Skip to content

Humanities scholars ‘Camp’ out

Nearly 200 human­i­ties scholars gath­ered around coffee and com­puters in Snell Library’s new Dig­ital Media Com­mons on Wednesday morning. A large wall dec­o­rated with craft paper offered dozens of topic ideas for the group to choose from as they cre­ated a schedule for their day at THAT­Camp (The Human­i­ties and Tech­nology Camp). So-​​called “campers” hap­pily crowded around the wall casting their votes with col­ored sticky notes.

“It’s a bit chaotic but it helps everyone get into the ‘uncon­fer­ence’ spirit,” said Ryan Cordell, an assis­tant pro­fessor of Eng­lish at Northeastern.

That’s right. THAT­Camp was an uncon­fer­ence. There were no preset agendas or pre­pared papers. Rather, four ses­sion styles—make, teach, talk, and play—allowed par­tic­i­pants to engage in dynamic and timely dis­cus­sions of the issues facing human­ists as they bring their work into the dig­ital age.

Cordell orga­nized Wednesday’s THAT­Camp, the first of sev­eral to be held across the globe in 2013, to coin­cide with the annual meeting of the Modern Lan­guage Asso­ci­a­tion, or MLA. According to Cordell, this allowed campers to “focus on the par­tic­ular chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties that tech­nology offers for research and teaching around lit­er­a­ture and languages.”

The event rep­re­sents a broader insti­tu­tional effort to pro­mote dig­ital human­i­ties and com­pu­ta­tional social sci­ences at North­eastern. To that end, the NULab for Texts, Maps and Net­works, an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary base for researchers across the uni­ver­sity, is expected to launch later this month.

In opening remarks, Mary Loef­fel­holz, the vice provost for aca­d­emic affairs, reminded par­tic­i­pants that the year MLA last came to Boston, 1952, was also the first time a com­puter pre­dicted the out­come of a polit­ical elec­tion. “It was the very first elec­tion in which big data, as we now say, made an entrance,” she said, noting that the age of dig­ital human­i­ties has been long in the making.

By the end of the first ses­sion, 21 topics had won the vote, giving scholars occa­sion throughout the day to dis­cuss every­thing from the aes­thetics of dig­ital human­i­ties to the var­ious dig­ital tools avail­able for lit­erary analysis. In one ses­sion, par­tic­i­pants learned the ins and outs of a par­tic­ular open-​​source archive-​​building tool called Omeka, while in another, par­tic­i­pants helped the MLA’s director of Schol­arly Com­mu­ni­ca­tions develop the association’s new social media plat­form, MLA Commons.

In keeping with the dig­ital theme, scholars pro­vided live cov­erage of their expe­ri­ences through a run­ning Twitter con­ver­sa­tion, which revealed the many suc­cesses of the day. One par­tic­i­pant, a doc­toral can­di­date from the Uni­ver­sity of North Car­olina, Chapel Hill, tweeted that the “ses­sion on spa­tial human­i­ties just solved prob­lems I’ve been stewing over for months.”

Eliz­a­beth Mad­dock Dillon, pro­fessor of Eng­lish and co-​​founder of NULab, asked rhetor­i­cally what “an old post-​​structuralist” like her­self was doing in a space like the Dig­ital Media Com­mons. “It’s the excite­ment of new ways of reading,” she answered, sum­ming up the sen­ti­ment of many in the room.

– by Angela Herring

More Stories

Photo of the Capitol Building at night

High stakes for politics, SCOTUS in 2018

Photo of the crashed truck that was used in the October 31st attack in Manhattan.

Weaponizing Language: How the meaning of “allahu akbar” has been distorted

Northeastern logo

Why I love studying Spanish