Category Archives: Session Proposals

Proposals for unconference sessions from THATCamp participants.

Bots of collections / Bots of conviction

I’m interested in the potential of Bots, specifically Twitter bots, to mobilise cultural collections by moving them into spaces where people already are. My first bot, @TroveNewsBot not only tweets random newspaper articles from Trove, it responds to other users, and interacts with the current news headlines. You can read more here and here.

In recent months @TroveNewsBot has been joined by a number of other collection bots, most tweeting random items. Steve Lubar has argued that these random selections help expose the constructed nature of collections:

The museumbot calls attention to the necessity of making choices. The vast difference between its random choice and what I see in the museum points out that the choices have been made. 

But can bots do more? Mark Sample, digital humanist and bot maker extraordinaire, recently wrote an essay that explored the possibilities of protest bots or ‘bots of conviction’:

protest bots take a stand. Society being what it is, this stance will likely be unpopular, perhaps even unnerving. Just as the most affecting protest songs made their audiences feel uncomfortable, bots of conviction challenge us to consider our own complicity in the wrongs of the world

My one venture in the to realm of protest bots is the rather tame @OperationBot (and its companion webapp). But I’d like to do more.

At THATCamp I’d like to discuss the possibilities of bots, and to think about ways we might respond to Mark Sample’s call for bots of conviction.

Creating a dynamic community history project

I am responsible for the Australian Paralympic history project. This is a wide-ranging project which seeks to capture, manage and preserve the history of the Paralympic movement in Australia. The attached document gives you an overview of what we are trying to do.

With very limited resources, we rely on partnerships with experts (such as the NLA) and volunteers (such as a group of Wikipedia editors). We are also lucky to be working with the Uni of Qld, which has received an ARC Linkage grant for the project.

However, the big challenge is to create a vehicle which will draw together all the elements of the project and make them available to anyone who wants to access them or who wants to contribute. We have a general concept of an online platform, or “e-history”, but at present these seem to be more limited in scope and don’t necessarily offer the capacity to access the detail we are assembling through our project.

I am sure that we would not be the only community organisation in such a position and looking to tell its story and preserve its history effectively, at a reasonable (haha – minimal) cost.

At the same time as our history is important the Australian Paralympic Committee, it intersects with the “bigger pictures” of Australian society and its history that are being painted by organisations such as the NLA.

The Paralympic History Project short version

Session proposal – spatially explore via mapping an Australian historical problem

***NOTE: I don’t want to facilitate this as I don’t have the mapping experience, I am just interested in this area***
I would like to see a session please on how you could use maps (with layers of information) to explore an Australian historical debate/event that is spatial/locational in nature (on Saturday not Sunday as I can’t attend on Sun). Perhaps Paul Hagon could lead this and Tim Sherratt, being a historian, could identify a suitable example?
Check out this link as an example – examining what happened on the Battle of Gettysburg spatially (via a 3D model of the landscape using contour plans) actually proved finally, after years of debate amongst historians, that General Lee lost the battle because he lacked crucial visibility of key areas of the battlefield.

More conceptual searching

I am interested in building a search capability on a large text corpus (such as Australian Newspapers)
to answer queries such as:

  • which prime ministers have visited the Tumut district of NSW?
  • who were the most prominent antagonists in the margarine quota discussions during the 1940′s and 50′s?
  • what poems by members of the Jindyworobak movement were published in newspapers?

Such an approach requires:

  1. fairly clean OCR
  2. entities (such as people, organisations, places) can be identified and useful attributes assigned (such as “Gough Whitlam is a Prime Minister”)
  3. there is an easy way for normal people to express such queries, or iterate towards them
  4. ways to deal with ambiguity (For example, what are the boundaries of the “Tumut district” and have they changed? Is Harold Wilson a “Prime Minister” in this context? Does a poem written by a Jindyworobak member before they joined the movement count?)

I’m fairly confident about how the first two requirements can be met, but I am most interested in ways that campers think the third and fourth requirement could be addressed.

Playtesting Sembl, the game of analogy


Since 2012 I have been working on Sembl, a game of resemblance, where players make analogical connections between images of (openly-licensed) cultural heritage material and then rate other players’ connections on a sliding scale of interestingness. When you draw together things that are not normally associated, you can create beautiful insights into how the world works. It’s like conceptual parkour.

Sembl is being built by Icelab and the alpha version will be released as soon as I can test all the basics – and for some things I need a group to test… that’s where I hope you THATCampers will help.

The games are playable on a board for three, four, five, six or twelve players. I’ve played a lot with the smaller boards, but the bigger ones are tricky to test – especially the 12-player board, not for the fainthearted.

12-semblersTo be honest I’m *not at all* sure we can play a whole game in an hour, or whether this board will even function (it’s crowded; there might or might not be catastrophic visual and functional overlaps). For sure, we will have to be swift and happy to stumble.

If it feels too much for a short session, or if it fails, we can revert to a 6-player board and play in teams. (Of course anyone, once registered, can play around as they like.)

I will have up a Google doc for issue and bug reporting. It will be very, very good to have your feedback. And you will have early access to this fabulous new way to access and interpret cultural heritage material :) :) :)

And hopefully, Michael will join us.

Please comment to express interest!

PS I ticked the category called ‘Linked data’ because even though it’s not about logical links, Sembl is an engine of handcrafted, analogical and dialogic i.e. two-way mutual simultaneous links. They are very *human* links, and foreign to computers, which I believe is what makes them important – as I said a while ago.




How about briefly clarifying where we stand with the elephant of copyright. I think the copyright act basically says photos before 1955 are all out of copyright and for films or artistic works its 70 years after the creator died or the date of publication for books.
It’s great on Trove when it’s out of copyright but various Australian galleries, universities and libraries seem to think differently. Some even consider they still have the copyright even if they have copied the newspaper article off Trove! It really bogs down your research when you have to keep seeking permission even if its already in the ‘Public domain’.

Session suggestion: GLAMs and Wikipedia – can we help each other?

I’d like to look at ways that GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives & Museums) can work more closely with Wikipedia. Of course, it’s not just GLAMs but any organisation with some collection of “knowledge” (so that might include universities, local history societies, or just any organisation that has knowledge they’d like to share with the world).

The benefits of working together are:

* for Wikipedia, better quality information

* for GLAMs, the general public is more likely to find information in a Wikipedia article (as they are in the top of the search engine results) so having GLAM content linked from the Wikipedia article can bring the reader to authoritiative content on the GLAM website for a deeper understanding than can be provided on Wikipedia

Let’s work together to give people a better “knowledge experience”.

Kerry (Wikimedia Australia)

Downloading bulk newspaper articles from Trove

I have recently made some software, called Retailer, (a kind of proxy server) which can be used as channel through which to download the full text of newspaper articles from Trove, in bulk (and the New Zealand equivalent, Papers Past, too). Is there any interest in attending a workshop to deal with how to set up and use Retailer with Trove?

I would love to see a session where a bunch of people install it and run it on their notebooks.

I’d also really like to be able to document the installation and usage procedures, or better automate them.  So far I have only written instructions for installing and using on Linux. But I have a friend who has harvested thousands of articles running it on Mac OS X, and I’m sure it will also run on Windows and other OSes.

For background see my blog post How to download bulk newspaper articles from Trove.