Wish list

While the people I follow on twitter seem to be going offline one after another, I am starting to feel strangely lonely. It will be a busy vacation on my end, having to give Sabine and Christiane a hand to finish the Boeckh volume until January, 7th (a real deadline if there ever was one). Also, I have never believed in Christmas/New Year as being a break. Over the past 10 years, there has always been some deadline on December 31st (my husband being stuck every year with conference papers reviews).  The time when I really manage to put things into perspective and make plans is August, before the academic year begins. Wanting to take an energetic, fresh start in the new calender year is irrealistic, at least in a country where it begins by remaining two months under the freezing point. I think I already posted a wish list in August, the “things I want to do this winter”. By mid-winter, what remains of it?

Many things moved on without me. Alex has worked on the pdfs in September, on the collation this month (it will take me the whole time I have left in this vacation to sort out the e-mail he just sent in that regard), on the Boeckh platform (hoping to have a prototype by the end of January), on the question of networks, their analysis and representation, the work on the relationships.

Sabine and Anna have been teaching a new group of students how to encode after our guidelines. Sabine managed the metadata section last Wednesday, so that they are now all set to encode metadata and body of their documents. In the meantime, other students from the Free University have been working with them as well.

With so many people working with our guidelines, we really have to settle on one of the last problematic part: the seals and envelopes.

I might as well just write we have to sort out Pandora’s box.

So seals and envelopes as a crux, hmm. Let me explain. I think the time and energy display/result ratio basically speaks for an economical solution (describing their look and content, and concentrating our effort on the connection between text and image). But this point of view encounters massive resistance within my group. Sabine is dissatisfied with adding the envelope to the category <accMat>, considering that it is not additional material, but part of the materiality of the letter itself (most of the time, the page was written on on the recto, folded and the verso served as an envelope). Not to speak of Anna’s wish to work on a thoroughly genetic scale, which would mean that we deal with each scanned page of handwritten manuscript in the exact same way. This is certainly logical, and would be a must if we were an Academy project running 20 years. But pragmatism will probably have the last word here. Half of our funding time has now elapsed, and we still don’t have a single manuscript page more than in October, where we only added a few students’ works from the summer.

I still struggle for a good balance between scholarly quality in the detail and text mass on the quantitative scale. You could call that a conflict between close reading and distant reading, but it is also a question of whom we write for. What is it worth to put things online that are “unfinished”? What is it worth to believe you can ever “finish” something before you put it online? If we were living in an ideal world, it would be clear what the minimal requirements for digital scholarship are. You would have to reach those, and the rest would be improved and extended by whomever would be competent/interested. We don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where scholarly work is considered a commercial possession and open access is only a dream, where many assume they know better than you what a diplomatic transcription is worth and how it should be done, where the interface between research and archives remains an institutional challenge. And so, spending a good part of my work time dealing with this kind of issues, I don’t have time to actually work on the texts.

So let me sum up my wish list: reading, writing.

That will be it, thank you.

 


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