With the support of EMiC I have attended DHSI as a student from the very beginning and have learned an enormous amount – only part of my huge debt to EMiC over the years.
In the course of my years at DHSI, I believe I have set two precedents: I am the first person to have retired since joining EMiC and I am the first EMiCite to have graduated from the status of student to instructor.
Previous to teaching this year’s DHIS/DEMiC course I had taught TEMiC in Peterborough, but while that course dealt to some extent with digital editing its primary focus was editorial theory. The course this year grew out of a text/image tool for genetic editing which Josh and I are in the process of developing (see Chris Doody’s post, The Digital Page: Brazilian Journal ). The course did not focus on this tool, however: its focus was on the XSLT which is the backbone of the tool, and the collaborative process that went into developing it.
We had originally intended to call the course Every Batman Needs a Robin (a bow to another, very successful digital humanities collaboration involving Mike DiSanto and Robin Isard) but we soon realized that this would misrepresent the true nature of our non-hierarchical working relationship. We considered Every Batman Needs an Alfred but that seemed a bit esoteric.
Although Josh and I worked very closely together in planning the course, I was very much his assistant in teaching it, since his mastery of XSLT far exceeds mine. But this was a central thrust of the course. If digital humanists are to succeed in their projects, unless they are highly experienced programmers themselves – which few are, or have the time or inclination to become – it is necessary to establish a strong, personal, longstanding relationship with a developer. Our experience, and the experience of other digital humanist/developer teams, is that the project will take shape as a result of this collaboration, and the shape that it will take is often very different than what the digital humanist who initiated the project had in mind.
My role in the course was twofold: to help students out with the numerous hands-on exercises which we had devised for them (I wasn’t nearly as good at this as Josh) and to act as a kind of stand-in for the students, asking for clarification or repetition of points that were blindingly obvious to Josh but perhaps less so for the non-programmers amongst us. I was obviously much better at this than Josh was.
We had a very wide range of students in the course – from Master’s students to a Professor Emeritus – with a similarly wide range of projects, skills and aptitudes. But, judging by our interactions with the students and the student evaluations we struck a pretty good balance.
Certainly, from my point of view teaching such a committed and intelligent group of students who seem to have genuinely appreciated the work we put into the course, and doing so with my son (we didn’t fight once!) was a great experience – a real high point of my career and life.
I was very pleased to hear, then, that we have been asked to return with the course next year. So one of my many debts to EMiC, as it comes to its appointed end, is that my association with it has marked a new beginning for me – as a DHSI instructor.
It has been a busy couple of weeks: Congress at Brock University, then DEMiC/DHSI 2014 at the University of Victoria, and a week to process both. The combination has emphasized my schizophrenic academic identity. At Congress, I attended the Canadian Society for Renaissance Studies, the Bibliographical Society of Canada, and the Canadian Society for the Study of Book Culture; at DHSI, although year-after-year part of me gazes longingly at Helene Cazes’s course on the “Pre-Digital Book,” I took the course on “A Collaborative Approach to XSLT” with my longtime collaborator Zailig Pollock and his son Josh, a project manager for Microsoft — in which we were exposed to an extraordinary combination of editorial experience and technical expertise.
Strange as it seems, all of these are absolutely central to my teaching and research. I am currently cutting the manuscript of the selected letters of E.J. Pratt, after which I will be revamping the digital complete letters site originally published in 1998-2002 (http://www.trentu.ca/pratt). This Fall, I will be teaching both Renaissance literature and the “core” course in the Public Texts M.A. Program at Trent University on book culture and book history, a course which surveys “the material and social production of texts and their circulation in relationship to publics, focusing on technological and social practices and the circulation of texts, from preliterate orality through the development of literacy and print to contemporary digital media.” In my own research, I work both with early printed books and digital media. I study records of aristocratic and civic entertainments for Elizabeth I and how they intersect with canonical literature, but I am also an editor of the public and private writing of Canadian modernists — A.M. Klein, E.J. Pratt, and P.K. Page. (The modernists do love initials!) Oddly enough, I do not see this as contradictory. In both cases, I am fascinated with the potential of digital media to preserve the original “material” text and make it available to contemporary readers — to convey the “text” (and “paratext”) in the diverse forms in which it has been “published.” As Zailig Pollock is perhaps Canada’s premier “genetic” editor, this was very much a focus of the course he and his son Josh taught at this year’s DHSI. His own TEI coding and Josh’s XSLT style-sheets are designed to display P.K. Page ‘s composition process — the evolution of the work and its published forms. It is no great surprise that three of the students in his class are editing portions of Page’s “complete works” — Chris Doody, the Brazilian Journals; Emily Ballantyne, the non-fictional prose; and myself, the fiction. However, while we saw what could be done with pages from P.K. Page’s Brazilian Journal, the coding we did before, and then in, class was tied to one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. In both cases, the facsimile is linked to genetic display, and the model is infinitely transferable. That is where the excitement lies.
Many of the blogs posted during and after DEMiC/DHSI have commented on collaboration and community. Since the early 1990s, I have been extremely lucky to have been involved as an editor in “complete works” projects — collaborative projects in which each editor built on the work of those who came before. In these projects, the “letters” volume tends to comes last, so that the editor can allude to volumes containing the published works. However, much of this “collaboration” is after-the-fact. One of the most important features of EMiC has been the development of a wide-ranging community of scholars working on editorial projects related to “modernism” in Canada; and DHSI has augmented that community to include “digital” media. I have attended one TEMiC and two DEMiC/DHSI summer institutes, and the community of scholars to whom I have been introduced has enriched my work in ways which are harder to quantify but extremely productive. In the joint session of two of this year’s DHSI courses — “Online Collaborative Scholarship: Principles and Practices” (a “CWRCshop” taught by Susan Brown et al) and “A Collaborative Approach to XSLT” (sponsored by EMiC and taught by Zailig and Josh Pollock) — the point was made that face-to-face contact changes the game. It really does! Thank you to Zailig and Josh Pollock, Chris Doody and Emily Ballantyne, James Neufeld, Anouk Lange, Karis Shearer, Helene Cazes, Michael Ullyot, Dean Irvine and Alan Stanley, and all the rest.
This June was my fifth consecutive trip to Victoria for the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI). What makes the week so vital and productive for me is (at least) twofold: I know I will learn some basic skills and I know that research plans are hatched and developed during the week’s activities. When I began what would become a yearly sojourn to Victoria I suspected the former, and now, five years in, I’ve come to expect the latter.
DHSI has shaped my research in some substantial ways. It was at DHSI that I began talking with Emily Robins Sharpe about working together on a project about Canadian involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Each DHSI our project planning develops in leaps and bounds. We’re able to come together to plan, but also to celebrate the successes of the project. This year we were able to celebrate a “proof-of-concept” website [spanishcivilwar.ca] and a renewed mandate for the project.
What have I learned? Project planning is crucial.
No matter how big or small in scale the project is, planning can make or break the project. Part of planning is simply talking with others and asking questions of colleagues old and new: Have you done something like this before? How did you overcome such-and-such obstacle? Does our timeline seem like something we can accomplish? Do you know and researchers who might like to get involved? And the questions continue…
So, do you have a project in mind that needs better definition? DHSI might just be the perfect place to hatch those plans.
Bart Vautour is Assistant Professor (Limited Term) at Dalhousie University.
Kailin Wright discusses qualitative research at DHSI: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/all-the-people-a-look-at-qualitative-research/
Mathieu Aubin explores community: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/community-formation-demic-2014/
Cole Mash’s soundtrack to “Sounds of the Digital Humanities”: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/island-intersections/
Katarina Anderson on undergraduate involvement: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/encouraging-undergrad-involvement-in-dh/
Katie Wooler visualizes collaborative communities: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/dhsi-word-cloud-the-future-is-collaborative/
Andrea Hasenback gets into GIS: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/making-it-work/
Andrea Johnston celebrates “serendipitous learning”: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/augmented-reality-and-education/
G Jensen reflects on “A Collaborative Approach to XSLT”: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/agile-development-and-the-digital-humanities/
Alix Shield contemplates ethics and ethnographies and the Mukurtu mobile app: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/re-envisioning-digital-heritage-management-mukurtu-and-mukurtu-mobile/
Lee Skallerup Bessette acknowledges the overwhelm that is DSHI Day One: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/dhsi2014-all-the-things-all-the-people/
Hannah McGregor talks network visualization and the role of DHSI in fostering EMiC and DH community: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/thinking-with-networks/
Chris Doody reports back from Zailig and Josh Pollock’s new course in collaborative XSLT: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/a-collaborative-approach-to-xslt-and-a-riddle/
Emily Ballantyne advocates for the the value of vocabulary, not just expertise: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/the-art-of-conversation-learning-the-language-of-xslt/
James Neufeld reflects on the experience of one again being an apprentice: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/lessons-learned-from-collaborative-xslt/
Marc Fortin creates beautiful visualizations of Aboriginal language networks: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/visualizing-the-landscape-of-aboriginal-languages/
Kaarina Mikalson absorbs confidence from the community of DHSI, of EMiC, and of DH: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/on-belonging/
Emily Ballantyne says goodbye to DHSI after 6 years: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/saying-goodbye/
And so does Jeff Weingarten: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/thoughts-on-the-last-dhsi/
Sarah Vela on her first DHSI, and the learning curve of DH: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/dhsi-and-the-never-ending-learning-curve-of-the-digital-humanities/
Emily Robins Sharpe on the affective side of collaboration: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/what-does-it-mean-to-collaborate/
Alana Fletcher demos out-of-the-box text analysis: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/tool-tutorial-out-of-the-box-text-analysis/
Anouk Lang gives us eleven more reasons (on top of her original twenty-two) to go to DHSI: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/thirty-three-ways-of-looking-at-a-dhsi-week/
“Meeting people, all the people, all the time” makes Anouk Lang’s list of “Thirty-three ways of Looking at a DHSI Week.” Similarly, DHSI is all about networks for Hannah McGregor. Reading through the many posts about DEMiC 2015, I am reminded about what I missed most about DHSI—the people. That’s right, I did not attend DHSI this year, but, in a fit of nostalgia, I am thinking about my past experiences. Last year, I wrote about the Digital Databases course. This year, I want to talk about what I left out: the qualitative research.
DHSI is, at least in part, about meeting people. Last year, I met “all the people,” which included two scholars who had worked on Carroll Aikins. As a bit of a recap, I am working on a critical edition of Aikins’s play “The God of Gods” (1919), which premiered in Birmingham, England, and involves Nietzschean intertexts, theosophy, an Aboriginal reserve, a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and anti-war sentiment, to name a few. DHSI brought me to Victoria, B.C. and to the stomping ground of James Hoffman (Thompson Rivers University) and Jerry Wasserman (University of British Columbia). Jerry offered to send me photographs of the first Birmingham production, which were waiting in my mailbox upon my return from the West Coast. James met with me several times to discuss his past research of Aikins, he lent me the manuscripts of Aikins’ unpublished plays, he shared theatre reviews of The God of Gods (some of which I had not yet uncovered!), and last but not least, he regaled me in stories about meeting Aikins’s family. Qualitative research, it seems, also played a major part in James’s work. I should probably mention that all of this wonderful research and sharing was unplanned: I met Jerry and James at separate talks, introduced myself and my work, and they offered the rest.
As if DHSI 2014 wasn’t already a gold mine of learning and of scholarly networks, it was also during a DEMiC social event that I connected with Melissa Dalgleish. As a result of that meeting, Melissa (who writes a series of posts about alt-ac work) is now working as a RA on the Aikins project (more about her RA work to come in a later post).
I can’t help but feel how indebted I am to qualitative research and to the generosity of scholars like Jerry, James, and Melissa as well as to networks of people like EMiC.
Figure 1Hart House Theatre: The God of Gods was performed at Hart House Theatre in 1922.
Qualitative research is important in the field of drama because the form relies on theatre reviewers or people’s personal notebooks to record production details. Do you engage with qualitative research in your work?
This year at DHSI, I took the course titled “Cultural Codes and Protocols for Indigenous Digital Heritage Management”. This course utilized Mukurtu (pronounced mook-oo-too) CMS, an open source Drupal 7 platform for managing digital heritage, to explore the ways in which we can approach indigenous heritage materials (see http://www.mukurtu.org/).
Mukurtu allows for the marriage of traditional knowledge with data management, and its multi-authored commenting and free tagging capabilities promote an overall sense of polyvocality. Through its complex system of community-based permissions, the platform also communicates the webs of relations between places, ancestors, gender, and age, acknowledging the protocols imbued both within the community and those external to it. To determine the cultural protocols for a heritage item, one might consider the following: How do you want to share and manage access to this item? Who do you want to be able to view, add, or edit information? Is the content restricted to gender? Is the item sacred?
Our project for the week involved separating into three teams – Team Plants, Team Art, and Team Signs – and using the mobile app “Mukurtu Mobile” to incorporate fieldwork (photos taken around the UVic campus) into our demo sites. The app, while an excellent drain of my iPhone battery, allowed us to record information alongside each photo, and used geolocation to record our exact coordinates at the time each photo was taken. As a group, we needed to work together in order to determine the cultural protocols the applied to our content, in relation to possible viewing communities (our own team, DHSI, and UVic for example). We decided that some images should only be viewed by members of our group, Team Signs (strictest permissions), but that most images could be viewed by the DHSI/UVic communities (more public permissions).
Fig. 1 – Content generated by Mukurtu Mobile app and uploaded to Mukurtu site
When using this platform to manage heritage items in an indigenous community, the cultural protocols and sharing settings are extremely important. For example, certain heritage items may only be intended for males, specifically over the age of 18. Without these protocols in place within the Mukurtu system, anyone in the community would be able to view the items, creating an upset between traditional knowledge and the cultural codes put in place to govern it.
Our sample project was helpful, particularly for providing a hands-on experience navigating the Mukurtu interface; the project also sparked interesting discussions regarding permissions and protocols. Most importantly, this course forced me to consider the implications of my own research concerning West Coast First Nations literature. Through platforms like Mukurtu, it becomes possible to mediate the tension that has previously existed between technology and culture, and instead foster an environment focused on community-based heritage management.
Since returning from my second DHSI, I’ve had a little time to reflect on my experience and to bask in the glory of my new—but still fledgling—programming skills. Like Chris, Emily, James, and Mathieu, I spent last week happily enrolled in Josh and Zailig Pollock’s course on “A Collaborative Approach to XSLT.” And, like my classmates, I was encouraged to embrace aspects of what the instructors referred to as an “Agile development method” (in essence, an iterative and adaptive approach to coding and project management). As we worked through exercises to reinforce each of the day’s lessons, we learned to test and tweak our code obsessively, and in this small way we began to see how an “agile” approach to DH projects might prove valuable on a larger scale.
For the benefit of those who haven’t read it, the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development” reads as follows:
We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.
(Source: agilemanifesto.org; emphasis added)
As one can see, the agile method offers a number of practical, even common-sense suggestions that can be usefully incorporated into most collaborative DH projects. In terms of my own DH work—and I’m thinking specifically here of my role in getting the Canadian Modernist Magazines Project up and running—an agile workflow or development approach will likely benefit the project in several ways. For example, I hope to successfully model the agile method’s emphasis on openness (to collaboration, to changing tools and conditions in the digital landscape, or even to the overall direction of the project). Perhaps even more importantly, however, I want to avoid being paralyzed by obsessive over-planning or inflexible long-term projections; instead, I want to work incrementally, letting each small step or misstep guide the next. The reality is that any new DH project is the product of innumerable blunders and misgivings, just as any “polished” essay is (in my experience) the product of multiple drafts and, initially, ill-conceived thoughts or malformed sentences.
Finally, I think it’s important for institutions that wish to support DH projects to recognize, and perhaps to help mitigate in some small way, the institutional pressures that confront English literary critics qua DH scholars in their work as DH scholars. But I guess what I really mean to advocate is an understanding of the similarities between literary critics and programmers or DHers, not the differences that make collaboration between them a potentially overwhelming undertaking. As those of us who have been lucky enough to participate in DHSI are well aware, the literary critic and the technogeek no longer occupy mutually exclusive domains. While I acknowledge the dangers of getting entirely immersed in the DH world and thus neglecting to hone one’s unique skills as a literary critic, I also acknowledge the need to constantly re-think my own research in light of rapidly changing disciplines, departmental practices, and institutional exigencies. So thank you for the education, Josh and Zailig—and thank you, EMiC, for another great week at DHSI.
For DHSI 2014, I had the pleasure of being a part of the Augmented Reality class with Markus Wust. In this class, we were introduced to using the technology of Layar to build a mobile application. One of the most interesting potentials of building a mobile applications that Markus introduced to the class was that of “serendipitous learning”. The idea behind this kind of learning is to build applications that would allow for learning to happen spontaneously as users navigate through their environments. For example, someone could be walking home from work and suddenly get an alert on their phone that they are close to a historical landmark. They could then bring up the application and discover a part of history that they didn’t realize existed before then. One of my favourite augment reality applications that allows for “serendipituous learning” is that of the Museum of London. I believe that being able to overlay the past with the present allows us to look at our world in a new way and to have a better appreciation for our history. Using augmented reality gives us with this appreciation.
As part of EMiC at DHSI 2014, I took part in the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) course with Ian Gregory. The course was tutorial-based, with a set of progressive practical exercises that took the class through the creation of static map documents through plotting historical data and georeferencing archival maps into the visualization and exploration of information from literary texts and less concrete datasets.
I have been working with a range of material relating to Canadian radical manifestos, pamphlets, and periodicals as I try to reconstruct patterns of publication, circulation, and exchange. Recently, I have been looking at paratextual networks (connections shown in advertisements, subscription lists, newsagent stamps, or notices for allied organizations, for example) while trying to connect these to real-world locations and human occupation. For this course, I brought a small body of material relating to the 1932 Edmonton Hunger March: (1) an archival map of the City of Edmonton, 1933 (with great thanks to Mo Engel and the Pipelines project, as well as Virginia Pow, the Map Librarian at the University of Alberta, who very generously tracked down this document and scanned it on my behalf); (2) organizational details relating to the Canadian Labor Defense League, taken from a 1933 pamphlet, “The Alberta Hunger-March and the Trial of the Victims of Brownlee’s Police Terror”, including unique stamps and marks observed in five different copies held at various archives and library collections; (3) relief data, including locations of rooming houses and meals taken by single unemployed men, from the City Commissoner’s fonds at the City of Edmonton Archives; and (4) addresses and locational data for all booksellers, newspapers, and newsstands in Edmonton circa 1932-33, taken from the 1932 and 1933 Henderson’s Directories (held at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, as well as digitized in the Peel’s Prairie Provinces Collection).
Through the course of the week I was able to do the following:
1. Format my (address, linguistic) data into usable coordinate points.
2. Develop a working knowledge of the ArcGIS software program, which is available to me at the University of Alberta.
3. Plot map layers to distinguish organizations, meeting places, booksellers, and newspapers.
4. Georeference my archival map to bring it into line with real-world coordinates.
5. Layer my data over the map to create a flat document (useful as a handout or presentation image).
6. Export my map and all layers into Google Earth, where I can visualize the historical data on top of present-day Edmonton, as well as display and manipulate my map layers. (Unfortunately, the processed map is not as sharp as the original scan.)
7. Determine the next stages for adding relief data, surveillance data, and broadening these layers out beyond Edmonton.
What I mean to say is, it worked. IT WORKED! For the first time in five years, I came to DHSI with an idea and some data, learned the right skills well enough to put the idea into action, and to complete something immediately usable and still extensible.
This affords an excellent opportunity for reflecting on this process, as well as the work of many other DH projects. What makes it work? I have a few ideas:
1. Expectations. Previous courses, experiments, and failures have begun to give me a sense of the kind of data that is usable and the kind of outcomes that are possible in a short time. A small set of data, with a small outcome – a test, a proof, a starting place – seems to be most easily handled in the five short days of DHSI, and is a good practice for beginning larger projects.
2. Previous skills. Last year, I took Harvey Quamen’s excellent Databases course, which gave me a working knowledge of tables, queries, and overall data organization, which helped to make sense of the way GIS tools operated. Data-mining and visualization would be very useful for the GIS course as well.
3. Preparation. I came with a map in a high-resolution TIFF format, as well as a few tables of data pulled from the archive sources I listed above. I did the groundwork ahead of time; there is no time in a DHSI intensive to be fiddling with address look-ups or author attributions. Equally, good DH work is built on a deep foundation of research scholarship, pulling together information from many traditional methods and sources, then generating new questions and possibilities that plunge us back into the material. Good sources, and close knowledge of the material permit more complex and interesting questions.
4. Projections. Looking ahead to what you want to do next, or what more you want to add helps to stymie the frustration that can come with DH work, while also connecting your project to work in other areas, and adding momentum to those working on new tools and new approaches. “What do you want to do?” is always in tension with “What can you do now?” – but “now” is always a moving target.
5. Collaboration. I am wholly indebted to the work of other scholars, researchers (published and not), librarians, archivists, staff, students, and community members who have helped me to gather even the small set of data used here, and who have been asking the great questions and offering the great readings that I want to explore. The work I have detailed here is one throughline of the work always being done by many, many people. You do not work alone, you should not work alone, and if you are not acknowledging those who work with you, your scholarship is unsustainable and unethical.
While I continue to work through this project, and to hook it into other areas of research and collaboration, these are the points that I try to apply both to my research practices and politics. How will we continue to work with each other, and what makes it work best?
This word cloud was created by submitting all of the EMiC blog posts about DHSI 2014 to a program that generates a visualization of the most commonly used words and phrases. Words that encourage working together, such as “community,” “cluster,” “collaborative,” “together,” and “social,” are a prominent theme in the cloud, with “Future Around Collaborative” acting as a fitting subtitle to the central words “Learning Course DHSI.” I also enjoy how the cloud arrangement created the term “Working Digital People.” Hopefully DHSI 2014 left everyone feeling like well-oiled working digital (humanities) people. The blog certainly indicates that everyone is feeling better equipped to create and motivated to co-create with others. Please keep sharing– the blog activity has been excellent these past ten days and the posts are encouraging and stimulating. Thanks to everyone for keeping the conversation going!