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….

In which librarians offer a healthy serving of IIIF

After some some trial and error (mostly error), we did what we should have done much early and went to talk to a librarian. Being relatively new to the DH field (and as a medievalist), I don’t really pay much attention to much beyond books at Carleton University’s MacOdrum library. After a meeting with the University Systems gurus –Ed Bilobeau, Jennifer Whitney and Kevin Bowrin– they assured me that they could set up a IIIF server on shared digital infrastructure provided as part of the OCUL (Ontario Council of University Libraries). Long story short – they were amazingly helpful and we now have our manuscript images served up. We still need to create IIIF manifests to make them accessible to the Mirador viewer on our Omeka site so that they will be ready for use come September.

With this milestone passed, now back to the task of sorting out readings, scheduling speakers and creating the detailed instructions for the weekly assignments and major term projects.

Take a look here at what IIIF can do with images!

IIIF Toolkit: Trials and Tribulations

We’ve returned home to Ottawa and we’re ready to start uploading our IIIF content to our Omeka site. Nothing works, everything seems broken. With moral low, we began to frantically google our problems. We were missing one very important part to make the toolkit work:

We needed to install and host a IIIF image server.

We first attempted to host our images on an online server, the Internet Archive. With the API still in alpha and the documentation still in progress, our results we far from perfect. Our images had their default resolutions set to thumbnail size and we could not manage to create proper manifests through Perhaps we need our own Image Server that we can point to our Omeka install?

The next IIIF image server I attempted to install was Loris. But without dedicated server space, the server would be run locally (and therefore not always accessible). This wasn’t a viable solution for our project. We needed server space.

After discussing it with others in the department, we realized that we should get server space through our institution and allow an experienced computer scientists from the university install our IIIF Image server for us. This means a lot less challenges in the Terminal for me, and less of a chance that the image server will cause us issues (due to my modest installation attempt) in the future.

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.