THATCamp Canberra (review) Saturday August 28-29

THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) was held in Canberra on the weekend of August 28-29 at the University of Canberra. This was my second THATCamp having attended my first in London in early July as part of the Digital Humanities Conference. The THATCamp ‘movement’ originated at the Centre for History and New Media at George Mason University in the US and has spread to various palaces in Europe, the US, and now Australia.

(Tim Sherratt; the key organiser of THATCamp Canberra)

THATCamps are informal events that usually take place on a weekend so a broad-range of people may attend. The Digital Humanities, the core field in which THATCamps originate, is a ‘broad-church’ with vital contributions from the cultural sector and universities. Tim Sherratt, the key organiser of the event, is active in the cultural sector and many people from the National Library, the Australian National Data Service, and various universities, museums, and archives attended from a number of Australian cities.

The format of the event is informal and fun which helps to build the Digital Humanities field from a grass-roots level. There are neither set-papers nor a pre-determined schedule as the attendees of the event vote on the sessions to be held during the morning of the first day. An individual suggests a session, it is written on a white board, and the audience votes for the sessions (first past the post!).  This works quite well, although the feed-back I got from some of the participants is that the individuals suggesting the sessions could better explain the subject matter along with the expected outcomes demarcated. Also, a couple of people at THATCamp Canberra didn’t really understand what was expected of them as session originator; perhaps a set of guidelines on the THATCamp web site may help (although they did handle their sessions very well indeed!).

(the sessions decided upon)

The Canberra THATCamp also included a BootCamp (apologies for the paramilitary jargon). These sessions consisted of more intensive training by specialists in technologies important to the humanities. Conal Tuohy from VeRSI gave an energetic and clear explanation on the Text Encoding Initiative and why it is vital for the Digital Humanities. He explained the roots of TEI in the SGML mark-up language, showed some of the applications of the 1000 or so tag sets available in the schema, and argued that TEI highlights the semantics of a text; making them more explicit and thus more scholarly. A text well-defined and well structured in TEI can be used in many different ways; exported to HTML, and combined with other texts. A TEI document is like a database and may render new knowledge about the document to enhance textual scholarship.

Paul Hagon from the National Library of Australia gave a Bootcamp session on Mashups and API and demonstrated some of the Library’s innovations and experimentations.  He demonstrated mash-ups from various sources and explained how once combined; they may make something new.  And Ian Johnson, Director of the University of Sydney’s Archeologically Computing Lab (ACL), gave a well-attended demonstration of GIS in archaeology and history and some of the innovations from his long association with the Digital Humanities field. The database Heurist Scholar is the amalgam of many years of effort and can handle all sort of reference material, research data, and semantic tasks.  A new version of the database is due for release soon with an open source version due by the end of the year. http://heuristscholar.org/heurist/

(one of the sessions at THATCamp Canberra)

In one of the liveliest discussion sessions that I attended led by Kerry Kilner of the Aus-e-Lit project of the University of Queensland, the idea for a regional association of Digital Humanities was raised.  This would have numerous benefits for the digital humanities in Australia; many of which I have been exploring over the past week or so (see tangible things do come from THATCamps). At the closing session I introduced THATCamp Melbourne which will be held on 26-27 March, 2011

(closing session on Sunday)

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