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DASHcamp: Digital Arts, Sciences, & Humanities camp 2014

Two weeks ago, I was able to attend DASHcamp at the University of Minnesota. It was such a rich and useful day, both in terms of what I learned and also in terms of the people I met. None of us wants me to write down all the things I learned and thought about that day, so here are the highlights.

Data Management and Curation Profiles for the rest of us

Data management is an increasingly important (and often required) step in research. The idea is to describe your data, any decisions you made while collecting and using your data, and any tools needed if others are going to use your data. Two tools are:

  • DMP Tool
    A tool provided by the California Digital Library that helps researchers develop a data management plan.
  • The DCP Toolkit — Summary of Interview Elements
    Summary by Kristin Partlo of the “DCP Interviewer’s Manual” of the Data Curation Profiles Toolkit, developed by Scott Brandt and Jake Carlson of Purdue University Libraries, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Distributed Data Curation Center.

We started trying to think through the elements in these tools from the perspective of humanities data. The group I was in discussed textual data (other groups discussed video, images, sound, etc). It turns out, this is a complicated discussion! We decided that we would need some description of the level at which the primary source material is encoded (did you code down to the paragraph level? the word level? the chapter level?). We got so stuck on describing our data that we didn’t get much beyond that in my group, but the discussion was fascinating nevertheless.

One important point that came out of this conversation was that we don’t have to start from scratch as we think about data management for humanities. We can draw from at least two bodies of knowledge: scientists and social scientists who have thought through so many aspects of data management already, and archivists who are trained in managing and describing the “data” of humanities.

One real Ah-Hah moment for me was when we talked about how to start the culture shift that would result in people documenting their processes and decisions as they do their research in the humanities. Someone mentioned that teaching bibliographic and file management is an important step in the process. I do that already! I talk with students about how to make their raw material (PDFs, citations, research note) retrievable and sortable, and all I have to do is mention casually that this is a humanist’s data management.

Conversation about the term “Digital Humanities.”

One interesting conversation during the day involved when it is and isn’t important to claim the term “digital humanities” for your work or outreach. One person remembered back when there was e-Science and wondered when Digital Humanities would just be “humanities” again. Most of us were only interested in using the term when it’s needed to claim resources. You’ll need it for many of today’s grants, for example, or to get some kinds of support from a campus.


  • VideoAnt
    The University of Minnesota developed this simple video annotating tool, and it’s free and open for all to use. It was originally used to help professors respond to video assignments, but now it’s also used for collaborative work or whenever people want to have text associated with specific points in a video.
  • Git and GitHub
    I’d heard a few people talk about using one or the other of these tools as document drafting tools, so I was interested to see how to use them and what the appeal might be. The room was full of academic technologists, instructional designers, and librarians, and it was interesting to hear the various ways they knew to use the tools. Some create HTML-based tutorials and use this as their editing and publishing platform. People who work with data librarianship can apparently search for shared and useable data there. For me, I think it looks pretty overpowered for most document drafting, and it’s full of unfamiliar terminology for most humanists (pull requests, branches, forks, etc). I think the version controls in something like Google Docs is more accessible to most of the folks I work with, but it was great to get an inside view into a new-to-me tool.

So that was fun

I really hope they hold this camp again next year. And if they do I’ll make sure to register before I share the information, because I want a spot!

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