One Week, One Tool: A Digital Humanities Barn Raising

I’m very happy to report that CHNM has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities under its Institute for Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities program to do for the summer scholarly institute what THATCamp is doing for the scholarly conference. Under the banner of “better, faster, lighter”—as well as more pragmatic, more collaborative, and more fun—CHNM will host a diverse group of twelve digital humanists for a busy week of tool-building in Summer 2010. Welcome to One Week, One Tool, a digital humanities barn raising.

With a decade of successful digital tool-building experience under its belt, we at CHNM have come to the conclusion that effective digital tools are forged mostly in practice rather than theory. Although inspirational ideas and disciplinary training are necessary, the creative process succeeds or fails due to pragmatic, often hidden or ignored fundamentals such as good user interface design, thorough code commenting and documentation, community engagement, dissemination and “marketing,” and effective project management. We may have a vision for an ideal end product, but frequently a tool is made or broken in seemingly more mundane aspects of software development.

Too often these practical aspects get lost in our conferences and workshops, only to be encountered by inexperienced tool builders at later stages of development and release. We thus believe a useful digital humanities institute should involve a great deal of doing in addition to basic instruction. There is no reason that a week long institute can’t both teach and produce something useful to the community—an actual digital humanities tool—while also laying the foundation and skills for future endeavors by the participants. Indeed, the act of doing, of building the tool, should be the best way for participants to learn what digital humanities really is and how it really happens.

We therefore propose a unique kind of institute: One Week, One Tool will teach participants how to build a digital tool for humanities scholarship by actually building a tool, from inception to launch, in a week—a digital humanities barn raising.

One Week, One Tool won’t be for the faint of heart. For one week in June 2010, from early mornings to late nights, we will bring together a group of twelve digital humanists of diverse disciplinary backgrounds and practical experience to build something useful and useable. A short course of training in principles of open source software development will be followed by an intense five days of doing and a year of continued community engagement, development, testing, dissemination, and evaluation. Comprising designers and programmers as well as project managers and outreach specialists, the group will conceive a tool, outline a roadmap, develop and disseminate a modest prototype, lay the ground work for building an open source community, and make first steps toward securing the project’s long-term sustainability.

One Week, One Tool is inspired by both longstanding and cutting edge models of rapid community development. For centuries rural communities throughout the United States have come together for “barn raisings” when one of their number required the diverse set of skills and enormous effort required to build a barn—skills and effort no one member of the community alone could possess. In recent years, Internet entrepreneurs have likewise joined forces for crash “startup” or “blitz weekends” that bring diverse groups of developers, designers, marketers, and financiers together to launch a new technology company in the span of just two days. One Week, One Tool will build on these old and new traditions of community development and the natural collaborative strengths of the digital humanities community to produce something useful for digital humanities work and to help reset the balance between learning and doing in digital humanities training.

Are you ready to rumble?

Lend CHNM a Hand

I have been happily distracted from this blog for a couple of months, but I’m returning with a quick post to ask your help in supporting the Center for History and New Media. CHNM is celebrating fifteen years of providing high-quality, free educational resources and tools to an audience that grows exponentially each year. Last year, sixteen million people visited CHNM’s websites and over two million people used our software.

Though the products are free, they’re not without cost. With your help we hope to continue our service and innovation for another fifteen years and beyond. The National Endowment for the Humanities has given CHNM a rare challenge grant, which will match donations to CHNM’s endowment for a limited time. To make your tax-deductable donation today, please visit:

Thanks for your support. I’ll be back blogging with some exciting news very shortly.