N.N. (mouse over)(on the subway tracks)

When I come back home after an evening out, I eventually end up on the platform of the Subway Nb 9 at the Zoo. Between 10 and 11 P.M., I always expect people to be as half asleep as I am, but there usually is so much activity that you might think it is 5 P.M. So I head to the front of the platform and check the tracks for mice. In the summer, there usually are 3 or 4 dancing around. I only saw one yesterday evening, one lonely mouse carefully checking each and every bit of the track. I suppose people just throw away so much food on the tracks that it’s worth looking for it in between trains (3 to 10 minutes). At least it is worth for a mouse to pop up.

Just like our popups appear by mouse over to show the explanation to a hand or an unclear passage (enough intellectual food to check it over).(or almost just like it, for the metaphor’s sake)

While watching the lonely, hungry mouse, I was on my way back from the DH Berlin Stammtisch, a monthly institution consisting in a wise balance between beer and interdisciplinary discussions on diverse digital topics. Although we were only 6 yesterday evening (or maybe because we were only 6), we discussed so many things that I will not even closely be able to render all of it. Instead, I will egoistically concentrate on the aspects that are most relevant for this blog.

Alexander Czmiel (who, together with Markus Schnöpf, attended our presentation of the 15th) asked me very rightly why our edition does not have a decent IP address. And I am extremely grateful for what happened after I had explained that I had had the possibility to do so for over 3 months now and was not able to settle on a name. At that point, everybody tried their best to help me find one. After giving it some thought today, the first suggestion (intellectuals.hu-berlin.de) seems the best one to me. It is certainly not optimal. You don’t expect something called “intellectuals” to deal with the time around 1800, where it was not used. The anachronism is a problem (also the fact that it does not give any relation to Berlin proper). The concept of  “intellectuals” has been my premise for what seems to be forever, but I have started doubting it a year ago. Maybe, after all, there is a better way to analyze as a group scholars, writers both male and female, publishers, in that time around 1800? – a way and a concept I would not know of yet, but that would dawn on me as an epiphany on the last funding day of my project. “intellectuals”: it is only a work hypothesis (one which I was also very grateful to be given the opportunity to explain at length yesterday at the risk of boring everybody), so should it really be an IP?

Although I said the contrary yesterday, I think that the controversial dimension of this work hypothesis and the historical context in which it is usually used (20th century social-historical studies) are the main objection to its use in an IP for our digital edition. I was strongly advised again adding a date yesterday (my beloved “around 1800” would have done so nicely though!) in an IP.

So what was it that I yesterday considered as the main problem and today do not? Mainly the answer to the question “What is this edition bound to become?” And when asked that, I was torn between the pessimistic answer (a series of XML files disseminated in the libraries and archives who host the digitizations of their manuscripts with it) and the optimistic answer (a big portal on literary and scholarly discourses in the late 18th-early 19th century that will be used by scholars, students and just everybody). In the end, this edition can probably become either one of those, but I can only in part influence its future destiny. So  it seems after all wiser to take it as it is now and as it will be in the two years ahead: a digital edition dealing with intellectuals in Berlin around 1800. In that sense, “intellectuals” would be an adequate identity. I might even file for the IP tomorrow.

N.N. did not just concern the digital edition’ missing IP. Part of the conversation also dealt with biographies and their norming. What shall be done with all those historical figures one encounters in each and every corpus? You would be surprise to see how long N.N. happens to have lived, how many books N.N. has written, how many battles N.N. has won. The way from anonymity to identity – a coarse-to-fine of some sort, as my statistician of a husband would put it – should in fact be accompanied by a general synchronization with a database like the GND (or the PDR). Now will we ever know of all the palaces, battles and elephants? Certainly no. But we should be able to sort out who is worth coming out of anonymity. A nice experiment: make scholars of all disciplines define what is a relevant historical person to them…

Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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