A must see video documentary about computional authorship recognition on the hand of the 12th c. prophetess Hildegard of Bingen, with Mike Kestemont, Jeroen Deploige, and Sara Moens. Very fascinating example of how DH can change our view on medieval authors!
On Friday 5th of July I had the pleasure to give a presentation on apocalyptic thinking and the afterlife in the 14th century during the XL edition of Lost & Found at the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam.
Lost & Found is a series of events organized by an amazing team of volunteers featuring diverse short presentations of (future) projects, music, and other interesting formats. I think they have not very often an academic presentation, but because this evening took place in the Oude Kerk, which was built in the 14th century and we were sitting, standing, and later dancing on the graves of such famous people as the Dutch seafaring hero Jacob van Heemskerck, it seemed more than appropriate to talk about heaven and hell and Judgement Day from a medieval perspective. Also for me giving my presentation at such a special place changed my perspective and let me somehow sense more which kind of impact a medieval sermon might have had on lay people.
The Oude Kerk is truly a very special church because it is the oldest church of Amsterdam, not in use anymore as a church but as a cultural place (like many other churches in the Netherlands due to the decreasing numbers of churchgoers), and it is at the heart of the Red Light District (The Wallen). Actually only a few meters from the church there are bars and the famous windows where the prostitutes present what they have to offer. Somehow it made me really sense how intermingled religion and worldly things have always been in real life and maybe more in a crowded medieval town than now.
The whole evening started with a performance of Jugedamos called the ‘Bible performance’. This performance set the right tone for an evening with very disparate presentations that were related to each other in a very special way. First Lotte Geeven presented a plan for a project to make the deepest hole of the world to record the sounds you hear from the deep. Some believe that the disturbing sounds you hear from the deep of the earth are the sounds of the tortured souls in hell… The problem is that making the hole and the recording equipment are very expensive, so if you feel a strong urge to sponsor this fascinating project (and maybe hear your predecessors screaming), don’t hesitate to contact Lotte.
My presentation was welcomed warmly. I could not get rid of the feeling that Jan van Boendale, Lodewijk van Velthem, and Jan van Leeuwen would have been more than pleased that their teachings were still found relevant by a lay public almost 700 years later. I was amazed how many questions people had afterwards and that the topic that interested them most were the apocalyptic people, those wild people who will come and persecute the Christians before the End. I was very happy to discuss later with Yassine El Idrissi, who was giving a presentation on his planned documentary about the war in Syria that will be broadcasted on Dutch TV, this motif’s occurrence in the Koran.
Very special to me was the presentation of a short movie by Tejal Shah with the title ‘There is a spider between us’ and the following Skype interview with the artist. Her movie addresses problems she experiences about talking about her sexual orientation with her parents and how she copes with her parents’ sexuality. She described in the interview how difficult it is to talk with your parents openly when you are actually living in two separate worlds, but love each other nevertheless.
Also very enchanting was the presentation of the magician Flip Hallema. I felt like a little child again, which I actually always do when animation movies, circus, and Cotton Candy are involved. Flip climbed on a chair and let sticks disappear and repaired and removed magic knots and told us fascinating stories from his long career as a magician. Highly dramatic was the introduction of the last act, the Utrecht based band Kids with Guns, because first the microphone had to be captured by a climber from under the church roof. Seeing somebody actually going up under the roof lets you really sense how small a human is in the universe of a church building. Later we were all dancing to Kids with Guns.
I just submitted my first ever poster abstract for the DH Summer School that will take place in Leuven (Belgium) from 18 to 20 September 2013! Pretty exciting, I must say. I am really curious how the jury will like my idea about a modular digital edition of the Vierde Partie of the High German Spiegel Historiael. Of course I strongly hope they will accept it so that I will be able to receive feed back and practical advice during the poster presentation from the senior researchers that will be present. But even without a poster, I can not wait to the end of September. The program is so to say mouthwatering…
During the last evening of this year’s Digital Humanities @ Oxford Summer School, when the last survivors had gathered on the compounds of at a lovely pub somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the fields of Oxford, someone completely not involved in the Summer School, but a researcher in the field of let me call it ‘computer related stuff’ and a philosopher from origin asked THE question: “So what are you doing as Digital Humanists? What makes you Digital Humanists?” Astonished silence followed the question for a while, then everybody stated his case…
What have we been doing during this week of Digital Humanities Summer School? I do not at all aim to solve in this little reflection the theoretical discussion of “What are Digital Humanities?”, I suggest to maybe check as a start the answers provided on the site http://whatisdigitalhumanities.com/, but rather aim to give some random impressions of what the Oxford Summer School was all about for me. First of all, I really appreciate that I had the ability to attend to the 2013 edition of the Digital Humanities @ Oxford Summer School, which provided to me a great opportunity to learn more about several aspects of what “the humanities can do with computational methods” and which specific concerns librarians and people working at museums and archives have in this area.
Maybe the most important lesson for me was how crucial it is to look beyond one’s own nose and communicate with each other. Another important lesson was that using a computer does not mean to do Digital Humanities…Digital Humanities is all about making “stuff” available digital and to perform tasks that were traditionally very work intensive, maybe not possible at all, ask new research questions and share and connect the results with fellow researchers and the public, as was stressed in the closing lecture on Friday by Lorna Hughes. A problem that was addressed again and again especially by librarians was the threat of data loss and the silent death of unlinked, difficult accessible data. Securing data from digital projects is seen as one of the important new tasks of libraries, but one should not forget that securing the data in a sustainable way for the future is very expensive. It would be good if researcher would consider these costs from the beginning and include them in their research grant proposals. Lorna also brought in in her lecture on the last day a slight apocalyptic touch when she began speculating about the Beast of Digitization and how it would look in a bestiary. In her opinion it would have two heads, 1) users who always want more data/content, and 2) the material which gets finished at a certain point and the problem of needing more funding for new projects, also to secure jobs.
My specific aim of participating in this Summer School was to learn more about TEI conformant XML, that is learning the specific language to describe documents digitally for several purposes, like digital editions and data mining. The specific very practical minded workshop An Introduction to XML and the Text Encoding Initiative was given by Sebastian Rahtz, James Cummings, and Ian Matzen and they really did their best to prepare us in a very short time to be able to work independently with Oxygen and the TEI-guidelines on our own projects. The next step would be to also learn how to influence the output of the transcribed text, but that will be for another time… One point that became clear to me during the discussions of the workshop sessions is that although TEI is really a great tool for digital editing, it is not a magic weapon. We are still struggling with the problem of trying to describe something in a linear way that is in many cases not linear, think of all over the place scribbled pages, and then the encoding gets a bit messy…
To sum up, I have spent a fantastic, very energetic week, learning many things, having some beliefs shaken, and meeting many amazing people! And last but not least, I slipped away one morning to examine some manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, such fantastic staff, such a great experience!
Hope to see you back next year!
Short glosses: The food at lunch at Wolfson college was marvelous, the teaching facilities generally o.k. (though tables missing at Wolfson College Lecture Theater, how to take notes, especially with a laptop…), but really cold due to the air-conditioning, the diner at Queens College was quite an experience…yes, it looked very nice and indeed almost like in Harry Potter, but the food was rather bad, the wine very quickly finished, and we all together forced to leave very soon. I know this kind of places under the name of tourist trap…
Most hilarious moments: missing the boat to go punting with Sebastian Rahtz and misunderstanding Irish English…I thought the guy was talking about kicking some poor dogs when he was actually saying: “Did you see me given the ducks a bit of a cake?”