Waiting for the tooth fairy

While I expected to come back online today with a rush of energy, to joyfully move on to the next steps, I have to admit that a) the blogging abstention in July did not even suffice for me to deliver all that I wanted to finish before my vacation and b) having lost half a tooth in a bike accident during said vacation gives me mostly a feeling of o-my-God-how-am-I-going-to-manage-all-this-with-such-a-headache.

While waiting for the tooth fairy, I have still a few great moments to look back on and others to look forward to – which lightens up the headache, somehow. Continue reading “Waiting for the tooth fairy”

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Seldom (maybe never) has it felt such a relief to open hypotheses.org as it is tonight. Weeks of forced blogging abstinence, rushing ahead without looking left and right, with the edition seemingly stuck in its rachitic state. But victory, victory at last! We are moving on! What a relief –

I have been obsessed by the single aim to get more text online for months and trying to move mountains to reach that goal – with little success at first. It seems that the fruits of those efforts will finally be harvestable in the days ahead:

– the transcriptions of all letters from Tieck to Raumer already online have been reviewed by Henrike Both; Johanna is now feeding them in the XML files, adding missing xml:ids and enriching the comments (the following letters awaiting her then – she is so good at reading and commenting Tieck and in encoding in general that I think, with the two of us, we will wrap up the corpus before the end of the year) – link to the corpus here!

– Sabine has been actively encoding Boeckh’s reports on the philological seminar and we received yesterday the authorization to publish (online and in print) the scans of the original documents from the University Archive – a first ever. The link to the corpus is here (the scans should be online on Monday)! The director of the Historical Collections of the Grimm-Zentrum is to be thanked greatly for scanning the documents and making this publication possible.

– Julia has almost reached entry 2 000 of Boeckh’s book catalogue (which counts a little less than  6 000 on the whole). This is still not online since the visualization involves a direct link to the work index which requires some tuning, but Alex and I settled on a reasonable solution this morning, and it should be online before the end of the month. I will certainly let you know about it!

– Sophia is almost done preparing the Voß-Solger letters (a print version) and especially the commentary. As soon as this is done (only a few more days), she will get back to unifying some 15 Chamisso letters that are on our internal platform, waiting to be polished. Those should be published in the course of summer.

– Selma has encoded her reference text by Helmina von Chézy (an open letter / fictional text addressed to Bettina von Arnim). This should be online in a month or so.

– Alex and I agreed today on activating the pdf button of the edition by Mid-September. The pdf conversions already works pretty well for letters as it is, but need some re-working to be reasonably clean when applied to the other types of manuscripts we have. Roxane, being the only drama (and the only manuscript with comparatively short lines), always requires specific attention. And will get it for the pdf function as well.

Which means that we will be able to work on the collation from the fall on (sooo looking forward to developing something new!!!), with 2 out of the 3 due volumes in print (one is Voss, in German, and the other one is the “figures of the intellectual”, in French – I had rather not think about who is going to take care of the Solger volume right now, but I see it coming that I will have to pay someone to do the copy editing and translating in order to preserve the time I want to dedicate mainly to writing, e.g. August-October and December-February).

You can count on me to tell you more on the workshop DH Kompetenzzentren and on the Manifesto for young researchers in DH soon, since I spent most of June preparing both. See you soon!

Spring, disillusion and something like zen

The new semester began yesterday and it already feels like it has been months. I spent those two days struggling to get some actual work done – I succeeded for about 3 hours, which is not so bad. I remember not being able to cope with the distribution of my work time between administrative tasks, meetings, applications, teaching (minimal as I only teach one class) and research (research itself being divided again in archive work, reading, encoding, writing, editing) not a year ago. The disillusion as to what I can hope from my work days has at least achieved that I see my time running between my fingers on a regular basis and don’t freak out about it any more. I can’t make time that I don’t have. So let’s enjoy spring being spring, and proceed step by step with the big plans.

Although somewhat disillusioned, I still have concrete ambitions until the summer. First, our new layout has to go online soon. We have been tiptoeing and arguing about one single feature for the last three weeks, but we need to have a solution by next week and we will have it. We have to get online before the end of the month, this has taken too much time already. After upgrading the layout of the digital edition, we will do so for the Boeckh archive repository (/Boeckh platform / Boeckh papers overview: note to self, settle on a name once a for all!), get said repository officially online and find a clever way to link digital edition and Boeckh repository.

Second: more corpus! Sabine will begin encoding the reports from the Philological Seminar, I will move on on the von Buch/Beausobre letters with the texts I already have in transcription, Julia will publish the first pages of Boeckh’s books catalogue in a beta version. I keep my hopes down concerning the other corpora, but it would be a nice surprise to see them increase in mass too.

Third: better encoding! The already published letters will be reviewed, corrected regarding transcription and enriched in markup and commentary. This is the case for the 23 Tieck letters as well as for the encoding of the Chamisso letters to de La Foye done by the students of our first class.

These three aspects have such a high priority level that I realize while writing this that I have not even thought about what other tasks I could consider on the encoding’s side for the 4 months ahead. Improving the workflow, getting us used to working with SVN, presenting the books catalog nicely, working on the data exchange with the State Library and the PDR – things that feel old already, but need still a great deal of attention – will not leave Alex much time to impulse fresh air and ideas in the collationing or the TEI2PDF.

For the first time, I consider neither short (3 weeks) nor long (1 year) periods to make plans, but more a middle-termed one (4 months). I have a realistic check-list and I even have completely blacked out what will come after that period. In all rationality, I don’t think that this change of perspective will modify the group’s real production but marginally. What it can do, though, is change my perception of it. Not flipping out because I am not able to match goals that were from the beginning irrealistic might turn out to be – not so bad after all.

This feeling of general gravity has to do with my other activities in the mean time. Two of the volumes that I have to direct and have been dragging for years now are still far from being finished, and I think that my brain prepares itself for the final rush (one in May, the other in June-July), prophylactically saving some inner energy for this. Plus, I am teaching, giving talks and organizing conferences again, after a long pause in these activities. Keeping it somewhat down right now is probably the only way to survive, come to think about it. Plus, “after” (after July) will be the time when I have to concentrate on writing my book. I am looking forward to it, but I know already that it will not all be just fun either – and dispersion will not be an option then. At all.

Things you cannot see

Let me tell you about some progress and why I miraculously managed to put a new letter online yesterday (all by myself).

While I have not been able to work on the digital edition for a while, Alex has been developing much of the non-visible part of it. He created an internal work interface, which turned out to be a relief to everyone. To him of course, for not having to take care of all the uploading. In general, when you think you are done encoding a letter, you upload/send the file and then you find at least 3 or 4 details that you also want to improve. Hence the typically 4 e-mails to Alex entitled “This version is the right one”, then “This version is *really* the right one”, “This is the final version”, and finally “OK, last time I bug you today, promise”. Then he would have to check for absurdities (ids given twice or wrong ids for instance), and e-mail me back “Can you please change the id on line 155”. I would have to do the change, send the file back again… not one bit economical.

What is more, we have more and more data needing to be stocked, versioned and visualized properly in order to progress: the work on the collation, the work on the pdf version, the students’ assignments, bigger documents like the Schlemihl which will be put online at once in a couple of weeks but has been in the pipes for six months. It had become necessary to have a working space where we could do all that and not (something that had become a bit difficult in my fuzzy and daily growing mailbox) by trying to find the e-mail from December when Alex had sent the sample or the link to this or that. The internal work interface is not particularly cute, but perfectly functional and clear. Alex knows Anna, Sabine and me good enough to know which kind of information we need to use it properly. In the part where we upload new XML-files, he has integrated an automatic check whether it is well-formed or not, thus disabling us to upload a file that would not be fit for visualization.

This really is a new step for the work in the team. It is the recognition of the fact that Sabine, Anna and I are now able to take more active responsibility for uploading “final” versions by ourselves. It is the result of the discussions with the Schleiermacher team from the Academy of Sciences and with Peter Stadler on the solidity, valuability and functionality of an internal work environment. It is also, hopefully, a step towards the change of scale in the corpora I have been wishing for a year now (we just need more corpus!). From April on, the two students working for the project will be paid to do encoding. The work force will then be dispatched differently. Sabine, Anna (who will be on maternity leave for a year soon) and I will be able to upload, but not the students, so that we will have to work on the workflow on that level.

A big change of the webinterface has also been in the pipeline for a few months now and should be finalized soon as well. General wish was to have something cleaner, more traditional. There certainly are some design absurdities in the actual form of the webinterface, and we will very likely end up with a white background (that will tear my heart apart – but hopefully not my eyes). The voice of reason tells me this is the best way to go. I will regret the warm colors though, and an interface that was so original that it had a great visual recognition effect, even if not totally professional in the conception.

It is a great pleasure to see that things have been progressing after all. I know I can see it and you can’t. Don’t worry: I will let you know, with trumpets and tweets, when you can enjoy the new interface, the new texts, and the new August Boeckh manuscripts portal (also close to being published).

Our digital edition moving on without me doing a thing (almost)

Having returned from a week in a continuous snowstorm in a beautiful mountain setting where one might, in other circumstances, have been able to actually ski, I found my self in another kind of storm – one where one might, in other circumstances, be able to actually work. No mountains there though, just flat Brandenburg.

Instead of working on, say, some encoding, or the next volume to be directed, or some new archival material – or even, let me dream some, on the book that has been awaiting to be completed for the last nine months -, instead of all that, I spent the last three days thinking about proposals and tweeting about applications, and began writing said proposals and applications (and taking care of replacements for my people on maternity leave). Half a week has now elapsed, no palpable work has been done, and I am not sure any more why I am doing that. If what I want is to reach a tenured position – preferably an interesting one, too -, how can I imagine that such activity fragmentation can be, if not the shortest, at least the surest way to do so? What is interdisciplinary, inter-institutional, connecting work really worth, career-wise?

These moments where I lack inner guidance make me immensely grateful towards my group. While I fight some kind of windmills, they keep moving on and doing what we have settled on. The organization of the November conference (“Brief um 1800 – Zur Medialität von Generationen” – I realize now that I have no conference page to link to, will take care of it before the week is over) is moving on with interesting answers to our Call for Papers on H-Germanistik – please, send in more of those! We want to get to know original and exciting research projects dealing with the configuration letters + generation + around 1800!

Our digital edition of the Peter Schlemihl should be publishable in 2 or 3 weeks (almost 200 manuscript pages carefully encoded by Anna and revised by Johanna). The Chamisso letters from the de La Foye corpus are being processed – those from the last course being revised by our intern Sophia Zeil, Anna and Sabine, and those from the new course coming in. It will certainly take another 6 to 9 months before the whole corpus is completed, but the bundling of forces helps things progress. Sabine (and I too, two weeks ago) has been working on the index of persons as well as on our new joy of life: the index of groups of persons.

I have refused to introduce such an index for a long time, considering it was not economical enough for our project. I still think it is so when it comes to naming “my kids” or “my nephews”: we are better off with a note in this case. But with Boeckh, everything changed.

Indeed, the one that has done a great deal for the digital edition lately is certainly Alex. First, he put together EAD and XML datasets to create our Boeckh platform – a repository containing short descriptions and localisations of all of Boeckh’s manuscripts (not complete yet, of course, but already fairly large considering we could import the kalliope-datasets). The data from this “platform” (still looking for a better name) are connected to our digital edition through the 3 index of persons,  places and works. Which is why the work on Boeckh’s book collection will, in the end, be a major piece of that puzzle. But let’s not rush ahead. Right now, we are still busy connecting the persons. Sabine and I created about 100 entries in the index of persons (additionally to the about 200 we could gain from kalliope via the GND numbers – long live normdata!): all of Boeckh’s family, closest colleagues, major actors at the University, students from the Philological Seminar. Then, we created groups of those – the deans at the University in the academic year 1811-1812, the students from the Philological Seminar in the academic year 1812-1813, and so forth. That is tedious, but comparatively, a piece of cake. What made me sweat most was the the group “Members of the Philosophical Faculty”. There, too, I divided the group after the academic years, but it is not very satisfactory considering that those professors who die suddenly mostly do so in the middle of the year. The aim of constituting these groups as entities is to be able to work with rich metadata sets coming from the Archive of the University, that contain requests often addressed to “the Professors of the Philosophical Faculty”. This is one of the corpora I would want to edit “next” (after Tieck, Beausobre, the Friday Society, the Classical Philology Lecture Notes… sigh). And of course, it will be of help for Sabine’s edition of the reports from the Philological Seminar (which she, contrarily to me, will actually manage to do this year, since she does not have 8 other things to do, but 2: the Chamisso corpus and her dissertation).

Alex also worked on the collation – in December, and none of us managed to look into it seriously. He collated our transcription of the Sandmann with the DTA’s version. The result shows so many differences that we have to think of a way to bring some hierarchy in the collation. Apart from the technical aspects, it also means that we have to define what our version of record should be and how we can merge XML-files while making the part originating from us and the part originating from the DTA visible.

And he worked on a generic version of our TEI2PDF – one that would not just be conceived for Boeckh’s Encyclopädie, but would fit to all of our corpora. As ever, it is an almost impossible task considering the variety of  layout in the original texts. But the pdf version is a reading version that does not aim at reproducing the manuscript, so that some of the layout specificities of the subcorpora are being ignored. I appreciate this little detour through TeX, it reminds me of my dissertation time (said dissertation in now online on  TEL at long last before the end of the week: you can find it here).

Did I mention already how great my team is? We have a meeting tomorrow afternoon, I am sure they will surprise me again with their enthusiasm and good ideas. Maybe I don’t really need to do some real work myself, after all…

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