THATCamp Prime 2011: BootCamp Sessions

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Just returned from this year’s THATCamp at CHNM, and I have to say–wow. I’m exhausted but oddly energized, as are most other campers (if the twitter stream is to be believed!). For those who’ve never been to a THATCamp, you will find Alexandra Cartert’s excellent post on her experience enlightening. I, too, arrived early for the BootCamp training sessions on June 3, kicking it off with an introduction to a range of CMSes by Patrick Murray-John and Raf Alvarado:

This presentation will provide an overview of the content management system (CMS) as a software genre suitable for a variety of use cases in the digital humanities, from the traditional thematic research collection to hybrid scenarios involving crowd sourcing and data meshing. Beginning with a general discussion of the rationale behind CMSes in the first place, we place WordPress, Omeka, and Drupal in a comparative space wherein the strengths of each can be aligned with specific requirements and constraints. In each case, we present examples of work by peer scholars from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds.

While I’m pretty familiar with WordPress, and I’m getting there with Omeka, I’d always been too intimidated to explore Drupal–it’s much more modular and customizable than WP or Omeka, and it also functions structurally (and argumentatively) in a manner more rhizomic than dendritic or axiomatic. I was especially interested in the conversation about the relationship between structural logic and practical use, especially in the classroom–WP isn’t really useful, for instance, as an argumentative tool, whereas Omeka is, because it allows you to select and sequence items in a collection. Drupal, on the other hand, uses some of the descriptive principles behind Omeka, but because it isn’t limited by categories and tags, its content model is relational; nodes can grow over time, and users can view the relationships that develop and expand–but with a thematic structure. Drupal allows self-organizing content models, like WP, but where WP offers general organizational tools (categories/tags), Drupal offers highly specific, paradigmatic affordances (and yes, I had to look that up!). Omeka,offers more specificity, but it is syntagmatic in principle rather than paradigmatic.

Use Cases:
WP: course sites, personal portfolios, blogs
OMEKA: exhibits, simple thematic research collections
DRUPAL: collaborative projects, complex thematic research collections, data meshing

A good example of Drupal for complex thematic and collaborative projects is House Divided, a project at Dickinson College. There is a pretty steep learning curve for developing the architecture of a Drupal project, because everything has to be defined, but apparently it’s super-intuitive for users (including students) once all has been set up. I was very, very happy that my Gomatos project, which uses Omeka, does not have to be redone–Omeka is a happy choice for my scope and goals.

I really wanted to attend the BootCamp session on Recollection, but it conflicted with the CMS session. So, I’ll have to explore that over the summer, too!

You will leave this hands-on workshop with everything you need to start using Recollection. Briefly, Recollection is a free, Library-of-Congress-sponsored platform that empowers historians, librarians, archivists and curators to create and customize dynamic interfaces to collections of digital content. Starting from an example spreadsheet, you will use Recollection to generate distinct interactive visual interfaces (including maps, timelines, and sophisticated faceted navigation), which you can copy-paste to embed in any webpage. This workshop does not require any particular technical proficiency. Participants will leave the workshop ready to use Recollection to help understand and provide access to digital collections of cultural heritage materials.

After the CMS session, I went to Tom Scheinfeldt’s session on DH project planning and management, which was an eye-opener. While I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be managing any digital humanities projects in the imminent future, the lessons are portable to any number of circumstances one regularly encounters in academia, where human capital is everywhere.

This session will consider both the practical, day-to-day work and intangible aspects of managing digital projects in the humanities. Pragmatic lessons will include picking a project, building partnerships and engaging stakeholders, attracting funding, budgeting and staffing, setting milestones and meeting deliverables, managing staff, publicity and marketing, user support, sustainability, and the range of tools available to support this work. The session will also consider several intangible, but no less important, aspects of project management, including communication, decision making, and leadership.

“What lessons,” you ask? Aim high, but manage expectations (under-promise, over-deliver); be generous with ownership, credit, reward; don’t underestimate the value of a comfortable physical space; face time, even 5-minute drop-bys, are important; and follow-through, follow-through, follow-through!

There were so many great discussions during BootCamp, and I was able to participate in only a fraction of them. Luckily, Google Docs exists. And, I took notes. And, there are pictures. I’ll post more on THATCamp sometime after I’ve eaten these buffalo wings I’m making for dinner. Vegetables? What?

Descriptions from THATCamp.org

This session will consider both the practical, day-to-day work and intangible aspects of managing digital projects in the humanities. Pragmatic lessons will include picking a project, building partnerships and engaging stakeholders, attracting funding, budgeting and staffing, setting milestones and meeting deliverables, managing staff, publicity and marketing, user support, sustainability, and the range of tools available to support this work. The session will also consider several intangible, but no less important, aspects of project management, including communication, decision making, and leadership.

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