“THAT Camp is like drinking from a fire hose.” – Organizer Marta Rivera Monclova on the first day of workshops.

I can attest to the truth of that! I just returned from my first THAT Camp, and I’m still trying to process the many conversations in and out of sessions and what I learned there. I arrived feeling like a freshman on a college campus but quickly discovered that although I have much to learn, I wasn’t as clueless as I thought.

This post highlights some of the hot topics and provides a glimpse into the state of the digital humanities (DH) as of mid-November 2012. In addition to the usual questions and tutorials on DH tools, issues of collaboration, open access, and whether or not coding is an essential skill in DH were the focus of many discussions.

Collaboration: Many of us in the digital humanities have big goals and to accomplish them, we need to work as teams. Several of the workshops and sessions focused on creating a DH Center, preserving cultural heritage through digital archives, concepts and issues in mapping projects, and text-editing. What did all have in common? The message: Don’t do it alone!

What are people saying about collaboration?

  • @lynnelynne53: “How to kickstart a DH Center? People with idea and initiative, shared ideas desire to work together” (Lynne Siemens)
  • @PHDeviate : “Community building IS an archival practice.” (M. Rivera Monclova)
  • @bordalejo: “Very few people can make electronic editions alone. Find trustworthy collaborators.” (Barbara Bordalejo)

Open Access: While intellectual property rights need to be respected, there is a strong movement toward open access: making knowledge accessible for everyone without having to rely on attendance or employment at a Research I institution. A related question considered what formats (digital and print) would allow us to preserve knowledge over time.

What are people saying about open access?

  • @southendpress asks the question: Do you believe in the robustness, durability of PDF as a format? Can we trust it?
  • @elotroalex talks about #TEI as a potentially durable standard (Alex Gil)
  • @RayS6 says Lots of copies keeps stuff safe has a modern corollary: lots of formats keeps stuff safe. (Ray Siemens)
  • @THATCampCaribe: “The expense of print publication and of buying print works discourages publishing in less common languages”
  • @THATCampCaribe: Takeaways: Don’t let any single source, format, location, corporation determine the future of the book!
  • @dmer: “how do we as a culture preserve access to the contents of our books? Lots of copies, lots of formats, print too!” (Derek Merleaux)
  • For more thoughts, see THAT Camp session proposal on the future of the book and knowledge in a digital age.

To code or not to code?

Barbarba Bordalejo addressed the question of how important it is to be a programmer as a digital humanist in the first day of workshops, and the question resurfaced in a session on foundational theories in DH. While there was no consensus, the most compelling argument was based on a definition of literacy and supported the position that digital humanists need to know how to code: If one is literate in a language or technology, one must be able to create something new. Therefore, to be fully literate in DH, one needs to understand and be able to use the language and structure of the cyber world (Java Script, HTML, CSS, XML, Python, etc.) For a review of programming tutorials, see Andrea Zellner’s recent Gradhacker article on “Learning to Code.”

DH Tools: I will make a list of the tools discussed at THAT Camp available on my blog site. For a grand roundup of digital tools, see dirt.projectbamboo.org/. In the many discussions of which tools work well for different types of projects, what struck me was the thought process and questions that drive such decisions. Here are a few of the most important to consider as you embark on a new endeavor:

  • What kind of stories do you want to tell with your information?
  • So what? Why is this project important? To whom?
  • What is its purpose and how might its design contribute to that purpose?
  • Who is your target audience and how will you make your work available to them?
  • What metadata do you need to include and how will you do so?

Finally, for anyone considering attending or organizing a THAT Camp, I would strongly encourage you to do so! It’s as invigorating as a cold spray of water on a hot summer day and more energizing than your morning coffee. For more information, visit THAT Camp’s website.