THAT Podcast

I just finished watching the inaugural episode of THAT Podcast (“The Humanities and Technology Podcast”), the new video podcast from CHNM creative lead, Jeremy Boggs and CHNM web developer, Dave Lester. Wow. Considering Jeremy and Dave’s technical chops, I wasn’t surprised at the excellent production values. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at the quality of the discussion, either. Jeremy and Dave are both deep and wide-ranging thinkers and practitioners of digital humanities, and THAT Podcast reflects their depth and range. In this first episode, Jeremy and Dave discuss the popular blogging platform, WordPress and its applications for teaching, research, and presentation of results. The podcast starts with an interview with Matt Mullenweg, founding developer of WordPress and Web 2.0 wunderkind. Jeremy and Dave follow the interview with a brief hands-on introduction to ScholarPress Courseware, a plugin for WordPress they developed to make building attractive course websites quick and easy. I’m using it this semester in my Introduction to Western Civilization: Science & Society course, and so far I am very pleased.

I’m sure many Found History readers are also subscribers to Digital Campus. As I score it, however, it’s THAT Podcast, 3 – Digital Campus, 0. Not only did Jeremy and Dave score an amazing and hard-to-get interview for their first episode, they’re using video as well as audio, and they’re providing practical instruction in digital humanities rather than the usual chatter you get from the Digital Campus gang. Nice job, guys.

Forty Signs of Rain

This post may be even shorter than usual. I’m writing from Breckenridge, CO where I’m enjoying a couple (very cold) days of skiing. (The conditions are epic in case you’re wondering.) But I didn’t bring my laptop, so I’m writing this on my Blackberry. It seems to be working fine, but I don’t think I’ll have the patience or thumb strength for more than a couple hundred words or so.

Once again this semester I’m teaching a history of science-focused Western Civ. survey, and once again I’m using Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt to try to shake my students of their preconceptions about scientific progress and Western exceptionalism. I love Robinson, but I have read YRS several times now, so instead of YRS, I brought another of Robinson’s books with me on my vacation: Forty Signs of Rain, the first book in a trilogy about climate change in the very near future.

So far, FSR isn’t nearly as brilliant as YRS. It’s not even as creative as Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. Nevertheless, even in the first 150 pages of this comparatively unremakable effort, Robinson’s seemingly endless font of knowledge is revealed again in an extended passage about the NSF panel review process.

A lot of public historians and digital humanists are very rightly baffled by the grant application and evaluation processes of NEH, IMLS, and other federal grant-making agencies. It is indeed a pretty arcane process, especially to the novice, but one good way to wrap your head around it is to serve as a panelist for a program in your field. I have been lucky enough to serve on a couple panels for NEH and IMLS, and in addition to a great intellectual experience and a fantastic way to make new friends in your field, serving as a panelist is probably the best way to learn what makes proposals succeed and what makes them fail. I guarantee your own grant proposals will be vastly improved by the experience. If you get a chance (the agencies frequently put out calls for panelists), I’d jump on it.

If you can’t serve on a panel, however, take a look at Forty Signs of Rain. Ignoring the intrigue and vaguely dirty progam officer that assist the broader plot line (I assure you, in my experience, actual program officers are among the most honest, impartial, and helpful people), in the first half of the book Robinson provides a very good account of the proposal and peer review process at NSF, which is more or less the same as that at NEH and IMLS. I’m not saying it’s right on the money, but as an easy and readable glimpse at the grant making process (especially pp. 134-145, where Robinson describes the panel room itself), it’s definitely worth a read. And if you’ve never read anything by Robinson, this is as good a reason as any to get started.

What Camp? THATCamp.

I’m very excited to announce our latest initiative at CHNM: THATCamp.

Short for “The Humanities and Technology Camp”, THATCamp is a BarCamp-style, user-generated “unconference” on digital humanities. THATCamp is organized and hosted by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, Digital Campus, and THATPodcast. THATCamp will take place at CHNM in Fairfax on the weekend of May 31 – June 1, 2008.

What is an “unconference”?

According to Wikipedia, an unconference is “a conference where the content of the sessions is created and managed by the participants, generally day-by-day during the course of the event, rather than by one or more organizers in advance of the event.” An unconference is not a spectator event. Participants in an unconference are expected to present their work, share their knowledge, and actively collaborate with fellow participants rather than simply attend. There are many styles of unconferences. The most famous is probably BarCamp, an international network of unconference events focused largely on open source web development.

What should I present?

That’s up to you. Sessions at THATCamp will range from full-blown papers (not many of those, we hope) to software demos to training sessions to debates to discussions of research findings to half-baked rants. You should come to THATCamp with something in mind, and on the first day find a time, a place, and people to share it with. Once you’re at THATCamp, you may also find people with similar topics and interests to team up with for a joint session.

How do I sign up?

Unfortunately, we only have space for about 40-45 participants, so we’ll have to do some vetting. To apply for a spot, simply send us an email saying who you are, what you’re thinking about presenting, and what you think you will get out of the experience. Please don’t send full proposals. We’re talking about an informal email of maybe 200 or 300 words, max. If you want to attach a C.V., that’s OK too. Send your email to


The Center for History and New Media, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, MSN 1E7 Fairfax, Virginia.


May 31 – June 1, 2008.


Anyone with energy and an interest in digital humanities.

How much?

As with most BarCamps, THATCamp will be free to all attendees. But a $25 donation towards snacks and diet coke will be much appreciated by the organizers.

How do I sponsor THATCamp?

A limited number of sponsorships are available to corporations and non-profits. Shoot us an email.

This is going to be a lot of fun.


Mark Fortner, an open source web developer who blogs at IdeaFactory, has stumbled upon a potentially useful new analytical construct for historians. In a post entitled “WTF Moments in Java History”, Fortner introduces the concept of the “WTF moment” in which contemporary observers and later analysts of historic events can only exclaim “WTF.” He writes:

History is littered with WTF moments — the last election, the day Al Gore invented the internet, and the day I learned that teen aged dinosaurs had been having sex. The History of Java development is littered with such moments.

Unless you’re a hard-core Java geek, you many not find the rest of Fortner’s post particularly interesting. And I’m sort of joking that the “WTF moment” could really be useful to practicing historians. Nevertheless, I do think Fortner is on to something. At the very least, he has put his finger on one way by which ordinary people remember the past.

Years Ago

I have a confession to make. I actually subscribe to very few of the amateur history blogs I mention here on Found History. 10 Years Ago looks like an exception. According to it’s German author, “Every day a historic event will be posted which happened on the same day but years ago. The illustrations will all be done in a Moleskine 2008 Daily Planner.” Yesterday’s entry commemorates the 1964 opening of Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip with this image:

Whisky a Go Go

Today the blog remembers the 1966 debut of the television show Batman:


Very cool.

(Thanks Jerm.)