Halloween Creeps: diplomatics and interdisciplinarity

While I was hoping to move on towards more peaceful times and actually be able to work, this week has proven (yet again) that it will always be a daily struggle to manage to find said peace.

The edition project of  Boeckh’s Encyklopädie died a sudden death. Part of the reasons for that is the fact that we wanted to have both a diplomatic transcription and a reading version. As this is one of main features of our edition, it freaked me out to see that a complete denial of the scholarly meaning of such a work is indeed not only possible, but also powerful in the system in general.

The first aspect of this is the difficulty to have the concept of an edition that is oriented towards a research question actually be recognized as serious editorial work. The legitimization pressure over an edition like mine in comparison with historical-critical editions is huge. I wonder whether it is so strongly the case in non-German Humanities. It certainly is a massive hurdle for us and I suspect that it will take a while until our edition is not considered like just a nice little project that kept 6 young women busy until they gave up their academic career and took care of their kids. Us working half-time in a nice historical-critical edition would certainly be much better accepted by scholarly hierarchy in general. Plus, we would actually have time to pick up the kids at school every day! Wouldn’t that be optimal for everybody?

This also has to do with the larger question of scholarly authority and the acceptance that editorial work is interpretation. There are several ways of editing the same text, there are several ways of working on the same source. Refusing to share a source and have different interpretations of it offered to the scholarly community is plainly scary. Would there have been only one single way to establish a text, philology would not have progressed like it did over the last centuries. Not to mention all other sciences.

Anyway, the Encyklopädie will have to wait for a more favorable hour.

The meeting of yesterday evening was of a completely different sort but it also lead me to think about the way I see the balance between work-that-is-accepted-and-recognized-by-my-scholarly-community on the one side and work that has to do with my personal vision of science, and pleasure in it on the other side. Twice a year, the network “Berlin der Begegnung” meets, usually for discussions that I like because they are outside my daily horizon. The discussion with Günter Stock yesterday was, for a change, fully in my horizon – and turned out to be at least as interesting as it usually is. Starting from the question of the role Humanities should play in big funding programs like Horizon 2020, Stock asked us how we manage to implement interdisciplinarity in our daily job and what we would want to change to make it easier to implement. Frank Noé said in the course of the discussion that the main obstacle is the disciplinary profile of professor positions and I fully agree with that. You can get superb fundings for interdisciplinary work for years as a post-doc, and when you get to the point where you want some stability in the form of a professor position, you have the wrong cards in your hands.

How do you work with other disciplines, other projects, other methods? You talk, and talk, and talk, and then you write in common. But mostly, it takes meeting after meeting to find a common language. What I miss most is the recognition of that kind of work as a qualification. All this time I spend trying to generate synergies or whatever you want to call it, to make traditional humanists and digital humanists talk to each other, is just as much time that I don’t have to write my book. And when it comes to getting a professor position, what counts is the book first.

(Why is it again that I am blogging instead of working on my book?)


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