Another next step

As term has reached its end, I would like to provide for some orientation in the mind map that seems to have drawn itself over the past months to guide me ahead.

First, to the good news: Sabine Seifert is now working at the Fontane Archive in Potsdam and Melanie Siemund at the Academy of Sciences in Vienna, both in exciting projects with no less exciting perspectives. I really hope to host guest posts by them on this blog when time has come (project presentation, conference report and the like). This will be one step towards enlarging the Berlin focus.

Apart from that, I will be travelling a lot this fall and winter and am very much looking forward to the contacts and exchanges of ideas in Germany, France, Austria and the UK. It always does good to one’s research to be shaken a bit by perspectives from the outside. The reasons for me travelling  are: editions (and, yes, digital editions, a lot), textual scholarship, the concept of “the intellectual”, my favorite authors, DH in general. All very good reasons to leave my home desk, really. Continue reading “Another next step”

Writing with two hands

When you have to finalize and deliver papers only to see them fall into a black whole for months, if not years, once they are in the hands of the editors, you should be thinking of those moments when the harvesting suddenly drops on you for no apparent reason. This is happening to me quite unexpectedly. The Solger volume edited with Mildred Galland-Szymkowiak is in print, the wikipedia paper written with Christof Schöch has emerged from a long editorial hibernation, and last but not least the paper with Mareike König as well as the one with Franziska Heimburger were published today, both to be found online in the volume “Geschichte machen in Frankreich“. Continue reading “Writing with two hands”

#dhberlin strikes back – and efficiently

I had announced there would be some tweeting during this morning’s meeting and – nada. That’s what happens when you take notes on a piece of paper because things go too fast for even a tweet. Two persons taking minutes in a googledoc, two persons moderating, 14 or so persons discussing. In two hours, we did not do anything but move on. I learned today that you need not to be totally focused if you want to have enough brain left to tweet…

It was a somehow constitutive session of the Berlin DH-circle (or DH Berlin-circle, we still have to settle on a name), which I mentioned in this december post and in that one. The first of its aims was that everyone could get to know the whole group in a way more lively than common emailing. Almost everyone managed to come, which was certainly the first astonishing thing about it (at least for me as the organizer) and a first hint at how everyone takes it seriously. It was interesting to see, during this presentation round, how various the profiles of the participants are and yet how we all share common experiences connected to one digital project or another – and how naturally generic questions could hence emerge: best practice, long time archiving and availability, virtual work environments, big data, standards, repositories and their function, publishing formats, visibility of non-academic institutions… All big Berlin institutions involved in DH activities were represented (more or less officially, but still) by often young, but still very experienced people. The group at some point defined it self as consisting in “text people” and “object people”, but there are enough of them working at the crossroads of text and object to not risk too big a gap there. All in all, when the presentation ended, I had the feeling that it was high time we were being given the opportunity to actually talk together. Which was given us by the next topic.

Markus had added to my fairly dry meeting agenda an “aim of the circle” topic. I really was not able to anticipate what this discussion would turn into. Two aspects emerged from it. First, the necessity to equip ourselves with digital tools that will make it possible to archive our work (interestingly reflecting one the major topics we will probably discuss in the 2 years ahead, e.g. long time archiving and availability) and to present part of it to the outside world. That’s what the first of the three constituted committees will work on. The second committee will deal with the clearly not finished discussion about the aims of the circle. Although we could define a core of objectives, there were divergent opinions as to how theoretical /practical the span of our expectations should be. Best practice recommendations, yes, but maybe, too, a work on how our research practices change by turning digital? Committee number 2 has set a meeting in February.

I tell ya, we won’t have time to get bored until our first workshop (end of June)!

Said workshop aims at discussing what could be the missions of a DH competence center in Berlin. We invited people working in the few existing German DH centers. We want to hear from them how the profile of a DH-center is defined, how it can develop, which can be its missions – actually, it is the job of committee number three (which I pragmatically joined) to define the topics we want to discuss with our guests. This part of the workshop is to be public, so we are thinking about a format that will allow the public to take part – somehow – in the discussion. There will be an aftermath on the next day, but that part will be circle-only. We will then try to put together the good ideas from the day before.

At which point the 2 hours of the meeting were over.

One thing is the amazing energy emanating from this group. I have experienced team work as something energizing when we started the digital edition – but also as something  exhausting in a way that was completely new to me and which may just be due to the fact that I am the boss there. With the DH Berlin-circle, I feel like there is no need to pull or to push, there is moving on together and that’s it. Considering how nervous I was at the idea of chairing a meeting with 15 people instead of the 6 I am used to, it felt really good.

And the other thing is the non less amazing confidence our 2 main sponsors have in us: the INRIA and the Centre Marc Bloch. French doing intellectual networking in Berlin – it is like re-enacting the exact matter of my research, two centuries later. Weird, but fun.


#dhberlin being born for good

Something happened. While I was wrestling with adversity reaching in a grant application promised to doom, juggling with two papers and trying to find a post-doc and the necessary funding for him/her (someone to work on the French corpora of the edition which are still under exploited), it now seems, with less than 10 days to go till Christmas, that this was not vain. One of the papers needs 2 hours, the other 2 days of attention before reaching their final state. The post doc candidate reached in a project entitled “Philosophical networks in Berlin and Brandenburg in the second half of the 18th century. From the mechanisms of theory building to their digital representation” to the foundation of the Berlin Parliament (fingers crossed!).

And most importantly of all, dhberlin seems to become more active every day. I really don’t know what happened there. When I wrote the grant application together with Markus and Georg and emailed people around, it seemed to me that all that I was doing was putting people together who knew of each other already, who had done a lot before – I did not invent anything, just transformed something that existed already into a grant application. I did not sense that it would make a difference to anyone. Beauty of connections coming at the right time: it created a feeling of being part of a critical mass, of being able to move things. Not only for me, for that matter.

On Friday, the workshop “Alexander von Humboldt und die Digital Humanities” proved not only that we do exist as a group (a fifth to a fourth of the attendance having closely to do with the dhberlin project), but also that we are fit for our goals: making everybody being able to talk about infrastructural and research needs. Tobias Kraft had told me at the Stammtisch last week that the Alexander von Humboldt corpus is optimal for a digital approach. He meant that, I realized it on Friday, in the sense that networks are at its core (networks of persons, of publications, of ideas). And also in the sense that several institutions are at work there and should be given new forms of cooperation to make it possible to approach the whole of it.

For an overview of  papers and discussion, check the hashtag #avhdh, intensely fed by Markus and me during the workshop. I learned a lot in all of them, but was particularly impressed by Markus’ brilliant one. Wearing a suit certainly gave him some authority, but most of it came from the way he mastered his paper and the following discussion.

dhberlin existing means at the time being figuring out where, when and how to meet. We will have next week all the info for the January meeting, during which we will prepare the June workshop – for which we have dates and guests, but no satisfactory room yet. So there still is some e-mailing ahead, but also cool business lunches. And Christmas. And then, in the new year, real work together.


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 ( 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…