About the Fieldschool

The CHI Fieldschool is a unique experience that employs the model of an archaeological fieldschool (in which students come together for a period of 5 or 6 weeks to work on an archaeological site in order to learn how to do archaeology).  Instead of working on an archaeological site, however, students in the CHI Fieldschool will come together to collaboratively work on several cultural heritage informatics projects.  In the process they will learn a great deal about what it takes to build applications and digital user experiences that serve the domain of cultural heritage – skills such as programming, web design & development, media design, project management, user centered design, digital storytelling, etc.

Building as a Way of Knowing

In recent years, the philosophy of “building as a way of knowing” (or “hacking as a way of knowing” as some call it) has taken firm root in the Digital Humanities.  The idea that one can acquire a far deeper understanding of tools, technologies, platforms, and systems (both in terms of applications and broader implications) through development is an important perspective, and one that is embraced by the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool.

The CHI Fieldschool is built firmly on the principle that students develop a far better understanding of cultural heritage informatics by actually building tools, applications, and digital user experiences than they do with passive analysis and commentary. The added benefit is that by building tools, applications, and digital user experiences, students also have the opportunity to make a tangible and potentially significant contribution to the cultural heritage community.

Why a Fieldschool in Cultural Heritage Informatics?

Digital media, information technology, and computing technology has become increasingly vital in the various fields that comprise the domain of cultural heritage – for research, scholarly communication & publication, and public outreach and engagement.  The problem is that many professionals come to these skills after they have finished their undergraduate (or graduate) degree.  The Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool is intended to address this problem.  Students will receive an excellent foundation in the skills and strategies necessary to conceive, build, and deploy a cultural heritage informatics project – skills that can be applied as they continue their education or enter into the professional world.  The experience gained in the CHI Fieldschool will also make students far more marketable as they apply for graduate school or enter the job market.

2013 Theme

Each year, the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool has a specific theme.  This year, the theme will be “Visualization: Time, Space, and Data.”  This means that all of the work and projects undertaken by the CHI Fieldschool students will focus (broadly) on visualizing time, space (maps, geospatial, etc), and data.

Fieldschool Projects

Instead of being given specific projects on which to work at the beginning of the fieldschool, students will be challenged to work collaboratively in order to brainstorm and conceive of their projects.  This model is important for several reasons.  First, it is important because it gives students an opportunity to step through the entire development process – from concept to launch.  Second, the model gives the students ownership of their projects – they come up with the idea, developed it, and then built it.  Finally, this model allows students to integrate the “theoretical” portions of the fieldschool (design research, user centered design, best practices, etc.) with the applied (development) portions of the fieldschool – thereby building applications that truly meet the needs of cultural heritage questions, challenges, and content.

Organization & Schedule

The CHI Fieldschool will run from May 27th to July 3rd on the campus of Michigan State University.  Students will meet from Monday to Friday, 9am – 4pm.

During the Fieldschool, students will engage in lectures (focusing on a specific topic, platform, or technology), hands on workshops, discussion/brainstorming sessions, and focused development sessions (in which teams of students will work collaboratively on their project or projects).  Students will also be expected to regularly report on their work (in relation to their group’s project) and present their work to the fieldschool as a whole.  Students are expected to be highly motivated, and willing to solve problems (both technical and theoretical) independently or collectively.  It is also extremely important to note that students are expected to attend all days.  The CHI fieldschool isn’t a class where you can sleep in or decide now to show up for a day or two.  In short, students will be expected to adhere to the highest standards of professionalism.

Equipment Requirements

All CHI Fieldschool students will be required to bring a laptop (Mac, Windows, or Linux) – which will be used for all project development during the course of the Fieldschool. Students should have a code editor installed on their laptop. A good list of (free/open source) options can be found here.


ethanThe CHI Fieldschool will be led by Ethan Watrall.  Ethan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Associate Director of MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences at Michigan State University.  In addition, Ethan is Director of the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative at Michigan State University.

Ethan can be found on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/captain_primate

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