Build a Bot

Just a few minutes ago I posted a “talk” session called Carpentry as a Way of Knowing. As an alternative to that session I want to propose actually doing the thing we’d be talking about in that other session: building a bot. This would be hands-on session in which we would collectively—or as individuals—build a Twitter bot. No experience required. I’ll say that again: No. Experience. Required. I’m no programmer, but I’ve built my share of bots, often in order to better understand the source material I’m working with. (See? See?—I am making as a way of knowing!) And if I can do it, anybody can.

I’m labeling this a “make” session instead of a “teach” session because I’m in no position to teach this subject (though apparently I do), but I can at least “coach” it. If this sessions runs, bring a laptop. I recommend installing node.js, a server-side Javascript engine, but that’s only because I’m most comfortable working in node, and I can provide a lot of node.js templates for Twitter bots. If you’re already familiar with another language, run with it. Python is a favorite among digital humanists, but frankly Python scares me. Node scares me too, but at least I’ve developed some coping mechanisms over the past 9 months of working in Node.

So what do you say? Shall we build a bot?


“Carpentry” as a Way of Knowing

First of all, I should explain what I mean by “carpentry” in this context. I’m borrowing the idea from Ian Bogost, who describes carpentry as the practice of making philosophical and scholarly inquiries by constructing artifacts rather than writing words. Instead of writing an essay about Thoreau’s Walden, why not make an argument by building a replica of Thoreau’s cabin? Instead of studying primary source documents that describe 19th century stage magic, why not use a 3D printer to fabricate working models of century-old illusions? In Alien Phenomenology, Or, What It’s Like to Be a Thing, Bogost describes carpentry as “making things that explain how things make their world” (93). Bogost goes on to highlight several computer programs he’s built in order to think like things—such as I am TIA, which renders the Atari VCS’s “view” of its own screen. Similarly, there’s Bogost’s Latour Litanizer, which generates lists of random objects.

I’m not entirely enamored of the term “carpentry.” “Crafting” might work. Or simply “making.” In any case, I’m interested in a session that explores how creating small digital and analog objects can be a mode of humanistic inquiry. I’m thinking of, for example, Darius Kazemi’s Metaphor-a-Minute, which is a Twitter bot (a small program that autonomously posts random or algorithmically-generated tweets on Twitter). As Darius relates, at one point this totally randomized bot generated a homophobic metaphor, causing Darius to revamp the algorithm—and to reconsider questions of rhetoric, intention, and audience along the way.

These digital objects are not terribly difficult to build. I have only a little programming experience, but since many developers share their code publicly, I’ve been able to borrow and adapt existing code to make my own “carpentry” projects. WhitmanFML is a good example. This bot—whose code I adopted from Darius’s LatourSwag project—combines sentences from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass with tweets from strangers tagged #FML. This usually creates a humorous juxtaposition (and another). But because of the 19th century language of Whitman, it can also create tweets that border on—or even cross into—racism. So what can this little carpentry project of mine teach us? About ourselves? The 19th century? Social media? Bots? And so on. And how can we use similar digital projects and fabrications in our classrooms and in our research?

DH + Social Sciences

There is lots of talk these days about  inclusivity and DH.  Some of this talk extends to disciplinary inclusivity.  In light of my own disciplinary background (“I’m not a humanist, but I hang around in the digital humanities community” blah, blah, blah…most people have heard my schtick) I’m really interested in talking about strategies that DH can use to engage with the the social science community (and the more digitally inclined scholars therein). Are there bridges to be built?  Are the bridges already there (and this discussion is pretty much moot)?  Are there things that each community can teach one another?  Is that link already there? Is this kind of discussion even valuable any more (given the fact that it could easily stray into the endless, pointless, and painful quagmire of “what is DH”). I’ve definitely got thoughts (given that I’m a social scientist who hangs out a lot with DH folks)…

Defining and Developing the Skills Important to Digital Scholarship

THATCamp has opened up many opportunities for participants to share and develop skills in areas such as text mining, project management, material culture, and digital pedagogy (to mention just a few of the topics I’ve seen in browsing past THATCamps). But I want to take a step back and ask what are the skills important to digital scholarship?  My interest in the topic comes in part from my work with colleagues on a Mellon-sponsored global benchmarking study examining the skills and competencies necessary to support (and practice) digital scholarship.  I think there are some important commonalities between this proposed session and Rebecca Davis’ proposal to explore “Learning Outcomes for a Globally Networked World,” but the focus here would be more on scholars/librarians/technologists/professionals than undergraduates. (It might be interesting to compare lists of skills and competencies important to these different constituencies.)

In addition to understanding what skills and competencies are important to digital scholarship, I’d also like to explore how best to cultivate these skills. How do digital humanities centers and programs help their members to gain the skills and knowledge to do innovative, significant work? I love the spirit of exploration, collaboration and play embodied by THATCamp, but I also see the need to enable digital humanists at various levels of experience to hone their skills over a longer period of time than a day or a day and a half. (Ryan also points to the need to go beyond 101 in some THATCamp sessions.) Could we imagine new variants of the THATCamp model? Are there possibilities for online/ hybrid training, mentoring, local reading groups, partnerships with DH centers, iterative THATCamps, etc?

Alt-Ac, DH, Public History: What Do They Mean?

At last year’s THATCamp Prime, Katina Rogers did an interesting session about her alt-ac study for SCI, which revealed (at least to me) some variations in the categories different disciplines use to describe potential job opportunities for PhDs beyond the professoriate. Given the range of participants and disciplines at THATCamp Leadership, perhaps this gathering could provide an opportunity to talk about some of those definitional issues. For instance, how “Ac” is “Alt-Ac?” And how does it align with what historians call “public history.” And where does DH fit in the mix? The answers to these questions often seems to depend on who is answering, and their own particular career trajectories. Perhaps we can sort out how these categories relate to each other and overlap.

Make Session: Learning Outcomes for a Globally Networked World

One of the key attractions of digital humanities in the undergraduate curriculum  is the promise that it offers a to teach skills needed for the 21st century student.  But, what are those skills? What are the essential learning outcomes needed in a globally networked world and how might digital humanities or, more broadly, digital scholarship help meet those outcomes?  For this session, I propose we look at some suggested lists of learning outcomes and use them to stimulate our thinking about what learning outcomes our institutions might offer to undergraduate students.  Then we will generate our own list(s) of learning outcomes.

This exercise and the lists of learning outcomes comes from Tanya Clement. You can find the lists of outcomes and references here:

Here is my original description from when I conducted this exercise in the past:

Digital technologies and the Internet have changed the context for civic, work, and personal life, forcing the production and exchange of knowledge into an increasingly public, global, collaborative, and networked space, and increasing capacity to tackle complex questions across disciplines. How do we prepare students to be lifelong learners who are adaptive, networked and engaged citizens in this context? While the essential learning outcomes of liberal education promise to prepare students for ever-changing contexts, should we consider additional learning outcomes for the liberally educated student? In this session, we will debate literacies and skills required for today’s knowledge ecosystem, critique proposals for learning outcomes that reflect these new abilities, and formulate essential learning outcomes for liberal education in a globally networked world.

How do we become better advocates for the digital humanities in our institutions?

This is a session for those of us who are digital humanities enthusiasts and users, but not technical whizzes or programmers.  How do we become better advocates for the digital humanities in our institutions? How do we integrate the development of digital libraries into our strategic plans/processes?  How do we find “best practices” for institutions wanting to create detailed repository plans? What would be the ideal staff composition and what would be the home department/school/college of such a staff? Obviously, this would vary with the size and mission of the university, but it would be useful for those of us trying to find donors or arguing for faculty/staff positions to know what staff, faculty, and infrastructure strategies have worked best at different types of institutions.


As a member of the #transformDH collective, I want to propose a session where folks can discuss some of the transformative work in DH that is addressing issues of race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, nation, etc. Additionally, I hoped that we could create a zotero Library of these sources. Adeline Koh created a wonderful google doc that highlights many projects but I wonder if putting it into Zotero will help folks to consider citing and referencing these projects in the future?

Like Jeremy, I’d like for issues of diversity to be more embedded in the way we do the work of DH and part of that means more acknowledgement of the ways all these intersecting aspects of identity are at play even when there isn’t an obviously marginalized body present. Can we create strategies for our work that make it specific so as to make it more accountable?

Would welcome all kinds of thoughts on this!


I’d love to talk with folks about the opportunities arising from the paradigm shift afoot in education, culture, technology and how we can work together to ride the momentum with our shared ethos. I’m particularly interested in THATCamp/OpenGLAM/LODLAM overlap, and how we might leverage common tools for organizing, overlap on some events, and basically build a better world together.