Visit to Berkeley

(collaborative post by all ATSs)

A special thanks goes to Quinn Dombrowksi, Digital Humanities Coordinator at Berkeley, for bringing together so many different groups from her campus to meet with us and share their experiences. Margaret Rhee, too, deserves thanks for her help promoting our visit among her colleagues at the Berkeley Center for New Media and for leading us on a walking tour to and through Sutardja Dai Hall. Our visit would not have been possible without their efforts.


11:00-12:30 Meet & Greet (all) at BCNM Commons

12:30-1:15 Tour of Sutardja Dai Hall (Margaret Rhee)

1:15 – 2:30 Lunch

2:30 – 3:30 ETS (Owen McGrath, Ben Hubbard, Oliver Heyer, Jenn Stringer)

3:30 – 4:00 Bancroft Library (Mary Elings)

4:00 – 4:30 Data Lab (Harrison Dekker)

4:30 – 5:00 D-Lab (Jon Stiles, Nick Adams, Cathryn Carson)


Stanford’s ATSes meeting with Cathryn Carson, John Stiles, and Nick Adams (not pictured) in the D-Lab.

During our tour of Berkeley two weeks ago we met librarians, instructional technologists, database archivists, digital humanists, and a variety of other alt-ac professionals, whose role would be more difficult to name.  Our final host of the day was the Interim Director of the D-Lab, Cathryn Carson, who is also  Associate Dean of Social Sciences, and a historian of science and technology.  Carson was quick to point out the irony that, although the D-Lab supports warehousing and mining social science data, and even teaching workshops on how to use these new tools for collaborative research, in her own historical research on Heidegger she uses traditional methods of reading and writing.  Her cross-disciplinary role was more the norm than the exception at Berkeley.

For some of us, the meeting with the ETS team had many familiar elements.  Both Berkeley and Stanford were members of the Sakai Foundation, and we have worked with Owen McGrath and Oliver Heyer over the years.  Jen Stringer, of course, was here at Stanford at the time, but her connection to Sakai continued through her time at NYU.  We had heard about the early stages of CalCentral, but it was quite exciting to see it up and running.  It is a very ambitious project, and gives students and faculty many features that would be desired in any university online system.  The dashboard includes tabs for classes enrolled, with GPA calculators, etc., and also billing and financial details about grants and loans, among other resources, for students to stay organized as they work towards graduation.  The inclusion of Canvas, which has become an important player on the LMS landscape, was interesting to see, but it was the deep integration of Google Apps that was the most impressive.  Seeing Tasks built in to the center of one of the screens was a very logical and welcome addition and will certainly be useful for students.  It will be interesting to see how the instructor perspective emerges through classroom and blended learning uses, especially with the integrated schedule that Google calendar and mail can provide.   Ben Hubbard was also present at this meeting, and he spoke about how Berkeley’s ETS (Educational Technology Services) automate classroom capture, and repurpose these for online course materials, MOOCs, etc.  The Matterhorn project is an attractive option for anyone thinking about this area, and has been discussed many places around this campus.  In the discussion, it became clear that the ETS team was facing some of the same decisions that we face with online video, and it was somewhat reassuring to see that they have not really come to any conclusions that were very different from ours.

Mark Twain Papers & Project

One of our too-brief meetings was in the spaces of the Mark Twain Papers & Project, one particularly long-standing and important part of the Bancroft Library. “As a result of intensive, ongoing editorial work since the mid 1960s, and with the cooperation of hundreds of institutions and individuals around the world,” the project assembled (and is still assembling)  “a working archive of photocopies and transcriptions… chiefly of letters by Clemens, his wife, and three daughters, but also letters to them, all the major literary manuscripts (published and unpublished) that are known to survive, books from his personal library, photographs, drawings, and so forth.”

 Mark Twain Project-2190534.jpgMark Twain Project-2190531.jpg

Representatives from the project’s team showed us the backend database for all the TEI-encoded texts in the project and the physical archive itself, both of which are used by the Mark Twain Project Online (technical summary). The co-location of the archive, the database, the editors, and a reading room for scholars working on the materials is a model we would like to see replicated elsewhere, though it requires, as the MTP’s site notes, collaboration and cooperation among many organizations and people (not to mention funding). The MTPO makes use of texts with rich TEI markup that includes explanatory and textual notes, manuscript details about erasures, corrections, and variants, and wealth of other information invaluable for Twain scholars. For example, here is a version of Huckleberry Finn. More importantly for ATSes and others in similar roles, the MPTO can serve as an exemplar when explaining the value and possibilities of working with full-text and TEI standards, while also providing a sense of the infrastructure and support necessary to create such a remarkable resource.

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The MPTO works with the California Digital Library (CDL), in particular making use of their eXtensible Text Framework, an open source software platform for “providing access to digital content”. The ties between CDL and Berkeley run deep; there were several representatives from the CDL at our morning meet-and-greet session, in fact, who spoke at length about the fascinating collaborations between the two organizations. Our visit to the Mark Twain Project was only one of the points of interest at the Bancroft and so we had to leave far sooner than we would have liked, but we did manage to snap some photos in the archive.

Jason Heppler in “The Vault” with the trunk of C. Clemens (Twain’s daughter)

The “ATS Landscape” at Berkeley

Based on what we learned from our encounters, discussions, and tour, Claudia Engel mapped out the organizations at Berkeley doing ATS-Like or ATS-related work and projects.


There is a Digital Humanities Meeting Group at Berkeley that includes members from most of the above mapped units as well as faculty and students. It is organized by graduate students and meets at the D-Lab either once or twice a month. This informal community of practice helps drive innovations, deliver services, track research needs and, generally, keep information flowing across the campus. Just one example of the kind of exciting and innovative activities that can result from this type of informal coordination is this week’s FSM Hackathon ( Bancroft is sponsoring the event, offering an open API to the Free Speech Movement archive a long list of mentors ( and significant prizes to first and second place teams (Apple laptops and iPads!) to encourage students to design and develop a user interface for the collection.

Mapping the Berkeley-Stanford Research-Teaching-Library Ecosystems (a sketch)

An interesting aspect of our trip was seeing how much similar work was being done in different ways at our respective institutions, and how different organizations have coalesced to meet the challenges of technology in the academy.  Some parallels were pretty direct: Bancroft Digital Collections and the California Digital Library seem to align with the Stanford Media Preservation Lab and Digital Library Systems and Services; the work of the Library Data Lab accords with Social Science Data and Software.  In some cases, there was a connection through practice: Stanford’s Professor Shelley Fisher Fishkin has done extensive work at, and takes Stanford students to visit, the Twain Archive in Berkeley.  Other connections are from the garden of forking paths: Educational Technology Services in Berkley handle work that in Stanford bifurcates between the CourseWork team and ITS.  There are cases of sound-alikes that are in fact quite different: Berkeley’s D-Lab is fundamentally different from Stanford’s, and we ATSs do work basically distinct from Berkeley’s ETSs.  And then, as our calligraphy above indicates, there were areas of rather complicated, tangential, or simply squiggly connection, with Berkeley’s Center for New Media and D-Lab matching in some ways with Stanford’s own Institute for Research in the Social Sciences (IRiSS) and Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA).

…and, just as a coda, Berkeley’s non-tech spaces weren’t too shabby either:


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