Life of a DiXiT fellow can be measured in various ways. The typical approach of the world is to count the days, months and years. What I count are the camps, workshops and conferences – the intensive bursts that terminate periods of extensive preparation and sometimes last-minute panic. As my fellowship progresses into its 8th month the lull periods seem to become shorter and rarer. Yet, returning from the Respublica Litteraria in Action 3: New Sources – New Paths of Research conference I had the occasion to reflect a bit on the past.
Respublica Litteraria in Action is a conference organized every few years, primarily as an occasion for the meeting of the Scientific Board of the Dantiscus Project and presentation of the new achievements and papers related to the project. This time the conference was preceded by the Introduction to TEI workshop spanning 4 days: November 10th to 13th. The aim was to give a “foot-in-the-door” of the TEI world, covering the territory from introduction to XML and XPath to actual publishing of TEI encoded documents on the Web.
As far as I know it was the very first TEI-related workshop in Poland. It is quite remarkable that in relatively short time we were able to organize a cooperation of four institutions: ‘Artes Liberales’ Faculty of the University of Warsaw, Digital Humanities Centre of the Polish Academy of Science, University of Oxford and of course DiXiT. Thus on one misty November morning we found ourselves (together with James Cummings, my DiXiT supervisor and Chair of TEI Technical Council) in front of 30 people ranging from doctoral candidates and early-career researchers to experienced scholars and representatives of publishing houses to tell them (almost) all there is to know about digital scholarly editing and TEI. We started with ‘why’ and ‘what’ of the scholarly editing before moving on to ‘kitting out’ and ‘exactly how’ part of our workshop.
My former experiences with teaching TEI and more importantly listening while others teach it gave me probably background enough to do it once again, but I have to admit to feeling rather weird scraping up our introductory talks. It was quite a strange situation – computer geek giving overview of theoretical aspects of editing to a room full of ‘proper’ humanities people. Similar thing happened few days later during our panel discussion titled ‘Digitizing sources – Achievements, Experiences, Projects, Cooperation’. What I realized though, was that somewhere along the way DiXiT project has already laid a whole new (and much needed) foundation for my work in the humanities. What I received was the gift of new language and deeper understanding of the culture that comes with it. During our very first MMSDA camp in Cambridge Peter Stokes and Vim van Mierlo concentrated on the traditional disciplines of codicology and palaeography and later Elena Pierazzo gave her famous 90-minutes overview of the editorial tradition. Looking back to these days it was my ‘road to Damascus’ experience. It is most puzzling how could I survive before without such rudimentary knowledge but probably also gives some insight into common troubles of digital humanities field. The ‘barrier’ between digital and humanities can be conveniently bridged perhaps with just a short guided tour of the strange culture and immersion course of the languages of the tribe on the other bank.
Hopefully in Warsaw we’ve managed to help our participants with a crossing to the fairy land of TEI and I’m looking forward to our future training events.
On the Independence Day (Nov 11th) which is the national holiday some of us met at Tarabuk (bookstore-cum-cafè) to drink hot beverages of choice and discuss ambitious individual projects.