THATCamp Texas 2011

I had the good fortune of participating in THATCamp Texas at Rice University on April 15-16, 2011, and I have a few things to share.

Our notes from the discussion of Pedagogy and the Digital Humanities: http://bit.ly/hWnUk7

My thoughts about two of the BootCamp sessions I attended

1. Building a Web Presence with WordPress
run by Chris Pound

At Rice University, they use WordPress to host student and faculty pages. The setup instructions included on Rice’s page (http://blogs.rice.edu/start/) serve as a good outline for what Chris walked us through in the session. Although I have had a WordPress blog for more than four years, I found Chris’s explanations extremely helpful because he reminded me that I am not stuck with the settings I chose when I started the blog in 2007. And, of course, my options for settings have changed significantly since then. In this description, I will concentrate specifically on two settings that changed the way I think about my WordPress blog: Pages and Reading.

WordPress allows you to create pages as well as blog posts. These pages have numbered IDs that determine where they occur in the hierarchy. Some themes put the pages along a top navigation bar by default, while some others include the pages as a widget that you can move where you like. When I created my blog (https://jcmurphy.wordpress.com/) in 2007, the latter was by far more common among the theme options. As such, pages were not really something to bother with unless you had a fairly clear sense of the few pages you wanted to use. Pages did not factor into my conceptual understanding of the navigational structure of the blog. So, I wrote my “About” page and left it at that. Chris showed us the settings that allow you to turn your pages into the primary navigational mode of the site, and this has really changed the way I think about them. Of course, if you visit my blog, you will see that I have changed only the theme (the theme I was using is not even in the gallery anymore) because this kind of new thinking involves some good planning.
Along with the pages come the “reading” settings–these allow you to control the appearance of your site with more granularity than posting alone. This is the setting you would use to make those pages work for you. And this is where I am currently working out my thinking before making more changes.

One of the things I love about digital humanities is seeing something you think you know in a different way. Chris’s session on WordPress did just that for me because it reminded me that the platform is not itself static and that I should remember to play with things more.

2. Managing Scholarly Digital Projects from Start to Finish
run by Andrew Torget

In this session, Andrew Torget discussed some of the challenges involved in managing scholarly digital projects. For Andrew, management is in a sense a big picture concept: he did not focus on the daily grind of management issues (such as, where are my research assistants today?), but on the balance between vision and execution and funding. This big picture is so crucial to those of us interested in keeping all of the moving pieces in check, but we so often get lost in the details that we forget the big picture.

Andrew claims that there are three things you need to get started: an idea, a manifesto, and a “benevolent dictator.” The idea is the reason you wanted to do this project in the first place, the manifesto is a write-up of what you are wanting to do and why (this is very important and often overlooked), and a benevolent dictator is the person who is ultimately responsible for everything (highest investment). During the early phases of the project, you should be spending the majority of your time planning and only a small amount of time doing (he claims 80/20).

At this point, you are ready to start looking for funding. Andrew pointed out that there are a number of small organizations who give grants for work and you should start there: small and local. Once you get small grants like these, you can build your project up and go for the big funding agencies (like the NEH). One of the crucial parts of getting your project funded is getting it known. He recommended talking it up at every chance, get your chair or dean behind your idea. All of these smaller steps will help you secure funding, but they will also make your project better because you will have benefited from some good conversations along the way.

The next few steps in the process–build a prototype, set up organization of project, and shift to more doing than planning–rely on the hiring of assistants. Andrew recommends hiring people who can stick with the project (i.e. newer graduate students) so that their investment in the project is higher and they will maintain that project memory that is so important. This brought up the thorny issue of the ethical treatment of graduate student employees in large-scale projects, which we also discussed in our THATCamp session the next day (http://bit.ly/hWnUk7). It seems that we should all seek to strike a balance between the work we need the assistants to do and the benefits they will get from doing it (intellectual and financial).

Natalie Houston’s ProfHacker post about THATCamp Texas 2011.

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About Jessica C. Murphy

Associate Prof of Lit Studies at UT Dallas, Author of _Virtuous Necessity: Conduct Literature and the Making of the Virtuous Woman in Early Modern England_ (http://www.press.umich.edu/7685052/virtuous_necessity)
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