Since the German Ministry of Research issued a call for applications specific to eHumanities with two types of funding (junior research group and center) in January, not a week goes by that I don’t hear of a new application. The call has two deadlines, one by the end on this May and one in May 2014.
The fact that so many people are rushing on this call came to me in the first place as a surprise, especially regarding the amount of projects competing for the title of “center”. After two months, some kind of resignation took over the surprise. And now, not even two weeks before the first deadline, I am tending to curiosity. With so many applications even on the first deadline, how will the ministry manage to find enough competent reviewers that will not be, in some way, involved in one project or another, and which will be the selection criteria?
This is certainly a sign that the call for applications was the answer to a real need: there are obviously a lot of people evolving in the field of DH, coming from different disciplines. But it is also the sign of situation of concurrence in a field that is not so easily definable. (yet again: would it help if DH were a discipline and not just a transdisciplinary toolbox? I am even tempted to think that it would, in the actual situation). What is more, the combination of infrastructure and research as it is presented on the call for eHumanities centers does not seem to solve, in the practice, the basic question of the balance between technique and research. It proves difficult to connect services and research questions in a way that does not reduce the technical aspects to purely ancillary services.
Which brings me to DH Aphorism number 2: In DH, not everything is in the cloud.
I have been announcing it for months, it is there at last: our new interface! There are still a few details to be improved (the rollover with names poping up on the authors’ pictures or the new favicon that seems to have been lost in the process for instance), but this is mostly it. The general idea was to improve the aesthetics of the edition as well as the navigation. Here too, a few improvements still need to be done on the genres, topics and repositories main pages in order for their architecture to be made more obvious than the little column to the right allows it for the time being.
Having suppressed the structure in corpora and subcorpora has the inconvenient that it is not as clear as it was in the old interface who is the main editor of said corpora/subcorpora. I only realized it when I saw the final product, so that we are now working on adding a “quotation” button on each page that will let the user know how to quote each single document – and this way, inform said user about the name of the person who has the editorial responsibility of the text he/she wants to quote.
Since I have been tracking little mistakes all week-end long, I can’t feel the magic of the new interface’s novelty anymore. This is a pity, really. I have been waiting for this improvement for a long time and it is bound to remain our “face” for several years. Instead of enjoying it, I can’t help thinking of the next steps: actualize the Boeckh platform after this model and publish it officially, add more texts, add Boeckh’s books list, add the pdf button, update all headers and notes so they all are in the 3 languages,… since it will take about the 2 years we have left to just publish all the texts we have had in mind in the first place, there is little room for expansion and experimentation now. There is room for more neatness, more information, better access. I guess there is a time and place for everything…
Concerning experimentation, things are moving on a little bit too wildly for my taste in my Wikipedia class, but I enjoy too much the class’ enthusiasm to want to slow it down too early. We have a class blog, on which I post as well as the students, and on which I get comparatively about hundred times as many comments as on this one (which is an unfair comparison considering there are over 130 blog entries on this blog and not even 10 on the other). There are right now at least 3 blog entries on stack awaiting publication on the class blog: it happens to be quite complicated to teach writing blog posts and writing wikipedia entries at the same time. I might need to separate both in the future. But it is a completely new and exciting experience.
And the DH Berlin group is going online as well. The webpage is under construction, but at least it is there! Programm and flyer of the June workshop should be online by the end of the week.
In other words: no time to get bored…
Il ne reste plus que quatre jours avant le 15 mai. Ce sera le premier anniversaire de l’accident de voiture de mon père et de l’accusation de plagiat. Depuis un mois, l’approche de cette date anniversaire devient de plus en plus oppressante, au point de m’empêcher de travailler. Je réalise que mes souvenirs de l’apparition de certaines fleurs l’année dernière sont inexistants, recouverts par les couloirs d’hôpital, les trajets en train rivée à mon ordinateur pour formuler telle ou telle prise de position pour contrer l’accusation de plagiat.
La collusion de l’événement personnel, familial et de l’événement professionnel, a été sans pitié. J’ai vécu des mois abasourdie. Puis en octobre, après près de trois mois de coma artificiel et autant de rééducation, mon père a pu rentrer chez lui. Bien sûr, il y a des séquelles. Mais il va au travail, il vit chez lui. Et en octobre, l’accusation de plagiat elle aussi a été remisée après plusieurs expertises. Bien sûr, il y a des séquelles. Mais je crois toujours à l’accès ouvert à l’information scientifique, à une certaine idée de la communauté qu’il y a derrière.
J’ai perdu une certaine innocence, il y a un an. J’ai perdu de l’élan.
Mais le printemps revient.
Voilà, j’avais oublié le lilas, en gigantesques buissons le long de l’autoroute, du Ring-Bahn, de n’importe quelle rue, pendant une semaine où tout embaume. Il est là, et je m’en souviendrai.
Yesterday was a big pedagogical day. Around noon, Selma and I coached a group of soon-to be teachers in the subtleties of salon culture and women writing habits in Prussia around 1800. In the evening, Toni Bernhart and I had the pleasure to be hosted by Jutta Weber to present our work on archival material to our colleagues from Berlin der Begegnung in the Prussian State Library.
In both cases, I got asked the exact same question: how much time does it take to encode, say, one letter? The answer was obvious and unsatisfactory: it depends. It depends on how long the letter is, on how hard/easy it is to read. But it depends mostly whether you are at the beginning or in the middle of a corpus. My experience is that, when encoding the first 2-3 letters of a correspondence, you feel like you will be dead before reaching the next letter. But once the people and the books the two correspondents are talking about have an ID, once you have the general idea of the writing habits you have to deal with (and once you have developed a strategy to deal with them: Tieck’s incessant switching between Latin and German handwriting, mixed with a maniac underlining of every other word, has been driving me crazy for a while), you can easily encode up to 3 letters a day. But really: who gets the chance to just encode one day long? Certainly not me. Encoding time depends mostly on time being what it is, that is shared between so many things – you don’t want to know how many, really, especially since I have been dealing with new people coming to the group and funding renewal during the past months. An administrative hell – not over yet, alas.
I thought about the representation which those people that are not in our field, but still able to get what we do, have of our daily work. The contrast with what it really is is striking. I have come to the point where I mostly envy my PhD candidates for having the possibility to spend days on one thing and get to the bottom of it. The sad part is, of course, that they certainly can’t imagine that this situation could in any way be desirable. I remember, back in the time – 15 years or so ago – arriving at the library at 9AM and leaving it at 6PM and wondering what had happened to that day, which was, all of a sudden, just gone, and yet do the exact same the next day, and so forth.
The reason why I really want to write the second book is that the academic situation I have acquired allows me to understand, and more importantly, to savor more, the moments of sheer learnedness when they happen: sitting in the library, gathering and arranging ideas. Those moments now have a sweetness I had never before suspected they could have. A sweetness which is, inevitably, tempered by the bitterness of the struggle to conquer them – or increased by it?
Concentrated time to think comes in unexpected shapes. One thing I like about spring is rediscovering what thinking time is while sitting on the playground an hour and half on a Friday afternoon watching the kids ride their bikes, cover the sidewalk with chalk drawings, get mad at each other for nothing, meet a friend, get a toy entangled in the bushes, grab it back, hop on further, and laugh in the sun. So do my ideas in the meantime.
And then I enjoy putting the hand on a serious book in the evening, too (been reading Herméneutique critique lately).
After the call for participation to the DH workshop / conference/ happening at the German Historical Institute in June in Paris was issued both in French and in German, something (not so weird) happened. The Germans did as instructed: they blogged and posted the reference to their post in the commentaries. The French found a way not to do exactly what they were asked to, but what was more convenient to them. I must admit I am germanized enough to have taken part in the German organized part, and not so much in the “let’s talk together” French part. As a matter of fact, I published one of the very few blog posts written in French.
The announcement consisted in an official call for blogging in German (Aufruf zur Blogparade), while the French title was more loosely formulated: “Appel à contribution“. Still, the call (even in French) mentioned explicitly which communication means were to be used: collective texts written on pads or wikis, blog entries, Zotero or Diigo selections, Scoop it or Storify pages, audiovisual media, drawings, podcasts, movies. But this wide scale of options didn’t prevent the debate to develop in the parallel universe of the DH-fr mailing list instead.
While some were so overwhelmed by the sudden activity and exchange, occasioning a wave of “please withdraw my address”-emails to the whole list, most of the people I know who are actually on the list follow the debates as closely as they can, even if they don’t themselves write or post. In that sense, the call certainly has overpassed its initial aim, which was to have some persons react. Today, about everybody who is into DH is also in the debate. The link to the list has been tweeted and retweeted since Sunday. One of the most referential contributions has been thankfully published as a blogpost in the aftermath of the discussion, and even translated into English. Day after day, you can see different questions pop and evolve. Yesterday and today for instance, the discussion had mostly to do with the amount of technical skills that should be taught in any DH Master or, for that matter, in any Humanities department altogether.
This is connected to one of the remarks that surprised me when it was made a few days ago. Unsurprisingly, the discussion also revolves around the question whether DH are a discipline (more accurately: should be a discipline) or not. The tension is palpable in the answers: fear of institutionalization on one side, fear of risking one’s career (or their PhD candidates’) on a risky bet on the other. If DH were an accepted discipline, the recognition of programming activities or contributions to databases as scholarly accomplishment would not be such a big deal. As it is, even scholarly blogging is often considered not a real publication…
Now the fear of institutionalization is the part I found interesting. One argument was: If DH were a discipline, the relationships between technicians and researchers would grow into this huge hierarchical gap. Of course, in France, the question of institutionalization has to do with the fact that the sciences are nationally defined. There is a committee for each discipline, hence the disciplines have to exist as such. In Germany, having different denominations for professorships dealing with DH – with a certain specialization like computer philology or digital linguistics, etc. – does not seem to be a problem.
So, to come back to my point, would it really be so that if DH were a discipline, the researchers would despise the technicians more? Really, I don’t know what can lead to that assessment. It is so obvious that there can be no DH without technicians – I count myself as one of the least possible technicised Digital Humanists – that it would rather seem to me that a disciplinary structure would, on the contrary, allow the technicians to have the values of their skills actually recognized. You would be able to include them in funding applications without hiding the positions under vague descriptions. It is precisely from the institutional point of view that it would seem a rather good idea to me. Now there are obviously other aspects to take into account too. And the difference between the French and the German system. As always, I am trying to grab the best ideas in each one of them…
When answered the question “If you could change one thing, what would it be?” at the ALLEA symposium yesterday, Claudine Moulin answered “that DH people stop asking themselves what DH are or should be and just do it”. There is something refreshing about this answer, especially in the context of the French discussion. But it is only understandable as a second answer. The one answer that was given right before by the other speaker, Peter Doorn, was in fact: “make the fear of the digital go away”. Because you can’t deny that the fear is there, within the community for the recognition of its scholarly value, and outside of it, be it only when hearing the words “digitization” and “internet”.
(Did I mention already that DH are not digitization programs? Really, I did? Well, I do it again then…)