THATCampNY 2012: Following Up with Fordham Students


Reflections on the recent THATCamp NY (The Humanities and Technology Camp) by three of Fordham’s graduate students appear after the following report.

From digital pedagogy to text mining to library support for digital scholarship, THATCampNY 2012, which took place at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus on October 5-6, included almost thirty sessions related to the digital humanities. At least 95 students, faculty, librarians, and staff came from CUNY, Columbia University, the New York Public Library, Rutgers University, Cornell University, as well as from Michigan and beyond. THATCampNY 2012 was organized by Elizabeth Cornell, Pre-doctoral Fellow in Fordham’s English Department, along with Jonathan Cain, Reference and Instruction Librarian, Hunter College, and Tatiana Bryant, Reference Associate, NYU Libraries.

“I hope Fordham will continue to host and support such innovative, interdisciplinary, and collaborative events as they will only serve to strengthen our community’s research and pedagogy.” –Sarah Cornish, English

Several workshops were offered. Kristen Garlock, Associate Director of Education and Outreach at JSTOR, the online library database, introduced participants to a set of web-based tools for selecting and interacting with content using JSTOR’s “Data for Research” tool. Alex Gil, Digital Scholarship Coordinator at Columbia University, led a workshop on Omeka, a tool for the management of collections of digital assets. Chris Sula Assistant Professor of Information and Library Science from the Pratt Institute, led a workshop on Gephi, an open source program for network visualization and analysis.

“As with any great gathering of university folk, I left energized and excited, because I’d experienced a new, unexpected way of thinking about what I do.” –Kem Crimmins, Philosophy

Discussion sessions had a more informal structure than workshops, but were no less dynamic. Roger Panetta, Visiting Professor of History at Fordham, directed an information-gathering session on ways to take online student work beyond sophisticated blog posts. Kimon Keramidas, from the Bard Graduate Center, led a discussion on platforms and best practices for online scholarly publishing. Lucy Bruell, who oversees NYU’s Literature, Arts, and Medicine database, had a working session on how to overhaul this vast resource. Jared Simard offered an introduction on platforms available for mapping and timelines, and he explored questions of how the DH community can facilitate acquisition of programming tools. Other sessions dealt with the logistics of collaboration among researchers spread out across the globe.

“What do we mean when we encourage interdisciplinarity and collaboration?” –Alan Kline, Medieval Studies.

THATCamp is a series of free “unconferences” devoted to hands-on work and discussion of the intersection of technology and the humanities. It is hosted by research and cultural institutions multiple times a year. THATCamp participants include researchers, students, librarians, archivists, curators, educators, technologists, and others interested in using technology to produce humanities scholarship. Popular with both scholars and practitioners, there were over forty-five THATCamps worldwide between 2008 and 2011, and over twenty are planned for 2012.
(A version of the above also appears on Fordham’s English Connect.)

What did Fordham’s graduate students think of THATCampNY?

 Sarah Cornish, PhD candidate in English:

As a recent initiate into the world of digital humanities and on my way to attend the first day of THATCampNY, I had no idea of what to expect. An unconference? No schedule posted? No panels? This was new, and as a volunteer representing Fordham’s Graduate Digital Humanities Working Group, I worried I was ill-equipped to be there. But, as a PhD candidate who is working on representations of city space in literature, I was also enticed by the possibility of learning about platforms that might be useful for my research and pedagogy. On that first day, I was treated to a series of “lightening talks” in which professors, research librarians, independent scholars, and graduate students presented the ways in which they employ (and in many cases, build) DH tools to enhance their work. I learned about CUNY Graduate Center’s Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, an online publication and forum for creative and critical approaches to including technology in the classroom and beyond. I was inspired by a talk on digitizing treasures found while doing archival work and making them available for other researchers. Through listening to the various presentations, I was amazed at how much I don’t yet know, but also able to envision ways that my own work will benefit through digital tools. I hope Fordham will continue to host and support such innovative, interdisciplinary, and collaborative events as they will only serve to strengthen our community’s research and pedagogy.

 Alan Kline, MA student, Medieval Studies:

For me, fundamental questions are the most fun. My favorite session at THATCampNY dealt with text mining, which brought up a number of fundamental questions. Before we sort, collect, and explain data, how do we define data? What gets left out after settling on a definition? How should we account for omitted data? Those familiar problems take on a new dimension in a digital context: programming is a tool that enables a researcher to collect and visualize a vast amount of data, but that fact generates its own well-documented problems. Supplementary digital tools not only enable us to sail the oceans of digitized literature faster than ever before, they also provide an excellent opportunity for expansive collaboration. Given that many humanities programs emphasize interdisciplinary scholarship, it seems a little ironic that students and faculty must rely principally on themselves to pursue their interest in digital literacy and its consequent research functionality. Nearly every one of my professors has made it a point to destroy the myth that a scholar’s work is solitary, yet most of the participants at the text mining session with knowledge of basic programming were self-taught. What, then, do we mean when we encourage interdisciplinarity and collaboration?

 Kem Crimmins, Philosophy:

This was my first THATCamp. Although I had followed a few previously on Twitter, the live tweets do not do these events justice. Not your traditional conference, THATCamp is full of energetic, to eenthusiastic and supportive academics who embrace technology to further their research and develop an innovative and effective classroom.

I attended three sessions, and, interestingly, they all shared a theme: presenting humanities research visually. Whether mapping the relationships among ideas or thinkers, using Prezi to organize data rather than simply as an alternative to Powerpoint, or building online, visually enhanced archives in the classroom,the THATCamp participants were keen to dig deeper and and to build new platforms that would lead to new, potentially paradigm-shifting insights both for themselves and their students. As with any great gathering of university folk, I left energized and excited, because I’d experienced a new, unexpected way of thinking about what I do.