I want to second Brian Croxall’s “show and tell” proposal and suggest another way it might be productively framed. There’s been a lot of discussion (sometimes outright debate) in the wake of the 2011 MLA Convention about the necessity of coding, programming, building, or doing technical stuff vis-à-vis the digital humanities. In a blog post that followed up his own comments at the convention, Stephen Ramsay claims that
DH-ers insist — again and again — that this process of creation yields insights that are difficult to acquire otherwise. […] People who mark up texts say it, as do those who build software, hack social networks, create visualizations, and pursue the dozens of other forms of haptic engagement that bring DH-ers to the same table. Building is, for us, a new kind of hermeneutic. (original emphasis, “On Building”)
Such “building” does not have to require arcane or specialized knowledge. (Suspicions that it does have likely generated much of the anxious backlash about DH as an exclusive and computational domain.) It does not have to take place at an institute for digital scholarship or be funded by a major grant. It can happen with the parts one finds virtually lying around. This session invites participants to “show and tell” about their favorite apps, APIs, websites, digital resources, wooden blocks, whatever with which to “build.” Its goal would not necessarily be to create an electronic tool shed, of which there are already some wonderful examples (e.g. Alan Liu’s Toy Chest wiki). Rather, its goal would be “haptic engagement” itself, giving every participant inspiration and some practical strategies for a building project of their own, whether in designing an interpretive machine, a personal/professional hack, and/or a pedagogy. Such a session would also allow participants to apply and customize the lessons from their particular BootCamp tracks.