Editing Modernism in Canada


August 11, 2011

TEMiC – Week 2, Day 4: Energy and Inspiration

This morning’s work can easily be summarized with one word: energy. Our session began with Melissa Dalgleish’s discussion of her current work involving the digitization of the collections of Anne Wilkinson. As part of her discussion, Melissa gave a demonstration of an alpha version of her digital interface. I was not alone in being impressed with the elegant, clean, and extensible qualities of the few pages she demonstrated. She also addressed some of the challenges she faces, such as how she intends to label her project (since “archive” and “edition” seem to be misnomers, and “collection” and “collected” both seem insufficient), how she plans to prioritize and organize her data (at which point Melissa re-iterated her principle of modularity; that is, to work with smaller projects that can be incorporated into a larger architecture), and what to do with the vast raw material she has at her disposal.

From Melissa’s engaging talk, our group quickly branched out into a larger discussion of the issues and complexities surrounding digital humanities. Matt Huculak, Dean Irvine, and Zailig Pollock all contributed their vast expertise to the conversation. Zailig highlighted the opportunities stemming from digital representation of original manuscripts, and specifically offered kind words for Melissa’s project and her rationale. Matt stressed the importance of working with reproductions of your original files, while Dean encouraged us to re-consider how we manage our workflow, asking us to take a scientific approach and to offload raw data onto databases, rather than rely on our own machines for data storage. Extending this line of thinking, Dean talked about SourceForge and GitHub, two portals for dissemination of and collaboration with beta versions of software. He reminded us of the importance of sharing our groundwork, so that future scholars needn’t re-invent the wheel every time we begin a new markup project. He pointed to a number of resources, including Juxta, the Versioning Machine, and a proof-of-concept transparency viewer at MITH.

We also talked about the culture surrounding academic work and the spirit of collaboration that typifies the EMiC experience. During the conversation, we all agreed that there is very much a feeling of ‘stumbling around in the dark’ in regards to digital humanities scholarship, which could be remedied (or at least addressed) by further collaboration. However, we also acknowledged that many scholars involved in EMiC already have ample demands upon their time and resources. We brainstormed the possibility of some form of EMiC mentorship program, wherein an experienced scholar or researcher could be asked to mentor a new member of the EMiC community. In this scenario, new members would not only learn the skills already acquired by more senior EMiC community members, but also benefit from the comfort of knowing that it is alright (and normal!) not to start from a position of expertise; indeed, that EMiC’s membership comprises all sorts of skill levels and competencies.

Our afternoon was a lot more free-wheeling. The session opened with a discussion of the idea of co-authorship, and Deans’ sketches for a plan for establishing standards, again drawing upon the scientific model for inspiration. Zailig then talked specifically about his experiences on his various editorial projects, and how he operated as a member of an editorial board, and his views on the role of junior scholars on these boards. He then discussed some other editorial projects, citing what he felt worked well and what didn’t.

Dean then postulated the creation of an EMiC Editions in order to avoid the label of EMiC projects becoming “coterie publications.” He suggested implementing a peer-review process in order to lend more credence to the work produced by EMiC scholars. However, since over a hundred researchers are now involved in EMiC across Canada, he realizes that arms-length peer-review becomes difficult. He suggested that EMiC might need to cultivate relationships with other Modernist organizations, specifically in the United States (although I imagine he would extend his vision globally as well). This, he believes, will foster a greater level of respectability for EMiC, cultivate a common vocabulary for assessment, and create a de-centred model for digital humanities scholarship. In the process of introducing this idea, Dean talked a bit about the history of EMiC, how it has developed as a network and the ways it has evolved since its inception.

Finally, Dean talked about how to fund our research projects. He spoke at length about the idea of leveraging the resources already at our disposal, such as cultural capital and organizational affiliations, and how to use these (and many, many other) resources to succeed in securing funding.

We covered a lot of ground in the afternoon, and I found my mind bouncing from topic to topic. Not that I wasn’t interested in our conversation: in fact, the opposite was true! Again and again, I was jotting down all kinds of notes, half-formed ideas, twists, turns and re-imaginings I might want to incorporate into my own research – and all from the discussion that was generated today! It was fantastic to share the air with EMiC’s zeitgeist incarnate. Dean’s vitality is infectious, and the enthusiasm he imparts, coupled with Zailig’s immense experience and knowledge, and Matt’s incredible expertise, has me feeling inspired, energized, and eager to dive into my research!

Suffice to say, our morning energy carried through to the end of the day, and is likely to carry me forward as I make my way back to New Brunswick at the end of the week, and beyond…

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