EsR 10 – DiXiT, after all
How it all began.
In the warm Greek spring days of 2014 I clearly remember myself reading with a mixed feeling of admiration and jealousy (with a good reason) about a new scholarly training network under the sibyllic acronym DiXiT: a group of young researchers from across Europe (and USA) were dealing afresh with the ‘hot’ topic of Digital Humanities, digital scholarly editing, alongside a long list of high-profile institutions and pioneering scholars ready to offer them training and support – and all this, under the auspices of generous EU funding. For a young researcher in the Humanities this looked like winning the academic lottery.
A few months later, I found myself submitting an application for the DiXiT EsR 10 role hosted at Huygens ING in the Hague, attending a skype interview and an assessment and finally receiving an offer for the position under the supervision of Prof.Karina van Dalen-Oskam. I think it was the quickest suitcase packing process ever.
Crashing the party a bit later comes always with extra benefits. The available resources and logistics are in good order, people should by now be relaxed, familiar with each other, half-drunk, welcoming and carelessly dancing as they can’t really predict how the party might evolve. This mood was exactly what I encountered on my first DiXiT experience, even if I needed to jump in at the deep end: it was the 1st Convention held in the Hague, back in September 2015, which I helped organize together with the rest of DiXiT Dutch task force (aka Peter Boot, Elena Spadini). Looking back, this first DiXiT event was the perfect demo for my lifestyle for the next two years: little sleep, loads of coffee, stimulating scholarly discussions, new (soft and often hard-to-learn) skills, colleagues and friends to admire and to collaborate with, never-ending to-do lists, DIY celebrations and frustrations over booze and travel arrangements (my entire life could fit in a backpack).
For my DiXiT fellowship entitled “Long term business models in dissemination and publishing of digital scholarly editions”, I tried to conceptualize and study digital scholarly editing from an operational point of view: digital scholarly editions are at the same time high-level scholarly outputs, complex web development projects and ‘fragile’ digital products. The central question for my research was how to design, develop and disseminate digital editions that alongside their robust scholarly value, will secure financial, institutional, technological resources for their long term maintenance. As I joined DiXiT midway, in June 2015, for 2 years, my fellowship was not directly linked to a PhD – actually I had already started a PhD thesis at the University of Ioannina in Greece on literary history and medial changes, which I will soon defend (wohoo!). This double academic commitment – even though at times exhausting – gave me the chance to historicize and better understand the changing materialities of textual scholarship and their related practices and economics.
The very first weeks of DiXiT I remember trying to navigate myself through the emerging types of digital editions and to understand the diverse development workflows, various stakeholders and financial/funding mechanisms: the chaos was just in front of me. Soon I realized that “a one size fits all model” is but a chimera and that the areas of development and publication of digital editions are so diverse and at the same time so creative and constantly evolving, that a case-by-case approach or an indicative selection would be inefficient. I thus decided to organize my research around 3 main interconnected areas of interest: 1) cost- efficiency methods 2) revenue generation strategies and 3) sustainability planning for digital scholarly editing projects. As main research outcomes, I decided to produce state-of-the-art reports and case-studies analyses, alongside other scholarly publications and outputs, such as contributions to RIDE (stay tuned for more!) and as well as to the DiXiT/IDE volume on DSE as interfaces (with Ginestra Ferraro).
As for cost reduction strategies, I have primarily focused on ways to reduce the cost of the workforce of digital editing projects, implementing strategies such as crowdsourcing. I couldn’t have asked for a better case-study than the Transcribe Bentham and my ex-colleagues, Melissa Terras, Tim Causer and Kris Grintt, at the UCL Bentham project: together we conducted a detailed study on the cost-efficiency of crowdsourcing transcription for manuscript sources, which is in many cases, the basis of a digital edition – our study will be soon published in Digital Scholarship for the Humanities. Αs an alternative way to minimize the overall cost of a digital edition, I have also conducted research on automated procedures for certain editing tasks, such as the handwritten text recognition (HTR). To this end, I worked mainly on Transkribus, an expert software tool, developed within READ project, able to run HTR on historical documents and provide automatically generated transcripts – I produced a report from a cost-efficiency point of view for a digital editing project. Together with Franz Fischer from IDE/CCEH we ’ve also produced a detailed report on the TEI compliance of the Transkribus tool, which hopefully will increase its use within digital editing workflows.
In the following months, I focused on exploring in more detail the financial politics of digital scholarly editing: how the revenues needed to cover projected costs might be generated, and in that case, the types of income streams that might produce those revenues post-grant. At that point, Aodhán and I, working on neighbouring DiXiT projects, decided to set up a collaborative BE-NE/IR-GR effort that resulted in a study on monetization strategies for digital scholarly editions (under publication). Unexpectedly, my participation at the Hack the Book Festival in order to design an open, hybrid, phygital publishing model for the book of the future, provided me also with fresh ideas on cost structures and revenue streams using market-native frameworks, such as the Business Model canvas.
The topic of sustainability was a type of ‘mantra’ for my research project. Actually, I worked towards a comprehensive approach of sustainability for digital editing projects, by connecting the dots between technological maintenance, economic viability and scholarly value creation. Sustainability, borrowing from Kathleen Fitzpatrick, is about “the willingness to work together toward long-term means of ensuring that the [digital editions] we build today will not just survive but evolve with our technologies and the people who use them”. Within the sustainability discussion, I have also elaborated on a full and fair Open Access model based on reuse, within a dynamic development framework approach. This model has just been published on our brand new DiXiT edited volume and its rationale has been one of the starting points for a survey-based research paper we are now working on together with Merisa, Wout, Elli and Aodhán on accessibility and digital editions.
I couldn’t have asked for a better team than the fantastic – then newly-established – King’s Digital Lab to work with during my first DiXiT secondment. The Lab’s culture towards the sustainable development of digital resources was eye-opening for my scholarly endeavour and I am more than grateful to James Smithies for his overall support: I collaborated with them on designing a sustainability and archiving strategy for digital projects, and I learned a lot about functional development within an Agile framework, iterative project design and management, research infrastructures, research data management and, most important, staying zen over multiple apps/screens/projects. Luckily enough, a couple of months later I set off for my second secondment in Ghent, at the Centrum voor Teksteditie en Bronnenstudie (CTB) and together with Ron & Bert (thanks guys!) put in practice my knowledge and skills on information architecture design, XML-based databases and publishing frameworks, TEI ‘secret caves’ (aka how to encode telegrams), maintenance and archiving strategies and creative partnerships development for digital editions – set aside the hunt for the best Belgian beer. For me, this vast and diverse exposure to a high-level professional environments together with the rich and interdisciplinary training program, were of the highlights of our ITN program and what will eventually help me to my future professional career.
DiXiT and its legacy
There are some (minor) downsides for party late-comers. Indeed, joining DiXiT by June 2015, I missed the core training program (Camps) but nevertheless, I could follow DiXiT training as the Camps’ teaching material was available online. Since its inception, DiXiT has been an open and supportive network, even for its non-formal members. This ethos of sharing, openness, support and community building, is I think what made DiXiT so unique and successful and, in all honesty, the most valuable ‘training’ for me.
Thanks to the substantial freedom and mobility that the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions Program grants to its researchers and its generous funding, as fellows we were able to travel from all across Europe in order to attend more workshops, conferences, summer/autumn/winter/spring schools and events, from Victoria to Grenoble, and from Maynooth to Rome and Crete, to build a robust and varied skillset, meet (usually over drinks) people whose names were known to us only through bibliography, present our research and productively discuss on it, and, finally, dance, sing and raise glasses filled with interesting local spirits all over the world.
DiXiT also offered us the means to collaborate with other colleagues and institutions in organizing specialized training events and workshops open for the scholarly community. It was with mixed feelings of excitement and stress that I co-organized workshops, such as the “Future Publishing models for digital editions” (with Mike Pidd, Paul Caton and Andreas Triantafyllidis) in Cologne during the Convention 2, “The Educational and Social Impact of Digital Scholarly Editions” (with Elena Spadini) in Rome during AIUCD2017, “Digital Scholarly Editions and Modern Greek studies” (Ψηφιακές Εκδόσεις και Νεοελληνικές Σπουδές) (with Elli Mylonas, Elena Spadini, Magdalena Turska) in Athens in collaboration with the National Library of Greece.
All these DiXiT Camps, Conventions and additional events were always open and welcoming to researchers from the global research community; most of the times there was a strategic provision to provide bursaries especially for early career researchers to attend these events. We have also tried to be more inclusive on our language repertoire, by producing training material (eg for our Athens’ workshop) or research outputs (like the multilingual Lexicon of Scholarly Editing) in languages other than English. Overall, DiXiT gave us a taste of the (currently under question) European ideal: the free intercultural exchange and the safe sense of an open community.
By making available and inclusive its training material, events and outcomes, DiXiT stands as an example in the Humanities scholarship in terms of democratization of knowledge: these trainings, this exciting new knowledge on digital scholarly editing, these diverses outputs, and, most importantly, this community of people – all these are the DiXiT legacy.
DiXiT taught me the values of being open and supportive (and this is also what I am now trying to do in my role as ADHO communications fellow), while reminding me of the bravery and the fruits of challenging your various comfort zones: geographical, linguistic, professional, scholarly and personal ones. I would not have been able to face all these challenges, smaller or bigger battles, failures and victories, without the support network of my family and DiXiT people.
My supervisor Prof.Karina van Dalen-Oskam, the heart of the Dutch-DiXiT team, Peter Boot, and all Huygens colleagues (Joris, Leo, Peter, thanks!) helped me to work and live the ‘Dutch way’: cycling to work, enjoying meditation on Monday mornings, trying to follow work-life balance imperatives, alongside setting concise research goals, organising work deliverables, working creatively and collaboratively in a matrix environment. Sharing an office (and hundreds of thousands coffees, dozens of shared Google docs, tons of stress, and loads of comforting hugs) with Elena Spadini and (fewer coffees but almost equal number of hugs) with the recent Huygens-addition, Elli, was one of the gifts life rarely gives you.
I have been honoured to have such stunning co-fellows and friends: your work and intellectual rigour and passion and kindness and humour (and dancing skills!) were always guidance for me and reasons to keep striving ; “Keep Ithaka always in your mind”. Special thanks also goes to the fantastic administration team in Cologne, all the supervisors, affiliated DiXiT (full & associated) partners and External Experts Advisory Board who helped each fellow and the network as a whole to reach its best.
[ I am getting emotional; no because DiXiT finished, mainly because it’s happened. ]
DiXiT wouldn’t be half as amazing and successful as it is without its people. Andreas Franz Patrick Tessa Andreas Elena Peter Georg Marjorie James +Sebastian Susan Karina Peter Dirk Fabio Mats Mikael Gioele Magdalena Linda Roman Wout Merisa Daniel Elli Aodhán Richard Frederike Francisco Elena Tuomo Misha Federico,
Farewell! Tot ziens! Αντίο!