NCPH 2011: Shared Authority, Creating a Commons–Another Day at THAT Camp

THAT: The Humanities and Technology Camp

Last May I attended THATCamp prime in Fairfax, VA where I investigated digital storytelling, local history, and social media in the non profit world. This two day event was incredibly rewarding, and so it was natural for me to sign up for another round at the 2011 National Council on Public History conference in Pensacola, Florida this weekend. As with the first THATcamp I attended each of the sessions served as discussion points for larger conversations about public history and the digital humanities.

First, though I would like to encourage you to head over to twitter and check out the hashtags #thatcamp and #ncph2011, both of which should give you a glimpse into the real time conversations that went on during this day long event.

For our purposes here I am going emphasize a discussion from two separate sessions. The first one looked at how institutions across the historical spectrum deal with user generated content–and how reactions to UGC effects visions of historical authority while providing valuable interaction with an engaged audience. More specifically we talked about crowdsourcing and social media–and how institutional transparency can effect the narrative in a different way.

The second session on social media that I went to actually ended up to be about the creation of a public history commons (check out the post by Kate Freedman on the NCPH conference blog), and how to collaborate within the profession on existing platforms.

In both cases we had to ask ourselves the essential question about audience–who is this project for, and what do we hope to accomplish. In the first instance, it had more to do with institutions and the idea of relinquishing “authority” and “expertise” over the objects and the past, so that the visitors interaction with history rather than the factual nature of this interaction became paramount ( and how to walk that fine line). For the second, since the audience would end up to be public historians, the idea was to provide a space for collaboration within the digital world and so we talked about what content might prove useful and be cross purposed.

The purpose of THATCamp is to spur conversations you would not usually get through traditional conference models–it serves as a spontaneous brain collective where inquiry and experience work together to find solutions. After attending discussions on oral history and web publishing the camp capped off with an overview session that asked philosophically “What is digital history?” followed by the alternative question “Is all digital history public history?”

The answers varied but in the end we asked how much do the definitions matter and is it enough to identify shared values between those who identify as either digital or public historians (a point brought up by @publichistorian). She pointed out that the National Council on Public History has one–visit the website and look for the code of ethics.It is definitely something to consider and I’ll be thinking about it as the week progresses.

Tomorrow I am attending a myriad if sessions, so stay tuned…as I try and bring some of this sunshine and spring weather to the page.

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