Archive for February, 2011

Dialogue for producers and users of Digital Collections

I would like to propose a combination of general discussion and helpathon to address the needs and concerns of the providers and users of digital library collections; I think this could be combined with Andy Keck’s and Katie McCormack’s Session proposals and probably others.  I am on the advisory board of an open –access digital library, the Digital Library of the Caribbean (, which is a grant-funded partnership of libraries in Florida and the Caribbean(for brief description see below).* I am participating in this Unconference  in part to learn ways to improve and otherwise help dLOC, but I am hoping that some of the issues that challenge this digital library are pertinent to other digital projects and would  therefore be of interest to other people in the humanities who use or work on digital collections. Below I have listed some questions concerning digital collections (as examples) and would like to hear what other questions and experiences people have in regard to digital library collections.

Examples of Technical Questions:

  • What type of tools and technologies do you find necessary and/or helpful when using a digital library? (e.g. particular search functions, bookshelves, the ability to make and save comments on materials as well as to share materials through Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • What types of pedagogical guides or editorial information would you find helpful?

(dLOC, for instance, has workshops and posts teaching guides for various materials in addition to hosting a contest for teaching guides to specific material in the collection)

  • How do you organize content from multiple digital collections?

Examples of Digital Scholarship Questions:

  • How do we encourage/invite scholars to conduct their scholarly work with and through digital collections like dLOC? Instead of simply using materials in dLOC, what new forms of scholarship can we foster and how do we do so?


  •  Whereas projects like the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture are working primarily with newer media forms (, how do we support and encourage more traditional scholarly research to take full advantage of digital collections as source and operational resources?

Examples of Questions concerning publicizing collections and building relationships with users:

  • How can a library advertise its collection so that scholars know that it exists?
  • How might a library develop relationships with users of the collection to ensure that it is identifying useful texts for the field?
  • Could the library foster relationships among users to develop further editorial and pedagogical materials?

Examples of Questions involving Open Access and National Patrimony Collections:

dLOC sees itself as a partnership working to preserve and make available (free of cost) content from Caribbean libraries, archives, and NGOs.  However, some scholars and some librarians consider  making digital copies of Caribbean content available through open access venues a loss—especially if those venues have their servers in the U.S.

Are there good answers for such questions as:

Why should a Caribbean National Library make rare novels and magazines available to people all over the world for free? Aren’t they (and their nation) losing income from researchers who would otherwise have to travel to the country and pay for copying, etc.?

Aren’t they also losing revenue they might gain through for-profit databases, such as Ebsco and Alexander Street Press? (dLOC’s agreements over content are all non-exclusive, so everything digitized for dLOC can also be sold to databases.)

Is it important that digital collections from the Caribbean and other regions in the Postcolony host their own servers and control their own software for digital projects?

*Each dLOC partner determines which materials it will digitize, retaining an electronic copy for itself and giving one to be housed on the dLOC server, where it will be maintained by  the University of Florida Digital Library Collections’ (, which functions as a technical hub for the project.  dLOC has two objectives: to preserve fragile materials, often housed in only one or two national libraries or archives in the Caribbean, and to make them available as widely as possible to citizens and scholars. Founded in 2004, with five partners, the project now has over  15  including the Archives Nationale d’Haïti and three other libraries in Haiti; the Caribbean Community Secretariat (CARICOM); the National Library of Jamaica; La Fundación Global Democracia y Desarrollo (FUNGLODE); Universidad de Oriente, Venezuela; the University of the Virgin Islands; Florida International University; University of Central Florida; the University of Florida, the University of the Netherlands Antilles, the Biblioteca National Aruba, and the Belize National Library Service and information System, and the Caribbean Region, International Resource Network.

From digitization to digital collection

The Religion in North Carolina Digital Collection is currently making use of an LSTA planning grant to identify and secure permission for digitizing the publications of religious bodies in North Carolina. While focused on the digitization effort, I’ve very interested in having conversations around advanced search and visualization tools that can help scholars, researchers, and genealogists mine this corpus of materials. Or in other words, once we have this digital collection created through digitization, what do we do with it? how do we present it?

I’ll bring one example of a visualization that very quickly tells an important story about one North Carolina congregation.

My Favorite Application: “Show and Tell”

Last summer I was fortunate enough to attend the NEH-funded Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship at the University of Virginia’s Scholars Lab. Throughout the proceedings, I found myself watching my friend Jo Guldi madly switching between a number of different applications on her MacBook Pro. I wasn’t familiar with most of the tools she was using, and her work pattern for taking notes was so different from my own that I asked her abouit. Consequently, Jo, Moacir P. de Sá Pereira, and myself sat down over lunch one day and started showing each other our personal favorite tools. (Note the absence of rimshot here, please.)

I found this exchange incredibly exciting and useful, not to mention very much in the spirit of ProfHacker, which I’ve had the great pleasure to write for since 2009. As much as you think you know about the tools of the trade, there’s always more out there. And maybe, just maybe, the things that your friends are using could help you get your writing / reading / compiling / programming done all that much more quickly.

What I’d like to propose for a session, then, is a show and tell. You get 3 minutes—at most—to show us your favorite application. You tell us what’s so great about it, how you use it in your work, and why you couldn’t live without it. We all get exposed to something new and get the chance to imagine how our own work could shift if we were to shake things up and try a new approach. If we have enough time (but how could we? people will be all over this session like butter on grits), you could get a shot to share a second favorite application with us. But seriously: don’t count on it.

It will work best if you can show us your application through the projector (we’ll have connections), but all platforms and applications are allowed. That means you can wax poetic about your favorite Android app. The best Chrome MAME. Or the best media player that you’ve found for Debian. Whatever you’d like. Heck, I suppose it could even be something analog! But you only get 3 minutes to share the love. Afterward, we’ll have a handful of new applications to try out (provided your pitch was good enough) and we’ll know who to talk to to find out more.

Does this sound appealing to anyone else?

Session Idea – Kindles in the writing classroom / library

My proposal, along with Phoebe Acheson, is to take a look at how e-readers like Kindle change (or do not change) the writing classroom. We are currently performing a study in an English Lit classroom where we have replaced the students’ print texts with Kindles (kind of like the Folger’s switch!). A few questions we have been discussing:

  • How does mediating text using this particular device change reading, comprehension, in-class discussion, and writing?
  • What kinds of pedagogical applications may there be for e-readers in the classroom?
  • What should libraries be thinking about in providing access to electronic texts using these devices (there is a lot of talk about “on demand” collection development).

I think this discussion could be related to Brian Campbell’s “What are the spiritual impacts of technology” session idea. Is there something lost or gained in the use of the e-reader in the writing classroom and in the library?

Teaching the Psycho-Spiritual Impacts of Technology

I am also interested in the neurological and spiritual impacts of technology. There was lots of buzz in the past year about Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, or at least his Atlantic article, “Is Google Making us Stupid?”. As a religion scholar, I am also interested in recent conversations about whether Google is also making us “spiritually stupid,” making us too distracted to participate in corporate rituals or private meditation. My dissertation focuses on contemporary hermits who live alone and spend much of their time in contemplative prayer, but most are also online quite a lot. So, I am interested what all of us can learn from them about setting boundaries and developing discipline with how we engage technology. I would enjoy discussing with others how you deal with this yourself, and also how this fits into your teaching. As I use more and more technology in my courses, I want to be intentional about helping students develop healthy habits.

Teaching the Environmental Impacts of Technology

I currently teach environmental ethics. As I work to engage with technology more directly in the classroom, I also feel responsible for interrogating the social and environmental impacts of our classroom technologies and personal gadgets. These connect us to all sorts of global problems, including pollution, toxic waste, and child labor. I would be interested in sharing ideas about how to raise these critical ethical questions.

Here’s what I’m trying. I have assigned my students this semester to watch Annie Leonard’s “Story of Electronics,” to listen to a Fresh Air podcast featuring the Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network, and to read a short article, “High Tech Wasteland.”

Another way I approach this is by having my students consider how our learning depends on all sorts of technologies and infrastructures that connect us to the broader world. They contribute to a blog that investigates aspects of life on campus we take for granted, so, for example they trace the source of our power, water, and food. They track where our waste flows, including e-waste, recycling, food waste, construction waste, etc. All this helps us remember the ways we are always engaged with a world beyond the classroom, even when we feel isolated in a physical or virtual academic bubble.

Session Idea — Collaborating on Digital Content Creation, etc.

As a librarian/archivist, I’d be interested in a discussion of how libraries/archives can collaborate and communicate with humanities scholars to create digital content from collections in support of scholarly research needs. I am also interested in how to better work together as content is digitized to create dynamic/interactive sites to showcase the intersection of scholarship, curriculum, and digital collections. Is it just material that needs to be identified? Do we need to/how do we work together to design training, digitization centers, effective communication strategies to support and enhance such work.

In some ways, those questions/ideas touch on my other interest as I teach “Digital History” to graduate students – what kind of campus collaborations & facilities need to be in place to engage faculty and students with an interest in technology but little to no experience/background with broader theories, possibilities, and the hands on work of digital humanities?

Semantic content organization

That title makes it sound like I know what I’m talking about.  I don’t.  But I’ve recently read or heard several presentations invoking the need for information organizing software that links sources and ideas in a more web-like, hyper-linked style.  We have EndNote and Zotero, but these don’t help us organize ideas or the connections between sources.  It seems like the research process usually involves making the non-linear linear.  Part of DH is to change the end product to something more non-linear, but it might also help to learn about anything that helps us organize our (non-linear) webs of thoughts and sources.

Does this make sense?  This is more something I’d like to have, rather than something I know exists.

Where are the Digital Humanities in Digital Pedagogy? [Session Proposal]

Lately, quite a few people have been asking some version of the question, “What is the relationship between digital pedagogy and DH?”  The most recent example that comes to mind is Alex Reid’s post “The Digital Humanities Divide.”  There Reid notes that, even though some rhetoric and composition specialists have been studying how writing and writing pedagogy have evolved in the wake of digital technology since the PC arrived on the scene nearly 30 years ago, one isn’t likely to find computers and composition studies in DH journals or at DH conferences.  In addition, although the panel, “Where’s the Pedagogy in Digital Pedagogy?,” that a couple of my colleagues organized for the MLA this year was included in lists of the conference’s DH sessions, I think a number of people might argue that digital pedagogy isn’t *really* DH at all.  I’ve certainly seen at least one or two grant descriptions that specifically exclude “primarily pedagogical” applications from the kinds of projects that might be eligible for funding.  This last may be due more to a perception that there are separate sources of funding for pedagogical projects, rather than a perception that DPed is not DH, but it has contributed to my own uncertainty regarding how the two are related.

From the way some of the other proposals are shaping up, I think we might use some of our time at THATCamp SE to reframe productively this discussion by considering the question, “Can we put DH into our DPed?”  I know that a number of us are pushing the boundaries of assignment design in order to engage students in what Bruno Latour might call “compositionism,” and what I tend to think of as doing things *with* objects of study or creating our own new objects of study, alongside the more traditional (at least in the lit classroom) activity of writing *about* literature.  In my own classes, I’ve had my students use Media Wiki to create a collaborative repository of community knowledge.  I’ve also worked closely with a couple of colleagues to design an assignment where students used a digital learning platform that I helped build to create digital critical editions of short texts.  Some of my other colleagues have given their students assignments that involved creating aesthetic or useful objects, both real and digital, and writing about them.  Might we argue that DPed is related to, even if it doesn’t exactly fall under the umbrella of DH because it involves students in using digital technologies to build things?

I don’t know, but I think the question could lead to a useful, not to mention exciting, exchange of ideas.  The many questions we could ask and discuss include the following: Should digital humanists be concerned with ensuring the resources they create are accessible to the average student at Small State U as well as fortunate scholars working at elite institutions?  What pedagogical and ethical issues do we confront when we think about involving students in the work that goes on at DH centers and on DH projects?  As Roger has asked, what place, if any, should building have in a classroom centered around humanistic inquiry?  Finally, and this is my own particular hobby-horse, to what extent should intellectual property controls be relaxed to accommodate innovative educational uses of pre-existing work?  In addition to Roger’s proposed session, I also think this topic complements and might be folded into or combined with the sessions that Pete, Miriam, and Michael have proposed.

Hacking the Dissertation

How can digital humanities help us reimagine the dissertation? As a mid-program graduate student, I’m standing at the beginning of my dissertation project and I’m interested in hacking the dissertation.

I’ve been thinking about this from a few angles. First, digital sources provide one new way of rethinking the dissertation. Digital archives and collections that offer full text searching provide new ways to do dissertation research, especially in the current climate where graduate research funding may be difficult to find. Second, the actual dissertation itself can be rethought. For example, how could digital sources for a dissertation be archived online to provide a sort of source book for the research project? What would a “digital dissertation” look like? Lastly, how can digital technology improve the process of writing a dissertation? The dissertation is a young scholars first major project, what sort of technologies are out there that every dissertating graduate student ought to try to help them stay organized and get the thing written?

I would love to see something come out of this discussion that could serve as a guide or toolbox for graduate students wanting to hack their dissertations. There are a lot of great reviews and ideas about writing dissertations with digital technologies (for example, Tonya Roth’s blog “Hacking the Dissertation Process” ) but its very scattered and tough to track down and synthesize. We need a more systematic approach to rethinking a digital dissertation.

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