A survey, a volume, a talk

Although the pleasure will be brief, I will savor it as I should: I will be at the Historical Institute in Paris next week to talk about epistemology of the Digital Humanities. Not only will I be in Paris, and what is more at the Historical Institute, and what is more to talk about DH: I will also exchange views with old friends (and presumably new ones as well). I will seize the opportunity to talk about my latest research. Continue reading “A survey, a volume, a talk”

The Library of the German Historical Institute in Paris (books and a kitchen)

I am not a real German, I never really had long periods of living in a flat shared with other students and hence having to share a kitchen. And now I am old for that kind of things, turning 38 in a week. Or so I thought. Indeed, there seems to be a way to get past the awkwardness of being old in a common kitchen. Continue reading “The Library of the German Historical Institute in Paris (books and a kitchen)”

I love Paris in the Springtime

I arrived in Paris two days ago for a 3-weeks stay as a Karl-Ferdinand-Werner-fellow at the German Historical Institute. I could write a whole post about the place, but the real beauty of it is neither the amazing house nor the glorious weather nor the fact that my room as 2 windows and is sunbathed all afternoon. No, the real beauty of it is to ignore the material world for three weeks and think only of moving on with my research. So what about it? Continue reading “I love Paris in the Springtime”

Beyond Virtual and Real

So it is raining in Munich, day before the big bloggers’ meeting.  My feelings are mixed. What I thought would be a relatively confidential conference turns out to be an event with over hundred participants – all likely to be listening to the talks and blogging and twitting at the same time; this will be one of the loudest silences ever. On the other hand, I am granting myself a break from a daily work that has gone beyond humanity, so I should really be, mainly, enjoying this. And I am, too. To begin with, I had a Sencha Tea with Christof Schöch this afternoon, and we discussed (among other things) our upcoming common paper at the biography conference in Wuppertal in the fall.

Subject of the conference are “Legitimation mechanisms in biography. Contexts, actors, techniques, limits”. When I saw the call for paper, I thought it would be a good occasion for Christof and me to take our discussion on wikipedia to the next level. What we proposed to do is a complex analysis of legitimation mechanisms in wikipedia biographies and how they compare to traditional biographies in terms of authority. In order to make this, as my husband would put it, “abstract nonsense” somehow digestible, we decided to give concrete examples of wikipedia biographies we wrote ourselves and their evolution. Will they be censored if we give manuscript sources instead of printed sources, for instance? I will start the first experiments next week. Since I had to deal with 200 persons to index in the 21 letters I encoded so far (yes, 21 is not much, and yes, 200 is a lot), I have a lot of candidates to experiment on: French, German, female, male, well known, not known at all, with strange names you can’t forget, with stupid names that mean something (winter, garlic, whatever…) so that googling them won’t bring you anywhere,… this should be fun!

Think big

Today Gudrun Gersmann, director of the German Historical Institute in Paris (IHA in French, DHI in German) came to us to present what I originally thought was an edition project but turned out to be more archive sorting, digitizing and setting up metadata.

The project deals with an awesome archival fund that was made in local archives in Toulon (France) (Btw there is a a French description of the project and here a German one): 7500 letters by a successful French woman writer named Constance de Salm, documenting the literary and political activity in Paris in the Revolutionary and Napoleonian era, but also retracing the singular path of a French woman who married a German nobleman and spent half of her life in France and half of her life in Germany.

Now here’s the beauty of the project: when they found the letters, they decided not to invest their money in transcribing and commenting what would have been something like a fifth of them. Their aim is to have in the end – if possible – all those letters registered properly. Each of them is being informed with sender, addressee, date, place as well as a couple of keywords (concepts, names, publications). These metadata are then fed in a repository that is in the end supposed to be merged with the kalliope database.  The information sets that will be thus constituted will be linked to the PND and to the digitization of the letters (which are based on a server at the DHI).

One could say, well, then, by the end of the project, nothing is done. No text, no commentary, no context.

But you, my beloved reader, know better than that, I am sure. Once this is done, a lot is done. First, you can have an overview of the most important correspondence partners, of the amount of letters depending on the periods of her life, etc., and thus choose to work on a part of the corpus that is actually defined by precise scholarly questions – and not as “the first bunch in box one”. Second, once you have the metadata and the information related to the persons and the publications evoked in the letter, you can gain a valid overview of the intellectual networks. You can follow the discussion of a precise publication throughout the several parts of the correspondence. You can retrace which persons are evoked in which context. So really, a lot is done.This is the kind of work the whole scholarly community should be endlessly thankful for. (I so wish we would be able to reach something similar with the Boeckh papers in Berlin in the year ahead)!

And finally, if these things are done well – in this case with the help of the FuD in Trier – we should be able, at some point, to put the information gained by the Salm project together with those of our project and those of similar projects and be able to search them all.

And this, my friend, is thinking big.
Only I am not sure which institution will be able to support something that big.