New methods, new resources and Jewish Studies

Historians conducting research on diasporas have traditionally mined family letters, diaries, ephemera, newspapers, oral histories etc. in order to compose coherent narratives of dispersion that go beyond official accounts. Today, such primary sources are increasingly being digitized, born-digital or created online as blogs, e-mails, tweets, and social network sites posts that compose a vast universe of already digital, computationally malleable data. While the value of primary sources before lay in their uniqueness, online data are best understood in volume. This paradigm shift in what consists a record requires that historians apply new methods and approaches in order to conduct scholarship.
What is the situation then in Jewish Studies? What are scholars of Jewish history doing in this landscape? How has or will this affect our research? What new methods and sources do we use? Are any methods more applicable to Jewish topics than others?
I would like to discuss the above not only with people who are already mining web resources and applying new methods, but also with people who are just starting, or planning to start, on this–and particularly with people who are skeptical of assigning value to online material.
I have just started working on my dissertation, where I want to explore this topic and am interested in a discussion both on the theoretical, as well as practical level.

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Time to propose sessions for THATCamp Jewish Studies

Looking forward to seeing everyone on Sunday at  THATCamp Jewish Studies! Please come to the Public Garden room at the Boston Sheraton at about 8:30am to pick up your badge and to take a look at everyone’s session proposals. We’ll all work together to set the day’s agenda starting at 9am.

And speaking of session proposals, why not submit your own? From now till THATCamp Jewish Studies begins, you can propose one or more session ideas by logging in to the site and posting your idea(s) as a blog post by clicking Posts –> Add New, writing out your idea, then clicking “Publish” on the right to publish to the site. (Click “Lost your password?” on the login page if you’ve lost your password.) See jewishstudies2013.thatcamp.org/propose/ for more information about how and what you might propose, not to mention a little bit of explanation about why things work this way at THATCamp. People are already posting their ideas — I’ve proposed a workshop on Omeka, and Roni Shweka has proposed a discussion of the Citizen Science project to put together the Cairo Genizah fragments. There will likely be time for you to propose a session on Sunday morning, as well, in true unconference style.

Write me at info@thatcamp.org with any questions, and follow @THATCamp and the #thatcamp hashtag on Twitter to see what’s going on at other THATCamps around the world. Hope you find THATCamp fun, productive, and collegial.

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Teach Session: Intro to Omeka

If anyone wants to learn the basics of Omeka, I’m happy to teach a workshop on it — I’ve done so many times. Here’s a sample (incomplete) Omeka site called “Colonial Jewish Newport,” and here’s a more advanced and complete site built with Omeka called “Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City.”

Here’s a description of said workshop:

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Building Scholarly Online Archives with Omeka

These days, any scholar or organization is almost certain to have a collection of digital material from research and teaching: scanned texts, digital images, original syllabi, even historic songs, oral histories, or digital video. Omeka is a simple, free system built by and for scholars and cultural heritage professionals that will help you publish and interpret such digital material online in a scholarly way so that it’s available for researchers, students, and the public in a searchable online database integrated with attractive online essays and exhibits. In this introduction to Omeka, we’ll look at a few of the many examples of Omeka websites built by archives, libraries, museums, and individual scholars and teachers; define some key terms and concepts related to Omeka; learn about the Dublin Core metadata standard for describing digital objects; and go over the difference between the hosted version of Omeka at omeka.net and the self-hosted version of Omeka at omeka.org. Participants will also learn to use Omeka themselves through hands-on exercises, so please *bring a laptop* (not an iPad).

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Rejoining the Cairo Genizah fragments by Citizen Science

One of the major obstacles facing the Cairo Genizah research is the fragmentary state of the documents and their scattering. It is very common to locate different pages from the same manuscript, and even several scraps from the same page, located in different libraries which may reside even in different continents.

A significant contribution to overcome this obstacle has been achieved with the launch of the virtual library of the Friedberg Genizah Project, which digitized almost all of the Genizah collections, and holds currently about 450,000 images from them.  These images were then processed by special software which we developed to automatically identify join-candidates (pairs of fragments suspected to derived from the same manuscript) based on the similarity of the handwriting in the fragments. Few months ago we successfully completed a big project in which 12.4 billion pairs of Genizah fragments were compared by this software. A report about this project can be found  in the New York Times.

I wish to present the project in general, and in particular to discuss the possibility of using citizen science for its current stage. That is, to recruit thousands of volunteers to review the enormous lists of suspected joins produced by the software, eliminate the apparent “false-positive” results and help us achieve the final goal: rejoining all the fragments from the Cairo Genizah collections. I will present samples of joins and non-joins so everyone will have the opportunity to experience the requested task. I will then would like to discuss how can we turn this task into a “game” that will attract loads of volunteers.

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More about THATCamp Jewish Studies

If you’re a scholar or student of Jewish Studies who is working with technology or who would like to learn more about how technology can support your scholarship and/or teaching, come to the second THATCamp Jewish Studies in Boston, MA from 9am-12:30pm on Sunday, December 15, 2013, sponsored by the Association for Jewish Studies and held in conjunction with its annual meeting. THATCamp, The Humanities and Technology Camp, is an open, inexpensive “unconference” where humanists and technologists of all skill levels learn and build together in sessions proposed on the spot. THATCamps strive to be fun, collaborative, and productive, and THATCamp Jewish Studies will be no exception. Last year in Chicago, participants learned to use the web publishing software Omeka in a hands-on workshop, heard from the creators of the DigiBaeck archive, and discussed what aspects of digital humanities do and don’t pertain to Jewish Studies; this year in Boston (as always at this participant-driven event), we can do or discuss whatever you think is most interesting or useful. Registration for THATCamp Jewish Studies is open to everyone, including non-members of the AJS, and the cost is free if you are registered for the 2013 AJS conference. There will be a minimal charge of $15 (payable when you arrive at THATCamp Jewish Studies) if you are not registered for the AJS conference.

Register at jewishstudies2013.thatcamp.org/register.

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