My work has been so all-consuming lately that it feels like THAT Camp was months rather than a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to offer a few observations about THAT Camp before they go completely stale. Like many others, I found THAT Camp much more satisfying than the typical academic conference, since it promoted a strong sense of community (in part by using technologies such as pre-conference blogging and Twitter), was organized around the interests of participants, and encouraged the open exchange of ideas. Academic conferences typically have three functions: 1) to disseminate new ideas; 2) to bring people together to explore those ideas (and share a few beers in the process); and 3) to provide a line on the CV certifying that a scholar is actually making contributions to the research community. THAT Camp excelled at fulfilling the first two functions, and I’m hopeful that search committees and tenure committees (at least in certain communities) will see THAT Camp on a CV and think, “Wow, this person is an innovator!” Besides, the ideas generated and collaborations formed at THAT Camp will likely lead to more lines (academic merit badges?) on CVs.
I don’t have the time—and the reader probably doesn’t have the patience—to describe everything I learned at THAT Camp, but I wanted to highlight a few of the most intriguing projects or compelling ideas.
1) It’s the people, stupid.
I helped to organize a session on emerging research methods and expected that we would focus on how technologies such as visualization and text mining are opening up new approaches to scholarly inquiry. Instead, we spent most of our time engaged in a fruitful discussion about the importance—and difficulty—of collaboration, positing it as the “scholarly primitive” missing from John Unsworth’s list of core research activities. Perhaps the defining statement of the session was one person’s observation that “the cyberinfrastructure is people.” As THAT Camp itself demonstrated, collaboration enables people to develop better ideas, share the workload, sustain projects, and ultimately have a greater impact in the field, but encouraging people to share requires changes in culture and incentive systems.
2) New tools are enabling people to share annotations, resources, and work.
If collaboration is a key research process, there are some really cool tools under development that will support it. For instance, Ben Brumfield demonstrated FromThePage, a tool that allows people (historians, genealogists, history buffs) to transcribe documents, zoom in on manuscript pages, collaborate with others to identify tasks and check their work, view subjects, and more. Travis Brown is working on eComma, which “will enable groups of students, scholars, or general readers to build collaborative commentaries on a text and to search, display, and share those commentaries online.” And then there’s Zotero 2.0, which will let researchers share their collections with others.
3) Through visualization tools, researchers can make sense of a vast amount of information.
For instance, Jeanne Kramer-Smyth demonstrated ArchivesZ, which enables users of archives to visualize how much material (e.g., how many linear feet) is available in an archive related to a particular topic.
4) GIS technologies offer real analytical power, showing changes across time and space, land ownership patterns, and much more.
In a rich session on GIS tools, Josh Greenberg demonstrated how an historical map of New York could be overlaid on a contemporary Google Map, enabling one to view the development of the city. Mikel Maron discussed Open Street Map, a free and open map of the world to which people regularly contribute data. And I was delighted to learn from Shekhar Krishnan that Zotero will be releasing a mapping plug-in that will allow you to view the publication location of works in a collection on a Google Map. I had planned to create my own Google Map showing where bachelor literature was published by extracting the necessary data from Zotero, but, hooray, now I don’t have to go through the extra work. (See http://www.diigo.com/user/lspiro/GIS for more cool GIS projects).