Report from ODH Institute "One Week - One Tool"

August 3, 2010

For the past ten days, Twitter has been buzzing about the ODH-funded summer institute known as “One Week | One Tool:  A Digital Humanities Barn-Raising.” (Twitter hashtag #oneweek).

The Oneweek institute was funded via ODH’s program Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities, a grant category designed to fund training institutes or seminars on topics in the digital humanities.  The Oneweek institute was organized by the Center for History and New Media (CHNM)  at George Mason University and CHNM’s Tom Scheinfeldt was the project director.  Tom has a great summary of the institute results on his blog, as does Dan Cohen, Director of CHNM.

What made this institute so compelling was the format.  Rather than a more typical series of lectures, CHNM went with a “learn by doing” format.  For Oneweek, the 12 participants traveled to Fairfax, Virginia for a very intense week learning how to plan, build, market, and deploy an actual, useful digital humanities software tool. CHNM, of course, has quite a bit of experience in this area, building several widely-used digital tools, particularly the research citation tool Zotero and collection/exhibition building tool Omeka

Last week, in the midst of Oneweek, my colleague Jennifer Serventi and I visited the institute to get a sense for how it was progressing.  I was extremely impressed with what I saw.  CHNM had gathered together a group of very diverse people, including humanities scholars, graduate students, librarians, and museum officials.  The group worked day and night (literally) as they learned how to work together collaboratively and produce something of value in a very compressed time period.  While the participants were exhausted from the effort, the feedback they gave to us was incredibly positive.  Several said it was one of the best experiences in their academic careers.  They all felt that the experience had really helped them get a much better understanding of what is involved in building a humanities tool and that that knowledge they gained would prove invaluable for future projects at their home institution. 

I was also impressed with how well the team worked together.  Part of this was due to the excellent job CHNM did in organizing the institute.  But credit ultimately must go to the participants who learned how to work together as a team and accomplish a task that no one of them could have done alone.

So what did they build?  Of course, for the institutes grant program, teaching and learning is the key, and we know from the participants that happened in spades.  But part of the exercise was to try to build a genuinely useful tool that the field could use.  The tool they built is called Anthologize.  It is a free software tool to publish web-based blog content in a variety of book formats.  To quote from the Oneweek press release (also written by the institute participants), Anthologize will enable the user to

"grab blog posts, feeds, or newly-authored works; craft and edit the content; and then publish that content as a compelling volume available in several formats, including PDF, ePub, and TEI, an open XML format for storage and exchange.

Scholars, cultural heritage professionals, and educators are increasingly turning to blogs to disseminate their ideas, but content often lies dormant after it is posted. Anthologize harvests and organizes that digitally created content and enables new types of collaborative and process oriented authored publications. Anthologize is flexible, making it attractive to many users. Educators can generate collections of student work; curators can publish new types of exhibition catalogs with behind-the-scenes perspectives; genealogists can publish family histories; and bloggers can generate selections of their best work for print or distribution via Kindle, Nook, or iPad.

Congratulations to the Oneweek team for their hard work and we look forward to seeing what these 12 people do next.

To sign up to participate in ODH-funded institutes like Oneweek, check out our list of upcoming institutes on the ODH website.  If you are interested in hosting your own institute, please see the guidelines for the Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities.