Never look back?

Some nine months ago, I gave an interview (in French!) to Maud Ingarao. She was preparing a series of papers presenting German DH projects for the French public, so I had the pleasure to come after Christof Schöch and  Torsten Schaßan (excusez du peu). I had the feeling this was a little bit premature considering how foggy the whole concept of the project was. At that point, I had not the feeling that I was managering it, more that is was managering me. But the deal was to have something about a project that was right in the starting blocks.

I was afraid to have changed radically my mind on some crucial topics in the meantime and was somewhat dreading the moment when I would have to face the transcription of the interview. Well, here it is (I added a couple of hyperlinks in the interview text, linking to some relevant blog posts I wrote in between). In many ways, the questions that I considered important then are still important now, even if my answers might now be slightly different – and a few new questions have come on my radar too.

First, there is the question of the relation between paper edition and digital edition. So early in the process of getting digital as March 2011, I still saw as my primary aim to produce books, paper editions. In fact, I think that I did not envision back then how powerful markup can be to sort out larger corpora. Once I started seeing the way we could link the different subcorpora of our digital edition together, I also considered the digital edition on a completely new scale. I still am the boss of a small project. But a small project with an evolving potential to becoming a middle-sized one. (note to self: need to move on seriously on the indexing)

Second, I was baffled when I realized that I did not mention Long Time Archiving at all during the whole interview. It is true, too, that the importance of that aspect of project development only became clear to me during the TEI-conference in Würzburg in October. But then, it revealed immediately its splendor as a long-time malediction – only making me more eager to find a solution involving not only me in my pretty unstable institutional situation, but partners that would still be here when I would be long gone. And here I must say that the recent developments of the cooperation with Michael Seadle and, most of all, with Jutta Weber and the kalliope team, worked out faster than I first thought. We are getting closer to a more than satisfactory solution.

And a third thing that might be worth mentioning here: project management in DH seems to be very different in France and in Germany. So few project managers know about their own TEI schema, understand the logic of the encoding decisions made for their own project in France, while I see a lot of people working on both the technical and the let’s-name-them-philosophical issues in Germany. The two digital cultures that develop in parallel look very different. The reasons for that are probably historical, but I find it worrying when it comes to working out common projects. I already have more and more the feeling to be considered like a technician by the elder generation in my scientific community, probably the younger one will start harvesting a similar feeling soon – as for France, I guess I will pass for a decent ingénieur soon.

Again: you can find our actual project guidelines as an attachment here, probably the best way to know where we stand!

Open Access Schizophrenia

Working with both traditional and digital humanists leads to some schizophrenic moments. Here’s one of the recurring questions I can’t really deal with because, I think, neither answer satisfies me. Who do our ideas belong to and what are they worth?

On the one hand, there is the position of pro-open access. Our original ideas are not actually worth money in themselves, they are worth being recognized by the community. If you are quoted properly, you can only be happy that other people pursue your work in one direction or another. In that logic, you put online all of your publications (see this paper Laurent wrote in connection to the Max Planck Digital Library) . More disturbingly: you put online even the things that are not really finished.What you produce is referred to you through your publication list – in the very second you have made it known to the community as being yours. With typos, missing references, unclean proofs, etc.

On the other hand, you have the copyright-hardliners like Roland Reuß (see the recent article on him or the wikipedia page on the Heidelberger Appell). In that perspective, your work belongs to you and only has to be shared as an untouchable, perfect scientific product that is yours. Open access is hence ruining copyright and diminishing the value of hard science. This position leads to a gesture of retraction on the individual work – we experienced this bitterly enough while preparing our first set of texts (by the way, things are getting closer to reality: an upgraded demo will be online soon and I posted a new version of our project guidelines as an attachment to this page).

I really share the idealistic view of saying that working together, one’s work adding to the others’, actually benefits everybody. But I cannot put together the two pieces of a puzzle with one person telling me “it doesn’t speak for the creativity of the people who need to hide their ideas” and another saying “as long as I don’t have an established position and the necessary recognition, I will not put everything I have out there”. Should it take a professorship to accept open access, to have confidence in yourself (and in the system), to not feel threatened by the wild world?

One thing is sure: we can discuss who and where our ideas belong to, but the texts don’t belong to anyone.
Of course, Philology never fulfilled the promise of its name, never realized the ideal of a common love for the text. Its very history is marked by territorial intellectual fights and there honestly is no reason why open access should in any way solve problems that have been lasting on the discipline for centuries. So what is it we are doing exactly? Fighting over power over texts, fighting over whose text is better?

This last question is not completely meaningless but asked together with the first one, it is depressing. Somehow I wish I was born in a time and place where you could still believe in human progress.

Addendum for the Berlin people: Roland Reuss will speak on December 7th at the FU in the conference series “Im Dickicht der Texte” on Kleist editions.

Additional addition: loved this post about tweeting on open access papers I read on Melissa Terras’ blog!

Good news, everyone!

On November, 17th, something great happened. And by that, I do not mean my paper at the Boeckh conference, which left mostly some unease in the room – due, I guess, to the fundamentals it contained: interdisciplinary work, an edition that selects its elements after precise scientific questions and not after the origin of the documents, and digital on top of it all. Once I had past through the surprise of my flop, I found it an interesting (non-)reaction.

No, the really brilliant moment of that day was the meeting between Jutta Weber, Laurent and me in the morning. It was a peculiar situation to sit beneath two great librarian minds who were talking preservation structures – they lost me in technicalities at some point, I must admit. I was fascinated by the vision they developed within this hour and half.

To me, it was a dream getting a little bit closer to coming true. Those of you who know me (and especially those of you who experienced me at the DFG meeting for Emmy Noether junior research group leaders in July 2011 or within the circle of Berlin der Begegnung in February 2011, which were the two occasions where I talked about it as a project particularly dear to my heart) will probably remember that my ideal aim as a scholar is to bring people closer to archives. To give people (more people than actually do know about it as is) a feeling for what an archive is: the place, the reality of the documents, the carnal relationship to the piece of paper. And I am deeply convinced, as paradoxical as it may seem at first, that online editions displaying digitizations are THE way to reach that aim. People who see manuscripts online are more likely to want to see them for real. To wonder where they are, how they landed there, with what other documents they are surrounded, who is interested in them. To get in touch with our paper history.

So the big plan we started to work on on Thursday morning is a structure where we would synchronize our metadata with those of the Staatsbibliothek (and Kalliope at large), in both directions. The Library would be the warrant for archiving a mass of information with an everlasting valid identification number that would make it possible to have for each document a totally stable reference. The users would be able to benefit from the most up to date input given by the researchers. Isn’t it just the best starting point ever??

I will keep you posted on the developments. Actually, there probably is more to say about it already, but, hey, I”m already in my pajamas!

Berlin, Berlin

A couple of good news to explain my silence these past two weeks (besides the organizing conferences and giving papers thing):

1) The book Netzwerke des Wissens. Das intellektuelle Berlin um 1800, edited by me, is published! You can find more informations here.

2) Yet another Berlin-book: Berlins 19. Jahrhundert. Ein Metropolen-Kompendium (by Roland Berbig, Iwan d’Aprile, Helmut Peitsch, Erhard Schütz) reached my mailbox the exact same day.You can find among the almost 40 papers one by me on Friedrich von Raumer and one by Anna on Hitzig.

I will be giving a talk on Thursday on “Handschriftliches und Digitales von August Boeckh” – I will post it here tomorrow (please polish your German until then).