Tuesday 6 December 2011

European-Flavoured Digital Editions

As it happens, I'm the co-chair of a working group on Digital Editions of NeDiMAH.

All clear? In case it is not so clear, NeDiMAH is the European Science Foundation Network for Digital Methods in the Arts and Humanities. The network groups representatives of 13 European countries (in no particular order): United Kingdom, Danemark, Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden, Finland, Croatia, France, Portugal, Norway, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Germany (yes, Italy is missing... and this is a huge problem as it seems we cannot involve many Italian colleagues or held event there... and I'm not commenting on the european dissemination of Italian research, no I'm not) .

This network is organised in six working groups, and one of them is on Digital Editions, which I happen to co-chair with Matthew Driscoll.

We met in Copenhagen on the 5 December and it has been great fun, I met people I haven't seen since long time (Hilde Boe, Peter Boot), seen some dear friends (Malte Rehbein, Marjorie Burghart) and met people for the first time (Mats Dahlström, Michael Stolz).

In the next 4 years we will be looking into many issues connected with digital editions, such us:

  • Theory of digital editions
  • Production of digital editions
  • Delivery of digital editions 
  • The role and changing nature of the editor
  • Long term issues (preservation, impact, sustainability)
We have in the radar a few events (an expert seminar and few workshops) and publications such as a few articles in journals and a print publication.
The first two topics we will concentrate on are the skill set for editors and the role of technology in the editorial work (stemmed somehow from my presentation at the TEI Members meeting which is the object of another post on this blog), and new approaches to critical apparatus and textual scholarship, which should be embodied in two articles.

Well, can I say I can't wait to get my greedy hands on this? We will have so much fun!

Sunday 27 November 2011

Tablets Apps, or the future of the Scholarly Editons?

I was yesterday at a very interesting symposium entitled The Future Perfect of the Book organised by the Institute of English Studies. It has been an interesting mixture of people and of presentations. One in particular I would like to discuss (i.e. Elaine Treharne's keynote adress The Numbered days of the Page), but not now, in another post.
In this one I would like to report about the presentation I gave with Miguel Vieira and that builds on the research conducted by Patricia Searl for her MA dissertation on Digital Humanities at Kings' College London. Here is the abstract we submitted to the conference organisers:
The last 20 years have seen a rise of scholarly digital editions, which offer new, unexplored dimensions and depth to textual scholarship. The new possibilities opened up by the pioneering work of Peter Robinson and Jerome McGann’s charmed editors to the point that at the beginning of the millennium they seemed ready to switch to the digital medium. However, this promised switch did not happen and while many universities have adopted eBooks for course readings, digital textual scholarship seems not to have reached classrooms at all. In fact, an unpublished survey of twenty-two undergraduate syllabi in the US and UK has revealed that not one class had a single web edition as an assigned reading material. On the other hand, in commercial publishing the last couple of years have seen a boom in eBooks and eReaders. It is true though that eBooks look like very poor relatives of digital scholarly editions: in most cases they include the raw text with no additional features other than string searching. As such, eBooks look somewhat regressive, representing an evolution of the codex but not the revolution of the way we read texts which was promised by the advent of computers. Usability studies have demonstrated that reading on tablets is more enjoyable than reading on the screen of computers and, in some cases, more than reading print. But this is for general reading: does it also apply to highly sophisticated digital scholarly editions? Is the sophistication of such editions, as we have conceived them so far, the enemy of accessibility and user-friendliness? Are tablet apps a possible way to enhance the appeal of Digital Scholarly Editions? These are some of the questions that this paper will address.
and here are the slides we have used for the presentation

Comments? The presentation was very well received and we got plenty of nice feedback.
Early this week Miguel and I rehearsed the presentation within the DDH internal seminar and Raffaele Viglianti wrote a very nice summary of this event.

I will get back shortly on this topic, so stay tuned.

Friday 18 November 2011

To Market! To Market! Academia in the Marketing Age

The 80's were supposed to be the decade of marketing and PR. Ah! Amateurs! They thought that doing a little bit of ads on the telly an on the newspapers was enough...

These days I seem to be spending most of my time organising marketing activities, advertising activities we can use for marketing, talking to people about marketing, writing advertising material, using all possible social networks to share all of the above and now blogging about it (meta-marketing?).

One of the most important duties of a Head of Teaching is, it appears, ensure that there are enough students around to justify the existence of a teaching programme and the job of colleagues. Quite scary, it you think of it. I'm not complaining, mind you, only reporting the fact and reflecting on it.

In the past we (Centre for Computing in the Humanities -- now Department of Digital Humanities -- at King's College London) have not been very good in letting people know what we were up to, in particular from a teaching point of view. We had thought (or so is my reading of the situation, as I was not involved in this thinkings) that our outstanding record of research would have been enough to attract students. We were wrong, so wrong. Students are not aware or not interested in research, as it happens, they are interested in knowing that there is some teaching going on and that they can gain a valuable qualification out of it. Funny that! So, now this trend has to change and here is the list of the initiatives I have undertaken these days:

  • New marketing printed materials is being developed.We will start with foldable leaflets, then we will see
  • A video will be produced early next year: I will need to have my hair done for the interview!
  • Three virtual open days will be organised for potential MAs and PhD students
  • An event on "Become a Digital Humanities PhD student" has been organised for the 1st of December
  • The PhD seminar has been moved from our gloomy Seminar Room into the Anatomy Theatre Museum and Opened up to the public. Next week Seminar will be the first of the new Era!
  • A lot of contacts are going on with King's Agents in Asia and in the US
  • Our 2011-12 Students have organised a Facebook group from where they broadcast all our initiatives
  • Social Media, in particular Facebook and Twitter are intensively used (by me, mostly) to spread the word about our activities
Will I be successful? Will our MA programme survive the wild cuts operated by the less illuminated cabinet Englad has seen since WWII? Stay tuned and you will have an answer!

Tuesday 8 November 2011

At the TEI Technical Council: Genetic Criticism Encoding

I have to say that today I feel very pleased with myself: the TEI Technical Council has just approved the proposal for encoding modern manuscripts and genetic criticism. This will be available for all TEI users with the next release of TEI (sometimes around Christmas).

I have worked on this material for a long time now, and all started with a paper I presented at the Digital Humanities Conference in Ann Arbor, in 2007 (attention! if you click on it, it will open a 26MB PDF, so you want to be cautious). The paper has been published later as a chapter of a book:
E. Pierazzo. 'Digital genetic editions: the encoding of time in manuscript transcription'. Text Editing, Print and the Digital World, Digital Research in the Arts and Humanities. M. Deegan and K. Sutherland (eds.), Ashgate: Aldershot, 2008, pp. 169–186.
After, within the MS SIG, a formal working group (chaired by Fotis Iannidis) was organised and then, after an exciting workshop held in Paris in 2009, a draft proposal was submitted to the Council in 2010 (it seems about right is that the Council is actually meeting in Paris, what a coincidence!).

In particular this proposal includes the possibility of transcribing the text page by page, line by line (instead of, say, chapter by chapter): I have discussed this, with Peter Stokes, in an article:

E. Pierazzo, P. A. Stokes. 'Putting the text back into context: a codicological approach to manuscript transcription'. Kodikologie und Paläographie im Digitalen Zeitalter 2 - Codicology and Palaeography in the Digital Age 2. M. Rehbein, T. Schaßan, P. Sahle (eds.) Norderstedt: Books on Demand, 2011, pp. 397-424, available from http://kups.ub.uni-koeln.de/4337/
The final approval for the proposal arrived after a night of readings and comments (see the thread in the Council mailing list) and some last discussions about grouping surfaces to encode leaves and in general multi-surfaced objects. But there we are: it is done.
This is of course not my work only, quite the contrary: if this model will be usable by real people in real projects it is because many have contributed generously. Here is the list of some of the people that contributed (I may be forgetting some... forgive me!): Fotis Iannidis, Malte Rehbein, Gregor Middell, Lou Burnard, Moritz Wissenbach, Gerrit Brüning and all the people in the Council: thank you all (and not only from me). Now I can't wait for the next release!

Oh Happy Day!

Tuesday 1 November 2011

On Blooks and other oddities: the DH abstracts' Season

Last week I was preparing a lecture for my course on Digital Publishing on the Web 2.0 and Scholarly Publishing (this alone deserved a post...). I ment to talk about the relationship between Blogs and formal publications and I remember the case of the Julie/Julia project, a blog that was first turned into a book, then to an Hollywood movie. While I was doing my online enquiries, to my horror, I found out that, apparently, a book that is based on a blog is called a Blook: not kidding and not irony, look at this, there is a Blooker prize, nothing less (my partner in life declared he feels sick every time I mention it, and I'm not that far off either).

Now, this happen to be the DH abstracts' Season: every year, around the end of October, in a striking coincidence with Halloween, a small army of DHers get in an extraordinary excitement, with emails firing across countries and time zones, all trying to write as many abstract as possible to submit to the forthcoming Digital Humanities conference. Again, my partner in life is no exception. It just happens that this year submission draws on some thoughts expressed on his project blog. It just occurred to us, than, it might be a case of a Blabstract, an abstract based on a blog. In case his blabstract get accepted, he might even end up and giving a Blaper (which, by the way, is not a new coinage, even if it has a slightly different meaning), not to mention the possibility of publishing a Blarticle (again, not a new word!) in the proceedings! Oh well...

The points I was trying to make are two:

  1. in the digital age, genres and media tend to cross-breed and melt one into another
  2. When one gets a linguistic creativity attack, the risk is not knowing where to stop...
Happy DH abstracts' Season!

Sunday 16 October 2011

The Role of Technology in Scholarly Editing

I just came back from sunny Würzburg where, facilitated by the impeccable organisation of Malte Rehbein and the splendid hospitality of Fotis Jannidis, I have spent a few days with colleagues and friends at the TEI Members' Meeting discussing over the future of the TEI and Philology in the Digital Age. If this Members Meeting will be remembered for something, it will certainly be the chocolate-flavoured keynote delivered by Edward Vanhoutte (the slides are also available).

I have given a quite controversial paper there and I have been asked to share slides and content of such paper. As I'm a bit lazy (a.k.a. busy), it will take a while until I'm able to write my considerations down (they will come, I promise!!), but at least I can share the slides:

You can read the abstract here (it will take a bit of scrolling, there is no direct linking to the single abstract, sorry, but you can take advantage of the many other interesting abstracts present there!), or down here:

In the past years two complementary but somewhat diverging tendencies have dominated the field of digital philology: the creation of models for analysis and encoding, such as the TEI, and the creation of tools or software to support the creation of digital editions for editing, publishing or both (Robinson 2005, Bozzi 2006).

These two tendencies are not necessarily mutually exclusive, as the creation of models can represent either the underlying structure or an exporting format for the development of tools. However, these two approaches have often been perceived in opposition, as a dichotomy. On the one hand we have the XML enthusiasts, the editors-as-encoders who apply XML markup to their texts and perhaps also develop publication strategies; on the other hand we have those who support out-of-the-box tools (the ‘magic’ or ‘black’ boxes), who proactively seek the development of fully comprehensive tools that present user-friendly interfaces with the explicit purpose of ‘covering the wires’, in particular hiding the much-abhorred angled brackets. But what are the implications of these positions with respect to the future development of digital (or computational) philology? How realistic is it to ask ‘traditional’ textual editors to turn into encoders? Conversely, how realistic and sustainable is the creation of ‘magic boxes’?

In the past I have studied the difficulties and theoretical implications of using a TEI-based editorial model for an editorial team that was highly geographically dispersed (Pierazzo 2010, but presented as a paper in 2008). On that occasion I argued that the development of ‘magic boxes’ is a very ambitious item to have on the digital philology agenda because every edition, every scholar needs a very specialized, tailored set of tools. In the same article I expressed the opinion that, even if the scholars do not feel comfortable in using tags-on-view XML and the TEI, this was the only reasonable approach for digital scholarly editions. A couple of year later, my judgment has been mitigated somewhat. This was brought about largely by the interesting article by Tim McLoughlin (2010, to be read in combination with Rehbein 2010) which presents in an insightful way the difficulties and resistances in turning a consolidated editorial model into a digital TEI-based one, combined with the experience I gained on some collaborative research projects at King’s College London’s Department of Digital Humanities: these together have triggered questions about the role of technology when it comes to digital scholarly editing. As a matter of fact, the evolution of the editor into an editor-encoder has yet to be investigated in full; at the moment it seems that the attention has been mostly devoted to the steep learning curve necessary to master the techniques of encoding in XML but without reflecting on the deep and sometimes unwelcome changes in the editorial work and workload once a new editorial model is undertaken, particularly when that model is based on TEI. This model sometimes sees the editor-as-encoder evolving also in the editor-as-programmer, the editor-as-web-designer and editor-as-(self-)publisher (Sutherland and Pierazzo 2011). These changes in the editorial work and role of the editors necessarily result in somewhat parallel changes in the final editorial products.

On the other hand the claim for the magic box seem to have receded somewhat, and we have witnessed the appearance of the interesting experience of creating configurable and standard-based tools that have the less ambitious goal of trying to help particular stages of the editorial work (collation, creation of stemmas and critical apparatus, transcription, annotation); this evolution is represented at best, in my opinion, by the tools developed within the Interedition (in particular with CollateX) and TextGrid projects.

This paper will briefly present the background outlined above, and then turn to fundamental issues that arise from it about the nature of editors and editing for digital editions. In particular, it will address the following questions:
  1. Which are the competencies necessary for digital editors?
  2. Which are the roles that digital editors are expected to cover?
  3. What do editors expect the technology to do for them?
  4. Which parts of the editors’ work should be assisted by the computer and which must still be performed in the traditional way?
  5. In which ways is digital editing different from traditional editing, if any?

Failing to understand how technology can really contribute to the editorial work will have serious consequences in the development and ultimately existence of digital editions.

The paper will address these theoretical and methodological questions making use of concrete examples, particularly from the Jane Austen Digital Edition and from the ongoing editorial experience of the Early English Laws project.

  • Bozzi, A. (2006). ‘Electronic Publishing and Computational Philology’. In The Evolution of Texts: Confronting Stemmatological and Genetical Methods, C. Macé, P. Baret, A. Bozzi and L. Cignoni (eds.). Pisa-Roma Istituti Editorali e Poligrafici Internazionali.
  • Pierazzo, E. (2010). ‘Editorial Teamwork in a Digital Environment: The Edition of the Correspondence of Giacomo Puccini’. In Rehbein, M. and Ryder, S. (eds.). Jahrbuch für Computerphilologie, vol. 10, pp. 91-110. Also available at: computerphilologie.tu-darmstadt.de/jg08/pierazzo.html 
  • McLouglin, T. (2010). Bridging the Gap. In Rehbein, M. and Ryder, S. (eds.). Jahrbuch für Computerphilologie, vol. 10, pp. 37–54. Also available at:computerphilologie.tu-darmstadt.de/jg08/mclough.pdf
  • Rehbein, M. (2010). ‘The Transition from Classical to Digital Thinking. Reflections on Tim McLoughlin, James Barry and Collaborative Work’. In Rehbein, M. and Ryder, S., (eds). Jahrbuch für Computerphilologie, vol. 10, pp. 55–67. Also available at: computerphilologie.tu-darmstadt.de/jg08/rehbein.pdf 
  • Robinson, P. M. W. (2005). ‘Current Issues in Making Digital Editions of Medieval exts  ¬– or, Do Electronic Scholarly Editions Have a Future?’. Digital Medievalist, 1(1). Available at: www.digitalmedievalist.org/journal/1.1/robinson/ 
  • Sutherland, K., and Pierazzo, E. (2011). The Author’s Hand: from Page to Screen. In Deegan M., and McCarty W. (eds.), Collaborative Research in the Digital Humanities. Aldershot: Ashgate (forthcoming).
  • CollateX: https://launchpad.net/collatex 
  • Early English Laws: www.earlyenglishlaws.ac.uk
  • Interedition: www.interedition.eu
  • Jane Austen Digital Edition: www.janeausten.ac.uk/index.html
  • TextGrid: www.textgrid.de

Monday 10 October 2011

What Texts (of Manuscripts) are, really

Ok, I give up. It is time for me to enter in the arena and give my definition of Text, as I gave it during my last paper at DH at Reading.
I argue that to determine what a text IS is not that complicated (?), what’s complicated is to establish how it works and how it relates to its “support”.
So, here is my definition.
A text is a linguistic architecture that conveys a meaning which is potentially understandable to at least one group of receivers which have the capabilities to decipher the code in which the message is encoded.
With this definition I connect the theory of text with the theory of communication, but, mind you I am only speaking of texts contained, bared by manuscripts.
Let's consider for a moment the following "classic" diagram of the theory of communication:

Source --> SENDER --> Channel --> RECEIVER --> Destination
Message                       Noise                             Message’

Is this model helpful to understand texts within manuscripts? Let's try to understand what these terms mean in our case (i.e. digitised texts contained in manuscripts). Let's then have for the Code
  • Language
  • Grammar
  • Syntax
  • Rhetoric
  • Orthography
  • Writing system, conventions…
Which are the factors that can make the code hard to decipher? The main are time and space, which is to say diachronic and diatopic variations which  force us to modify our diagramme as follows, inserting CODE' and CODE''.

                  CODE'           CODE         CODE''
Source --> SENDER --> Channel --> RECEIVER --> Destination
Message                          Noise                           Message’

Of course, this factors are only the most common one when talking of ancient texts transmitted by manuscripts, but they are not by any menas , the only one. In fact, this new diagramme looks familiar to humanities people, in particular if we substitute the CODE with the terminology introduce be De Saussure:

                 PAROLE       LANGUE      PAROLE
Source --> SENDER --> Channel --> RECEIVER --> Destination
Message                          Noise                           Message’

So, we have to add to differences in time and space also differences in understanding and personal usage of the language.
Let's now consider the Channel, which in our case can be understood as follows:
  • Scroll
  • Codex (Manuscript)
  • Printed book
  • The screen of a computer
  • The screen of a mobile phone
  • Audio
  • The eyes/brain (perceptive network)
And finally, let's consider the Noise, which, again in our case, can be found

  • In the writing system
  • In the writing conventions
  • In the style of writing
  • In the support
  • In the layout
  • In the screen colours
  • In the pronunciation

Is this schematisation helpful to understand what is going on when doing a transcription, when, that is, we separate the text from its support?

I think it shows, at very least, how much of interpretation and subjectivity this operation implies, pace all the supporters of the objectivity of the transcription. It also shows how many things can go wrong here and how much understanding and skills and business of transcription is...

How can we reduce the distance between Message and Message' ? Well, I think I'll keep it for another post!

Thursday 29 September 2011

Restaurants in London where I love to eat

Perhaps this blog should have been entitled "Confession of a Digital Humanist with a passion for Good Food", but I guess passion for good food and cookery are strictly related anyway.

Some of my new international students have asked me to give them advice on where to eat in London, so here I am with the list of my favourite restaurants. Please feel free to add more suggestions!

  • Thai Square: I normally go to the on on Shaftesbury Avenue: outstanding! #thai
  • Tas, there is another one at London Bridge equally good: cheap and delicious #turkish
  • Sagar in Covent Garden, really amazing!  Did I mention cheap? #vegetarian #indian 
  • Bali Bali in Shaftesbury Avenue  #indonesian
  • Kasturi in Leytonstone High road #indian #nepalese
  • Kulu Kulu in Covent Garden #japanese
  • Gaucho in Canary Wharf #argentinian
  • Anatolia Cafe in Leyton: beautiful, unpretentious #turkish
  • O'Neill's Pub in front of the British Library and in Leytonstone (and probably elsewhere!)  #irish
  • King Edward VII in Stratford: gastro pub #british
  • In Westfield at Stratford we tried so far the Vietnamese, Caribbean, Chinese, Malaysian: all great!
  • Colbeh at Edgwar Rd #persian
  • Thailander in Stratford #thai
  • Le pain quotidien in South Kensington, but others are not bad either #belgian

Monday 26 September 2011

The Future of the TEI

John Unsworth, interim chair of the TEI Consortium (TEI-C) has requested that candidates
for the Board and Council, and continuing members of the Board and Council, address some
questions on strategic issues related to the TEI. As I have been nominated for the Board,
and following James
Cummings example
I decided to post here are my answers.

1) Should the TEI cease to collect membership fees, and cease to pay for meetings, publications, services, etc.?
No. I think the activities supported by the fees are extremely important,
for instance SIG grants, projects and Meetings. I would rather see a more
balanced expenditure with less money used for travels and more money for
more interesting activities.
2) Assuming paid membership continues. should institutional members have a choice between paying in cash and paying by supporting the travel of their employees to meetings, or committing time on salary to work on TEI problems?
I don't see why not: contributing to the TEI can take as many forms that
the TEI consider important and relevant for its activities. This doesn't
sound like a big innovation though, but very much like the partner
institutions which might be extended to include this kind of arrangement,
though without necessarily having a member on the Board. There could be,
for instance, different levels of contribution from partner institutions.
3) Should the TEI have individual members (paying or not) who can vote to elect
people to the board and/or council?
Yes: individual members should be able to elect people just as
institutional ones do.
4) Should the email discussions of the TEI Board be publicly
Yes: there might be some topics that are really sensitive in which case
there might be some kind of privacy setting on a topic or something, but
in general I think this should be the exception, not the rule.
5) Should the Board and the Council be combined into a single body, with
subsets of that group having the responsibilities now assigned to each separate
Not necessarily: Board and Council have very different functions and
activities and work better separately. There should be a much closer
relation between the two, though: I have served 4 years on the Council
I have to say very little of the activities of the Board ever reached us.
I have no means of knowing if the converse is true as well. On a related
topic, I think that there are far too many elected people between the
Council and the Board: 12 people on the Council and 8 on the Board,
meaning there are 20 people's travels to support, which is really a
I would welcome a reduction of numbers there.
Given that, in the next two years, which of the following should be the TEI's highest
priority? Pick only one:
  • a) providing services that make it easy for scholars to publish and use TEI texts online
  • b) providing workshops, training, and other on-ramp services that help people understand why they might want to use TEI and how to begin to do so
  • c) encouraging the development of third-party tools for TEI users
  • d) ensuring that large amounts of lightly but consistently encoded texts (e.g., TEI Tite) are generated and made publicly available, perhaps in a central repository or at least through some centrally coordinated portal
  • e) developing a roadmap for P6 that positions the TEI in relation to other standards (HTML5, RDF, etc.)
  • f) tackling hard problems not addressed in other encoding schemes, in order to maximize the expressive and interpretive power of TEI
I pick (a) hoping that it includes also a better design of the website, more
tutorial and support material. I think there is still a serious need for outreach and
evangelisation: the more complex the TEI gets in order to respond to scholarly needs, the
more need for tutorials and 'getting started' material there is.

I have also written an electoral statement, which follows:

After having served on the TEI Council for two consecutive mandates, I am now
delighted to have been nominated for election to the TEI Board. The recent events have
demonstrated that governance of the TEI requires some further thought in spite of the recent
modifications to the bylaws, in particular with respect to the role of the Board and the way
it manages its activities. The recent crisis and the way it has been handled were
unacceptable to many of the people that have generously contributed to the growth and health
of the TEI in the 30 years or so of its history. This, I believe, has damaged both the TEI
itself and the field of Digital Humanities in general, as witnessed by the shock and
bewilderment expressed by the community on TEI-L and on many social networks (e.g. Twitter, Facebook and Google+). These events, as well as the request from the Interim Chair of the Board for proposals about the future of the TEI, call for a deep re-thinking of the role of the TEI community and its relationship with the Board and Council. If I am elected to serve on the Board, I will engage in helping to move governance of the TEI toward a more transparent way of working, ensuring that broad consent is sought and pursued not only among the elected members of the Board and the Council but also among the community at large – a community represented mainly but not only by contributors to TEI-L. I have already made some proposals on TEI-L to which I plan to remain faithful, but I will be more than happy to also consider all other proposals (such as, for instance, the direct election of the TEI chair) which go in the direction of more transparency and collegiality in the governance of the

Wednesday 21 September 2011

New Year, New Students, New DHers

A new academic year is about to start, the lights of the old one have not yet faded and not all dissertations have yet been handed in, but we are now getting ready for the new cohort of students arriving from all over the planet.
I'm very excited about this new coming year, I have to admit: I had much more time to prepare with respect to last year and therefore I'm enjoying this liminal experience very much: all is new and sparkling, the reading lists are shining and I'm very much looking forward the new generation of DHers.

It will be a very exciting year also institutionally: we will be offering three new courses within the MA in Digital Humanities which are:

What will I be doing then? I will be teaching Digital Publishing: from Gutenberg to Jobs (Steve, that is: yes, I will talk about iPads!) in the first term and Advanced Text Technologies in the second term: the content of both courses have been deeply updated, but the real novelty will be the new module I'm preparing for the following year: Digital Editing: only the brave!

I just realised this is my second post of the day... my pattern of using this blog is, I have to admit, very random, nothing for months and then two  in day... oh well!

Digital Editing

Working on a revamp of the MA in Digital Humanities at King's I have started to think about creating a new module where I can teach something I care about and I am good at: Digital Editing.

I spent a bit of time browsing Lisa Spiro's Zotero Group (terrific resource, if you ask me!) and I have realised that none of the syllabi listed there speak about digital editing, there are a lot of them that cover XML and the TEI, but none explicitly address the issue of editing digitally, which is a bit weird, considering the number of articles and papers at conferences that discuss it. I think the reason is that it is considered a topic that is a bit too advanced for an MA programme (which is a bit weird as I studied editing during my BA back in Italy... )

The other possibility is that it might be considered too connected to a "traditional" humanities discipline more than to DH, namely literature (English, German, Italian...) or History, or Philosophy, or... which is true in a sense, but editing is also a trans-disciplinary methodology. When it comes to digital, even more so. There are in fact a set of competencies and methods that can be applied across the board, namely:

  • data modelling
  • text encoding
  • text analysis
  • imaging
  • web design
All of which, of course, in addition to the traditional competencies that are required to do such a job, such us:

  • understanding of what a primary source is and how it works
  • understanding of the text one has to edit
  • understanding of the circumstance in which the text was produces
  • understanding of which circumstances the text has circulated and has arrived to us
  • the use of such understandings in the act of editing
Is there here a scope for an interdisciplinary module for our MA in Digital Humanities? This is  what I'm trying to find out. Any suggestion?

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Check out my new website! Or: does Digital Identity matter?

At the end I have given up and have created my very own website:


I have been pondering the need of a website since long now, but I have always been refrained by two considerations:

  1. Does the fact that one has a website imply a certain level of narcism? 
  2. Are the advantages of having a website more relevant than the hassle of having to maintain it up to date?
I think I can answer with a 'yes' to the first question, there is a sort of narcissism  implied in it, but not more than the one of having a presence in any of the social network spaces (by the way, I do have a presence in most of them as well, just in case you were wondering!)
This consideration leads to the second point: which are the advantages of having a website? I think the most important one is to represent the strongest statement of your digital identity, meaning that if you build it in the right way, your own website will be the first thing that comes out when people google you. This might be trivial, but it could be of a capital relevance for your professional life, to promote your activities, your research, what you care the most.
The importance of taking care our own digital identity has been emphatically stressed by Melissa Terras in her now legendary plenary keynote address at the Digital Humanities 2010 conference in London (and I remember the shivers of horror when some of our most horrible websites where on display...) The news often report about people being less than careful in posting on FB or Twitter with horrible consequences for their professional life, therefore we have  to conclude the DI indeed matter an dthat, yes, the hassle is subsided by the advantage.

Oh, yes, the fact that King's has decided not to support staff web spaces any longer is also a contributing factor! ;)

So, which is my recipe for a good DI?

  1. Check what happens when you Google your name
  2. Make sure you control the first, say, 5 results that come out (and if not, make it happen!) and make sure that their content is what you want people to know about you
  3. If you have a website, make sure that it is valid according to W3C standards (my perfect recipe is XHTML strict + CSS2): if you are a DH person I don't need to explain why, right?
  4. If you have a website, make sure that it is usable and user friendly
  5. If you have a website, keep it up to date. If you have a blog, a twitter account, do the same. DI is terribly time consuming, but there is no escape.
  6. Remember: Twitter is not a private space! maybe you have that impression because you can chat to your mates as it was a private chat  or email, but it is not, definitely not, so don't post there what you don't want is read by your present/future boss
  7. Protect your privacy within Facebook: they seems to be changing the rules every fortnight, so keep alert!
  8. Be fair to your friends: if you make public a photograph of them they don't like, soon or later they might be tempted to do the same

Thursday 13 January 2011

When one does not do her/his homework...

... one risks to produce seriously wrong results. According to the principle of "garbage in, garbage out" here is an amusing result of Google Books uncorrected OCR:

When OCR Goes Bad: Google’s Ngram Viewer & The F-Word

For my students: if you take shortcuts you may find that you have to take along, long route after all, or, as someone just told me, "there is never time to do it once, but there is always time to do it over".

Sunday 9 January 2011

Tom Yum recipe

Yes, I know I promise to post only DH related stuff, but, ehi after the second person that tells me that my Tom Yum recipe is great, I though to share it. 
The initial inspiration comes from a book of Thai recipes from Blue Elephant, then I added a few things myself. 

400ml chicken stock
400 ml coconut milk
40gr galangal (or ginger) finely sliced
1 stem lemongrass, finely sliced
4 kaffir lime leaves crushed
200 gr chicken breast cut into thin slices
100gr mushrooms, quartered,
5 green chilies crushed
4tbsp fish sauce
4tbsp tamarind juice
2tsbp lemon juice

sprinkling coriander leaves 

I also normally add: 
200 gr pak choi
1 bag (400 gr?) of bean sprouts 
2 peppers finely sliced

Put all ingredients but chicken, mushrooms, bean sprouts, chilies and lemon into a pot. 
Bring to boil, add the rest of ingredients a part for lemon and cook for 5 mins. Add lemon, boil for a second (!) then take out from the heat and add coriander (I don't: coriander tastes of soap!).

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Digital Humanities: a definition

I know that many have already attempted it, and I know that it people thinks that is very boring to try to do so, but I think it is kind of important as well. 
Preparing the new web presentation for the MA in Digital Humanities at King's I had to give a definition of what Digital Humaniteis actually is (the version which is on the web now is very carefully avoiding the issue) and here is my definition:
Digital Humanities is the discipline born from the intersection between humanities scholarship and computational technologies. 
It aims at investigating how digital methodologies can be used to enhance research in disciplines such a History, Literature, Languages, Art History, Music, Cultural Studies and many others. 
Digital Humanities holds a very strong practical component as it includes the concrete creation of digital resources for the study of specific disciplines.