Last weekend I wrote enthusiastically about my first THATCamp which I attended at Fordham University-Lincoln Center.  This weekend, I will attend my second THATCamp at Rutgers University. This back-to-back camp experience has been my plan for some time, as I suspect that each THATCamp is ultimately unique.  Perhaps this is why so many Digital Humanists (scholars/students/hackers, etc.) attend different camps in varying locations throughout the world.   This weekend is devoted to a focus on theory –

To quote the THATCAMP Theory website:

Many people think that critical theory is a discourse that is practiced only in the ivory tower. But anyone can theorize and anyone can engage in cultural critique, as is currently being seen in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Students make up this movement, sure, but so do veterans, plumbers, unemployed, Republicans, Democrats, and independents. Their continuing presence is a critique of Wall Street’s culture of greed and the rocketing gap between the rich and the poor. THATCamp is itself a movement working to expand the humanities beyond lecture halls and academic conferences. We believe that the unconference model can have a democratizing effect on how critical theory is practiced and understood.

THATCamp Theory is many things to many people, but we are inspired by two separate ideas. In her consideration of the early ideas surrounding THATCamp Theory, Jean Bauer provided a fascinating anecdote:

Just this week I was presenting The Early American Foreign Service Database and got the question “So where is the theory in all of this?” Before I could answer with my standard, diplomatic but hopefully though-provoking, response a longtime DHer called out “The database is the theory! This is real theoretical work!” I could have hugged her.

What might it mean to do “real theoretical work” as a database? How is the database the theory?

Second, the Situationist International believed that in order to fully critique culture they needed to hack art and literature. Situationism is not simply critique but practice, not simply yack but also hack. THATCamp Theory follows the contrarian spirit of the situationists by, on the one hand, asking what might it mean to relate to technology in theoretically transformed ways and, on the other hand, asking what it might look like to use technology to transform the practice of theoretical exploration. The motto of THATCamp Theory is, to quote Matthew Kirchenbaum, “more hack more yack.”


The following are my THATCamp THEORY notes:

Filling the schedule out – Presentation of discussion ideas.  Those with ideas will present briefly, and depending on interest, rooms for discussions will be assigned.

  • -What is Digital Humanities?
  • -Critical Code Studies – Trying to theorize code (can we code theory?  Code as an expressive language.  Looking at systematic language – how code can express theory).
  • -Interface & information visualization.  Creating a “Museum of Non-Zeros Maps”.  Collaborative image-based critique.
  • -Critical Theory & History of Science – thinking about science from a more critical/theoretical perspective (looking for dialectical relationship between both).
  • -inspired by deMan’s inquiries – “The limits of representation.” – How do I explain this in TEI?
  • -Failure – and all of it’s significance
  • -“Theory by Numbers” – What kind of theory can emerge from studying the digital archive for scholarship?  Probing the digital archive – topic modeling, visualization, text mining…
  • -Working with Ephermal Archive – DIY archive
  • -Digital representations of pre-digital archives
  • -Internet networking – how networking works and how networks operate
  • -Evaluation – How do we help students figure out what’s good in a digital project? evaluating multi-modal projects?
  • -Where is the theory in code? “Code meets items”; consideration of Omeka as an example
  • -Hacker session (advanced WordPress; Omeka & Neatline, Intro to programming (ruby), html 5)
  • -Digital Theory & Digital Practice – How can we implement things in practical ways in the classroom?
  • -Feminist Digital Practices – Where this story might go…  “Feminst DH”?
  • -THAT theories – the relationship between the human and technology – discussion of how we teach this nexus…
  • -Postcolonial Theories & Hypertext; “PoCo DH”
  • -how database architects design databases; making a database schema – how can you hack databases to represent your perspective?

The proposed sessions above are now being organized to fill out the conference timeline.

Workshop #1 What is Digital Humanities?: A General Discussion

-How did we get here?  How are ways that participants here became involved in DH?

-Zotero as a tool – a touchstone of “DH” work; funded by Mellon – an example of a DH project released by the term “DH” got its currency; hallmark of DH tool- open & accessible, solving problem for Humanities researchers;

-DH as tool?  Or a more expansive kind of definition….  A way to present and rethink your scholarships.

-Is there an ethics of DH?  It’s a way for the “hacker” in you to emerge.

-Institutionalization of DH – will this “lock it down” in a certain way – open source journals and resistance;grant funding issues;

-How has DH alerted scholars to the commercialization of their scholarship?  -Models of authorship??  Pointing towards collaboration in authorship for Humanities work.  The Journal of Digital Humanities – these debates are playing out there.

-“Dust” – The Archive and Cultural History

-The ethics of organizing knowledge by transforming print archives into digital ones

-the politics of meta-data; something that can be more visible – the material conditions of the production of scholarship

-achieving a stage of development that needs theorizing, self-reflective impulses in developing new DH work

-most obvious tools – Omeka, WordPress, Drupal

-emergent field of the “public humanities” – public history as a model?

-“Public” as a key word – ?s about democratization and knowledge

-DH – a new evolution of the Humanities?  -What is critical thinking?  How do these new mediums transform what is critical thinking?

Lisa Gitelman – “Always Already New

“Dork Shorts” – Post-lunch 2 minute presentations of current projects, -calls for collaborations; or -“fails” or lessons learned

    • Reconstructing the Library David Markson – digitizing books, crowdsourcing transcriptions, copyright issues, collection building of books scattered all over
    • Disaggregating the humanities within the Digital Humanities – emphasis on the individual text – Comp Lit & DH interest What does multi-lingual DH look like?
    • How can you encounter the materiality of the text? – Immense labor behind the published text…
    • Billcritomatic – Bill-Crit-O-Matic – reading the text to know the scholarship… bibliography, notes, foregrounding conversations between scholars; bringing to the surface the reference points in scholarship; visualizations
    • bookworm – culturomics – visualizations
    • What is Davila? – Explaining databases to historians
    • “Black Bibiliography Project” – How can we develop an interface for recording bibliographic data? What are the stages of building this project would be – starting with Pauline Hopkins for a brainstorming session.
    • Glitching as a hermeneutic method (going out of your way to decifer the glitches – how do we short circuit narratives)….
    • -Data visualization in literature, media, & communications
    • -contemporary poetry blog needs web 2.0 update – “Oona

Workshop #2:   Feminist DH?

-the ? of what it means to be “nice” – DH is often framed as “nice”.  Role of competitiveness?  Is it possible to teach competitiveness out of any fields?

– ? of collaboration and identity politics

-invoking play theory – “competition” vs. ” niceness” -Is this a valid binary?….

-What would the gender politics of DH be?  What would define collegiality?  What would be the principles of an equitable DH be?

-DH – precarious labor, not protective of intellectual labor or capital, adjunctification of hiring process, “soft” money (predicated on grants),

-invisible labor

-from “hacktivism” to “activism”?

-can we learn from disability studies?  the notion of rights in public space?

-what do we count as DH? civic engagement? nurturing activism? is tool access a kind of humanist activism?

– “Experimental Humanities” at Bard College

– 4Humanities – In defense of the Humanities

-A definition of value for DH (that has integrity) is needed.  -In resistance of a market defined value.

-Digital Mentoring?

Workshop #3:  Theory by Numbers

-Empirical risk, saying things that can be wrong, taking risks in scholarship

-topic modeling

-archives and scholarship and what you can get your hands on…

-Can we do theory by the numbers?

-using JSTOR database for research – metadata + 1 gram counts, 2 gram counts, etc.

-topic modeling – word counts & thematic patterns -Topic models provide a simple way to analyze large volumes of unlabeled text. A “topic” consists of a cluster of words that frequently occur together. Using contextual clues, topic models can connect words with similar meanings and distinguish between uses of words with multiple meanings.

getting started with topic modeling – “Programming Historian

Mallet – topic modeling tool

-visualizations – distinguishing between a discovery tool vs a visual argument

-the value of a discovery tool is the ways it prompts you to ask certain questions….

-the problem of detecting cultural change by looking at the graph

-topic modeling as a mode of non-reading verses reading

Workshop #4:  Advanced WordPress vs.

-Empower yourself – you don”t need IT so much, operating outside the Univ domain name

-Google it!  You don’t have take a workshop…just google it.  You can figure it out.  You can walk yourself through steps to figure things out.

-Wordpress as a content management system for class

-What can you do with (vs. ? -You can add any plug-in by community & paid developers – twitter feed, SEOs, gradebooks, videoblogs, etc.; – You can design more because you can reshape existing layouts.

-Exploring the metadata- SEOs

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)

-Security – privacy setting (post-by-post, found in “visibility” & “categories”)

-Class Management – – plug-ins for course schedule, peer-grading, teams, discussions & hacking, publishing an archive, etc


Thank you to everyone at THATCamp THEORY for the compelling and productive discussions.  Thanks to sponsors -Rutgers University Center for Cultural Analysis, -Microsoft Research, and -Bard College Experimental Humanities Initiative, and especially to Natalia Cecire for making it happen.