Workflow intricacy

Anna is now on parental leave, but I had the amazing opportunity to have her replacement  financed for one year by the German Research Foundation (that is family-friendliness!). It is Julia Doborosky who will help the digital edition move on in Anna’s absence.

Julia belongs to the Boeckh team. She is the one who has gone through all the archival material at the University Archive, at the Academy of Sciences Archive and at the Geheimes Staatsarchiv (don’t know the correct English name for it) and thus generated 1200 entries in our Boeckh platform (which I presented in this earlier post). I also had the possibility to finance her a few months last year to begin the work on Boeckh’s list of his own books. Reconstructing Boeckh’s library is what interests her most, so this will be her primary task during her time in my group.

I find it exciting to be able to implement the change of scale I have been waiting for (by the way: things are moving on on the letters’ side as well!) also on the level of the reconstruction of Boeckh’s book collection. We will soon be able to work on linking our data with that of the Grimm-Zentrum (digitized and OCRed books that used to belong to Boeckh). To this day, Julia has transcribed 700 titles and has been bibliographically informing them. For each entry, she looks for the corresponding book in the library’s stock and if she finds Boeckh’s exemplar (recognizable by its ex-libris) and sees handwritten remarks by Boeckh in the book, she mentions it (we have an extra XML-category for that) and it is set on the digitization list. It is exciting precisely because this is not completely digital edition, not completely repository, but at the junction of both.

Less exciting is the trouble this puts us in in terms of workflow. Things were fairly clear in the last six months. When you encode, make sure no one else is working on the index. Seldom did Anna, Sabine and I had so much time to spend encoding that this would be a problem. But from now on and until the fall at last. Sabine will be preparing her edition of the documents from the philological seminar, while Julia will be working on the Boeckh book cataloge. And if by chance I actually manage to do some encoding, that makes way too many people encoding at the same time. We will definitely have to re-think our workflow. One of the major problems, namely the risk that IDs are being given two or three times, might be solved by attributing to each editor a specific letter or number to begin their IDs with (for instance I would encode my new persons with p1…, Sabine with p2… and Julia with p3…). I wonder what are the chances that we encounter the same person in parallel and then give not 1 ID to 2 persons but 2 IDs to the same person.

Sadly, my brain is not wired properly to deal with that kind of information intricacy: on the very second I suggest an adaptation of the workflow, I imagine a worst-case scenario and immediately see what kind of problems could arise from it. I hope that Alex will come up with a rational solution to this. It will in any way require really good versioning, that is for sure…

Boeckh Book – Back

The book August Boeckh. Philologie, Hermeneutik und Wissenschaftspolitik (under the direction of Christiane Hackel and Sabine Seifert) is now on the bookshelves (at least ours)! You can order it from the publishing house as book, e-book or as a combination of both.

It is the third volume in the collection “Berliner Intellektuelle um 1800” , which is so to speak the printed face of the junior research group and was conceived to bring together our work results. I directed the first volume, Netzwerke des Wissens. Das intellektuelle Berlin um 1800 (published in 2011). The second volume,  Französisch-deutsche Kulturräume. Bildungsnetzwerke – Vermittlerpersönlichkeiten – Wissenstransfer was published in 2012 under the direction of Anna Busch, Nana Hengelhaupt and Alix Winter.

The volumes 4, 5 and 6 of the collection will only appear in one to two years. Volume 4 will be the result of the correspondence + generation conference of November 2013, while volumes 5 and 6 will be Sabine’s dissertation on Boeckh and Selma’s dissertation on Helmina von Chézy. So back to work!

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…

(NB: You have only 4 days left to vote for this blog on the DH Awards page!)


Wish list

While the people I follow on twitter seem to be going offline one after another, I am starting to feel strangely lonely. It will be a busy vacation on my end, having to give Sabine and Christiane a hand to finish the Boeckh volume until January, 7th (a real deadline if there ever was one). Also, I have never believed in Christmas/New Year as being a break. Over the past 10 years, there has always been some deadline on December 31st (my husband being stuck every year with conference papers reviews).  The time when I really manage to put things into perspective and make plans is August, before the academic year begins. Wanting to take an energetic, fresh start in the new calender year is irrealistic, at least in a country where it begins by remaining two months under the freezing point. I think I already posted a wish list in August, the “things I want to do this winter”. By mid-winter, what remains of it?

Many things moved on without me. Alex has worked on the pdfs in September, on the collation this month (it will take me the whole time I have left in this vacation to sort out the e-mail he just sent in that regard), on the Boeckh platform (hoping to have a prototype by the end of January), on the question of networks, their analysis and representation, the work on the relationships.

Sabine and Anna have been teaching a new group of students how to encode after our guidelines. Sabine managed the metadata section last Wednesday, so that they are now all set to encode metadata and body of their documents. In the meantime, other students from the Free University have been working with them as well.

With so many people working with our guidelines, we really have to settle on one of the last problematic part: the seals and envelopes.

I might as well just write we have to sort out Pandora’s box.

So seals and envelopes as a crux, hmm. Let me explain. I think the time and energy display/result ratio basically speaks for an economical solution (describing their look and content, and concentrating our effort on the connection between text and image). But this point of view encounters massive resistance within my group. Sabine is dissatisfied with adding the envelope to the category <accMat>, considering that it is not additional material, but part of the materiality of the letter itself (most of the time, the page was written on on the recto, folded and the verso served as an envelope). Not to speak of Anna’s wish to work on a thoroughly genetic scale, which would mean that we deal with each scanned page of handwritten manuscript in the exact same way. This is certainly logical, and would be a must if we were an Academy project running 20 years. But pragmatism will probably have the last word here. Half of our funding time has now elapsed, and we still don’t have a single manuscript page more than in October, where we only added a few students’ works from the summer.

I still struggle for a good balance between scholarly quality in the detail and text mass on the quantitative scale. You could call that a conflict between close reading and distant reading, but it is also a question of whom we write for. What is it worth to put things online that are “unfinished”? What is it worth to believe you can ever “finish” something before you put it online? If we were living in an ideal world, it would be clear what the minimal requirements for digital scholarship are. You would have to reach those, and the rest would be improved and extended by whomever would be competent/interested. We don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where scholarly work is considered a commercial possession and open access is only a dream, where many assume they know better than you what a diplomatic transcription is worth and how it should be done, where the interface between research and archives remains an institutional challenge. And so, spending a good part of my work time dealing with this kind of issues, I don’t have time to actually work on the texts.

So let me sum up my wish list: reading, writing.

That will be it, thank you.


Nikolaus, right on time

December is a good month to be a French living in Germany. First, we had a beautiful snowfall all morning, and I granted myself the pleasure of walking through Tiergarten instead of taking public transportation between 8:30 an 9:00 (bike is not an option any more, for a few weeks at least). Crisp air, still a few birds trying to convince themselves that  it is not that cold, fresh snow under the feet – nothing to do with the cold rain of Paris. What do I want from this day, I asked myself. I want to get some real, good, solid work done, something palpable.

My expectations were met and even outreached. I had an application sent out, and joyfully sent out, with as low hopes as possible concerning its chances of being successful (I am really taking a weird turn with this application mania). Then, after getting pressured for a paper due a few days ago and for which I thought I would still have 10 days, I miraculously managed to write almost half of it in 3 hours. And in between those, I was delivered a huge box, so big I would in no way have been able to carry it myself. It contained, two weeks ahead of schedule, 54 copies of volume 2 of my collection.

(Even the dinosaur is interested, see!)

This book contains mainly, but not only, the papers from the German-French doctoral Workshop I had organized with Iwan d’Aprile in June 2011. It  considers today’s operability of French-German cultural transfers, based on case studies. Which branches of research operate with that concept today, which fields are still open to that kind of approach? We had onboard German Literature Studies, French Literature Studies, Comparative Literature Studies, History, History of Art. The scholarly horizon is very diverse, and yet such big figures as Alexander von Humboldt or Adelbert von Chamisso are to be encountered in several papers.

Preparing the book took over a year and showed once again the extreme difficulty of bringing together different disciplines – and the difficulty of bringing together the German and the French way of writing papers. The papers are all in German, but preceded by an abstract in French. The three directors of publications have also mastered the challenge of writing a good introduction to a book that lives from the variety of the aspects it deals with. Correcting the last, and the next last, and this time it is the last, and the last of the last sets of  proofs drove me and Anna to the edge of blindness and dullness a month or so ago. But obviously, it was worth it, because when I received volume 1 from the press a year ago, I immediately spotted a few typos and have been reluctant to re-open it ever since, while I still haven’t found a single one in volume 2 yet.

December is a good month because of all these gifts coming from everywhere, advent, Nikolaus (that was today). I am really looking forward to see what my Christmas treat will be after all that…(and yes, I know, I have not been very digital lately, but I promise that will improve after tomorrow’s Stammtisch)