This year UGent was proud to host the first THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) ever in Ghent and I was there at this historic event. Like all first timers, there were some minor problems, especially frustrating that the WiFi at Zebrastraat didn’t always work, quite annoying when you are actually officially not allowed to bring a powerpoint presentation and show websites. Luckily, some of us, especially the newbies who had not been really aware of this rule, brought a PP so we could at least look at something. But enough about things not working, because the improvised sphere is actually what a THATCamp is all about, because it is an unconference: spontaneous, non-hierarchical, and most of all fun!
And fun it was, although sometimes I was quite overwhelmed by all the information brought together by so many specialists and enthusiasts. That is a great advantage, because a THATCamp is very accessible, everybody is welcome to contribute, to ask questions, and to brainstorm together, whether you are a technology geek, librarian, texual scholar, or just very curious.
I had supposed a session about TEI, its possibilities especially for manuscript description to share my experiences from the Berlin Training School (see my last post). My session was merged with the session proposed by Kathrien Deroo who has worked already on some projects using TEI. We were joined by Thomas Crombez and Les Harrison, who also shared their experiences. Les later also had his own session together with Sally Chambers about Scholarly editions in the digital age. Taking the two sessions together, the main question that seemed to bother the participants seemed to me: How does TEI improve editing, e.g. is it worth to take all the time to encode in TEI, what is the added value? What are the advantages and disadvantages compared to other technologies? On a more theoretical level it became clear that with the digital edition, either an edition with changing appearances because of an interactive interface or different digital editions on the web, we also need more theoretical reflection. What is the text of work? Is there a stable text? How does the idea of crowd sourcing go together with aiming at a controllable/citeable scholarly edition. Is the text of a work in fact nothing more than the item seen by the reader? How to create awareness in the minds of the students that “the text” is not the Holy Grail, but that it comes in many variations and that its context has to be considered too? What should be the starting point for a text going digital, the facsimily as it appears to be closest to the actual document? I got the idea that in the digital age there is still a gap between editorial theory and practice, but somehow this also did not very much surprise me, because in the past also theory and practice were sometimes something quite different. At least, again it became very clear that you can not just do something, start encoding and being overwhelmed by the new possibilities, you have to be aware and reflect on what you are doing and why and how it changes approaches to the textual material or maybe the text at all.
For these sessions and the others sessions I refer to the website of the THATCamp, where some notes will appear taken on Titanpad. Just follow the links on the schedule site.