How Much Data Modeling Is Enough?

I’ve been beginning to invest some time in data modeling for the Semantic Web using RDF Schema and OWL (the Web Ontology Language), especially in terms of providing representations of archival resources online. I buy into the promise of Linked Data, but many of the things I am hoping to represent are complex. Arguably, data modeling can become as complex as you think it needs to, but it’s easy to get stuck in a black hole of doing too much, as humorous blogpost from the University of Southampton describes. Just the same, however, incautious modeling, or even undermodeling, can lead to undesired consequences (see, for example Simon Spero’s poster from DC2008, “LCSH is to Thesaurus as Doorbell is to Mammal” [abstract, blog post with poster diagram]).

I attended this year’s Dublin Core conference in Pittsburgh. In the Linked Data working sessions coordinated by Karen Coyle and Corey Harper at the conference, I kept reiterating the need for developing a means by which we can create models iteratively. I’m not sure what this looks like, however, and I’d be eager to talk about this. I’d also like to help myself and others determine when borrowing from existing ontologies and vocabularies makes sense, or when we should go off on our own.


Twitter in the Classroom?

I’m about to teach my first class this coming semester, and I would love to hear THATCamp-ers thoughts (and experiences?) on using Twitter in the classroom.  I’m a social Twitterer (@ajin212), and I’ve personally live tweeted at a museum un-conference hosted by the John Nicholas Brown Center and for a public humanities course on memory and memorials.  However, I haven’t live-tweeted in the classroom.

I’ve read up a bit from scholars and critics here [“How Twitter in the Classroom in Boosting Student Engagement”], and here [“Twitter and Facebook in the Classroom”], and here [“Purdue University Adds Twitter and Facebook to Class Participation”].  In general, there seem to be mixed reviews from both professors who have used social media and question tools in lecture.

It seem unreasonable to hold a discussion amongst 15-20 students and having everyone live tweet simultaneously.  No one would look up from their laptops, phones, and iPads…  However, I would like to encourage students to do more than use tweets to direct classmates to quotes in the reading before class.  While it was exciting to try something new, I didn’t find it that helpful or engaging when I participated in a “conversation” with other students (many of whom posted an hour before class and didn’t talk to one another in their posts or use RT or hashtags to delineate lines of potential conversation).

In the course I’m TA-ing now, I wonder how using Twitter or blogging might draw my quieter students into the conversation.  I do have them submit questions ahead of class by email, but they’re talking to me, not to each other.

So, I’m curious how one might go about integrating Twitter in a seminar course.  Perhaps a few students are responsible for tweeting each day?  Perhaps students live tweet while watching films, television clips, or slide shows?  We could even practice by live tweeting the session!


Knowledge and Research Environment: How to Aggregate, Display and Search Research Content from Multiple Platforms

The research lab in contemporary literature that I am working for are now putting in place a new project that have the mandate to be a portal for different web projects that showed research content. That portal also wants to make an inventory of researchers and students’ blogs associated with the research lab. This Web platform will also have it’s own content.

When putting the project together, some questions were at the agenda. Question that might have been there for other project of that kind in digital humanities:

1. How to display scientific content from different Web sites and databases, and on different media (text, audio, and video).  We want the user to navigate easily through the content of the site, but we also want to keep the traceability of the content.

2. How to search in all those contents, which set of metadata should we use to simplify that task. In the same order of idea, which search engine should we choose? The search engine must be able to index content in more than one site.

3. How to make the researchers share their research notes or be intrinsically associated with the project, like having a blog in our platform. This question seems to fit with the session proposed by Jeri Wieringa, Starting and Marketing Digital Archives.

I don’t know if those three issues need a session, but I would like those interrogations to be included in some way in other sessions.


What Tools Do Researchers Reliant on Born-digital Primary Sources Use—and Need?

One of the discussions that I’m interested in having with folks at THATCamp intersects with points raised by Lincoln Mullen and Karrie Peterson. Lincoln invites us to explore the potential use of Omeka as a primary source repository that can function as a digitally-enabled anthology for teaching and other uses. Karrie encourages us to talk about the problems that scholars, experienced and novice alike, face in the digital humanities, the tools that they currently use, and the ones they still need so that libraries can usefully reinvent their services and products.   

For my part, I’m curious to discover whether Omeka might be a solution to problems I’ve encountered in my own work. Specifically, scholars concerned with contemporary events and culture increasingly find it useful, if not essential, to include Web-based and other born-digital materials among the primary sources that they study. The transient nature of Web-based information, however, presents a problem for long-term projects and creates difficulties for those who wish to consult a scholar’s sources at a later date.  My own efforts to study museum engagements with the current war are a case in point; much of my data is drawn from Internet sources, such as the exhibition pages on museum Web sites, press releases issued as PDFs, reviews from online media, etc. These born-digital materials are supplemented by material from my own fieldwork (photos, collected printed matter, sketches of exhibition layouts, etc.). So what I end up with is data scattered across virtual as well as physical file folders and a collection of Delicious bookmarks. It’s hard enough for me to navigate let alone share with other researchers who might be interested in, say, a broader topic such as the viusal culturesof war or to utilize in the classroom. 

Are you in a similar bind? What tools are you using? What solutions have you jury rigged? What features would your ideal tool or suite of tools possess?  

My wish list includes a one-stop resource that could be used to:

  • Collect, preserve, organize, and display
    • Web sites or selected pages from them
    • Image, text, audio, PDF, and video files
  • Analyze data (text mining, georeferencing??)
  • Share evolving and finished work
    • In an open access or pass-word protected environment, or a combination of both as desired by the primary user(s).
  • Invite collaboration from a broad range of possible constituencies
  • Provide informal and formal learning opportunities for a variety of learning communities   

I can imagine Omeka, with its plug-in capabilities, being the springboard for such a tool—but I lack the programming know-how to move it further in this direction myself. (Hello, BootCamp; you’ll be seeing a lot of me this weekend.)

Others have commented on the pitfalls (copyright issues being a significant one) that such archives, which pool together materials from other sources, pose. And, what is the right term for this sort of personal, project or topical archives-on-steroids? Custom archives-plus? Personalized research and teaching platform? Super scholar software?  

I look forward to learning what other folks are doing and thinking in this area.


Guide to Doctoral Programs in English and Other Modern Languages

The MLA Office of Research will be updating its Guide to Doctoral Programs in English and Other Modern Languages
in the coming months  and would like to hear from users how the guide can be made more useful to them and more “born digital.” What information is most useful to you? How can Web design best present that information?


Georeferencing digital collections

Just as I like to think of what’s needed for long-term preservation up-front when I plan to digitize a collection, so, too, I’ve been thinking, should I consider geo-referencing the items of some collections. Would love to develop a guide for planning and doing collection georeferencing. Questions we might discuss: 1. What kinds of collections should be georeferenced? 2. What does georeferencing a whole collection of items involve/what does it mean to georeference a collection? 3. Is batch-georeferencing an option and, if so, in what situations?  4. What tools would I use? 5. How does georeferencing affect other metadata about an item? 6. Is there a way to relate similarly geo-referenced items? 7. What would it entail to consider georeferencing already curated and digitized collections? 8. Should georeferencing be introduced into archival practice and finding aids? Lots of questions I have no idea how to answer yet. Some people must already be doing this. Who? Where? This session would need a GIS specialist or two or three, which I’m not at all, to share some basic knowledge so the rest of us can start being pro-active about enhancing our collections geographically, just as way we might think of enhancing them historically by using timelines (or other time-based visualizations).


Browsing the DVD collection digitally

If your library doesn’t add genres to the MARC record of films, it’s really difficult to browse a collection that is shelved alphabetically by title (which is common). If you know what film you want to watch, you can search the OPAC/library catalog and go to the shelves to find it. But suppose you’d like a western or a romantic comedy or a horror flick for the weekend, and you want to browse the collection of horror films, you can’t do it onine — and you’re stuck browsing the whole collection of DVDs on the shelves until you land some satisfactory horror movie, romantic comedy, or western. To make a list browsable online by director, say, is easy enough since most directors are listed in a MARC record field from which the data can be exported. But if you want to sort by data that isn’t in the film’s MARC record….   Wouldn’t it be nice to have a list of DVD holdings browsable by genre? Let’s solve this problem, design the solution, and build it!


The Book & Monograph Remixed: Digital Age Meets Analog Practices

This session will feature a discussion format exploring the (r)evolution of the 21st century book and scholarly monograph.  For some, the paper-based book is considered an analog age relic.  Yet  this format is very much at the heart and soul of humanities scholarship. During this conversation we will try to identify trends v. fad when considering the future of the book and its emerging digital iterations. Depending on size of the group, we might break into sub-group conversation for reporting back to the whole group.

Examples of inspirations and/or resources for this session might include: The Institute of the Future of the BookIDEO’s video on the Future of the Book“Beyond Textbooks” Initiative from Vail AZ, Virginia Center for Digital History , Digital and Hypermedia Scholarship from HASTAC,  Wikinovels and crowdsourced collaborations (Clay Shirky example), and finally, Dan Cohen’s course blog on the Theory and Practice of Digital History.  Realizing  some of these examples are not exclusively focused on book publishing, the participants in this session would be asked to consider how these emerging examples are influencing the practice and evolution of the book.


Support for Dig Hum Research

As a librarian, I’ve been immersed in reading and discussion about the kinds of support that researchers in digital humanities might need.  My question is being asked in a lot of places — how can libraries reinvent information services and products in the digital age?

A lot of the discussion about supporting digital scholarship is visionary, focussing on ultimate goals — well-developed, high end, mature products and services.  I would like to see a discussion that is more process-oriented, more about the nuts and bolts of getting libraries from where we are now to where we need to be.  Here are some sub-topics around which I would organize that kind of discussion:

  • What are the tools and services already existing that serve the needs of early-adopter scholars in the digital humanities?  And how can libraries leverage what is already going on to further develop relevant services and tools? I’m thinking of an environmental scan thru the abundant literature to create a digestible mindmap or overview of the categories of new tasks and research questions being asked, and the concomitant essential tools.  I’m focussed here on interpretation and research (not new forms of expressions).  For example, how is close reading different in the digital age?  How does technology make different kinds of intellectual biography possible?  How can massive-multiplayer collective reading change the way we privilege certain interpretations of a text?  How are place and time mashups affecting research into a text or the body of work of a creator?  How are haptic or visual technologies changing interpretation?   And then, how does the library put that knowledge to use?  With a sense of what early adopters are about, we can think more concretely and systematically about supporting all scholars. By examining how early adopters are solving their information needs (finding, in some cases developing, or accessing the data they need; using tools; doing version control; documenting their methodology; storing their data in the short and long term with various levels of access; presenting their results), we can start asking what resources would help provide more robust structures via our institutions or our consortia or via other groupings?  A very simple example here is the “oneweek-onetool” workshops in which practitioners get together and identify a real need, and then develop a tool to address it–that’s a way to build not only tools, but also relationships, new skills, networks, and organizational capacity.
  • In a parallel way, what are the problems facing scholars who are novices in digital humanities?  What kinds of services and support do they need? Once we have a good problem statement, we can begin to think of solutions that are less of the “gee whiz” one-off pilot variety, and more of a systematic approach to creating a people-and-tools infrastructure that we can build on over time.
  • Those two discussions, to me, precede the important discussion of expertise.  What are the new skills and understandings needed in the library profession to support these researchers? We’ve had a very specific model of support for decades that has created an explicit understanding of what an “expert” librarian is — how is that changing based on the solutions we need to try and put in place for new modes of research?

To facilitate this conversation, I plan to review “No Brief Candle” especially the sections by Paul Courant and Rick Luce, and to look at the British Library’s new website “Growing Knowledge: the evolution of research.”  There are lots of great reports and examples out there suitable for the kind of inductive review I’m proposing, and I hope folks will use the comments to suggest others!

Finally, and humbly, I’m not saying this kind of categorization hasn’t already been done, but that I want to engage with other people in conversation about it in order to “get it” more deeply and learn to better articulate how to shape library services in a fluid environment.


Information Overload: Condensing a wealth of resources into a format digestible for students

The problem: Today’s students, despite their reputation for technological savvy, still need to be taught how to conduct research.  The increasing amount of digital material available makes research easier in many ways, but it can also complicate matters — particularly in terms of “information overload.”  Rob Widell and I propose a discussion around strategies for introducing students to research in a digital world.

Our first step toward a solution: We are in the process of collaborating on a LibGuide for students engaged in historical research using primary sources.  In doing so, we have encountered a number of questions that we suspect are common to scholars teaching humanities, and we propose an open discussion of ideas around those questions.

  • Have you encountered something similar regarding student research? If so, what have you done?
  • How do you get students past reliance on basic Google?
  • How are students actually working/getting research skills/collaborating online?
  • What is the best way to get students to understand that there can be many silos of information and that sometimes good research can require investigation of many of these silos?

Our project is very much in progress, so we’re interested in discussion of the broad ideas as well as the smaller details.

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