Information Flux in the 21st Century

THATCamp Museums NYC 2012

Last weekend I attended my first THATCamp (The Humanities And Technology, for those not in the know). This one was focused on Museums.  Here was an opportunity to gather with like minded folk interested in the convergence of technology and museum content and experience, in order to learn about projects in the works presented in the workshops, to discuss ideas suggested by campers for sessions, and to collaboratively hack some of those ideas in real time. The icing on this enriching time was that it cost nothing, and we got breakfast and lunch to boot.

Those responsible for THAT Camps hail from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media George Mason University. The popularity of THATCamps has grown to the point that there is a full time coordinator, Amanda French. Amanda is a busy lady. There are now THATCamps all over the world, with many focusing on a specific theme within a discipline. I will venture to say that these Camps are no longer limited to the Humanities. Amanda works with the Camp based coordinator(s) on the specifics of the THATCamp locale and theme. The local coordinators are responsible for the logistics, like finding a space to host the Camp, securing sponsors, setting up the website, promoting the THATCamp, etc. I mentioned the bonus of my free THATCamp experience but, unfortunately, they’re not always free and so generously sponsored.  However, Amanda & Co. do their best to keep costs as low as possible.

Now for my personal experience at THATCamp Museums. On Friday, there were nine options for workshops to attend (THATCamps don’t always offer workshops).  The workshops were organized with a theme so while my eyes lit up like a kid in a candy store, I was able to narrow down those that I most wanted to attend. My simple request to Kimon Keramidas, the coordinator for THATCamp Museums 2012, was for the three workshops in the Seminar Room at the Bard Graduate Center, the host of THATCamp Museums 2012.

The first workshop I attended, conducted by Amanda French, was on the ins and outs of Omeka, the open source web publishing tool for displaying collections and exhibitions.  Yes, Amanda teaches, too. Like its multifaceted Amanda, The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media is responsible for Omeka.

The next workshop was on Smarthistory. I was encouraged when I first became aware of this free open online multimedia art history textbook alternative. I love that it provides an interactive immersive experience, so different from those dry art history texts with poor quality images that made me yawn back when I was studying art history. The affordance that ye olde technology enabled with the projection of images of works of art on a wall was what got my attention in those days, not the textbooks. The presentation by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker lived up to my expectations. Smarthistory has now reached the big time,  joining the vast collection of educational resources at Khan Academy, thanks to a tweet from Beth Harris commenting on an article about Khan Academy.

The last workshop I attended was on Viewshare. Viewshare, an open source collection presentation platform, comes out of the Library of Congress’ National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program. Jefferson Bailey, Fellow at the Library of Congress’s Office of Strategic Initiatives, showed us how to create interactive maps and charts in Viewshare. My understanding is that Viewshare differs from Omeka in the features it offers.

Saturday morning the coordinators and campers launched into scheduling the sessions. There were so many great sessions proposed by campers; it was hard to choose which to attend. To allay the fear of winding up in a session that doesn’t grab a camper, one of the “rules” of THATCamp is “two feet,” encouraging campers to move on to another session when that’s the case.

The best way for me to process the information garnered from sessions that I attended is to mash it up. How can cameras and ipads  in the gallery enhance the museum experience?  Can curatorial collusion help represent and communicate information on digital material culture? Hmm.

The participants at the conference, Computers and their potential applications in museums; a conference sponsored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 15, 16, 17, 1968, discussed ideas for how technology can support the study of the arts, yet we  still have not achieved many of the goals set forth in that conference over forty years ago. Change happens slowly. It wasn’t until nearly twenty years later, at the Getty Conference in Pisa in 1984, Automatic processing of art history data and documents… that Russell A. Kirsch, the first to scan an image in 1957, introduced the idea of using digitized images as surrogates for primary source material in his presentation titled “Making Art Historical Sources Visible to Computers: Pictures as Primary Sources for Computer-Based Art History Data.” Perhaps the work that comes out of THATCamp Museums can help accelerate change.

Okay, enough said here. I look forward to reading the Google docs for the workshop presentations and the session notes that campers generously documented and shared. And, another resource to refer to is the twitter stream of the hashtag #tcmny  and thereby links to other resources, like this post, What I Learned at Camp, written for The Desk Set blog by fellow camper Meredith Wisner (who led a great session on Curatorial Collusion).

May 27, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,

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