Blog Post

I may be a closet Humanities major...

After visiting the Duke Ph.D. lab, I took a look at the HASTAC website and saw an advertisement for The Humanities and Technology Unconference (THATCamp) that was being held 30 minutes down the road at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The only catch was that it was being held in less than 24 hours and registration closed in August, so I cried out on the Twitters and @THATCamp responded! I was able to go after all – and I’m happy to say that I made sure to make a splash while I was there!

THATCamp, in the spirit of other *Camps, is an unconference much like the FOSS Fair at NC State, where instead of having a formal program, the participants decide (in a fairly anarchic style) what they want to discuss and pick a room and time slot for when that should be. While it’s chaotic, part of the fun is trying to figure out how to arrange the events so that everyone is happy. I was the first to propose a talk in order to get the ball rolling (oddly enough, nobody showed up to my talk), and then everything got kicked off in grand style. Rather than people giving talks, the sessions were more like focus groups around issues key to folks in the digital humanities. While Engineers generally like to make fun of Humanities majors for being unproductive intellectuals, I’ve never been of this persuasion and have generally felt more at home with my colleagues from CHASS at NCSU than I do with fellow Computer Scientists and Engineers.

I immediately caught the attention of the crowd when I brought up the Beauty and Joy of Computing Class that we are fitting to the AP CS Principles high school program as part of STARS, and that served as the bridge between my Engineering background and the goals that the other folks in attendance had in mind. The motivating question for my first session was “How much coding should a Digital Humanist know”? We engaged in a wonderful discussion about the merits of learning just enough about coding to be empowered but not so much to be overwhelmed. It was an excellent opportunity to meet the people that the renewed approach to introductory Computer Science is designed to target: those without highly technical background but with tangible technical needs and enough motivation to seek help where they need it.

On the teaching side, we talked about ways to use technology to engage students in Humanities courses. One of the amazing things about technology is that they open up a world of opportunities to create artifacts of assessment beyond the terrifying term paper – whether it’s a video, voice recording, collage, or even a website! Technology makes it possible to create and transmit multimedia in a way that gives students the opportunity to express themselves and reflect on course material in a wide variety of ways – the conversion of my blog into a portfolio of teaching and research is one such example. We talked about institutional and cultural barriers to this rethinking of assessment, and discussed the amount of collaboration it would take between faculty and administrators to make it happen.

On the research front, we talked about data mining and visualization… advanced topics that don’t even show up in State’s curriculum until Senior year, and this only helped to validate the STARS claim that Computer Science education isn’t just about teaching people how to code. These are the folks who see that there is technology out there that can help them do amazing things far beyond publication and dissemination, and this is why I love meeting people in this field. Just like the folks from the Ph.D. lab, these are the people who see the broader applications of Computer Science, and this is why I love the folks in this discipline – these are the people who my research directly impacts.

Heck, we even talked a bit about it in the service and professional development angle: it’s thanks to Twitter that we can have an academic conference in two cities halfway across the world simultaneously. Scholars in the Digital Humanities see that in order to make the most of their career, they will need to leverage the technology that is available for both teaching and research, and that was a major theme during the sessions I attended today. I got to meet some brilliant people today, and they helped open my mind even further to the applications of the skills that I’ve had long enough to take for granted.

I’m really looking forward to #THATCamp next year!


1 comment

You should have one of your profs nominate you to be a HASTAC Scholar.   You'll network with other CS grad students who also share issues about education, human and social sciences, the arts.  Truly.  There's a block on the left hand side of the home page that will give you all details.  Welcome and thanks for this excellent post.