Submitted by Sarah Stanley on Wed, 11/05/2014 - 21:17

<! - - This blog post is based off of the idea of “change logs” in Jentery Sayers “Tinker-Centric Pedagogy in Literature and Language Classrooms.” I'm not following the prompt he gives in his article. However, I do wish to "chronicle specific moments in the process when the shape of an idea is notably altered," as he puts it.¹ I want to use this post as a way of "versioning" my own thoughts on digital research, which I haven't really done thus far in my studies. I’m writing it like a TEI changelog because I’m a big ol’ nerd. - - >

<change when=“2013-09” who=“sarah”>I spent today marking up the proem from Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde for our “Intro to DH” unit in Proseminar. It was certainly interesting work, although I couldn’t find many productive things to do with just a few stanzas of rhyme royal that I couldn’t just do with a piece of paper and pencil. It was still fun though. I was also fascinated by the potential of voyant and ngrams, but again I couldn’t really do much with it. Middle English doesn’t seem to map well onto the existing tools I've been introduced to. I should definitely look into whether apps and programs are being made that specifically deal with premodern literature and language. Maybe there are cool things I can make that will work specifically with Middle English.</change>

<change when=“2014-05” who=“sarah”> I’ve been working for the Women Writers Project for a few months now, and I just attended a workshop on ODD customization. The TEI’s capacity for customization seems like it could be really helpful for creating my own project in medieval literature. I’ll get to try my hand at customizing ODDs since I’ve just been hired as a project developer on the Early Caribbean Digital Archive! Separately, I need to continue reading literature in my field (it's summer, but I already have a sneaking suspicion I'll hardly be able to find the time). It'll be exciting when these two strings (dh + medieval lit) finally start coming together for me.</change>

<change when=“2014-09-24” who=“sarah”>Isabel Meirelles led a discussion today about data visualization, a topic I didn't think I was terribly interested in. But in her opening slides she gave examples of predigital visualizations, one of which was a Guidonian Hand. Music and medieval stuff: my two favorite things! The subsequent conversation about data visualization was super interesting, but I need to make sure I find time to think about and research the idea of medieval visualizations.</change>

<change when=“2014-10-27” who=“sarah”> Today, I mostly just thought about Bethany Nowviskie’s “Resistance in the Materials”. Well, what if there is no material? I’m working on medieval literature technically, but I’ve spent most of my time doing digital humanities work (so much for the MA being a generalist degree). I’m sure this has everything to do with my department (we only have one medievalist, but we have a bunch of people interested in digital humanities work). Additionally, the allure of being paid to do digital research has definitely reshuffled my priorities. But I can’t help but thinking that this is a more generalized problem in graduate education.</change>

<change when=“2014-11-05” who=“sarah”>I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s possibly to much method to the madness of the ways digital humanists talk about themselves. So much is said about the tools, and so little about the research objects, that I can't seem to get a grasp on how I would create a digital project that has any bearing on my research interests. Professor Cordell spoke at the beginning of the semester about avoiding the genre of the “what is DH” article, yet somehow the genre seems omnipresent in the community.² I love the interdisciplinary tendencies of the discussions and the ways in which DH tries to criticize its own methods and labor conditions, but it feels like amidst all this noise I can't find time to think about my own research.

Once again, I'm drawn back to “Resistance in the Materials.” Of course, I gravitate towards Nowviskie's use of William Morris's medieval quote: “The beauty of the handicrafts of the Middle Ages came from this, that the workman had control over his materials, tools, and time.” The third one is out for any academic it seems: time is very rarely a thing anyone has control over. As for the second, the DH community, with its endless stream of workshops, camps, and institutes, seems ardently invested in giving students control over their tools. I get nervous when we start talking about materials, however. It's obvious that any research needs to start from the materials—too obvious for comment, even. Yet I find that, as a novice, it's very hard to invest time in making your tools and (limited) time work cohesively with your material.

The enthusiasm of the DH community is catching, especially for graduate students. However, I worry that the emphasis on cross-disciplinary hack and yack exacerbates already-difficult material conditions for graduate students and contingent faculty interested in the digital humanities. Not only do you need to learn all there is to know about your field, but you must participate in larger discussions about the digital humanities as a field.</change>


<! - - I guess this blog post isn’t a true change log, since it dramatizes a thought process after the fact, rather than recording it as it goes. The component parts were cobbled together over the past few days into a cogent narrative or argument. So perhaps I’m acting out the assumption that “there is a pre-existing ideal toward which tinkering gravitates,” that Jentery Sayers tries to resist.³ Regardless, the things recorded here are testaments to my ongoing struggle in DH work: do I write a thesis with a digital component? How? What if I decide I can't? All of my mentors had questions they wanted to ask using digital tools and they fitted the technology to their purpose. I (and presumably many others in my position) came at it from the opposite end: method then material. Ultimately, how am I going to make that work? - - >


¹ Sayers, p. 286.

² Thanks to Kevin Smith for the many conversations on this and other subjects.

³ Sayers, p. 283.

Works Cited

Nowviskie, Bethany. "Resistance in the Materials." http://nowviskie.org/2013/resistance-in-the-materials/

Sayers, Jentery. "Tinker-Centric Pedagogy in Literature and Language Classrooms." Collaborative Approaches to the Digital in English Studies. ed. Laura McGrath Logan: Utah State UP, 2011. Computers and Composition Digital Press. 279-300.