Isn’t that a bit geeky? – Yes!

Guest posting by Sabine Seifert!

After two years of dealing with digital editions and the TEI, the DH 2012 conference in Hamburg felt like a class reunion (but a good one!): A lot of my former teachers and fellow students from workshops and summer schools were there, and it was amazing to see how their projects developed or what new projects they started in the meantime. There is, for example, the Berlin-based edition of texts by Georg Greflinger that will compare different print versions and plans to work with crowd encoding. Questions of collation and crowd sourcing in our own project are still open. Of course, looking at other project’s workflows and ideas to solve problems was interesting and helpful for us.

We also had the opportunity to talk to Peter Stadler from the Weber-Gesamtausgabe about the pros and cons of embedding information from Wikipedia in a scholarly edition. The Weber-Gesamtausgabe does not link to other pages like PND, ADB and Wikipedia but rather automatically includes these information in their own webpage. This made us rethink our own indices of people, works etc. and whether it would be more efficient to cut back on filling them, import these data – if possible (like name variants, date and place of birth and death etc.), and invest more time in actually encoding our texts.

In our poster, we emphasized and contrasted the two possibilities of reading the transciption of our manuscripts: the diplomatic version and the reading version. We want to address scholarly research as well as the interested public. (And by the way, both versions are generated from the same TEI document. Thus, our encoding guidelines have to take into account both forms of editing and displaying the transcribed text.) Until now – and we are still a bit surprised – we have never fully noted that this seems to be rarely done in digital editions. None of the projects that were presented at the conference and deal with editing manuscripts/printed texts use this advantage of the digital medium in contrast to a printed edition. (Please correct me if I’m wrong and missed one – it was a BIG conference, you know.) Online-editions of letters or works like the Weber-Gesamtausgabe, the Heinrich-Heine-Portal or the Van Gogh Letters don’t seem to be interested in presenting their transcriptions in a diplomatic and in a reading version. Searching for digital editions with similar interests to our own, we came across the edition of Alfred Escher’s letters that offers an edited text (of the printed edition) as well as a diplomatic text. Of course, we are delighted by that and will definitely have a closer look!

Five days, many talks and presentations and approximately 500 cups of coffee later we headed back home with our heads filled with new ideas and concepts. We hope to see you all again – no, probably not in Nebraska next year unless there is another student bursary – but at one of the other (European) DH and TEI conferences!

Hamburger Impressions! #dh2012

Here are Sabine, Anna and Alex standing by our fabulous poster this morning. I hope you appreciate the way the 2 arrows point towards the ladies, their enthusiastic smiles and their huge name tags!

Like a blind dog

Almost all the team has spread around. Anna, Sabine and Alex are in Hamburg, where they presented our edition this morning; Johanna and Janin are doing an internship at the German Historical Institute in Paris. Maike has been copying and scanning for 2 days now. I have been cleaning my real desk as well as my virtual desktop while checking on the #dh2012 tweets all day. A book for which I wrote a paper when I was pregnant (one might as well say ages ago) was finally published. Where is it that I am standing exactly?

I know what I would do if I could do just what I want. I would increase my corpora (starting by incorporating the Boeckh data), work on a more solid data architecture, develop a serious German-French interface, think about network visualizations. For one.  And for the other: I would write, seriously, this book that is waiting to be written by me, still existing only in some kind of mental limbo.

Always having hot irons setting your priorities, you end up never doing the things that are not due tomorrow. The list of the things long due but never so urgent that they would come on top of the to-do-list has come to build such a  huge stack that it is impossible for me to go on closing my eyes on it like I have done for years. I have kept on adding to it – and it is what I would do if I started working on the edition and on my book, like a blind dog sniffing a yummy reward at the end of the tunnel.

I admit that it is part of the academic game to be able to live with an invisible burden of due and overdue papers, books and contributions of all sorts, just as it is part of the game to manage to keep it just the tolerable weight. I dream of finishing one thing before starting 3 others, have been dreaming so since I got my PhD (still not published: big burden number one). Would I feel the urge to start so many new projects if I had a permanent position, if I knew I would still be able to do this or that project in 5 years for sure? Maybe, maybe not. I have not given a talk in six months, won’t give classes in the next semester, have been trying to concentrate on what is running already. But the pleasure of seeing my work gain consistency has always been stronger than the urge to get closure on the various long due volumes, papers, etc.

One week ago, I realized that my mid-project report is due on the fall. When summing up for myself what we will have reached during the past 2,5 years, I thought now would be the time to take 6 months to finish the old projects before starting with the new ones. Because we already have achieved a lot, more in fact  than I thought we would have by mid-project. Of course, I will write the necessary applications that will make sure that things go on in six months. But I will have to take all the steps back, like an intellectual psychoanalysis of some sort, from the things due a year ago, to those due 2 years ago, and so forth. Hopefully I will reach the bottom of my working soul before the year is over.  That would be my dissertation. Thinking of it makes me shudder and want to quote Schiller just as Freud did: Es freue sich, wer da atmet im rosigen Licht! Probably true for the blind dog, too.


Dear people of Hamburg!

Take a glimpse at our fabulous poster, which you should really not miss (the conversion into jpg darkened the background, but I hope you still have a chance to get the big idea):

Looking forward to reading all the #dh2012 tweets!

Exit Medea

An end is in sight. An end to this hell of a semester, I mean. Today was the last session of the class I gave with Selma on the myth of Medea and its (mainly German) reception.

At first, we wanted to give a class on the myth of Antigone after the same pattern (from Sophocles to modern adaptations), but since there was an MA-class on that topic, we thought it would be better if we would not offer the exact same topic in the BA. I pleaded for Cassandra, but we finally settled on Medea. The idea to involve a work by Christa Wolf appealed to us. And our institute has a long history of Medea-classes – Inge Stephan wrote a book  and gave classes on it, Selma even intended one of those while she was a student.

I have already worked on translations, adaptations and transposition of antique narratives in modern times and I thought we would be able to work out the material in that very way with Medea as well: putting myth theory and texts together, spotting intertextuality, looking at how the literary and historical context modifies the lecture and/or (re)writing of the myth. Most of all, I thought that this would fill the class. Obviously I had no idea what Medea actually is about.

The texts the class was based on (apart from the theoretical ones) were Euripides’ play, Seneca’s play, Lessing’s Miß Sara Sampson, Grillparzer’s play, Hans Henny Jahnn’s play and Christa Wolf’s novel. Not only did each version bring its lot of  agglomerated violence (special mention to Hans Henny Jahnn in that regard!), but the fact that these were dramas (the staging of “voices” in Christa Wolf’s version has at least partly the same effect) seemed to multiply by a tenfold the possible projections in the play’s characters. The final session today showed how extremely personally the students reacted to the class. “At first I thought she was only this horrible mother who kills her own kids, but in the end I had some sympathy for her / I pitied her / I understood her”, were the kind of sentences we heard. On the one hand, it shows that the students were able to make a move against their natural moral judgement (good!), on the other hand, it also shows how difficult it is to put any kind of distance when the content is either too close to oneself or close to such a borderline phenomenon that our subconscious perceives the relief, or interest of merely speculating about it – or, I suppose, the pleasure you can get from it.

That was my main problem in this class. The fun factor was drastically reduced by the weekly confrontations with new forms of violence adding to the version Euripides has transmitted, which is not specially light-handed to begin with. Every week, we had to face the asking of the question what a good mother is, what can excuse the inexcusable, as if Medea was an actual person and not a character. The discussion took such a turn that it felt like we had to deal with real people and not drama characters. This figure, Medea, turned out to impress our students so much, their ability to read a drama as a literary construction was so blinded by the sheer idea of Medea, that we were not able to provide for the necessary distance, for what the class should have been about. Week after week, 30 Medeas waited for us on Tuesdays, eager to know why they would kill their kids. Or not. Or would?

Hence my piece of advice: if you have 2 young kids like I do, and the class you intend to teach is about 2 young kids being assassinated by their mother, think it over before you actually commit to repeating the murder scene over and over 15 weeks long.