April 5, 2011 - 10:12 What Confs Fail, Camps Achieve

Badia Fiesolana Fresco, European University Institute, Florence, Italy

There was this good intuition about attending an unconference. And it did not prove wrong. The world is full of conventional events, discussions and relationships. Especially on the European ground. The term unconference sounded ground breaking enough and what caught me more by surprise was that it came from the humanities side. But, when I digged a bit on the history of the unconference type of events I found out that it came from the geek community. I shouldn’t be surprised here. That is how technology and information science thrive, facilitate our lives and works and thus get funded.

THATCampFlorence continued the short tradition of the American born THATCamp co-organized by the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University. Zotero and Omeka, two of the most known tools in the humanities, were also created there by an amalgam of people constituing the next generation humanists, –cause ‘digital’ is given.

Hence, I will try to justify the enthusiasm. I am indeed glad and twice as much to have taken part to a gathering of the like since Humanities are considered to be one of the most conservative domains in terms of interaction and communication. And yet THATCamp initiative took birth therein. It seems that it is about a group of people working in orthological, practical and cooperative spirit. This spirit that enables interaction and dialogue being magnified and reproduced by each one of the THATCamp unconferences spreading as we speak around the world.

Unlike any other European conference, much more so a Greek one, you’ve got that liberating feeling of not having to adhere to the presentation rules and actually have a human voice, speak out real questions that torture you and highly likely get some answers. On the contrary, if you find yourself as a speaker in any other conference of a humanities domain in Europe (I suppose that still happens in the States too) you should have to prepare your talk many months ahead and get five minutes to answer to questions about it after your presentation is over. The rest of the attendees are left to their own devices. Thus the event ends up an announcement and a watching event especially for the majority of scholars and often enough aridly competitive.

What I know I felt attending THATCampFirenze was part of a group and a self-sustained unit at the same time. The BootCamp sessions -educational and informative as it meant to be- were the introduction to a series of discussions and dare say the inspiration. What I liked most and I believe is in the heart of every THATCamp session/atelier is that anyone can suggest a subject of discussion, everybody votes on preferences and the outcome is a schedule of conversations made up in less than an hour by the coordinators.

The experience of joining a discussion group like that is another unique experience by itself. You may know or may not know what are you going to say, or who are you going to meet. You just focus on the subject and the creative talk flow. Your mind gets alerted and you may even start thinking in a way you hadn’t have thought before. However, its you, with your knowledge and ignorance and the rest of the participants forming the chemistry of the discussion, developing interaction. It is clearly about a “give and take” action in its purest manifestations –not leaving out cases where there are strategies and policies behind the placing of a discussion topic. But these strategies co-exist with sparkles of new ideas and the expressiveness of questions on how digital research can be done or even the statement of requirements on how it could be done.

I am pretty sure that these lively conversations are the only way to reach out to more and more scholars and achieve faster and effective the digital humanities research integration. Especially now that more and more humanists realize the value of communicating knowledge and research and inspire its exploitation from other domains, thus empowering the joint and make them directly useful to the society and economy.

I know there are some very dynamic digital humanists groups in Europe that come and work together on a project basis. I also know there are some greater scale European projects where the most competent bright people participate working to build the researchers’ e-infrastructures. But the gap between these people (academic and technologists) and the scholars is still very big and it will stay for long if ‘discussions’ about digital research remain within the conventional conferences world.

That is why I want to thank the initiators of the THATCamp unconference idea for introducing vitality.

While looking around to see how other THATCamp attendants perceived the same experience I stumbled upon a blog post that became my favorite one and truly pictures the sense of attending. Roger Whitson has a unique way of expressing that.

THATCamp Ateliers I Attended:
To give you an overview of the discussion topics

Text mining
Time and Named Entities
Visualization of large humanities datasets

Let me guess what you’re thinking. “You should have been there!”. Please don’t hesitate to comment or contact me. Some of the places you may find pieces of me are @kouriati and www.astroboa.org

Katerina Kouriati

March 25, 2011 - 11:32 visualising large data sets

Facilitator: Daniel Pettet (contact)

Reference Project: Environment And Society Portal (run by the Rachel Carson Center)

The Content

Demonstration of existing research and techniques used for building and exploring visualisations for the environment and society portal. These visualisations included time and map based display as well as keyword or tag cloud substitutes for finding keyword based data relationships.


Search text/keyword relationship tool: “Google Wonder Wheel” (an option available when searching google in the left sidebar)

Facetted Browsing (or filtering) of data sets: Amazon.com, ebay.com lusini.de/search/

Map based visualisation: Geocommons (the most advanced system so far?)

Google maps: geocode service, maps API

Tree cloud: www.lirmm.fr/~gambette/treecloud

Graph dice?: www.aviz.fr/graphdice

Visualisation website/blog compiling many different types and examples (user/design based): infosthetics.com/

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