One of the greatest and most unlikely honors of my life to date began with an innocuous tweet. The Center for History and New Media, the people who run THATcamp, developed Omeka, and invented Zotero, were looking for participants interested in a unique digital humanities conference. Rather than gathering people to hear what they had to say, CHNM were looking for people who wanted to actually, well, do something. They called the conference “One Week | One Tool,” challenging potential participants to identify, study, and solve a problem in the humanities with a digital tool that those participants would make collectively and market in that same week. The project was equal parts overturning existing models of academic collaboration and an extreme sport of rapid software development. I applied hastily, noting that my youth and undergraduate perspective might actually be valuable.
Miraculously, I was selected to join eleven other scholars, archivists, museum administrators and graduate students at George Mason University for One Week unlike any other. In a vivid, exciting experience not unlike planning and executing a heist (I am thinking Ocean’s 11 in particular), we put aside personal agendas to think as a broad, resourceful organism. The leadership of Tom Scheinfeldt and Dan Cohen from CHNM proved crucial (indeed they did more than lead, but were very much a part of the whole process with many at CHNM) as they kept us on track to brainstorm humanities needs, concoct potential tools, and then select a most pertinent and practical (in use as well as development) tool. Organized into three subgroups (development, user experience, and outreach) and placed under group leaders, the week flew by as the twitterverse speculated in the intentional dark about what we were doing.
The result was Anthologize, a blog to book service that uses WordPress as a publishing platform. Installed as a plug-in, Anthologize allows a user to wrangle blog posts and off-site RSS feeds (which in practice means just about anything on the web) into convenient RTF, ePub (as in iPad and eBook readers) and PDF export formats. While most people run with the idea that this is a blog-to-book tool, I conceive of it as a more broad and significant intervention into the idea of bounding off and binding together fleeting web content.
Drafted into the Outreach team, I worked to develop the website, the product’s title, catchphrases, and marketing angles. Perhaps more visibly, I also designed Anthologize’s logo, pulling from teammate Doug Knox‘s idea of Anthologize as a spiral process of renewal and reuse and my time in Ireland to select a celtic triskelion. The idea struck me on a long walk back from downtown Alexandria to GMU. I realized that triskelion’s have a sense of flow and repetition and reuse, while also representing the “octopus” effect of a product that can “pull” content from many places to a common center. Moreover, the celtic spiral feels at once contemporary and ancient, like the book from blog/web content idea that we are playing with.
I also found time to briefly document the project with a video about the process, still enamored with the feeling of camaraderie, trust, and teamwork that dominated that magical week in Virginia.