THATCamp Paris! (EN)
The Digital Humanities community is progressively raising its profile, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States. As French citizens and continental Europeans, we are invited by our US counterparts to establish our position and participate in the development of the discipline. How can we contribute?
There are several ways. The traditional method of holding conventions and creating an international society of experts seems unsuitable in this situation, firstly because the community is too widespread, too fragile, and has not yet identified its potential members; secondly, because Digital Humanities is still in its early days and is by nature wide-ranging. Imposing a rigid structure at this early stage might have the effect of setting permanent yet unstable foundations for the discipline and bringing about artificially induced obsolescence. What we need is not institutionalisation, but rather invention and co-invention.
We propose that a ‘user-generated’ unconference be held. According to Wikipedia, an unconference is a ‘conference where the content of the sessions is created and managed by the participants, generally day-by-day during the course of the event, rather than by one or more organizers in advance of the event. An unconference is not a spectator event. Participants in an unconference are expected to present their work, share their knowledge, and actively collaborate with fellow participants rather than simply attend.’
The Humanities and Technology Camp (THATCamp) was invented to bring the notion of a ‘Camp’ or ‘unconference’ to the field of Digital Humanities. The Director of the CHNM, Dan Cohen, has given us permission to use this name in France.
Historically, Digital Humanities comprised all the methods for structuring and using computerised corpuses of knowledge relating to human sciences. One of the best-known examples of this is the Text Encoding Initiative. However, we advocate a broader definition of Digital Humanities — an expression whose French equivalent has yet to be found — and perhaps one which is also more ambitious. From a disciplinary perspective, we consider Digital Humanities to cover the fields of letters and human and social sciences.
From an object-based perspective, the discipline includes texts, images, audio and video material, statistical data on society, linguistic corpuses, archaeological corpuses, satellite data, demographic corpuses, opinion surveys, qualitative and quantitative approaches, and all the possible links between quantitative and qualitative approaches. It covers objects to be digitised and also objects that are already digitised or ‘born digital’, which are increasingly available through networks: all the new corpuses which have emerged over the past 10 to 20 years raise specific methodological questions and offer new heuristic prospects.
From a methodological and paradigmatic perspective, Digital Humanities covers all the methods for the digital structuring of corpuses, their detailed description — whether automatic or manual — their dissemination, sharing and preservation in the very long term (collaborative XML coding, crowdsourcing, etc.); all the methods by which hypotheses concerning corpuses might be explored and supported (statistical methods, data mining, data representation, geographic information systems and cohort study methods); and all the methods for the development of permanent virtual seminars (research logs, discussion lists, microblogging, etc.).
Additionally, Digital Humanities covers all the methods for the publishing of academic texts and data (publication of corpuses, publication of articles and books, creation of links between corpuses, between publications, and between corpuses and publications), and also the dissemination of human and social sciences, including teaching.
In short, Digital Humanities concerns more or less the entire research process in the fields of letters and human and social sciences, in so far as the bases of this process are affected by digital technologies.
A simple question will be posed at THATCamp Paris: as players or observers in the field of Digital Humanities, do we wish to work together? If the answer is yes, if we are to prevent the ‘archipelago’ of Digital Humanities from becoming increasingly fragmented, we all need to reflect on how we might achieve this aim.
One of the ways of working together is to establish the conditions for a cumulative approach encompassing methods, corpuses and tools, as opposed to our current disorganised working methods. All too often, only the research results, namely, the publication, are made available to the public. The rest remains hidden in the researcher’s study and is never passed on. In many respects, this often requires younger generations and colleagues to reinvent the wheel, in terms of either data collection or data manipulation. We therefore need to acquire a shared vocabulary, tools which are consistent and free, and formats, protocols, concepts and principles which are developed collectively. It is important to reach agreement on what constitutes the state of the art, and to determine the ethical and even legal principles which will provide a framework for the publication of data and the provision of research tools. Finally, the research world must also recognise the cumulative and collective strategies in the field of digital technologies applied to human and social sciences, as opposed to isolated, individual strategies, which represent, de facto, a privatisation of the academic approach.
We must also develop a collective discourse, to be used when addressing our employers and also the various financing and assessment organisations, so that they will recognise and encourage this collective strategy. From this viewpoint, it is necessary to create a cyberinfrastructure which will encourage the development of services for using corpuses of sources, data and publications; which will establish links between corpuses; and which will enable the preservation of these corpuses and ensure that they remain accessible in the very long term.
Where and when?
THATCamp Paris will be held at 96-105 Boulevard Raspail, Paris, on 18 and 19 May 2010.
THATCamp Paris will be in French and English. We are hoping to arrange simultaneous interpretation for the contributions of those participants who do not wish to speak in English. We will be contacting a number of establishments to ask for their support regarding this question.
Ideally, the unconference will result in a Digital Humanities manifesto which will reflect the issues associated with this discipline and enable the development of a common discourse and the adoption of a programme.
Who can take part? / How will it be organised?
We wish to avoid THATCamp Paris becoming a series of presentations on separate projects. As explained above, our aim is to draw up a manifesto which is both challenging, as a manifesto should be, but also specific and practical (along the lines of good practices). We will, however, arrange various slots in which you can give a short presentation (three minutes) of your projects.
It should be a very open, community-based event. Anyone interested or active in digital humanities or intrigued by the subject can register and propose workshops via the wiki.
Authors of this text: Frédéric Clavert and Marin Dacos.