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HathiTrust Research Center UnCamp 2012

The HathiTrust repository currently contains about 10.5 million items, ~30% of these in the public domain and available for reading in full text.  Having such a large corpus online is certainly a great resource for scholars looking to read materials, but it also opens the door to another kind of “reading”, namely, the non-consumptive processes of automated tools to create tag clouds, timelines, entity diagrams and other types of data visualizations that are impossible to create in a physical corpus of the same literature.  The HathiTrust Research Center (HTRC) was founded to create a set of tools to support this latter kind of scholarly exploration.  (If you would like to explore examples of this toolset, see the fourth link in the “Resources” list below.)

On Sept. 10-11, Shinwoo Kim and I attended The HathiTrust Research Center’s UnCamp 2012.  This “un-conference” gave us some exposure to prototypes of the HTRC’s non-consumptive tools, and to the early adopters and developers that are shaping them.  The UnCamp was a chance for the 130+ participants to network, discover possible directions, and to “kick the tires” of the prototypes in direct hands-on exploration against a subset of the HathiTrust corpus.  We heard how scholars are using the prototypes in their research and the potential that educators feel they hold for the classroom.  We learned about how these tools were structured, their operating requirements, and capabilities.  And we experienced using the tools in a direct, hands-on environment.  As we “kicked the tires” of these tools, we noticed some “loose bolts”, and our feedback was recorded by developers to improve them.

The most succinct and interesting take-away from the conference for me was a comment by an educator in a breakout session I attended.  He noted that he has used non-consumptive tools in his classrooms and regularly asks student what they have learned from both reading consumptively and non-consumptively.  His conclusions were that when students read in a close, consumptive manner, they tend to come away with what he termed “big ideas”; when students address the corpus in a distant, non-consumptive manner, they tend to focus on what he termed “smaller ideas”.  This underlines that these tools ask and answer fundamentally different types of questions than the more traditional inquiry in the humanities.  The tools do not replace close reading; rather, they are complimentary ways of addressing the same corpus, and informed by deep expertise built from close reading in the relevant fields.

Please do not hesitate to contact me for more information on HathiTrust, the HTRC or the UnCamp 2012, or leave comments below.


Michelle Paolillo





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