp Bay Area events during the next year that continue to widen the circle of participants (somebody said something about a November 7 event?).

Investment of Time

I’m not sure how accurate this is, because I did it in hindsight, but thought it was worth doing as I got a lot of questions from potential THATCamp organizers about how much time I spent organizing this.  This is just for my hours and doesn’t include time that other folks helped out on, and it’s for what I would consider “billable” hours, not time I spent doing research, bringing THATCamp into various conversations and meetings, or just thinking about it.  I think this is a pretty fair guess though, and should give you a good idea of what kind of work to expect and when to plan for things.  For THATCamp Bay Area, the key dates were June 1, when we decided on space and officially announced the date and venue, applications opening on Aug 1 and closing Sept 1, invites sent out Sept 7, and the event on Oct. 9 & 10.

Emotional Costs

I already mentioned the exhaustion factor.  I love the photo at the top of this post that Chris took of me laid out on the couch on Saturday afternoon. I was so wiped out!  Mainly, by the time Saturday started to come together, I could actually relax and enjoy the gathering, which for me entailed laying low and listening in on the various sessions and conversations (though I was drawn in to a couple of Linked Data sessions).  Of course, after that photo, I got some food and rallied for Saturday evening and had a blast!

Another thing I want to point out that definitely weighed heavily on me and my team was the emotional cost of having to choose who made the first round of participants and who went on the wait list.  Of course, we wanted everyone to come, but that just wasn’t possible.  It was tough for us to have to choose one colleague or another, despite having agreed to our methodology and informing folks of that.  For the most part, applicants were very gracious, and many attendees let us know right away if they couldn’t make it so that we could offer spots to others on the wait list.

Political Risks and Rewards

THATCamp was started by “digital humanists” to create what has become a pretty radical space for open dialogue and conversation, largely within the academic environment (I use the quotes only because I’m still not sure what a digital humanist is).  There has been a very conscious effort to not limit THATCamp to the digital humanities or to the academy, for which I’m very grateful.

But it turns out that it’s no small feat to create a space in which humanists and technologists, from professional to enthusiast, feel welcome.  The best way I could think of to do that was to make sure that we were not in an academic setting, not let any organization be over-represented, and have a diverse enough representation of sectors to prevent a focus on internal bullshit.  The downside: I pissed some people off.  The upside: I heard from a lot of people how excited they were to have a chance to pursue issues from a variety of perspectives, how happy they were to not be bogged down in the politics of their industry (be it digital humanities or the tech sector), and how rewarding it was to explore collaborations with people they would not have otherwise reached out to.

This is not to say that you can’t reach beyond a largely academic audience when having THATCamps at universities, *if* you want to… it just may take a little extra work.


I hope this post is of some help to organizers of future THATCamp or other similar open space style events.  You certainly don’t need to be an expert to pull off an excellent unconference, though I’m sure it gets easier with practice.  I know I had a lot of help from other THATCamp organizers throughout, as well as my fellow organizers, the organizing committee and the participants themselves, who put together one great event.  To sum it up in a word: Thanks!

Museum trends webinar

October 14th, 2010

A very good and comprehensive overview of some of the issues discussed at some of THATcamp, as they affect museums, can be found in this report: The report identifies and describes the 6 new technologies that are likely to have an impact on museum education in particular, over the next 5 years, including augmented reality and the semantic web. Major trends and challenges impeding adoption are discussed and benchmark projects incorporating the technologies and key readings etc. There’s a free webinar on Monday that may be useful to participate in. and

ThatCamp De-Brief

October 14th, 2010

ThatCamp Bay Area opened on October 9 and October 10 in an open-space loft with much excitement and energy. In the Bay Area, Silicon Valley looms large and the organizer Jon Voss was able to attract the likes of Google, Yahoo, OCLC, and the Internet Archive, as industry partners. Graduate students, faculty, librarians, programmers, archivists showed up to construct Saturday’s schedule, which was quickly and quietly revised as the afternoon went on. The green post-its are bootcamp sessions while everything else was an intriguing session. The only downside to the unconference are the choices! I proposed a session on pedagogy and digital humanities but had a difficult time setting the slot because every hour had something that I wanted to attend.

Saturday Schedule

But, I attended ThatCamp to gain some understanding, and, well, to feel uncomfortable. I wanted to immerse myself in areas that were not so familiar to me, sessions where I couldn’t be an authority. The invigorating aspect to the two days’ of sessions was that no matter how hard I tried to avoid familiar topics, I found myself reflecting on the intersection between my work and all of the cool, interesting work being discussed. Steve Ramsay was right; I was prepared to be the dumbest person in the room, and that prepared me for being inspired by the cross/multi/extra-disciplinary work that so many people came together to discuss.

Those are the generalities. Big questions plagued me during and after sessions, even at the bootcamps. But, these weren’t questions of despair; rather they were invigorating because they required that I think about pedagogy and curriculum in a different fashion, but they were there nonetheless: How can this apply in the classroom? How can I teach my students some of this technology without sacrificing content? Is this the content then in a Digital Humanities course? What kind of Humanistic inquiry comes from integrating tools with literary studies? How can I educate my colleagues about Digital Humanities using georeferencing as an example? How can GIS impact my work on history of the book. But mostly I just wanted to play with all of the toys in order to explore what kind of Humanistic inquiry is possible. I wanted to see what happened when a major corpus of work was available; what questions could I come up with, because I don’t have any to start with. Perhaps if I had a chance to play, though, I could find something. And this is the crux of the entire weekend – playfulness and imagination is perhaps something that academics and scholars have moved away from, something that is stolen from us as we move into full time positions. The demands of the position and the service steal that moment. I wish ThatCamp were really Summer ThatCamp. I definitely needed more time to work with and digest. I got just a smattering of everything that makes me uncomfortable.

Here’s some specifics on the bootcamps:

Adita Muralidharan offered a bootcamp session on text mining, an area that I’m familiar with and can perform, but one that is mystified behind linguistic computing and encoding. Using n-grams as a model, Adita took us through parsing parts of speech and plotting changes over history. Some of the participants pushed further to ask about irony, metaphor, humor – the things that literary scholars are interested in. Adita told us that it was a dream to be able to do that but we aren’t there yet. A musicologist however alerted us to the use of this type of parsing on sound files in search of melodic formulas. We lead each other into discussing dance and preservation of American dance culture, especially since some of the greatest choreographers have died recently and with it, shortly, their companies and style of dance. After my brief lamentations about marking up poetry in TEI for poetic elements, Matt Jockers jumped in to talk about a recent program his students have written to mark up metrical poetry. Wow! This applies directly to a collaborative project, The Poetess Archive

At the next bootcamp, Mano Marks offered help on Google’s new Fusion Tables, a beta Google Maps app that allows users to upload, store (up to 250mb) and visualize data, even more robustly than Google Docs. It’s in Google Labs now: From that one, I was left with questions about the bootcamp itself; what did it teach me that I couldn’t teach myself from playing with the tool?

Saturday Schedule

Worldcat representatives offered a bootcamp on using Worldcat but I think the presenter was not used to a non-programming crowd and was a bit stymied about how to discuss the product. The final point he made was to demo Worldcat/identities – a chart that depicts the number of publications for authors. This was incredible! It visualizes all of the publication data of materials entered into WorldCat – I wish he would have lead with this one.

The bootcamp lead by biologists on georeferencing and mapping was immensely interesting if only because of the attention to exactness capable in using georeferencing. Again, though, I asked the question of the group in general how it could apply to Humanists’ study. The biologists were there to talk to Humanists about how to adapt the tool for them. We were all a little stumped and ran out of time. But mention was made then (and later over Twitter) about some projects that use georeferencing quite successfully, Barbara Hui‘s being one as well as Visualizing the Rural West project at Stanford. This is the moment that’s always frustrating; I know I have questions, but I’m not sure about what I know and don’t know. I mean, I know I need to learn things, but I’m not sure what they are.

I didn’t expect to walk away knowing a program language, but ThatCamp certainly pointed me in the direction of being able to articulate what I need to learn and how I can expand my own limited style of thinking. Now, I need to attend a TEI workshop or the DHSI University of Victoria’s week-long seminars. Whatever it is that I need to know, I’m so gloriously stupid and uncomfortable that it’s restored my faith in learning!

While I didn’t blog through the weekend, I did tweet prolifically. Those can be found archived with TwapperKeeper

What’s the result of all of this, other exorcising my existential professional ennui? I’m reporting back to my Dean about ThatCamp and potential for collaboration with industry partners. I met with other San Jose State faculty and students (several from our Library Science program were in attendance) – no small feat considering we’re all so fractured. I learned that San Francisco State University Literature faculty are attempting to create a Digital Humanities certificate (and we’ve now all been in contact). The representative from the Internet Archive has offered to work with me in scanning those 30,000 pages remaining in my digital project. Glen Worthey, from Stanford, made a great suggestion to review some Digital Humanities Conference proposals in order to help me understand the vetting process (and I’ve now been invited to do so). The Gap archivist, Google developer and a dance archivist all introduced me to new possibilities for collaboration. Another SJSU faculty, James Morgan, and I rarely have a chance to chat about DH curriculum and how to create project-centered courses; we had 3 hours in the car to do this and plotted some amazing curricular changes to be slowly developed over the next 5 years at SJSU. Based on my tweets Doug Reside invited me to attend a symposium in New York on digital preservation of dance (and my amateur enthusiasm for dance).

Finally, ThatCamp demonstrated that I know what I’m doing, that Digital Humanities is valid and authoritative. While encouraging me to dive into the unknown, the meeting restored some confidence in my abilities and offered a level of collegiality that is often missing from my daily work. This is because of the generosity of each and every “camper” to entertain and explore ideas in a truly free environment.

Thanks ThatCamp.

Games, Development, Art and Story Telling.

October 10th, 2010

I have been looking at the intersection of games, MMO’s, virtual environments and art for a few years now.  It would be interesting to have a conversation about the future of the form as desktop game development continues to take hold and under-represented populations see it as a viable form of storytelling.

It would also be interesting to play some games from the show (games as art)

—update with notes—

Notes from Memory:

If you have not played it yet, look at passage by Jason Rohrer (download and play), it takes no more than 5 minutes and expresses the idea of an aesthetic experience in the game play, it is not the same as reading about it, watching video of it or watching it being played.

If you liked the game I demo’ed during the Dork Shorts it is called Every Day the Same Dream by Molleindustria.   On top of being beautiful the process of playing teaches and facilitates the aesthetic experience.

Game Development tools are cheap and run on low end machines for examples see Scratch by MIT (which is also a visual programming language but lends itself very well to moving and interacting with sprites on the screen) and Game Maker which is now available for the Mac and the PC and provides a simple development environment that can be introduced to young audiences as well as non-programming audiences.

In curating the show Learn to Play there were several basic lessons regarding art and games.  The subject is still somewhat contentious among both groups (artists and game developers) and there has always been a degree of crossover. L2P specifically looked for art at the point of interaction, one of the side effects of this is similar to that of conceptual art in that the experience is not always visual or obvious.  Game Developers seem (like many creatives) to want to see much of what they do as culturally relevant and artistic, artists have long employed game like features in both interactive and other work.  Our greatest takeaway was that the fundamental stories in games are still essentially controlled by the hegemony, or in this case by the white male game developers.

This is unfortunate for two reasons, the first is that the tools are so simple and the skills used in creation of games so valuable that essentially everyone should practice them at some point (and in fact my art students will all be required to make video games this semester). The second is that this is such a powerful medium for expression of stories and transmission of understanding.  The industry feels like it is gridlocked and stuck in blockbuster mode where it cannot deviate from the stories that have been told. This is sad and unnecessary.

Moving forward we want to reach out to underrepresented communities and teach the tools that will encourage them to put forth their stories.

THATCamp Sessions: A Collaborative Canvas

October 10th, 2010
THATCamp Bay Area 2010 Sessions

THATCamp Bay Area Sessions Schedule

October 9th, 2010

I’ve put up a rough spreadsheet of the sessions schedule, please refer and edit away:

Learning after THATcamp

October 9th, 2010

Once a person sees the possibilities of mixing tech & humanities what’s a realistic avenue for acquiring the skills necessary to do digital humanities projects and research? Is it worth it to go back to school for a computer science degree? What about one of the new digital humanities undergrad programs? Is open courseware/iTunesU a viable option for acquiring skills and ways of thinking? What about just jumping in with an idea?

Starting a new project with insufficient resources (like skills) can quickly get you overwhelmed/putting things on hold/walking away. DH Answers and twitter are good places to go for help but how does one become a digital humanist?

There are links between this proposal and the ones on mentoring and failure that I proposed earlier, but here I’m really asking about traditional vs. non-traditional pathways to learning.  After this weekend, how do we keep learning?

Disney, Stories and Ownership

October 9th, 2010

Disneyland, California Adventure 10/7/2010

I just came from Disneyland’s California Adventure, where I was “under the Golden Gate Bridge.” Now I am off to THATCampSF, thanks to Jon Voss, not far from the Golden Gate Bridge…more like under the Bay Bridge, but…

Right now I am a bit overwhelmed by concepts of narrative theory, as Francesco Spagnolo highlights and “games, art and Story Telling.”

I am feeling very “meta” right now, and looking forward to THATCampSF.

Mapping the digital humanities

October 9th, 2010

I would like to dedicate a session to creating a conceptual map of the digital humanities, both as we represent them at THATCamp Bay Area, and as we collectively understand them.

This particular THATCamp is unique in that it’s the first not hosted at an academic institution, the first to consciously try to include not only non-academics, but also cultural workers from many different sectors.  I think it’s a rare opportunity to make a map of the Zeitgeist.

We could map not only the disciplines we represent (literature, history, geography, dance, music, art, etc.), but also the “modes” in which we work (academic, museum, library, non-profit, for-profit).  And perhaps there are other coordinates we could bring to bear as we try to draw The (or A) Big Picture of DH.

I don’t have a particular mapping technology in mind: as far as I’m concerned, a cool-looking doodle on butcher paper (maybe captured by a cell-phone camera) would be good enough, as long as the ideas are good.  But with all the mapping savvy I suspect we have in the group, maybe someone can offer something more high-tech.

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