Untangling data

I’m looking for ideas for collecting, untangling and sharing data effectively. As a specific case study, I’m interested in creating an interactive model that captures and shares more detail than the paper tangle below can. The image below is known as the “Windsor Music Tangle” and it hangs on the wall in Phog Lounge in Windsor, Ontario Canada. While the example might be geographically distant from this weekend’s unconference, the type of data and the strategies needed to model it would be broadly applicable.

Windsor Music TangleTo untangle a little bit: Windsor has a lively music scene. The music scene is made of bands, individual musicians, songs, instruments, venues, supporters, etc. People come and go, venues open and close, people play guest spots in other bands, bands break up and reform, etc. People move on to work not connected to the music scene at all. What would be needed to trace a path of an individual musician, follow their work, hear and see clips, and trace everyone they’ve ever worked with – and who they’ve yet to connect with?

Going further, would it be possible to outline a path of the community’s changing musical interests over time? Back in the 80s, punk bands made regular stops in venues that have since been bull-dozed for the casino. Jazz clubs have come and gone. Swing music and dancing made a comeback in the early 2000s. Venues have shifted style. Could all of this be represented in the Tangle? How far back could we go? And how to capture that this data is people, relationships, community? All of this suggests a need to consider and be mindful towards the emotional connection people feel towards the data, i.e. these aren’t just names and numbers.

Once we’ve identified appropriate tools for such a project, what are proven methods of finding and encouraging people to contribute? This is the kind of project that could appeal to people of different skill levels, ages, etc. and a lot of the people with valuable knowledge are not going to be connected to things like Twitter or Facebook. At the moment, the paper tangle sits in Phog and visitors there contribute, but what can be done to reach the broader community and enlist support and contributions from the community (including the university)? And how best to dig up historical data so that the data reaches back instead of capturing only relatively recent history?

Are there other projects like this? Would love to talk tools and strategies that worked/didn’t work for others.

Photo is from “Windsor’s missing link” by Alishia Fox.

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The humanities make for awkward data

I’m in the earliest stages of a project that hopes to combine data visualization and network analysis to cast light on English medieval scribes, medieval manuscripts, medieval texts, and the unstable connections between them. While generating a small sample dataset in order to help conceptualize what usefully-structured data might look like for the project, it has become abundantly clear how awkward the fit can sometimes be between the digital and the raw, messy “stuff” of the humanities.   There is an enormous amount of uncertainty in the things I work on: books dated to within a quarter century or so, texts dialectally localized not to lat./long. but to a county or a large chunk of the country, manuscripts about which we know very little until they entered libraries and collections in the 18th century.  It’s not simply that we lack metadata for medieval books and texts, but that the nature of the metadata, and expectations for the information, are simply different when looking at 600-year-old books.  There are ways to accommodate these uncertainties in nice, tidy schemas, of course, but one thing I hope to spend some time thinking about this weekend is what messier schemas might look like and how they might work: what digital structures more closely modeled on the analog sources of the humanities might resemble, what ignorance might look like when acknowledged and included rather than elided.

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Visualizing Global Classroom Collaboration

Greetings Campers,

Last week, my staff in New York City had the privilege of attending a reception for new Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee, who said, “use local experience to build global peace.” That concept resonates with our work at iEARN over the past 23 years to connect more than 40,000 teachers in 130 countries to help their students to take action locally while sharing globally with their peers. iEARN participants use high-tech, low-tech or no-tech to participant in STEM, music and arts collaboration, cross-cultural storytelling, and community-service projects, which are designed by teachers and students to enhance existing classroom curricula.

My first challenge to Campers is: what new tools and resources can help teachers and students worldwide make their local experiences contribute meaningfully to the health and welfare of the planet and its people? Can efforts like HistoryPin enhance global understanding through classroom history projects such as the Local History Project , the Early People’s Symbols Project , the Kindred (Family History) Project, and the Public Art Project ?  Can Google GEO APIs help scale global environmental projects such as  Our Footprints, Our Future  Daffodils and Tulips, Talking Kites and YouthCaN?

The second challenge is: what new technologies can help policy-makers, education-focused foundations, corporations, entrepreneurs, and community-based organizations to “visualize” the importance of global education? In the United States, what iEARN-USA and our partners do is relatively rare: very few of the 120,000+ US K-12 schools emphasize global education and connect their teachers and students to peers worldwide despite new technologies that make it relatively easy & inexpensive to do so. Preparing the next generation of global leaders—despite this being an economic and national security priority for the US government—is a low priority and deemed extracurricular for most US schools. Learning is becoming global, networked, and mobile. US classrooms are not.  Sharing stories of classrooms connecting internationally is our first attempt to create some national momentum, but new ideas and partners are needed.

Look forward to this weekend with you.



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Creating your own database as a research tool

Numerous digital databases exist online for use by historians (i.e. the Old Bailey Proceedings Online; BnF Gallica, etc.). I feel that creating one’s own database (on a much smaller scale than these huge data collections) can be a great way to organize and process one’s own research [i.e. photos taken in an archive, notes, interviews, etc]. This past summer, I began putting my archival research into a Microsoft Access database, but am still working out the kinks in how to best organize and process my data set.

I propose holding a discussion and brainstorming session over the best ways to organize and process primary sources. Questions would include, but not be limited to,

  • What are the benefits and limitations of using/creating a digital database for humanities research? Is it really better than old-fashioned note cards and composition notebooks?
  • What kinds of research questions become possible by having a database at one’s fingertips? What does it mean for humanities research?
  • What are the best practices for organizing research?
  • What are some practical recommendations for how to use databases for research (i.e. file formats, programs, etc.)?
  • Databases for the initiated: do you need to be a programmer to make a solid database?
  • Should databases be project-specific? Theme-specific? Person-specific? Field-specific? Or not specific at all?
  • How might databases be shared? What problems arise with propriety (of the source materials in the database, of the file formats, of the structure of the database, etc.)?
  • Are there benefits to creating one’s own database structure rather than simply using Zotero or other  research software?
  • Any other related ideas, thoughts, concerns, recommendations, etc.



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Open data and content discussion proposal

Libraries, museums, and archives are chock full of content that is variably available for digital reuse. The current interest in linked data is one way that these types of institutions can unlock their metadata and content to make it available to scholars, researchers and the public.

I’m interested in having an open discussion about the ways open data and content can go from a great idea to a practical reality as formerly exclusively paper-based institutions attempt to keep up with user interest and demand. Some questions could be:

  • What are the most useful ways to discover and deliver digital content?
  • What services can libraries, museums, and archives offer to ensure efficient content and metadata reuse?
  • How can libraries, museums, and archives most effectively capitalize on their traditional strengths in the digital humanities space (e.g. how can these institutions get data from digital humanities projects back into their respective collections to preserve it for future research)?
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Hooray for volunteers!

Hello campers!

As you know, ThatCamp is entirely organized by volunteers. So we wanted to recruit a couple more generous souls to help out at the event. Having some extra hands, for things like setting up and putting away the food for lunch, goes a long way! And this way the organizers get to attend some of the ThatCamp sessions too.

If you would like to help out, reply to this thread or simply approach us at the event.

Thanks, and see you soon!

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Web archiving / zotero translators

Two proposals to consider:

Workshop: Writing a Zotero translator

If there is interest, I would be happy to teach campers how to write a Zotero translator using the translator framework. No coding experience required (I hope; this may be wishful thinking!), though knowledge of Zotero would help.

General discussion: Web archiving

I can give a brief introduction to web archiving. Then I would love to have an open discussion of what uses web archives can be put to.

I look forward to seeing all of you next week!

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Discussion Proposal: Library Lab

I was hoping to have a general discussion around the designs my partners and I have put together for a Library Lab. The concept was developed for the Digital Public Library of America beta sprint, and is not being developed further in that particular forum right now. There’s a lot of love for it, but we need to 1) get some funding for further development 2) partner with folks who want to do some construction experiments. More in the discussion group, see you there-

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Email Gremlins

Hello Thatcampers!

Something is wrong with our old email server (probably gremlins), and some emails were deleted before we got to read them. So we’ve set up a new account. From now on, please send all correspondences to . Sorry for the confusion!

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Some lodging information

Here are some links to hotels in the Mountain View area.

The Marriot on El Camino Real:

Hampton Inn on Moffett Blvd, which should be very close to the event:

Hilton Garden on El Camino Real:

For some luxury, the Four Seasons Palo Alto, which is right off the
highway www.fourseasons.com/siliconvalley/

(Note: We did not arrange any special accommodations with these hotels.)

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