A week in the life of a Digital Humanist

In case that I would wonder what makes me a Digital Humanist, I have been given a series of occasions over the past week to see by myself that there were good reasons to consider myself as one and to be happy to do so. 

Last Friday, we Berlin DHers had our monthly meeting at the Stammtisch. There were so few of us there due to the holiday that it was actually possible to all have the same conversation – usually we split up in smaller groups having their own discussions. We had a new guest, who (re)presented the Museum of Computer Games (everyone had to come out in terms of gaming practice: I enjoy the looks on people’s faces when I say that I play computer games, but it is more for the fun of saying so, since I haven’t had time to play for a long, long time). Apart from the obviously fun part (gaming! yay!), it was mostly interesting to see how the situation for such data as computer games generates questions close to those that preoccupy textual scholars, museologists, archeologists (all of your digital humanists, really): archiving, preserving, licensing, selecting, but also hierarchising the occurrences of what can (maybe?) be considered as one single instance. Take a novel: what is the “original”? One random copy of the first edition? The manuscript delivered to the publisher? The first draft (even if its contents overlap only marginally with the printed text)? And even if we did agree on, say, one particular draft that would display a stable version of the text, and still possessed this manuscript today, it would still not be the original as it was by the time of its creation. A long discussion ensued, which we could only conclude by saying that there was no original as such, only manifestations of an item, and that we are all confronted with the questions connected to this identification and representation issues.

All in all, when I consider what we do today with the popular novels written since the 18th century for a wide, uncultivated audience, I find it absolutely justified that we consider computer games as research material for the Humanities. Contrarily to most of the other material we Digital Humanists work on though, it is not a material that has been transposed from another media into a digital format, it is material that is natively digital. Still pondering over the epistemological consequences this can have as I write this…

I will spare you my comments on the hardships of copy-editing a volume I am directing over the Pentecost week-end by temperatures growing higher and higher. Let us skip to yesterday and today and mention first the news from our digital edition: the first letters by Dorothea Tieck are online, a corpus dear to my heart that I mentioned in an earlier post. What is more, we have been working on adding entities to the pdfs generated for each document, thus making the added value of the indexing of persons and publications even visible in the static version.You can check it out for instance in our first letter from Dorothea to her friend Uechtritz (the entities are listed on the last pages of the pdf). Sophia Zeil has initiated both the improvement of the pdfs and the edition of the Dorothea corpus, a big cheer to her for all of this!

And finally, I had the pleasure to give a presentation on scholarly blogging to the research team of “Sozialstaat/Etat Social”, a research group from the German-French big project “Saisir l’Europe/Europa als Herausforderung” (in English: Seizing Europe). In my presentation, I emphasized the necessity to consider one’s digital identity just like one’s CV or publication records: whether you like it or not, it is being expected from you to have one if you want to have an academic career, so it makes sense to try and see at what ends you are given the possibility to turn it to your advantage. As is often the case with people who still don’t blog (or don’t write scholarly blogs, to be more specific), the discussion revolved around the question of content: What should I blog about? It became clear during the discussion how much PhD candidates resent presenting themselves or their scholarly results in a blog format. It makes them feel dispossessed of the few things they have, as if they were suddenly standing in their underpants in front of a world-wide jury keen to judge them by their appearance. I think it is something that needs to be respected. Blogging offers so many different types of discourses that it would be a pity if young scholars were not to find anything interesting in their intellectual interests worth blogging about without feeling judged or dispossessed. The point is to succeed in empowering young researchers with new forms of discourses – but how do you manage to realize that kind of empowerment as a group leader, as the person who wants to make them blog?

I came to think about the situation of group leader. When my research group began, there were few people with that kind of status. Over the past months, it seems to me that I have seen more and more of them, late post-doc-ish with a coordinating function. With the amount of big projects growing, it has become more and more necessary to introduce intermediary responsibilities to deal with groups of something like 10 PhD candidates or young post-docs in projects that counts 30  or 40 of them. I am skeptical about the academic careers of the persons who come into such a coordination function. Considering how hard it is to fulfill the system’s requirements up to the grail of a stable position with teaching and research responsibilities, I would be tempted to say that coordinator positions are scholarly/academically suicidal. But on the other hand, these group leaders are given the opportunity to develop amazing management qualities and a fine sense of dissemination and connection: all qualities that will make them excellent science managers in a few years. And not only do we need them, but we also need them to think about what this scholarly blogging thing is all about. We need them to get blogging.

Anne Baillot

I studied German Studies and Philosophy in Paris where I got my PhD in 2002. I then moved to Berlin, where I have been living & doing research ever since. My areas of specialty include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history. I am currently working at the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin as an expert in digital technologies for the humanities.

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