This is a big year for me. As I noted in the paper I presented at the AHA annual meeting last month, January 2014 marked ten years since I began to learn about eXtensible Markup Language (XML) and the Text Encoding Initiative, the main tools that brought me from early experiments in using technology to enhance students’ learning to my present scholarly practice in digital humanities and digital history. So I am particularly thrilled to have the privilege of a sabbatical leave this spring, a leave that will give me time to bring to completion some of my first work with using TEI in teaching undergraduates how to do history and to move some more recent efforts to a next stage.
Since I work at an institution that begins its spring semester after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I spent the weeks between the end of the AHA on January 5 and the beginning of the new semester two weeks ago optimizing the physical space for my work in my home study and using goal-setting and productivity tools to do the same with mental space. I have a lot of projects at various stages of completion, and because these usually share time and focus with teaching, many of them benefited from the kind of concentrated planning that–for me at least–requires taking a deep breath, calming my puppy brain, and getting out the colored pens and notecards.
Fancy mind-mapping programs and electronic to-do apps have had their shiny appeal for me over the past decade, and thinking on a keyboard is certainly part of my tool-kit. But my longest-used, most familiar tools for are pen and paper. And these tools sit alongside keyboard and touchscreen in all of my work spaces.
Oh, and sticky whiteboard sheets. I love using sticky whiteboard sheets on the walls to help me keep my projects and goals in sight.
The projects range from finally publishing the files from the first project my colleagues and I undertook with using TEI in teaching nineteenth-century U.S. women’s history, through creating a website based on primary sources that document an 1862 journey to London and Europe, to testing the model that my co-author and I have been developing for marking up financial records. It’s a big agenda for a relatively short period of time.
So as the first week of February begins with yet another snowfall, I sit a my desk with a fresh project inventory and stacks of “next actions” sorted by context and cross-referenced by project. I still have plenty of organizing and brainstorming and many weekly reviews ahead of me. But I have completed the first pass in this iterative process we call being “on leave.”
And I look forward to narrating the process over the next several months, using this space to write informally about the professional effort that goes into building websites, updating a longterm teaching project, and demonstrating how digital publication is an ideal way to express the fruits of ten years’ teaching and research in digital history.
Let the sabbatical begin.