This post is inspired in part by Ryan Cordell’s ProfHacker post on developing strategies for writing productivity. He describes his current writing group’s use of Wendy Belcher‘s Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks and some of the principles he is putting into practice. Those are tools I used a few years ago, and I’m watching with interest to learn how well they work for Ryan and his colleagues.
Another inspiration for this post lies in growing interest in developing principles for evaluating digital scholarship, an interest that I see expressed not only in the American Historical Association’s ad hoc Committee on the Professional Evaluation of Digital Publications by Historians, on which I have the privilege of serving, but many other places as well. Most notable today is the Google doc that Adeline Koh has started for establishing “ideal language for assessing promotion and tenure for digital scholarship.”
And a final inspiration comes from a wish to document the kinds of work I am doing during my sabbatical and the time it takes to do them. This latter comes in part from some things I have noticed as a result of the kinds of work Ryan describes in the ProfHacker piece. For me, narrating the process of research and writing as I engage in them helps me with that engagement. A trick I developed when I was using Wendy Becker’s very helpful tools back in 2011 was just writing about the writing process as a warm-up to my daily fifteen minutes.
Now, I also have the incentive of wanting to think through and be able to express for my colleagues in many contexts the joys and challenges that come with having chosen digital platforms as the best media for publication of the research and teaching that I have been doing for the past ten years. When I began to explore digital scholarship, I did not realize how much I would need to learn myself about the technologies that underlie pretty presentation on the inter webs. And some of my colleagues–including my co-author–have attempted to dissuade me from thinking that I need to learn XPath, XSLT, and a host of other languages that my humanist brain is less than ideally suited to understand.
But I am even more convinced now than I was in 2011 when I started to learn a little bit about WordPress that being able to do the sorts of things I want to do with and for digital scholarship entails learning how to do some technical things for myself rather than relying on technical “experts” to do them for me. (I find myself wanting to do an embarrassing girl power dance here….)
So finally, today’s sabbatical narrative is this:
After I completed the Dreamhost one-click installation of Omeka to this domain yesterday, I recalled something I had already learned when I performed the same task for encodinghfrs.org last year. That one-click installation is for Omeka 1.5.3, and Omeka 2.0+ has been operating for some time now.
As has been the case ever since I started teaching myself applications in the mid-1980s (that was WordPerfect, in case anyone is keeping score), becoming comfortable with each new tool is an iterative process. Bumbling through setting up a sub-domain and a db.ini file and the various other set-up details does get easier over time, even though I do forget how to use each tool in between moments when I take the time to engage with them.
I became reacquainted with this process when I started to learn TEI. Although I say this as though it is a joke, it really did take three times sitting through the Introduction to TEI with Julia Flanders and Syd Bauman before I began to feel comfortable enough with XML/TEI to work with the files. And taking the full week to do that at DHSI with my research assistant Lauren Pfendner helped a lot.
So having taken roughly a week to set up my new Omeka repository and still having ahead of me installing the update feels more like success than it does a setback to me. I have learned that this tortoise-like progress is progress nevertheless. The installation of the update will go more quickly, and the iterativity of my learning is simply a fact of the life of the digital humanist, or at least of the kind of digital humanist I choose to be.
Over the next couple of days, I will be installing the Omeka upgrade, converting TIFs to JPGs, uploading them, and then turning to an old version of a TEI transcription that I will need to update for compatibility with the contextual files that I have been working on with a different research assistant–John Burnett–over the past couple of years.
Doing the work of a digital humanities project happens with almost unbelievable slowness when your day job is teaching at a residential liberal arts college. I document that work here in the hope that it will serve to assist my colleagues who are transforming our understanding of scholarship for our ever more digital age.