THATCamp Melbourne (a brief recap…)

THATCamp Melbourne Logo

Last weekend I attended Melbourne’s first ever THATCamp (The Humanities And Technology Camp), an event designed for anyone with an interest in the digital humanities.

THATCamp is a user-generated “unconference” event involving discussion with people from the domain of Social Science and Humanities. This is my first “camping” experience to be involved in the disciplines of Social Science & Humanities and I was looking forward to having some stimulating discussions with the researchers and practitioners alike over there – and I was not disappointed.

This 2-day unconference was held at the historical 1888 Building in the University of Melbourne and the theme for this event was mainly focused on the digital humanities. A wide range of diverse topics and projects was covered, including art, film, history, literature, geography as well as issues surrounding library collection, data archives, social media and etc. These topics were proposed by the “campers” on the day and split into smaller break-out sessions for more in-depth group discussion.

Coming from the Computer Science background, I was naturally more drawn towards sessions that focussed on how to utilise the current technologies in assisting researchers to do better research. There were 17 sessions in total and I was impressed in particular with the two sessions in HTML5 and JavaScript.

In the HTML5 session, Nick Thieberger (University of Melbourne) argued that with the rapid development of HTML5 and the availability of other freely available open-source software, it is becoming easier for researchers to obtain and annotate the language data online than it has ever been. Nick demonstrated the power and flexibility of HTML5 via the EOPAS (EthnoER Online Presentation and Annotation System), an online system for playing media together with interlinear glossed text (IGT).

And during the JavaScript session, Mark Fallu (Griffith University) talked about several AJAX APIs, e.g. jQuery and JSON (JavaScript Object Notation), as well as other freely available web services like Google Maps and Voyeur (a web-based text analysis environment) for producing better data visualisation. In particular, Mark demoed Butter, the authoring tool for Popcorn.js framework (a free HTML5 video framework created by Mozilla), to show its capability of editing and annotating local video/audio files without compromising on the performance. More importantly, all this is achieved using only the native HTMLVideoElement properties of HTML5.

Furthermore, Matthew Coller (Monash University) presented SahulTime, an application that enables users to combine spatial information with temporal scale for presenting historical information dynamically. As users slide back and forth in time to see the corresponding historical information displayed on a Google Earth-like map.

Apart from the technical sessions, I was also involved in a lively discussion with people from the session proposed by Deb Verhoeven (Deakin University) and Rachel Wilson (RMIT) on the issues of how to define the term “collections”, what protocols already exist for defining collections by provenance, materiality or subject and how these should apply (or not) to a research archive. It was an interesting topic and provoked a great discussion on what value is there in defining collections in terms of their users rather than the items per se?

To sum up, I was pleasantly surprised to find researchers at THATCamp Melbourne have strong willingness to adapt and implement the latest technologies into their research plans, seemingly more so than their colleagues from other disciplines that are supposed to be more technically literate. Unfortunately I was unable to attend all the sessions in person due to the overlapping timetable but I am happy to say that THATCamp Melbourne was indeed a very successful example of bringing people of different technology or humanities backgrounds together.

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