Battle plan for the winter

First of all and in order to dissipate any misunderstanding that may be involved by the reading of this otherwise fine and informative blog post, I would like to specify that my mind is not made up yet about the Deutsche Bahn, but should be soon. I will have the pleasure to be working at the Stuttgart Research Center for Text Studies this winter and will then be given plenty of opportunities to let you know what I think of the Berlin-Stuttgart connection and especially how rail compares to flight.  Continue reading “Battle plan for the winter”

Of those three languages I live in (a sequel to #dhiha5)

Manifesto, Manifest, manifeste

After publishing the English version of the manifesto for young researchers in DH in July, the German translation went online in August and the French one in September. I was part of the elaboration of all three of them. For my personal linguistic formation, the order in which the versions were conceived was strange, considering that it went from the language I know the less good to the one I know best.

Conceiving the original English version was complicated by the fact that a vast majority of the task force that conceived and wrote it consisted of non-English speakers. Although it was obvious that we had, just had to write the manifesto in Globish, this first step already showed how the institutional vocabulary, and with that also the institutional stakes, were hardly transportable in different cultural areas. We had German and French institutional models in mind, and it necessarily influenced the way we wrote in English. What will British young researchers think of that text, I asked myself. Does it relate in any way to their job and career reality? I am not sure whether there was any feedback on that topic ever since.

The English version was read and commented on in Germany, but the German translation was still the first one to be published, thanks to the technical and personal support from the German Historical Institute in Paris. It turned out to be impossible to maintain style and tone of the original version: the sentences were too short, too dry, to pass for readable German. The syntax was germanized, leaving room for some interpretation. Let’s take for instance the paragraph about publications in English, a part of the text that (obviously) means a lot to me. The English version reads:

“As humanists we value intercultural dialogue and multilingualism. Publications in English should not be exclusive, but encouraged as a complement to publications in other native languages.”

The first draft of the German translation had displaced the syntax far enough to make it say not “English not exclusive, but encouraged”, but rather “maybe some in English, but not too much and certainly not everything”. This draft was rephrased as follows for the final version:

“Als Geisteswissenschaftlerinnen und -wissenschaftler schätzen wir interkulturellen Dialog und Mehrsprachigkeit. Veröffentlichungen sollten nicht ausschließlich in englischer Sprache erfolgen, sondern als Zusatz zu Veröffentlichungen in der eigenen Sprache angeregt werden.”

I suggested an even more radical translation for the French version, moving the syntax around as we had often done in the German version, but my colleagues wisely sticked to the original:

“Praticiens des sciences humaines, nous attachons une grande importance au dialogue et au multilinguisme. La publication en anglais n’a pas à être une norme exclusive, mais sera encouragée en complément de publications dans les autres langues.”


Translation, interpretation?

I suppose that it was the choice of English as a language for the original version that evened some of the corners, and left all the more room for interpretation when we translated it back to our native (or almost native) languages. Many things left under the table in order to be understandable by everyone in the English version got on the table again when it came to transmit the very same message to our native scientific community, beginning with the title itself.




As much as all versions agree on the choice of “manifest” as a text genre and on DH as the general field concerned, it remains a major problem to define the public the manifesto is speaking up for. For me, it was clear that the manifesto was the voice of all the people working in DH, in and out of Academia proper but in connection with it, and without a fixed position and/or a career perspective. But this was my personal interpretation, and bringing even this to a common denominator that would also be valid in all the cultural areas we wanted to embrace was not an easy task. Is everyone we talk about doing research proper? There are also infrastructure developers who don’t work on research questions, but they are just as much concerned. Are all those people young? Of course not. Are their careers even all at their beginnings? Not even.

How come that there is no common vocabulary to designate those that make at least 70% (I don’t know the actual figure, this is just an assessment) of the people that make European research work? Is the system too ashamed of not being able to treat them fairly that they cannot even be named in a straight, clear and acceptable way, as the professors are? To answer in the metaphorical register of the German word for it, “Nachwuchs”: the time where we were only promising seeds is long gone, it is the trees that need be named, and the forest.

(and by the way, there is a Spanish translation as well!)

DH Too Human?

On my way back from #dhiha5, the airlines on strike combined with the floods that block German trains at Berlin’s doors are offering me plenty of time (too much, really) to think about those two days. What was most important in the end? Was it the manifesto taking a real manifesto-ish shape? Was it the unease at being asked times and again by senior researchers to keep lobbying the decision takers restlessly until they hear us? “How are we in any position to do that?”, echoed the tweets as the conference was about to be concluded.

How much politics does it take to do science? That it takes some I accept. I have been of many fights – but so many of them ended in everyone returning to his/her research and some being crushed to pieces by the system while others survived. Not everyone can make it is one rule. Coping with it is certainly one of the most difficult exercises in solidary structures. How should not everyone feel hurt when hearing how immensely precarious the situation has become, how many individual lives are made unstable, aimless? What makes me most mad is the lack of alternative career paths for PhDs in the humanities when the academic system is failing them. Which is probably why I am more comfortable in the German system than in the French one after all (although things are showing signs of improvement with the access of PhDs to the higher Administration), in spite of me raising my voice against science being based more and more on projects like I did yesterday. Yes, saying that research projects are a good way of entering an academic career makes me boil when it means using brain power and then throwing away the people  like old tissues. But it is true, on the other hand, that in Germany, a “dr” has a professional value on the job market.

Don’t get bitter, pick yourself up and start again, is what I have been doing over the past 12 years, raising from the newbie PhD candidate to almost-not-a-young-researcher-any-more in the informal scale of youngness of research. When we, the early career, were invited  to some consultation, it never failed to feel like we were only there for the decision takers to have the good conscience to have let us speak – I was the alibi younger, the alibi Humanities scholar, the alibi woman, the alibi mother.

In that context, it certainly is an incommensurate incentive to see decisions takers like Milena Zic-Fuchs come, and listen, and act. But there are not so many of them out there, and they can’t carry all of the earth’s burden either.

After having spent hours trying to define “digital” in “digital humanities” (coding, programming, open access, databases, wikis, visualization and whatnot) yesterday, it turned out that “humanities” was even more of a problem. You can’t define DH because you can’t define the humanities. The order of knowledge has changed so much since the Humanities were institutionally formalized that the disciplines they are made of have become obsolete, especially for those who – like all of those that were present at #dhiha5 – have always worked transdisciplinarily. Are we too human?

Des papillons au plafond

La situation d’attente de l’audition pousse au cauchemar. La nuit passée, j’avais ainsi deux concurrentes préalablement déclarées meilleures que moi avant même l’audition, je levais les yeux et trouvais, au plafond, une multitude de papillons, les uns petits, les autres plus grands, blancs, avec des taches noires. Sans savoir ce qu’ils symbolisent, l’image ne me quitte plus dans mes préparatifs pour cette audition allemande, qui s’avère bien différente de l’audition francaise.

Mes auditions à des postes de maître de conférences en France, de 2003 à 2005, avaient été des échecs cuisants non seulement au niveau institutionnel, mais au niveau psychique (à part la dernière où c’est moi-même qui ai décidé de ne pas aller à l’audition car je venais d’obtenir ma bourse Emmy Noether). Errances de fac en fac, en partie pendant des ponts (un vendredi d’Ascension sur un campus désert, à peine une porte d’entrée ouverte – attentes dans les couloirs, croiser les autres candidats, sourires crispés, je suis pas assez bien sapée comparativement c’est net, mais ces fichues godasses me font déjà super mal aux pieds, ou bien attentes dans une salle de cours d’un autre âge, tables en bois couvertes de graffitis, chaises dont on se demande si elle ne vont pas céder, à crever de chaud et espérer qu’il n’y aura pas de retard, pour pouvoir sauter dans l’avion pour l’audition CNRS, le même jour à Paris…). Avant même d’entrer dans la salle, j’étais portée par le sentiment d’injustice: injustice de la brièveté de l’audition, des questions posées qui ne rendent compte de rien si ce n’est la capacité à se plier à l’exercice. Le pire a sans doute été lorsqu’on m’a demandé quels cours j’avais suivis en licence de philo, je bouillais de rage, vraiment. Je les ai énervés; d’ailleurs, ils ne m’ont pas classée, juste une fois, j’étais cinquième. Profil “trop recherche”, merci.

C’est vrai que, dans le fond, j’avais un profil CNRS. Ledit est resté inaccessible – trop peu de places et pas assez de soutien (à vrai dire, pas du tout) de mon directeur de thèse. Mais je suis contente d’être à l’université maintenant, à la fois par conviction politique – en particulier dans le contexte des humanités numériques, dont l’identité institutionnelle est en train de se jouer maintenant – et parce que c’est important de se faire déranger par les étudiants plus souvent qu’il n’est confortable.

La partie incompréhensible des auditions francaises, c’est qu’alors que l’État s’apprête à recruter quelqu’un pour 30 ou 40 ans – un investissement, tout de même -, le choix de cette personne se joue sur 30 mn. On peut faire toutes les expertises de la terre sur le papier, ca ne renseignera guère sur la personne en tant que personne, et ce n’est donc pas étonnant que les facs se rabattent naturellement sur des candidat(e)s qu’elles connaissent déjà avant l’audition, parce que ce n’est pas l’audition qui pourra leur dire comment sera le/la futur(e) collègue. Indépendamment du fait que c’est assez lamentable de grever le budget d’un jeune docteur avec des auditions ici et là à sa charge. Faut-il le redire, il serait temps de professionaliser un peu le système de recrutement des personnels universitaires en France – non pas forcément sur les critères universitaires (encore que), mais en tant que procédure de recrutement de personnes.

La partie injuste du système allemand, c’est que des auditions pour des postes à durée indéterminée, il n’y en a qu’au niveau prof. Il faut tenir le coup dans un système marqué par la précarité, dont on est de plus légalement expulsé au bout d’un certain temps (12 ans je crois) sans poste. Une fois passés ces obstacles (pas des moindres donc), de ce que j’en vois d’après ma convocation, c’est un exercice aussi assez codifié, mais qui au moins laisse du temps et met en situation de manière plus convaincante que l’audition francaise: exposé (sur un sujet de mon choix), cours (sur un sujet imposé), puis entretien (qui correspondrait en gros à lui tout seul à l’audition francaise). Pas le temps de m’ennuyer dans le mois qui vient, les préparations vont bon train.

En France, je ne pourrais pas atteindre l’audition pour un poste de prof dans la situation actuelle. Je n’ai pas d’habilitation, j’ai un équivalent statutaire d’habilitation, qui n’est pas reconnu par toutes les facs, même en Allemagne. Évidemment, j’ai une liste de publication conséquente. Mais rien qui passerait le cap du CNU.

On peut donc dire bien des choses sur le fait que le système allemand est verrouillé. Sur certains points, il est plus flexible que le système francais.

Et j’ai fini par accepter que ce n’est pas le candidat aux auditions de postes de maître de conférences qui peut faire changer les choses, c’est le professeur en chaire qui s’investit dans les comités de pilotage nationaux et européens. Le but à atteindre est donc clair…


#dhiha5 Panel 4 on Recognition of persons and performances in DH and career perspectives in France and Germany

Since putting together and polishing the text took me all the time I usually have to write on this blog, I would like to invite you, my dear reader, to have a look at the (longer) blog post I contributed to for the next “DH at the German Historical Institute in Paris” conference. The text is in English – this is just how German-French we all are –

Click here!