DH about DH about DH – and about the German and the French

After the call for participation to the DH workshop / conference/ happening at the German Historical Institute in June in Paris was issued both in French and in German, something (not so weird) happened. The Germans did as instructed: they blogged and posted the reference to their post in the commentaries. The French found a way not to do exactly what they were asked to, but what was more convenient to them. I must admit I am germanized enough to have taken part in the German organized part, and not so much in the “let’s talk together” French part. As a matter of fact, I published one of the very few blog posts written in French.

The announcement consisted in an official call for blogging in German (Aufruf zur Blogparade), while the French title was more loosely formulated: “Appel à contribution“. Still, the call (even in French) mentioned explicitly which communication means were to be used: collective texts written on pads or wikis, blog entries, Zotero or Diigo selections, Scoop it or Storify pages, audiovisual media, drawings, podcasts, movies. But this wide scale of options didn’t prevent the debate to develop in the parallel universe of the DH-fr mailing list instead.

While some were so overwhelmed by the sudden activity and exchange, occasioning a wave of “please withdraw my address”-emails to the whole list, most of the people I know who are actually on the list follow the debates as closely as they can, even if they don’t themselves write or post. In that sense, the call certainly has overpassed its initial aim, which was to have some persons react. Today, about everybody who is into DH is also in the debate. The link to the list has been tweeted and retweeted since Sunday. One of the most referential contributions has been thankfully published as a blogpost in the aftermath of the discussion, and even translated into English. Day after day, you can see different questions pop and evolve. Yesterday and today for instance, the discussion had mostly to do with the amount of technical skills that should be taught in any DH Master or, for that matter, in any Humanities department altogether.

This is connected to one of the remarks that surprised me when it was made a few days ago. Unsurprisingly, the discussion also revolves around the question whether DH are a discipline (more accurately: should be a discipline) or not. The tension is palpable in the answers: fear of institutionalization on one side, fear of risking one’s career (or their PhD candidates’) on a risky bet on the other. If DH were an accepted discipline, the recognition of programming activities or contributions to databases as scholarly accomplishment would not be such a big deal. As it is, even scholarly blogging is often considered not a real publication…

Now the fear of institutionalization is the part I found interesting. One argument was: If DH were a discipline, the relationships between technicians and researchers would grow into this huge hierarchical gap. Of course, in France, the question of institutionalization has to do with the fact that the sciences are nationally defined. There is a committee for each discipline, hence the disciplines have to exist as such. In Germany, having different denominations for professorships dealing with DH – with a certain specialization like computer philology or digital linguistics, etc. – does not seem to be a problem.

So, to come back to my point, would it really be so that if DH were a discipline, the researchers would despise the technicians more? Really, I don’t know what can lead to that assessment. It is so obvious that there can be no DH without technicians – I count myself as one of the least possible technicised Digital Humanists – that it would rather seem to me that a disciplinary structure would, on the contrary, allow the technicians to have the values of their skills actually recognized. You would be able to include them in funding applications without hiding the positions under vague descriptions. It is precisely from the institutional point of view that it would seem a rather good idea to me. Now there are obviously other aspects to take into account too. And the difference between the French and the German system. As always, I am trying to grab the best ideas in each one of them…

When answered the question “If you could change one thing, what would it be?” at the ALLEA symposium yesterday, Claudine Moulin answered “that DH people stop asking themselves what DH are or should be and just do it”. There is something refreshing about this answer, especially in the context of the French discussion. But it is only understandable as a second answer. The one answer that was given right before by the other speaker, Peter Doorn, was in fact: “make the fear of the digital go away”. Because you can’t deny that the fear is there, within the community for the recognition of its scholarly value, and outside of it, be it only when hearing the words “digitization” and “internet”.

(Did I mention already that DH are not digitization programs? Really, I did? Well, I do it again then…)

Allons enfants de #dhiha5! (un but pour la France)

De tous les aspects à propos desquels je pourrais m’épancher sur la facon dont articuler situation de jeune chercheur et recherche en humanités numériques, il y en a une qui me tient particulièrement à coeur: la question de la langue.

Jamais communauté scientifique ne m’est autant apparu comme une communauté que celle des humanités numériques. Au-delà des disciplines, au-delà des frontières linguistiques, les échanges se poursuivent, se croisent, par twitter interposé, par blog interposé. Cela ne fonctionne vraiment que parce que chacun apporte plusieurs compétences linguistiques. Ce n’est pas un hasard si je poste cette contribution sur mon carnet anglophone: dans cette Babel numérique, chacun s’exprime dans différentes langues, et au moment de tout mettre ensemble – on passe par l’anglais.

L’anglais est une langue souple, fluide, drôle, facile à manier (j’en ai déjà parlé ici). Mais la manier en ne la maîtrisant pas parfaitement finit par l’aplatir et réduire ses subtilités, bref, en faire une langue dans laquelle on communique plus qu’on ne pense. C’est ce qui se passe inéluctablement dans le domaine des humanités numériques lorsque des gens comme moi se mettent dans la tête de blogger en anglais pour toucher un public plus vaste.

Il faut tenir compte de cette faiblesse en se confrontant à l’anglais comme langue scientifique. Comment trouver une attitude constructive, qui n’en fasse pas un repoussoir, sans tomber pour autant dans le tout-anglais? Le corrélat vaut aussi: comment soutenir et favoriser de manière pertinente une culture du multilinguisme?

Pour les jeunes chercheurs, c’est aussi une question stratégique. Vaut-il mieux publier en anglais quelque chose qui sera moins fin que si je le publiais dans ma langue maternelle, où cela ne sera lu que par 3 personnes? Est-il bien raisonnable d’envisager de ne pas trancher et vouloir présenter une version anglaise et une version en langue maternelle de ses travaux? Qui a le temps de dédoubler sa pensée en deux langues, aussi intéressante que soit, ponctuellement, l’expérience?

Le cleo fait des efforts considérables pour offrir un point d’accueil ouvert à ce genre de démarches, et permettre d’expérimenter avec des formes multilingues. Cela reste du domaine de l’expérimentation, qui fonctionne d’autant mieux que nous sommes dans une phase de mouvement, d’auto-définition du domaine. Mais à un moment, un modèle finira par s’établir, et de préférence, un modèle qui ne laisse pas des grappes de post-doc sur le bord de la route parce qu’ils ont fait les mauvais choix stratégiques. Mais lesquels sont les bons? On ne peut pas encore savoir si s’investir dans un blog en anglais (ca prend du temps) est un bon ou un mauvais choix, en l’état. On peut juste spéculer et espérer (et, croisant de temps en temps ses lecteurs, se dire qu’ils existent vraiment, c’est déjà ca).

Comme le disait (en anglais) Frédéric Clavert dans son blog hier, il y a un problème de reconnaissance de la part de la communauté nativement anglophone en humanités numériques. Peut-être pourrait-on réfléchir à de nouvelles facons d’envisager les relations des départements d’humanités numériques aux États-Unis, au Canada, en Angleterre avec ceux des pays non nativement anglophones. Parce qu’il ne suffit pas de suivre des anglophones sur twitter pour pouvoir écrire en anglais. Seriously.

People who like seeing mice in the subway

Since I have been fairly untrue to this blog over the past week(s), I took a quick look at the keywords that drive most readers here. The quick look turned out to be edifying. “Interesting blogs on digital edition” is the first hit (thank you!), followed by “lettres de paris dans les annees 1800” (don’t have any), “caroline von humboldt prize” (which I received 3 years ago), “facts on intellectuals 1800” (that, we have plenty of), “18th century german script” (probably the most stable hit along time), then “sophia zeil” (new on my team, more info on her here), and I give you the next one: “people who like seeing mice in the subway”.

I really do like observing mice in the subway. Yesterday, I saw one with incredibly dark hair while I was waiting for the U7 at Yorckstrasse. More importantly, I don’t deny that the blog post “N.N.(mouse over) (on the subway tracks)” was worth reading. It dealt with a question still unsolved, the short IP of my edition – should it be called just “www.berlinintellectuals.de”? “berlinerintellekuelle”, just “intellectuals”? I have postponed answering it as long as I don’t have a solution to the long time archiving /accessibility of the edition. This worry is growing bigger along time, for two reasons. First, I don’t know what my affiliation will be in 2, 4, 6 years, and I would like to find a stable hosting solution that guarantees not only that my data stay safe, but also that we will  still be able to display them in 2, 4, 6 – even 12 years. I am considering migrating to the TextGrid Repository to that end. The other reason why the topic is getting hotter is that there have now been 3, 4 persons considering more or less seriously to publish the unedited material they work on in my edition. I can to some extent risk working in a only half stable environment when it is all my responsibility and my team providing for content, but I can’t afford (at least according to my personal work ethics) leaving anything in the blur when it comes to hosting somebody else’s work.

As hot as the topic is, I have not had so much time to deal with it seriously. These have been busy, busy days. Last week, I attended a TextGrid meeting at the MPIWG and this week, I co-organized a workshop at the Centre Marc Bloch (I blogged about it in French, see post 1 and post 2, and if you really want to know what happened, check the hashtag #dhcmb on twitter – my prezi is available as well). We had Wikipedian Marcus Cyron come to the class and talk with us (I will eventually blog about it there). I have had money awarded by the Faculty to go on with the Boeckh project: we can now think about a workflow allowing us to enrich kalliope data and feed it in our platform as well as in kalliope.  We will finally get online with the new layout (hopefully at the beginning of May – the titles look fine now :-)) and Alex has already sent us the info so that we can reshape our headers according to the new architecture, which has new entries for each file  (“type of text” and “topic”) that we had not encoded before.

And the 2 DH-related workshops I am working on are beginning to look good as well. Sophia has prepared a first of the flyer for June, 28th – I will post it as soon as the whole DH-Berlin-circle has agreed on that. Technique and catering are completely organized, I still have to send some invitations for chairing, etc., but our guest speakers are in already. Soon, it will only be about the fun part – exchanging ideas, learning, putting things in perspective. In perspective and on paper, too, as we (the organizers) have planned to meet on the day after the workshop in order to write the results down.

As for the Digital Letter Edition workshop of May 2014, I have finally managed to begin re-writing the accompanying paper with the big ideas and questions., so that I hope to be able to send the last invitations soon.

No time for encoding, but there are only that many fronts I can be active on in parallel…

 

Being a team again (a 1000-piece-puzzle)

Not only summer has replaced winter within 24 hours, but we are operational again, we as a team. The last position (contract for a student as a studentische Hilfskraft) that was vacant since Maike changed universities is now filled with Sophia Zeil. Which makes us – still – a bunch of girls, but with an amazing encoding task force. Sabine and Julia are taking care of the Boeckh project. Sophia is helping Sabine and Anna out with the Chamisso corpus as well. Besides being our drama encoding specialist, Johanna is getting better every day at commenting Tieck’s letters and will transcribe and encode those that are still missing together with me. Even Selma is beginning – as I write this – to encode her Helmina von Chézy text. Corpus! Corpus! If I were not held up by my daily business and the 2 volumes I have to finish until July, I would be encoding much more actively myself as well. But an end to those 2 books (at least to one of them) is in sight.

Of course, I was worried that the group would turn from a genuinely literary project with a slight historical touch to a sheer editorial enterprise, albeit a digital one. During the first two years of the project, we have been developing the different focuses and embracing with them new scholarly domains, history of science and gender literary studies mainly. We discovered new methodological tools and concepts. I learned and learned and as I came to the point that I could add a new piece to the puzzle, the puzzle itself had turned from a 100-piece to a 200-piece one, and so forth. Now I have this huge 1000 piece-puzzle in front of me: in some spots, a shape is recognizable. In others, it is more a big whole.

The conferences we are organizing are here to fill some of these gaps or to precise some elements that are in key positions.

– The first conference will take place in November 2013 and deals with letters as a medium for generation discourses around 1800.

– The second conference – partly more of a workshop, really – will take place in May 2014 and deal with digital editions of letters. I will write more about it soon as I intend to wrap up the call for proposal and send most of the invitations by the end of this week. The title so far: “Digitale Briefeditionen und ihre interpretatorische Leistung. Ontologien, Textgenetik und Visualisierungsstrategien”. A poem in itself, isn’t it?

– But before all of those, and on a completely different register, I am preparing the workshop on DH competence centers in Germany (taking place on June 28th) together with the whole DH-Berlin gang. We are meeting on Friday to define the precise questions we want to address. You can also expect a follow-up on that…

Somehow, now that we are a team again, I only see the fun in all the things I will be able to learn from those conferences/workshops. I almost forget all the organizing pain, thinking only of the puzzle corners that will get filled.

Gniggolb – is blogging from the end to the beginning

When Sebastian Giessmann asked me this morning whether I write my blog posts offline, I answered no without hesitating. It is true in 95% of the cases, but I forgot to mention the one exception, the situation in which I am now:  on the train back from a conference or a workshop, unconnected to the web (no smartphone, no 3G Card, no internet connection through my cell phone: yes, I am old fashioned that way), wanting to sort out my impressions before they have begun to fade.

The workshop “Wissenschaftliches Bloggen in Deutschland: Geschichte, Perspektiven, praktische Umsetzung“ was the first opportunity that was given to me so far to talk about my own scholarly blogging. I remember admiring Melissa Terras when she gave her keynote in Munich in March 2012. She spoke of her blog as something that contributes greatly to her digital identity, but spoke of it in a perspective that was by then out of my reach, too far away from/ahead of my own blogging practice. A year later, preparing my own talk, I sensed that the mass does it: the mass of blog posts I published, the mass of retweets that make me feel that I write to be read, the time elapsed. Only this made it possible for me to perceive the shifts that happened within the blog. The shift from technical questions to more infrastructural or theoretical ones in particular, which lead to the blog overtaking a different function: it does not accompany the project any more like the header says. It does make it move forward. Hence the title of the paper I gave in Würzburg: scholarly blogging as a kind of maieutics.

This has become natural to me after a year and a half of blogging during which I have managed to rediscover the sheer pleasure of writing – only tainted every now and then by the frustration of reaching my linguistic limits in the use of the English language. Things seemed different to the people who attended the workshop. Many of them were PhD candidates or post-docs. For some reason, I had figured that they attended the workshop with some kind of juvenile enthusiasm for an open writing form. But the dominant attitude was more reluctant than I had thought; they were interested in blogging, but not completely ready to blog themselves. One can say: it is normal that people who are not “established” worry about rights, licensing, giving away their ideas – things I never worried about, having begun to blog at a point when my publication list was a fairly thick safety net already. But one could also say, as Christof pointed it out to me, that there is a palpable pressure on the younger generation to use the new media, but they are still unsure what they should do about or with it. Incidentally, the call for participation for #dhiha5 was tweeted in the middle of the discussion this morning, asking partly the same questions.

I love writing, have always had, and mostly suffered from being prisoner of the traditional scholarly formats for years. Blogging was a liberation to me. I have the greatest difficulty to relate to the anxiety of the question: “Why should I write, what should I write about?”, but it seems to really be one of the major inhibitions that has to be overwhelmed in order to really adhere to blogging – at great inner cost  for most people, even those who consider scholarly blogging a decent activity. Communication at all price – is that the big idea of web-based scholarship? Or at large, it that what Digital Humanities are about?

Of course, Digital Humanities in Germany are standing elsewhere than they do in the US or in Great Britain, and I probably would have written this post in German if I had not promised to Sebastian and Christof to write in English in order – as usual – to make this workshop known behind the German blogo- and tweetosphere. Because the real question here is what German Humanities expect from their PhD candidates’ blogging. How does this make sense at all in the actual structure of German Humanities? If these young scholars begin to blog actively, will it be a helpful signal, strong enough to help Digital Humanities get a better recognition? And if it does, will it really help DH become something that is not only about communication tools? Do we want DH to become a recognized method for all branches of the Humanities or do we want DH to become a discipline? Are we lost for philology because we do DH?

The answer to the last question I know very well: certainly not. But it will take time – maybe ten years – to convince the majority of the community of German literary studies of that, to judge by my actual situation. At best, it is considered like something I do additionally to my real work. At worst, it is considered like it prevents me to do my real work. On the 50 to 60 hours I work per week, I am more than happy if I have 20 to do research in any form (and I really don’t teach much). Maybe it would make more sense to ask first how that comes, because it is a much more fundamental problem of the high school system than wondering about the hour and a half I spend blogging while sipping my Sunday coffee.

The answer to the other question – should DH be a transdisciplinary toolbox, or a discipline – I don’t know. Does anyone?