Category Archives: Uncategorized

Contribute to the TxDHC Newsletter

Would you like to raise awareness among the Texas digital humanities community about a new program or grant, recent hire, upcoming event, open opportunity or other news item? Contribute your news to the Texas Digital Humanities Consortium’s upcoming newsletter. We plan to distribute the newsletter online and via email to members of the TxDHC’s website in early August.  (And if you’re not a member of the TxDHC website, please sign up–ideally using your professional email address.) Please submit your news item(s) by August 1, 2017 at

While the audience for the TxDHC Newsletter is Texas digital humanists, folks from outside Texas are welcome to contribute items of interest to this group. Note that the newsletter editor retains discretion over what will be published.

We look forward to learning about what’s new!

(Cross-posted from TxDHC website.)


Submit Your Proposal for the Texas Digital Humanities Consortium One-Day Conference

I love the open, freewheeling conversations commonly found at THATCamps, but I sometimes wish that some sessions were more grounded in specificity–and that participants could get CV-worthy credit for leading them. At the Texas Digital Humanities Consortium’s May 27 mini-conference, we aim to mashup the best of THATCamp and traditional conferences: to provide a forum where a researcher or group of researchers will present their work for 15 minutes and then lead the participants in discussion or experimentation inspired by the presentation for the rest of the hour. We hope that this hybrid approach will give presenters the opportunity to share their work, get credit for it, and receive feedback on it and participants to explore issues raised by the session and generate new insights. This approach resembles one of my favorite class formats: begin with a brief lecture to establish the context, then launch into a dynamic discussion to allow for deeper exploration. For example, presenters might discuss a project to create a digital audio archive, then facilitate a discussion about challenges such as annotation and digital preservation. Or a session might focus on a GIS project to map patterns of oppression in a particular region, opening up into a conversation about how to deal with uncertainty in data and include the perspectives of oppressed communities. We’re open to a variety of approaches. All proposals will undergo peer review, which will ensure the quality of the conference. Please see the CFP at


The Texas Digital Humanities Consortium is organizing this mini-conference in collaboration with the fine folks at the Texas Conference on Digital Libraries (TCDL); it will be held immediately after TCDL at the Commons Learning Center on the J.J. Pickle Research Campus in Austin, Texas. We intend to keep the mini-conference to about 50 registrants, which should allow for rich conversation and networking. Through the event, we hope to deepen connections among scholars, librarians, cultural heritage professionals, technologists and graduate students.

The deadline for proposals is coming up soon on February 12, 2016 (note the new deadline). Feel free to send any questions to, and please help spread the word about the event. We look forward to some terrific proposals.

[cross-posted to TXDHC]

More Data, Better Learning? A Balanced Look at Adaptive Learning Systems

Here at the slides from my second presentation at the IB Heads World Conference: “More Data, Better Learning? A Balanced Look at Adaptive Learning Systems.” See also my bookmarks.

Rev: Added missing citation 10-5-13.

Only Connect: Global Education and Networked Participatory Learning

I’m honored to be presenting at the IB Heads World Conference on global collaborative learning. Here are my slides. I’ve bookmarked many resources as well.

Call for Submissions to Anvil’s Built Upon Series

Following last week’s call for archives to participate in Anvil Academic‘s Built Upon initiative, I’m now pleased to announce that we’ve released our call for authors to contribute to the series. If you are interested in producing a work of digital scholarship that makes creative, effective use of digital collections, please consider submitting a proposal.

Current archives partners include:

We hope to announce additional partners soon. You’re welcome to work with digital collections other than the ones listed here.  Initial “Built Upon” works will be clustered based upon the broad categories listed above.

Call for Digital Collections to Participate in Anvil’s New Built Upon Series

Although there are a number of excellent digital collections in the humanities, I’m troubled that many don’t get the scholarly recognition and usage that they deserve.  Moreover, it seems that there are too few examples of works of digital scholarship that make use of such collections in imaginative ways, such as by employing text mining, image analysis, or other algorithmic approaches,  crafting scholarly arguments that take advantage of the affordances of digital publishing, or inviting the audience to explore supporting evidence. I suspect that one reason for the paucity of such scholarship is the lack of appropriate publishing venues (although there are some terrific journals in this space, including Vectors, Southern Spaces, Kairos, Sensate and Archive).

That’s why Anvil Academic (the start-up digital publisher for which I serve as program manager) is launching the Built Upon series.

Building Blocks by Holger Zscheyge

Building Blocks by Holger Zscheyge

Contributors to Built Upon will develop digital scholarly arguments or pedagogical projects that make innovative use of digital collections and tools. These contributions will be arranged into thematic clusters (such as “Civil War America”), and we expect that the contributions will be in conversation with each other and with their larger audience.

Soon we will release our call for authors, which will provide more details about our expectations for Built Upon contributions. At this stage, we are inviting digital collections (aka digital archives, digital libraries, etc) in the humanities to participate in the Built Upon series.  As Built Upon partners, digital collections would make their resources available for scholarly use (which many already do) and provide limited technical assistance to authors. We also invite partners to participate in the peer review process and to assist with outreach and promotion efforts. Already Anvil has lined up some first-rate partners, including Visualizing EmancipationValley of the Shadow, many of the NINES federated projects, and ORBIS.  For more about this initiative, please see yesterday’s announcement on the Anvil web site.

Presentations on the Future of Libraries and Open Humanities

Yesterday I started the day by discussing the future of academic libraries with an sharp, engaged group of faculty, librarians and staff at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and ended it by advocating for open humanities at WPI’s conference Digitize This: Exploring/Exploiting the Rise of Digital Arts & Digital Humanities. It was a kick that three people whom I consider to be leaders in open humanities–John Unsworth, Julia Flanders and Tom Scheinfeldt–were at my evening presentation.

Here are the slides from my presentations (PDF):

For those who want more, I’ve been obsessively bookmarking resources on open humanities and the future of libraries.

Thanks to Dr. Tracey Leger-Hornby, WPI’s Dean of Library Services and my classmate at the Frye Leadership Institute (go class of 2003!), for hosting my visit, and Prof. Joshua Rosenstock for making it possible for me to speak at the DH symposium.

Update, 11/16/12: After being notified by an attentive reader (thanks Dad!) that my slides contained some typos, I’ve uploaded corrected versions. I hope I caught ’em all.

Anvil Academic Launches

Since June, I have been working as program manager of Anvil Academic, a new all-digital, open publisher for the digital humanities. Anvil LogoOver the past four months, we’ve built a stellar editorial board, met with our advisory board and with colleagues at the University of Michigan’s MPublishing, done some preliminary work identifying potential publications, and developed a web site in partnership with Interactive Mechanics. I’m pleased to announce that our web site is now publicly available and that Anvil is officially launched. Like Anvil itself, we expect that the web site will undergo significant changes; for now it functions mainly to promote our vision and to offer basic information for potential authors. In the coming months, it will provide an access point for our publications.

So what sort of publications will Anvil produce? Anvil focuses on born-digital humanities scholarship that could not exist in print form, such as works that are built upon rich collections of data and offer tools for analyzing and exploring that data; multimodal compositions that incorporate audio, video, images, simulations, and/or other rich media; works of networked authorship, which engage the community in ongoing online conversation; and flexible, interactive educational content. But we are open to forms and genres beyond what we’ve identified here. In evaluating potential projects, Anvil will consider factors such as their quality, contributions to scholarship, technical robustness, level of innovation, and likely audience.  Please get in touch with Fred Moody, Anvil’s editor, if you would like to discuss a potential project.

Anvil has the potential to make a significant contribution to the humanities and to academic publishing. It addresses the need to bring publishing services such as peer review, distribution, and editing to the digital humanities. I hope that Anvil will help to increase the visibility and credibility of digital humanities scholarship and perhaps assist the field in continuing to develop argumentative and interpretive frameworks. Since I’ve had a long-standing interest in open access publishing models for the humanities, I welcome the opportunity to help build the structures to support open scholarship. I see open access as an ethical obligation, a means to increase the value and visibility of humanities scholarship, and an opportunity to foster scholarly conversations with diverse, engaged communities. As a start-up, we have latitude to experiment with different dimensions of publishing in a way consistent with the values of the digital humanities, including peer review (open, peer-to-peer, hybrid), business models, genres, etc.  We plan to share the results of such experiments.

If you’d like to learn more about Anvil, please participate in a Twitterchat with  me (@lisaspiro), Fred Moody (@moodyfred), and Korey Jackson (@koreybjackson, Program Coordinator and Analyst) on Friday, October 5 at 12 EDT; we will be using the #anvil hashtag. The Twitterchat will be facilitated by editorial board member Adeline Koh (@adelinekoh), who recently wrote two ProfHacker pieces about Anvil: an introduction to Anvil and an interview with Fred Moody.  Of course, I also welcome questions and comments.

Startups and the Digital Humanities

THATCamp ranks as my favorite conference experience, mostly because it blows apart the passivity and formality of a traditional conference to get to the essence, bringing people together to share ideas. After attending Startup Weekend Houston a few weeks ago, I now have another event to add to my list of favorite conferencey experiences. Just as THATCamp challenges attendees to set and steer the agenda, Startup Weekend leaves a lot up to the participants, who have 54 hours to pitch a product idea (typically tech-related), form teams, validate their idea, develop a business model, and put together a demo and a longer pitch.

Houston Startup Weekend Saturday Nov 2011-4 by sarahmworthy

Houston Startup Weekend Saturday Nov 2011-4 by sarahmworthy

Like THATCamps, Startup Weekends are low-cost ($99 or less), community-driven events that take place around the world and are run primarily by volunteers, who receive help from the Startup Weekend’s central office in staging the event. Startup Weekend provides the key challenge, overarching structure, and access to many of the resources you need to build your project, such as excellent mentors, tools that help you to flesh out your ideas, coffee, good food (including a nirvana-inducing chocolate malt cupcake from Houston’s fabulous Kitchen Incubator), and meeting space.

Kitchen Incubator feeds Houston Startup Weekend Nov 2011-2, by sarahmworthy

Kitchen Incubator feeds Houston Startup Weekend Nov 2011-2, by sarahmworthy

Some might wonder what entrepreneurship training has to do with the digital humanities (DH), but I believe that the two communities have much in common and can learn from each other.  As startup guru Steve Blank suggests, startups exist to “search for a repeatable and scalable business model,” which itself is “how your company creates, delivers and captures value.” While DH projects typically don’t form companies and don’t aim to make a profit, most do need to consider how to define their value, find users and sustain themselves. To get off the ground, DH projects go through a process similar to a start-up: identifying a need and potential solution, drafting project plans, putting together a team, building a prototype, iterating on that prototype, and disseminating the product (whether a tool, collection, model, publication, or large-scale research). Both the DH and lean startup communities have embraced similar principles, such as agile development, user-focused design, open source software, and iteration. In a broader sense, I believe that DH brings the spirit of entrepreneurship–taking risks, experimenting, building something that serves a need, innovating, tolerating failure–to the humanities. We can see this spirit manifested in the NEH’s Digital Humanities Start-Up grants, the many digital humanities “Labs” (a term also used frequently by startups and tech companies), and One Week One Tool, which was inspired by “crash ‘startup’ or ‘blitz weekends’.” In a sense, many DH centers serve as startup incubators, providing the know-how and support to help get an idea off the ground.

Events like Startup Weekend could address a need in the DH community for more training in successfully launching projects. Often graduate training in the humanities does not prepare people for the complexities of getting a major DH project started and keeping it going. Such training is now being offered at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (taught by Lynne Siemens, a professor in U Victoria’s school of public administration who does research in entrepreneurship and academic team development), at THATCamp workshops (such as Sharon Leon’s Introduction to Project Management in Digital Humanities), as part of DH educational programs such as UVA’s Praxis Program, and in publications such as Sharon Leon’s Project Management for Humanists:Preparing Future Primary Investigators.  I think StartUp Weekend offers another compelling model for providing training in a fast, fun and experiential way.

Here some ideas from Startup Weekend that I think have relevance for the DH community:

  • challenge & competition: At Startup Weekend, your team competes against others to persuade a panel of expert judges that your product is the best. Competition adds energy and intensity to the weekend (and a little stress).
  • criteria: In evaluating projects, judges assess customer validation, business model, and execution, as well as overall effectiveness. These criteria help to structure the challenge and give teams concrete elements on which to spend their limited time. If you look at grant guidelines, different terms are used, but the criteria are similar. Have you conducted needs analysis to determine whether there is an audience for your project? Have you validated whether your ideas will meet those needs? Do you have a model for sustaining the project?
  • collaboration: Like many DH projects, Startup Weekend requires collaboration among a range of people, including developers, designers, and business development specialists. Not only do you create a better product, but you also learn from each other–and have more fun in the process.
  • mentors: Startup Weekend Houston recruited a great group of mentors who gave up part or all of their weekend to work with project teams. Mentors asked tough questions, suggested ways to approach problems, connected us with people who could help us test or advance our ideas, and provided feedback on startup ideas and business plans. The DH community also offers mentors, such as through the ACH mentoring program.
  • communication: As you try to explain your project to a range of people, from a provost  to your next-door neighbor, it helps to know how to pitch an idea succinctly and persuasively. At Startup Weekend, the first big event (following noshing and networking) is the pitch, where you have one minute to describe your project idea and persuade others to join your team. Startup Weekend culminates in a pitch contest, where teams make four-minute pitches to convince the judges that their project is the best. Mentors can help you to develop an effective pitch, and you learn by doing.
  • tools: The startup community has created some handy templates that help teams crystallize the core elements of their startup idea, particularly the Lean Canvas or Business Model Canvas. Developing such a model forces you to think through key questions and gives you a handy reference as you share your ideas with others.

Startup Weekend has recently begun sponsoring events focused on education, as documented by Audrey Watters’ great series of posts on gatherings in DC, Seattle and San Francisco. Why not Startup Weekend Digital Humanities? Of course, the digital humanities community already offers some events that serve a similar purpose. For example, at this year’s MLA Convention the DH Commons is hosting a workshop in which veteran digital humanists will share tips on succeeding in the digital humanities and lead small group sessions on topics such as project management, community building, and topic modeling. Although the workshop is now full, DH Commons is also sponsoring a project mixer where people can learn about DH projects that they can help out with. If you have a DH project and want to recruit volunteers or spread the word about it at the mixer, please sign up. (I’m a member of the DH Commons team and would be happy to answer any questions.)  In a broader sense, I believe that entrepreneurial thinking can help higher education tackle some thorny challenges, such as improving learning, reducing costs while maintaining quality, and reforming scholarly communication. Thus I’m exploring how to bring entrepreneurial thinking to the liberal arts community through my work at NITLE.

Getting Started in the Digital Humanities

Last week I presented at the Great Lakes College Association’s New Directions workshop on digital humanities (DH), where I tried to answer the question “Why the digital humanities?” But I discovered that an equally important question is “How do you do the digital humanities”?  Although participants seemed to be excited about the potential of digital humanities, some weren’t sure how to get started and where to go for support and training.

Building on the slides I presented at the workshop, I’d like to offer some ideas for how a newcomer might get acquainted with the community and dive into DH work. I should emphasize that many in the DH community are to some extent self-taught and/or gained their knowledge through work on projects rather than through formal training. In my view, what’s most important is being open-minded, experimental, and playful, as well as grounding your learning in a specific project and finding insightful people with whom can you discuss your work.

  • Learn standards and best practices. If you want your project to have credibility and to endure, it’s best to adhere to standards and best practices. By talking to experts, you can develop a quick sense of the standards relevant to your project. You may also wish to consult:
  • Find collaborators. Most DH projects depend–and thrive– on collaboration, since they typically require a diversity of skills, benefit from a variety of perspectives, and involve a lot of work.
    • Making its debut at the aforementioned MLA workshop, Digital Humanities Commons will serve as an online hub (or matchmaking service) linking people, projects and tools. For instance, if you want to learn by doing, you will be able to use DH Commons find out about opportunities to work on existing projects. Beta accounts are now available.
    • Talk with library and IT staff at your own institution. Although many library and IT professionals are necessarily focused on the day-to-day, there is also an increasing recognition that what will distinguish libraries and IT groups is their ability to collaborate with scholars and teachers in support of the academic mission. Be a true collaborator–don’t just expect technical (or content) experts to do your bidding, but engage in conversation, shape a common vision, and learn from each other. (Steve Ramsay offers great advice to collaborators in “Care of the Soul,” and the Off the Tracks Workshop devised a useful “Collaborators’ Bill of Rights.”) If you can bring seed funding or administrative backing to a project, that might make it easier to attract collaborators or garner technical support.
    • Reach out to others in your community. By attending a THATCamp or corresponding with someone who shares your interests, you may discover people who can contribute to your project or help shape a common vision. You could also find a colleague in computer science, statistics or another field who has common research interests and would be eager to collaborate. You might able to hire (or barter with) consultants to help out with technical tasks or provide project advice; I understand that Texas A&M’s Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture is exploring offering consulting services in the future to help advance the DH community.
    • Engage students. While there can be risks (after all, students graduate), students can bring energy and skills to your project. Moreover, working on DH projects can give them vital technical, project management, and collaborative skills.
    • Consider a DIY approach.  As Mark Tebeau of Cleveland Historical wisely observed at the New Directions workshop, if your institution doesn’t provide the support you need for your DH project, why not strike out on your own? As Trevor Owens suggests in “The digital humanities as the DIY humanities,” it takes a certain scrappiness to get things done in DH, whether that’s learning how to code or figuring out how to set up a server. If you don’t think you have the time or skills to, say, run your own web server, consider a hosted solution such as Omeka. In the long term, it’s a good idea to affiliate with an institution that can help to develop and sustain your project, but you may be able to get moving more quickly and demonstrate the value of your idea by starting out on your own.
  • Plan a pilot project. Rather than getting overwhelmed by trying to do everything at once, take a modular approach.  At the New Directions workshop Katie Holt explained how she is building her Bahian History Project in parts, beginning with a database of the 1835 census for Santiago do Iguape parish in Brazil and moving into visualizations, maps and more. This approach is consistent with the “permanent beta” status of many Internet projects. Showing how a project moves from research question to landscape review to prototype to integration into pedagogy, Janet Simons and Angel Nieves of Hamilton’s Digital Humanities Initiative demonstrated a handy workflow and support model for digital projects at the workshp.
  • Where possible, adopt/adapt existing tools, particularly open source software. Too often projects re-invent the wheel rather than adopting or adapting existing tools.
    • Find tools via Digital Research Tools (DiRT) wiki (which I edit and which will soon be overhauled, thanks to the hard work of the fabulous Quinn Dombrowski and Bamboo).
    • SHANTI’s UVa Knowledge Base offers useful information about technologies, teaching, and research approaches. (Aimed at the University of Virginia, but more widely applicable.)
    • You can also poke around GitHub, which hosts code, to identify tools under development by members of the DH community such as CHNM and MITH.
NITLE Can Help
Let me end with a plug for NITLE (the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education), my (relatively) new employer. One of the reasons I wanted to join the organization as the director of NITLE Labs is because I was impressed by its digital humanities initiative, which my colleague Rebecca Frost Davis leads. Among NITLE’s activities in the digital humanities:
If you’re a veteran digital humanist, how did you get started, and what do you wish you knew from the beginning? If you’re a newcomer, what do you want to know? What worries you, and what excites you? What did I leave out of this overview? I welcome comments.
[Updated soon after hitting publish to provide more info about TAPoR. I’m a reviser…]