I have been extremely lucky within the last (almost) two years since I started my digital edition. Even if things took what felt at times like an eternity to take shape, I have benefited from in-depth infrastructural help, from shortcuts when confronted to many a tortuous problem, from open dialogues with different persons and projects. Still, each and every new DH project starting in Berlin is bound to retrace my very path. Meeting with the libraries and archives, meeting with the Academy of Sciences, trying to figure which data architecture will offer the better connections and guarantee the project, if not eternal youth, at least a decent long-time access and archiving. I have little perspective on this considering that I started so recently, but a few months ago, I started realizing how much time and energy gets lost by this repetition of the same procedure from the scratch for each new DH University project, and how cool it would be to have at least some kind of coordination on a local level.
The tools needed by all those projects include 1) a format that can make the connection to other projects possible, 2) repositories of scholarly quality (databases of persons for instance), 3) the guarantee to be able to make the results available in open access and archived in a robust, long-lasting way. The workflows require to identify where research questions and technical options can come in contact and how. And this way of working involves new modes of communication in order to make sure, before you invest time in a problem, that your neighbor does not by any chance have worked out the solution a couple of months ago.
Of course, each DH project has its profile, its local requirements and ambitions. But there is a lot that can be put in common.
Don’t get me wrong: I know only too well how absurd mutualizations can turn out to be. Especially forced mutualizations between departments that have only in common of having to do with a language (like German Studies and Italian Studies getting taught the same class) or between universities that so happen to be only 200 km away from one another, so why not put all students from the small disciplines of both universities together to reach a critical mass. Talking with friends and colleagues, I have learned to abhor that kind of optimization, which, even if it pretends to do so, never will, in a million lives, save German Studies in France. But let’s close here the German Studies parenthesis, and talk DH.
After abandoning my Friday evening choir which I was not able to attend often enough for it to make sense, I was at last able, since last August, to go to the Stammtisch, an informal meeting of all interested in DH in Berlin taking place on the first Friday evening of each month. These meetings triggered enthsiasm and impatience in me in the exact same measure. Within a few meetings, I could see how some specific questions were being discussed over and over again and how excellent ideas and discussions then got lost in an institutional void. So not only did I find a new choir (over lunchbreak! and which I am actually able to attend!), I also realized that the people sitting around that table had about everything that was needed to make everybody’s work environment better connected, more exciting, well, mostly I thought that everybody involved could in some way take advantage in it.
As it turned out, some of the older foxes at the table had already toyed around with this idea before. So we put everything together and came up with the idea of more formal, thematical meetings with people from the Berlin DH projetcs and external guests. This would allow everyone to get to know the local projects better, to identify what there already is, who can be a good contact for which question, and where there still are needs. Plus, we could take advantage of the expertise of the guests. I sent in a grant application to the Einstein-Stiftung to fund this small post-doc project for two years. The format is called “Einstein-Zirkel”, and the aim is really to have us all sit around a table and come up with ideas emanating from our daily practice of DH, that will hopefully be good enough to be presented on a higher institutional level in the end. Whether I get the funding or not, the workshops are planned for June and October of 2013 and 2014, and they will take place. The first workshop, at the end of June 2013, will deal with the connection between DH projects in Berlin and the existing German DH competence centers. You will hear more about it as the organization progresses. I suppose there will be some news posted by Markus Schnöpf on the DH Berlin blog as well. A first meeting to get to know each other better and precise the organization will take place in January.