“Day of DH” with the Digital Scholarship Group (#DayofDH)

Hi! Jim McGrath, Digital Scholarship Group Coordinator, here. Given that today is #DayofDH (which you can learn more about here and on Twitter via the hashtags #DayofDH and #dayofDH2015), I thought it would be fun to have some of the various members of our Digital Scholarship Group team write about what they’ve been up to today. As you’ll see, the day-to-day work of digital scholarship involves a wide range of people, activities, and collaborations! For more information on what the DSG is up to, keep watching this blog (and follow us on Twitter @NU_DSG)!

Julia Flanders, Head of the Digital Scholarship Group

Here’s a quick inventory of my Day of DH: interviews with two job candidates for positions at the Digital Scholarship Group, one TEI training session for new Women Writers Project encoders, one meeting with the editorial staff of Digital Humanities Quarterly, one brief presentation to a department chairs meeting concerning a proposed quantitative methods program, and one meeting to discuss the final stages of work for our NEH “Taking TEI Further” grant. During my inbound commute, I worked on a final report for another NEH grant. During my one free half hour, I did some organizational work concerning the coming year at the NULab: planning our next call for seedling grant proposals, thinking about the next cohort of NULab fellows, and organizing a meeting to talk with the NULab co-directors about the practicum course we taught this year. Things I would have done if I’d had time (the alternate-universe Day of DH) include working on two new grant proposals, finishing my feedback on student projects for the practicum, finishing an overdue grant report, writing down my impressions of yesterday’s “New Ecologies of Scholarship” workshop while they’re fresh in my mind.

What could my future self deduce about the kind of DH I’m doing at this point and in this place? For one thing, it has a great deal to do with face-to-face contact and discussion: organization, communication, reaching agreement on how to proceed. This tells me something about my job: I’m definitely a manager now, so whatever technical knowledge I may have operates in a “meta” mode: through pedagogy, decision-making, policy-making, oversight of other people’s work, organization-building. For another, I’m struck by how (today at least) my work had very local institutional horizons. On other days, a greater proportion of my attention is going to activities like ADHO, TAPAS, the Boston-area digital humanities community, preparing for conferences. And I’m also noticing how atypically little documentary trace this day left behind: no meeting notes, records of decisions, policy or documentation records, new content. On the other hand, the results from today could be far-reaching:  the encoder training represents the induction of two new colleagues, and the job interviews will bring us two more. If the program in qualitative methods moves forward, it will have an important impact on our graduate programs here, including our teaching of digital humanities at the graduate level.

Now I’m sitting at home looking at my garden and remembering that we’re still gardeners even when we’re just watering and waiting for things to sprout.

Amanda Rust, Assistant Director

I’m the Digital Humanities Librarian and Assistant Director of the Digital Scholarship Group. As such, I have some responsibilities as a liaison librarian (with English and Theatre), responsibilities in the  management realm (hiring, planning, assessment), and responsibilities providing various types of support for specific projects.

My bus ride into work was delayed in Boston traffic, so in my liaison librarian role I started some research on my phone to answer a reference question from an English graduate student. This involved looking through different translations of a work on WorldCat (thanks, mobile Internet!) to see which nearby libraries had a specific translation.

Once I got to work, it was largely a management-ish day: we are currently hiring for a new position, and one of the candidates had their day-long interview visit today. I’m chairing that search committee, which is new to me, so I’m still learning and trying hard to make sure we host humane interviews, with things like breaks, water, snacks, time for questions, and generally enough support to make candidates feel comfortable. A candidate visit largely takes up the entire day, and there are a ton of moving parts. Our Dean’s Assistant is basically an additional member of each search committee, and is our expert on planning the schedule and navigating the inner workings of HR. The rest of the search committee is fabulous, so we’ve been able to rely on each other to remember things like budget numbers to charge lunch, picking up extra food for a meeting, and last-minute room changes. I have definitely learned how many people it takes to host a candidate visit.

In between some of those meetings, I had a visit from our campus copy shop, who dropped off some sample signs. Which might not sound exciting, but it is! We are working on a new project with a collection of beautiful 16th-19th century prints. We’ve digitized these prints, and are developing a lovely website with automatic connection back to our Fedora repository. We’re also developing new signage for these prints that have QR codes to take viewers directly to the digital image, with enhanced metadata online. Over time, we expect students and other researchers to add to that metadata, so the online space is the place for ongoing work. (And a way to avoid changing our physical signs every time new information comes to light.) I’ve worked with our graphic design co-op to develop an Adobe Illustrator template, and the batch of samples today looked good! As a bonus, I am continually amused by my lack of skill using Illustrator, but I now know how to move text boxes around and change font sizes, so that’s something.

This was an unusual day for me, in that so much was taken up with the interview process, but it’s an important part of DH work. I’ve been thinking about how to make our process (hopefully!) reflect to candidates the approaches and ways-of-working that we’ve embraced as a DH/digital scholarship group. DH as a field tries generally to be very thoughtful about labor, so I’ve been thinking about how to reflect that not just in our management practices once people get here, but in the way that we interview candidates as well.

Sarah Connell, Project Manager of the Women Writers Project

For me the day started with some Early Caribbean Digital Archive encoding on my train in. I’m working on Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda and am about sixty pages into the second volume. Today, I encoded a scene where the older, more experienced Lady Delacour consoles the virtuous Belinda after they see a portrait of a “foreign beauty” surrounded by plantains and cocoa-trees and are informed that the painting’s subject is the mistress of Belinda’s love interest, Clarence. Since the ECDA is marking up both commodities and reference to flora, Lady Delacour’s assessment of the portrait—judging that the young woman must be foreign because of her air, her dress, and the plants around her—was quite interesting. I encode on my commutes most days; the train seems to make the work go more smoothly and I like to bookend my workday with encoding.

Once I got to the Digital Scholarship Commons at Northeastern, I switched gears to work on Women Writers Project tasks. I started out by scheduling a meeting with my colleague Ashley Clark to talk about reorganizing the ways we track the WWP’s ongoing projects. Then, I spent a bit of time sending out announcements about our new publication—we’ve been working for a few months on getting the spring publication set out and we finally got the new texts up last night. Today, I announced the publication on a couple of platforms and also updated our records to include the publication date. After that, I had a DSG meeting and then I quickly got ready for a training session Julia Flanders and I held with our new graduate student encoders. This was the third of four sessions and we talked about rendition, XML overlap, page breaks, metawork, and typography. The training went well—the new encoders are very enthusiastic and I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to think about the ways people gain understanding of the TEI and of project practices. I’ve also been working on finding new texts for our encoders to pick from, so I spent some time before and after the meeting reviewing the list of potential texts, making sure all of our records are accurate, and checking to see if there are any other texts that might be added to the list.

After the training, I worked on some prep for the encoding meeting tomorrow. We’re doing a few textbase-wide fixes and improvements, so I made sure I’d have those ready to explain and hand out. This included checking the list of available projects and printing out one report (looking at end of line hyphens) for people to claim during the meeting. We don’t normally track projects like this one with hard copies, but in this case it ended up being the most efficient process of reviewing a large number of lines and marking the ones that will need to be changed. I also sketched out a short agenda for the meeting—we’ll be scheduling an XPath workshop, thinking about our next set of publications, and welcoming our new encoders. I’ve heard from a couple of people that there will be plenty of encoding questions to discuss, so it should be an interesting meeting.

I spent a few quick minutes checking on and fixing an issue in a published text that Syd Bauman had flagged. I also had a chat with Ashley about generating a new personography and a fix to the WWO interface that we’d been working on. Then I wrote this post and now I’m about to head home. I’ll probably do some more ECDA encoding on the train. I left off this morning with Clarence nervously asking Belinda for a private conversation, so I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next.

Ashley Clark, XML Applications Programmer

I’ve finally settled on a description for what I do in the Digital Scholarship Group – I do “XML-type stuff” for the Women Writers Project and the TAPAS project. I don’t work document-by-document, but across collections of TEI-encoded documents, using XPath, XQuery, XSLT.

Today I’m focusing on WWP tasks. Syd Bauman and Sarah Connell just published a new batch of TEI documents last night, with an educational theme. Today is gray and rainy, but there’s still some sense of freedom, if not jubilation. We spent so long identifying and squashing bugs that it’s something of a relief not to be pressed up against so demanding a deadline.

Still, my current task is fairly immediate – I’m writing XSLT to convert the WWP’s TEI Headers into MARC records. When the WWP was housed at Brown University, the librarians there created MARC records, but now we don’t have the time or energy to (re)create records on an individual basis. So I’m automating the process. Of course, I’ve run into lots of twisty little data inconsistencies in the TEI Headers, all of which must either be flagged, fixed, and/or dealt with in an elegant manner by the XSLT. That’s to be expected, with so many years’ worth of data. Luckily I can use oXygen’s XPath processor to contextualize the TEI elements used in the WWP’s textbase, and to identify problem cases.

But it’s also expected that the WWP won’t take years to release its MARC records! I have most of the work complete, and the rest needs to be just good enough. That’s one thing I appreciate about the WWP – it’s expected that most files will grow. The textbase isn’t static – we add texts to it. The texts aren’t static – we change encoding practices and fix errors all the time. The website and its aesthetics might one day be static, but given that the texts change, I doubt Syd and I will ever be able to accommodate every potential use case. So it’s a great comfort to me that the MARC records will have their chance to grow better too.

Oh, also I made oXygen crash a few times. That was fun!

Linda Moss, Web Applications Developer

I’m a web-applications developer, working on TAPAS, a Drupal-based TEI repository and toolset. Today I am meeting with a job candidate, working on repairing the auto-deployment for the test version of the new website, and working on functions to do a batch upload & xslt processing of TEI files.

Jim McGrath, Digital Scholarship Group Coordinator

I’m the second Coordinator in the history of Northeastern’s Digital Scholarship Group (the first was Sara Grissom, who was excellent! I should also note that Sarah Connell was a “shadow coordinator” in the Fall of 2014 before my arrival to the DSG in January of 2015). During my tenure, I’ve been doing a lot: planning and running staff meetings, brainstorming and hosting events (like our weekly Digital Humanities Open Office Hours series, which is taking a break this summer), creating and editing DSG documentation, working on grants, and helping the DSG’s inaugural group of DSG Project Toolkit recipients (you can learn more about them here). The Coordinator position is one of the most fun and rewarding jobs I’ve had as an adult, and I’ll be sorry to leave the DSG in August (when I finally defend my dissertation and graduate from Northeastern).

Today has been a bit of a blur! I thought sleeping in until 8am would be a good idea, but now, typing this sentence at 4:49pm, I regret that decision. It’s been pretty busy in part because I spent all of Monday at a symposium hosted by Northeastern’s NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks called New Ecologies of Scholarship: Evaluating Academic Production in the Digital Age. It was a productive and informative event that I do not regret attending: you can find a Storify of the participants’ Twitter conversations here (thanks to the awesome Moya Bailey!).

My work day today officially kicked off with an informal conversation between the DSG and a prospective candidate for our open GIS specialist position. I was able to name and briefly summarize all of the various DSG-supported projects in the final minutes of our conversation, which was impressive to everyone but the group waiting to use the meeting room immediately after us. Adding someone well-versed in GIS will be an important next step in scaling the DSG up to meet the needs and interests of Northeastern’s growing community of digital scholars: help with digital mapping has long been a request from students and faculty members (the demand for help with topic modeling has been gaining momentum as well, particularly among DH-savvy grad students).

I also spent a bit of time thinking about the various ways the DSG has been improving the visibility of digital work on campus and fostering a sense of community among the various scholars and students doing interesting things across the disciplines. While I’m all for the positive rhetoric of building communities of digital scholars, the mechanics of creating institutionally-supported sites for those communities entails attention to detail: finding interested participants and soliciting information from them, looking with horror at the incompatibility of schedules, booking spaces and figuring out questions of access, creating agendas, compiling data on events, soliciting feedback, etc., etc. It’s not for everyone.

Thankfully, the results are often exciting and rewarding. We’re in the process of creating a working group for graduate students and postdocs in the New England area who are interested in digital scholarship. We’re planning a Digital Humanities Meet-Up event in July to follow up on a meeting arranged by Anna Kijas at Boston College earlier this month. And we’re creating a customized Omeka sandbox for classroom use by interested teachers and working with their pedagogical and research needs. Part of my day involved sending emails and scheduling meetings for these projects.

I should be sending more emails, but I’ve tried to enforce an informal rule that prevents me from emailing collaborators and co-workers after 6pm. I know how crazy new messages that require follow-up correspondence drive me when I am obsessively checking inboxes (violating an informal rule to keep work correspondence off my personal phone, but sometimes you run out of things to read on Facebook at the bar), so I’m trying to do my part by keeping work-related messages that aren’t time-sensitive or life-changing (i.e., all of them?) out of the non-work day.

I’ll wrap up this entry at 7:37pm from Canary Square, a wifi-toting bar in Jamaica Plain that hosts a weekly early Americanist dissertation writing group I’m a part of with graduate students advised by Elizabeth Maddock Dillon (I’ve been “adopted” by the DH-friendly group: my work focuses on contemporary American poetry). I should be working on the dozens of other things I need to do as part of my various roles as DSG Coordinator, doctoral candidate in English (defending in August!), instructor (co-teaching a digital studio course at a local college), and budding postdoc (!), but I’m going to miss my grad student pals when I leave them in a few months, and it sounds like there’s some juicy gossip coming up at the other end of the table.