Monday, October 11, 2010


I went to THATCamp Bay Area this past weekend. Roy Tennant from OCLC blogged about it briefly. I learned some new things, met some cool people. I'm exhausted, though, I have to admit!

I'm still puzzling over why digital humanities folks are so obsessed with space. I'd say at least 40% of the sessions were about space and place. But surely the temporalities of digital media are at least as interesting--more, in my opinion. I suspect much of the interest has to do with the availability of existing digital tools (Google Maps, etc.) for making stuff, often pretty pictures. Time is almost necessarily distorted as soon as it's visualized, and in any case, I'm not sure that there's anything we're really want to make with time data. This blog post is going to have a time stamp -- a marker, to the minute, of when this post appeared on the public web. It won't tell you when I wrote it (Sunday afternoon, right after the last session? this morning, after mulling it over?), or how long it took me, or whether or how much I revised. Nearly everything on the web is time-stamped, usually to the minute, quite often in GMT. The web's apparent homogenization--and punctualization--of time belies the multiple synchronous, asynchronous, proleptic (how far in advance to queue a post?), stream-of-not-exactly-consciousness modes that operate in and around it. We've never had many good ways of talking about time, but somehow this philosophical difficulty is exaggerated when it comes to digital humanities.

I often find digital humanities as frustrating as it is productive; "narrative" means different things to a programmer and to me. I keep having those "you keep using that word" moments. It's not a bad thing. It's a good reminder that we need to return to basics sometimes and let people outside our fields know about our basic concepts and vocabulary. In one conversation that turned rather freewheeling, the issue of attention on the internet came up, and no one else at the table was aware of the discourses of attention that pervaded my own period of specialty (according to Jonathan Crary, the obsession with attention starts around 1870, and you can see it running through Benjamin, among others). It's absolutely relevant to DH discussions, but it hadn't occurred to me before to talk about it at THATCamp.

It strikes me that all of the "bootcamp" sessions (where someone instructs the group in "real skills") were tech-oriented. If I go to another THATCamp, I will definitely propose a humanistic bootcamp involving some philosophy of history and an intro to some relevant literary and historical concepts, or maybe a Foucault or a Bakhtin bootcamp. Programmers can be taught these things, after all!

Update: notes by
Phillip Barron
Casey Bisson
Candace Nast
Jana Remy
Katherine Harris


Sharon K. Goetz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sharon K. Goetz said...

With you on the humanities-side boot camp idea.

I am an idiot who forgets to float the cursor over post links before commenting.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of a humanities bootcamp too. Did you find any of the non-space-oriented digital tools useful for your own research?