Preparing for Week 2.

Our experiment has begun! Our Digitizing Medieval Manuscripts class met for the first time on September 10th and we got to know a bit about the fourteen of us. The students are mostly history students, but come from a wide range of backgrounds and preparations. I am super excited to be working with what looks like a super engaged group! From the constant notifications I’m getting from the various online resources we’ve set up on many different platforms, it’s clear that students are jumping right into the thick of things.

This week I want everyone to explore a bit. Instead of rushing to put up a profile, all should take a look at other profiles to see how others craft an image of themselves (e.g. their academic selves) online. If you want to see how others have theorized about online identity creation, take a look at the Pearson article in this week’s readings. Likewise, even if you’re already a Twitter aficionado, spend a few minutes each day reading through the twitter feed of the book history types to see how they write, discuss and interact with others. There is an element of both fun and seriousness in their endeavour, at times trying to entertain or amuse and other times to educate and advise. Your experience signing up for and exploring these two online spaces will provide the “primary source” of our discussion.

  1. For class on September 17th, try to identify one person on #medievaltwitter who has impressed you and be able to make explicit what about their style/ content resonated with you. Try also to find a profile on that helped you to understand its purpose.
  2. I find the twitter account @siwaratrikalpa particularly instructive about how #medievaltwitter can work. It is an officially anonymous feed, and students should read the explanation of their self-definition to understand why they remains anonymous and how/why they tweet about their research in the way they do. Ask yourself, for @siwaratrikalpa what is the point of twitter?
  3. Our readings this week ask us to reflect more generally on how academics (a catch-all term to describe professors, heritage experts, advanced degree students…) engage publicly on social media.
  4. Jesse Strommel’s post provides a strategy for how to develop a following. What is the key strategy he suggests? And if you were trying to build a following, what steps should you take on Twitter to be a good citizen and a follow-worthy tweeter.
  5. The “Manuscript the Tube” blog post from the British Library shows one successful way in which a large public heritage institution interacted with a large public (though largely academic). The goal was to be playful but also to get people using the digitized collection. What does this example show about social media use? What was successful and what not?
  6. Sarah Werner’s post (and please listen to her talk linked at the beginning of the post) dissects what not to do (i.e. what to do) in trying to increase public engagement with special collections. Figure out what you should take away from her ideas to craft your own strategy if you were a special collections curator.
  7. The two articles by Ricoy & Feliz and Pearson are more academic/ anthropological in their genre. Ricoy and Feliz are focussed on what makes Twitter useful for learning and what can make it problematic. Figure out what you should be doing to make the best pedagogical use of Twitter. With Pearson’s article, consider how being online allows choices in identity creation, and identify the advantages/ disadvantages of the “performing” identity on an online environment.

Good luck to all the students in getting prepared. I’m looking forward to an exciting discussion!

One week left…

I’ve spent much of the summer preparing for teaching this new course and all too quickly the beginning of school is threatening. I need to finalize the reading list still, I haven’t submitted the syllabus to the department and I am still putting together tutorials for the exercises we’ll be doing in class. So, I am somewhat panicking while also very excited to start a new class. My biggest fear is that tools will be updated in between me writing up exercises and us working on them – but I guess this is par for the course in DH.

The process of working on this course has challenged many of my expectations about what students should be learning and working on. This has changed how I think and work on things. For example, having been wedded to WYSWYG word processors since Word came into being (I still mourn WordPerfect’s blue background), I now have an appreciation for work with very simple text editors. Using Markdown or working with code (HTML, TEI) is easier than I thought it would be and offers a certain purity of expression where the author has much control over defining the meaning of text elements, not just its appearance. I have found myself far less obsessed with worrying about layout and the perfect font than I have been. Also, I find that I am more rational about the purpose everything in a document (or in the class) and how it all fits together.

There is still much work to be done before next week and still much work to be done over the course of the year to make sure everything stays on track, but I think overall this preparation has helped motivate me to try to do more. Each stage that I thought was insurmountable began to seem, with time and practice, to be straightforward and reasonable. I hope this course pushes me to embrace this field and keep going with it. I already have so many ideas of how to integrate this with my research….

Post DHSI brainstorming

After being at the DHSI at UVic last week, my idea of what we can accomplish over the course a two term class has changed. This realization comes in part from my own movement from someone who had never coded to someone increasingly comfortable with editing .json files and simple html. So, if a non-techy medievalist such as myself can learn it in a week (≈ 24 hours of instruction) I guess I can expect students to pick up a fair bit of it over two terms (in class, ≈ 24 x 3 hours = 72). We do have a lot of book history to learn, mind you.

If we structure the class correctly, I think, then we can lead students on a quest –starting with social media and ending with simple programming. Students will be expected to use #medievaltwitter (for networking, watching for calls for papers or finding ideas about what is joining on in medieval DH), to blog about their thoughts on the exercises and readings, before moving over to the relatively user-friendly CMS Omeka  as well as the more arcane worlds of GitHub and IIIF to display their work in progress.

The assignments are organized around a spiral curriculum, in which students address a topic and then return to it for at least one further pass. We will start by getting people used to the online environment by using familiar environments – Twitter and blogs. These platforms allow the students to share their experience using other tools. But the real focus is on the uncatalogued medieval material in the holdings of Carleton University. Over the course of the year , each student will work on a single folio to describe, transcribe and analyze it. Their folio then becomes the central focus of students’ work as they consider it from different perspectives and with different tools. What was it like, for example, transcribing a medieval document with pencil and paper? And then how did it differ when using a tool such as Recogito or Transkribus? What changed when inputting a catalogue record modelled on manuscript catalogues to putting that information into Omeka, which uses Dublin Core. By the end of the first term, students will have used Omeka to present a detailed description of the folio. In the second term, I will ask students to present much of the same information, but this time they will be encoding the information as a TEI file that they will make available through a Github Jekyll site.

As I think about all the possibilities, I realize that the key to teaching this course is having a lot of material prepared beforehand. Having templates created and tested beforehand, as well as workflow sorted out will mean that the class should run smoothly. To help with workflow, I created a slack group today for the class and integrated a google drive (where all the manuscript images are currently located), a google calendar (to keep track of deadlines and the presentation schedule) as well as other things I don’t know if they’re useful or not (such as Polly – to allow easy polling of the slack members, and Todo, to create todo lists).

And so, we march on.

Back to being a student

This week Kate and I are attending the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at UVic. I feel like I’m going back to being a first-year undergrad (with all the awkwardness and confusion that implies) while also attending a wonderfully nerdy and welcoming summer camp. The experience (and being confronted by the realms of my ignorance) have made me reflect a bit about why I have wanted to get involved in the digital humanities. I think I need to figure out what I was thinking when I signed up to learn about IIIF Image servers or presentation API’s…

Most of my early connection to computers was for entertainment – my parents got my brother and me a colecovision console in the early 80s and then sent us to mini-university computer camp to teach us how to program on a  Commodore 64 (which we then used exclusively to play games). Since both of my parents were teachers, we had a steady stream of early Apple computers intended to be educational. These were the first machines I did something other than play games on – learning (maybe?) from vaguely educational software (e.g. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego) or writing up school assignments. And this is in essence how I have also used computers – for entertainment and for composing papers. Throughout grad school and to this day for my research, I have rarely used my computer as anything more than a word processor and, these days, increasingly a means to read pdf article and books. So, as my history shows, I really don’t have any background nor any reason why I should be trying to teach about Digital Archives.

In teaching, however, I have often sought to have students use digital environments to see historical practice from a new perspective. Almost a decade ago, I had my students in classes on medieval intellectual life edit wikipedia articles to get them used to the idea that others would see what they write or that their writing could impact how the Middle Ages is perceived (and also to improve the quality of scholarship of Wikipedia in those early days). More recently I’ve tried to incorporate smaller digital assignments to help student re-imagine their research process such as using Knightlab’s Timeline which was meant to provide a new structure for constructing historical chronologies. I’ve found that using these tools (which are really just new versions of tools long used by historians), students were able to better understand how and why scholars work the way they do.

It is with this in mind that I want to create a new course devoted to the process of digital archiving – even though I takes me far outside my comfort zone (reading and thinking about Medieval Latin texts), and into the terrifying world of Unix and command line editing. Thank goodness I have a graduate student to act as an Ariadne in this DH labyrinth.


What are we doing?

This blog is meant to provide a running commentary for what is a bit of an experiment for myself and Kate. But who knows how it will turn out.

With the generous support of Carleton University, Kate, an incoming MA student in History, and I, a professor of medieval History,  are working over the summer to create a new course to teach upper year students about how to read, describe and digitize medieval manuscripts (and archival material more generally). Our hope is that we use this blog to document our creative/ analytical process, as well as to leave a record (e.g. syllabus, course readings) to help others who might be in the process of developing similar courses.