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Reflections on ThatCamp Luxembourg / Trier 2012

By Julianne Nyhan, on 26 March 2012

On 29 and 30 March I attended ThatCamp Luxembourg / Trier in order to give a joint workshop on the Text Encoding Initiative. Having not had the chance to attend a ThatCamp before I have to say that I am really impressed by how interesting and productive it was. One of my favourite sessions was called ‘Conceptualizing mobile’, proposed by Marc Tebeau. In it we discussed the new opportunities for accessing, interacting with and interpreting cultural heritage that mobile computing applications and approaches can offer, and the role that digital humanities can play in such developments. Key themes that we focused on included personalisation, collaboration and new forms of participation. A number of projects that seem to represent the state of the art were also discussed, for example, among others, Cleveland Historical and UCLDH’s own QRator. I notice that other interesting examples of projects and apps have since been added to the workshop’s online presence .
Another interesting aspect of the ThatCamp was seeing just how many different interpretations of ‘what Digital Humanities is and is not’ are current. This came as no surprise to me considering the numerous articles, blogs and comments etc that have been published on this subject over the past years. Yet, it was interesting was to reflect on how our interpretations of ‘what digital humanities is and is not’ are beginning to shape how it is being taught in universities around the world.
Here in the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, for example, a key starting point of our Digital Humanities MA/MSc is that we do not aim to teach how particular software packages work or do not work. Instead, we try to equip our students with what might be thought of as an overall intellectual, critical and technical skill set (and of course the exchange goes in both directions as often we find that we learn just as much from students as they do from us). To give a concrete example, we teach about descriptive markup, its advantages, disadvantages and digital humanities applications rather than teaching how to use particular software packages that one can implement descriptive markup with. Our ultimate aim is for students to be able to critically evaluate a range of technologies, approaches and methodologies and develop digital humanities research questions, as opposed to being able to use particular pieces of software.
I certainly enjoyed the opportunity to discuss this with the participants in Luxembourg and ultimately I think that it is becoming increasingly important to be able to differentiate between concepts such as ‘digital literacy’ (which will probably need to be taught on most introductory Humanities courses given the flight to digital we see all around us) and ‘digital humanities’ which is something rather different.

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