THATCamp SBL & AAR 2015 Sessions

The following are session proposals made for the 2015 THATCamp. That are for reference in case you were looking for ideas for the next THATCamp. No session on this list will be brought up for voting in San Antonio unless someone proposes the session for this year. Again, this list is only for reference.

Scholarship Beyond Print

Session Proposed by: Michael Hemenway
Session Type: Talk/Make Session
In conversation with the very recent release of guidelines for the evaluation of digital scholarship by the American Historical Association, we will discuss the difficulties and possibilities of pursuing dissertations and scholarly projects that don’t fit easily into the print paradigm. I will share my own experiences with a dissertation in process as a launching point for highlighting the questions of production, evaluation, preservation, legitimation, and support for projects that are not governed by print processes. Together, we can build a few things:

  1. an aggregation of targeted resources to facilitate these conversations in local academic settings,
  2. a set of values for scholarship in religious studies that might be translated into media other than print, and
  3. list of recommendations for how AAR and SBL can support and encourage these emerging experimental forms of scholarship in the guild.

A primer from my dissertation space –

What if a doctoral student were to submit a project like this for a dissertation? How would we engage it, let alone evaluate it?

Digitally Extending Classroom Discussions

Session Proposed by: Pamela Reaves (Colorado College), Brian Smith (Ripon College), Ben Zeller (Lake Forest College)
Session Type: Talk Session
In this talk session, we will explore a number of ways in which traditional classroom discussions can be advanced through digital avenues. Specifically, we will consider (1) the advantages of inviting another scholar into your class discussion via Skype or FaceTime. We are eager to discuss and develop strategies for preparing such a virtual visit and making the experience beneficial for both the guest and the students. In addition, we will consider (2) how online discussion forums or blogs can be used as a form of hybrid pedagogy to advance subsequent discussion within a traditional classroom. Collectively, we have experimented with these options and are interested in discussing with others how we might refine these practices and develop additional possibilities for digitally-enhanced collaboration and discussion.

If our proposal is accepted at ThatCamp on Friday Brian will be explaining how he runs on line discussions that reduce the problems you raise. Brian creates groups of 5 or 6 and they respond only to those in their group. They need to respond to one of three questions on the readings that he posts and then raise a question of their own for others in their group to answer. Every one must make at least two responses to their group mates in a three day period. He reads all posts but do not comment on them on line. Then I bring some of the results into a classroom session and draw students out who have made good posts. The online forum gives them time to think before they post, and then they are more willing to share ideas with the whole class once they have “practiced” their ideas on line. Brian does this 7 times throughout the semester, jumbling membership in groups for each forum.

Predicting N-Grams

Session Proposed by: BBro
Session Type: Play Session
An n-gram is a set of words of variable length where n = the number of words. The Google N-Gram Viewer displays a frequency graph over time of word usage in the Google Books corpus to reveal the impact of words and ideas on language and culture. The game here is to play with a variety of searches to see what the great Google tells us about practically anything expressed with words. This is really interesting for historians and is excellent for locating the moment in time that a new word or phrase enters the cultural landscape. We might also test a few hypotheses, capture the wave of a fad (like the pet rock), or find something even more useful while we have fun.

Kicking the Carbon habit on tech

Session Proposed by: Mary Keller
Session Type: Talk Session
Frustrated that universities have been so slow to transition their energy use, I have switched my at home energy feed (i.e. food for technology) by purchasing electricity through REC, renewable energy certificates. I would like to see an effective organization of academics apply collective pressure on land grant and private colleges to switch to the REC market.

According to, 10 metric tons of carbon are emitted daily by the twitter sphere alone. Any questions about using iPads in classes, new applications, and encouraging engagement through social media are part of our disproportionate per capita generation of greenhouse gasses as long as our universities and their infrastructure, including dorms and libraries, rest content to pay for energy from fossil fuel utilities.

American colleges and universities are the place where we know what climate change is and what its impending increased cost and volatility means for biological diversity and the security of our most vulnerable communities. Could THATCamp AAR/SBL2015 help turn this behemoth (American higher ed) around in two years time?

When my role as co-chair of Feminist Theory and Religious Reflection is over in 2018, I will quit attending the AAR due to the un-sustainability of air travel. Jet fuel burns approximately 38,000 calories per gallon, and once in flight a plane gets approximately 4 miles to the gallon. As a person I need 2000 calories a day, but I am a God of calorie consumption in my flight. If we picture the earth as a carbon banking system, with calories as the unit of measure for the release of stored carbon, our gross depletion of the carbon banks and gross production of greenhouse gasses (tweet farts) appears. As consumers of energy, we are utterly devoid of any recognition of our use of carbon banks, which is calculated at one million times faster than the the carbon banks can restore themselves (thanks to our clever technologies, including combustion engines).

I feel like a frog in a slowly warming pot in my desire to learn about new technologies and how to apply them for research and teaching. Does anyone else want to grieve for a moment over the horrific loss of biodiversity and consider how to catalyze and harness collective intelligence in our universities so that using energy-intensive technology is not mindless and ignorant exacerbation of the greatest challenge humans have ever faced?

I have never organized anything but I know it is time to do so. I am wondering if there are THATcamp people who want to discuss the connection between the energy sources that power our work with technology and the crisis at hand.

Podcasting and Public Scholarship

Session Proposed by: David Dault
Session Type: Teach Session
We left academia and became voices on the radio.

Now we produce the programs Things Not Seen: Conversations about Culture and Faith, and the daily two minute Religion Moments podcasts. (We also produce video documentaries for PBS).

Broadcasting and podcasting offer fantastic opportunities for “public theology” and “public scholarship.” But too often projects start, and flail, and are abandoned. Other times, the programs never gain an audience because they remain “insider conversations” for a few.

Media relies on storytelling, and even the most bare-bones interview is a story.

In this practical teaching session, we’ll talk about the basic questions you need to ask to make your idea for a podcast marketable, sustainable, and above all, listenable.

We’ll also talk about some of the bare bones gadgetry you might need to make a podcast or a radio show work, even on a limited budget. (We will bring recorders and other visual aids that you can look at.) Seriously – if you have an iPhone and GarageBand, you can make a radio show or a podcast. We’ll help you figure out how.

If folks are really interested, we can also do a sidebar talk session on how to make this a pedagogical tool (class projects and such.) But really, we’re more interested in supporting the public theology angle. So there you go. Vote for us.

David Dault and Katy Scrogin both work as executives at the Chicago Sunday Evening Club which has been around since 1908, and pretty much invented religious broadcasting on this continent. Seriously – if you ever wondered why the PTL Club and the 700 Club were called “Club,” it’s because they “borrowed” the idea from us to give themselves street cred. All to say, when it comes to public religion, we know our stuff.

Ritual, Theology and Pedagogy in Gaming

Session Proposed by: Pete Phillips
Session Type: Talk Session
A session for gamers or those interested in gaming to explore their experience of game playing as a theological exploration – are there elements of ritualised practice within the game environment; ways of commemorating or memorialising; how about sacrality? I know a couple of games now where there are specifically religious chatrooms (usually Christian) and even game spaces which are set aside for worship. This has always been the case in virtual environments such as Second Life and often it reflects social practices which are external to the game. But what does it mean to act like this inside the game environment, inside the ludology and practices which make the game work. Is there a disjunction between playing game of war and being a Christian IRL (if that phrase isn’t too stupid to use)? Is there disjunction between killing one another’s soldiers and then praying together. What is going on?

At a recent gaming as research conversation at Durham Uni, we discussed the possibility of games being used as pedagogical tools and one of my research students wants to explore the use of Minecraft for biblical literacy work. Are games best suited for play rather than pedagogy. But play is pedagogy. So is it possible to teach through the medium of games – teach the Bible? teach biblical languages? teach theology? What would it mean to teach theology in code?

Anyone game for such a conversation?

Digital Textbooks for Introductory Religion Courses

Session Proposed by: Cynthia Eller
Session Type: Talk/Teach Session
I’ve been teaching introductory religion courses (Intro to Religion; World Religions) for about ten years now using a digital textbook I wrote. It’s got tons of images, review questions, “read” and “listen” buttons, and interactive exercises, as well as automatic reporting so that as the professor, you can see the work your students have been doing. I’d be happy to run a demo for anyone who is interested. I’ve used it in online, hybrid, and f2f classes, all with success. Students say they never want to read a print textbook again… Two new titles are due to be released in 2016: Revealing the Hebrew Bible by Barry Sang and Revealing the New Testament by Stephen Moore.

Augmented Reality Criticisms

Session Proposed by: Ken Chitwood, U of Florida.
Session Type: Talk Session
Augmented Reality Criticisms (ARCs) present a compelling opportunity for scholars in the humanities to harness mobile computing technology, specifically Augmented Reality (AR) apps, to create and circulate public discourse and critique. This proposal seeks to discuss the why, what, and how of ARCs. Pointedly, it will include how overlaying physical objects or locations with digital content available through mobile device applications can encourage positive political and cultural exchange on specific social issues. The “Religion@UF” project will be offered as an example to explore ARCs. Created in collaboration between the UF Religion & English Departments, the “Relgion@UF” ARC is a mobile AR application that reveals the hidden religious history in and around the University of Florida campus through exploration of some of its physical locations and sites of interest. Once completed, users will be able to look at specific buildings and signs through their phone or tablet camera and view multimedia overlays informing them of the religious history related to different locations around campus. For instance, users will be able to view the engravings located on Heavener Hall and receive information about this ongoing religious controversy.

Natural Language Processing and Reading Religion

Session Proposed by: Michael Hemenway
Session Type: Teach/Play Session
In this session, we will explore why and how to cultivate a growing awareness of and capacity for doing basic natural language processing (NLP) tasks in religious studies. Based on an ongoing workgroup in the Learning Lab at Iliff School of Theology, we will give a quick and basic introduction to NLP via python programming language and the natural language toolkit. After a basic introduction, we will use some simple exercises from the nltk book to encourage participants to play with text using the tools offered by the nltk. As we code together, we will share ideas and experiments that these tools might stimulate and we will question the problems and possibilities of the assumptions built into these technological frameworks.

iPads & Interactive Pedagogy

Session Proposed by: Pamela Reaves (Colorado College), Brian Smith (Ripon College), Ben Zeller (Lake Forest College)
Session Type: Talk Session
Let’s talk about how to make good use of iPads in the classroom! This session will consider the logistics and pedagogical possibilities associated with iPad use in the classroom. We are eager to have a discussion about various applications, including those devoted to collaboration among students, quick classroom polls, visualization, map-related learning, impromptu presentations, peer feedback, and exploration and annotation of texts. We plan to examine applications and approaches that rely on a single iPad user (the instructor) as well as those that cater to a classroom of iPads (available to borrow through some institutions).

CMS Beyond Blackboard for Projects– From Slack to Trello

Session Proposed by: mcconeghy
Session Type: Make/Play Session
Interested in increasing transparency and participation in student research projects using new web/mobile apps? Read on.

This semester I used Slack–a collaborative work space site that bills itself as a “messaging app for teams”–as the primary space for non-grade related teacher-student and student-student communication in my courses. I was impressed with many of Slack’s features as improvements over Course/Content Management Software (CMS) elements typically offered by Blackboard/Moodle/Sakai.

I enjoyed having instant always-on contact with my classes. Through the Slack mobile app or the website, my students could post messages to me or each other during class (as planned exercises), after class (for homework or to ask questions), or outside of class (to share interesting items or plan class-related group projects). This not only meant I could monitor dialogue among the many different student teams I had created, but I could also ensure that any messages or correction about assignments or course material could be distributed quickly to all students. The advantages over email are numerous and not inconsequential when dealing with a generation of students glued to their smartphones.

However, when students moved from the early portion of the course and its heavy emphasis on communicating to the later stages of the course and development of research projects, Slack’s utility faded away. It simply wasn’t a robust enough work space for each student to develop their project in a way to allow others to participate in the peer review process or for me to follow the dozens of students. Blogging has similar disadvantages for teachers and students when done by enough contributors.

So, despite the advantages of Slack over similar elements in Blackboard (direct messaging, assigned group functions, announcements, mobile app, etc.), I found myself struggling to see the platform’s longevity for enhancing student research projects. Increased communication and access? Absolutely. It was a big success. Plan a project and see it through to completion? Not very effective at all. Even Blackboard doesn’t have a model to really help teachers help students cultivate research projects and monitor them in progress in a way that makes other students and the instructor true collaborators in the development of a student’s work. How can we find a space that makes project development more public and facilitates the work of research?

I think Trello, the kanban inspired digital corkboard app, could offer much of what Slack and Blackboard are missing, but I’m not totally sure. Or at least I’m not sure how to manage the madness the first time through.

In this session I propose that others who have an interest in new educational apps and a desire to make student research more collaborative and transparent join me to explore Trello. We can play with Slack and Trello to understand their features and limits and then move on to making some guidelines for student use of these apps. What are our goals in using such technology? What are we gaining from it as a platform? What is essential for students to do publicly early in the research process to develop more sophisticated projects? How can we assess the contributions of peer reviewers as a grading element? And so on.

I hope this will result in projects that are developed steadily, with more feedback from peers and instructors. I also hope students will come to understand the process of project development better and appreciate the effort that must go into planning and development in order to achieve a significant result at the end of a term. Let’s explore whether Trello might help us achieve such goals or simply be an inspiration for other goals for teaching with technology.

DTA Tools and uses

Session Proposed by: BBro
Session Type: Talk Session
There are many free DTA tools available for humanities scholars to use and websites like DIRT help us find them, but many of these tools require a very significant investment of time and energy to produce results. This talk session will focus on helping participants find their way through the forest of tools to identify the ones best suited to answer their research questions efficiently. The conversation will revolve around specific issues like learning curves, corpus preparation, and interpreting or visualizing the results.

Using Bible Data in Education

Session Proposed by: sboisen
Session Type: Talk/Teach Session
Logos Bible Software includes a wealth of data on the Bible, the biblical world, biblical languages, and biblical studies. I’d like to engage with others in a conversation about how this data can support teaching the Bible and biblical studies, in both traditional and novel ways.

Our datasets and features include:

Based on the interests of those who attend, we can:
  • do a broad show-and-tell of different capabilities in Logos
  • discuss specific datasets and general strategies for using them in educational contexts
  • do a deep dive into one or two datasets
  • discuss other ways to collaborate around these resources (for example, annotation projects using existing datasets as standards)
  • brainstorm additional datasets that would be valuable for educational goals in biblical studies
Note: I’m a researcher and developer with direct involvement in the creation of many of these databases. Though Logos is a commercial product, I’m not a salesman, and this isn’t a sales pitch.

Building an Ecosystem for Open Digital Resources

Session Proposed by: Jonathan Robie
Session Type: Talk/Teach Session
This talk focuses on and our work in growing a community of scholarly resources for biblical languages. We will demonstrate the power of existing resources by using queries on a syntactic database to generate examples that illustrate the various uses of the Greek participle. We will also point to resources that are lacking, and discuss how we are organizing the community and motivating projects to create open resources. The first half of this session is a teaching session, the second half is a talk session to generate ideas for growing the community, helping people learn how to use available open content, and growing the corpus of high quality digital resources.

In 1995, the Perseus Project published the Perseus Digital Library on the World Wide Web, a large collection of classical texts with morphology, several lexicons, grammars, and a variety of related resources. The Perseus has been an inspiration for much of digital humanities, demonstrating that open content can vitalize a community of scholarship, in which the process of creating more useful open content together is one of the things that defines the community.

It’s time for the biblical languages community to catch up. Over the last few years, has been working to grow a community of computer scientists, Bible scholars, and linguists who are collaborating to create high quality open digital resources for biblical studies, focusing on materials related to biblical languages. We try to track resources that exist, create resources that are missing, and help people coordinate with others who are working on similar things to maximize interoperability and minimize duplication of effort.

These guidelines define what we mean by open biblical content:

  • Freely licensed. For content that is not code, we like Creative Commons Licenses. For code, we like MIT, Apache, and GPL -see We encourage licenses that require attribution, we dislike licenses that require asking permission – that just doesn’t scale.
  • Human readable formats like XML, JSON, or well structured HTML with metadata.
  • Unicode, using NFC normalization and UTF-8 when feasible.
  • Publicly available in source code repositories, so changes are visible and available, and it is easy to track issues and suggest improvements or corrections.
  • Designed to be used collaboratively with other resources.
  • Uses existing standards like TEI, Epidoc, and OSIS when they are a good match for the domain.
For Greek and Hebrew, resources freely licensed in open formats include:
  • Base texts
  • Morphologically Tagged Texts
  • Treebanks
  • Lexicons
  • Grammars and Paradigms
  • Commentaries, Secondary Literature, and Other Resources
Here are some things we are doing to build the community:
  • We have created a Technical Advisory Board for those we work with most closely, and Technical Liasons to other projects.
  • We are using Slack to coordinate our efforts, and are experimenting with Trello for tracking status.
  • We are asking the community to write tutorials showing how to use open resources using various kinds of tools.
  • We are working together with GERT to sponsor SBL sessions that encourage people to develop digital resources, and coordinating with Perseus and Alpheios on the creation of Greek resources. For instance, this year’s Corpus-based Computing/Linguistics for Ancient Greek session focuses on growing the corpus.
  • We are passionate about creating an open ecosystem for digital content, and want to see this community grow. After the presentation, we will have an open discussion to discuss the best ways to make that happen.


The following companies help
make THATCamp SBL & AAR possible.

  • Walter de Gruyter GmbH
  • ExperimentalHumanities@Iliff