I'm a medievalist reading for PhD exams in the English department at UNC. I'm also trying to develop a mapping program/platform/website/database/magical screen that will plot, sort, and layer all locations mentioned by a group of texts called The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle--a collection of annals begun in the ninth century and extending to the twelfth. Ideally, the map’s user will be able to query dates, names, locations, and event type (invasion, fire, miracle, etc). The map will have a different layer for each version, so the viewer will also be able to see (or hide) when and where the annals differ from each other.
These texts are fascinating and notoriously difficult to relate to one another; by visualizing their points of interest, conflict, omission, and overlap, we might be able to shed some light on their relationships with one another and with medieval English literature at large.
I've been lucky to attend working groups, discussions, lectures, and meetings about integrating the digital into my research (and department), but I’m not much more experienced in digital development than I was when I started the project almost a year ago.
The advice I've received has been thoughtful and motivating. So now I find myself in a strange place-- knowing what I need to learn, but not knowing how or when to learn it. Drupal might work. TEI could help. Omeka seems promising.
Yet here are those pesky exams, and foreign language flashcards, and my students, and our dogs. And after that will be the prospectus, and foreign language reading, and my students, and our dogs. And then the dissertation...you see where I'm going with this. I don't want to abandon textual study for a digital degree, so how can I justify spending all this time and on learning something that--it sounds strange to say--I shouldn't be learning right now?
That's precisely what I was wondering when I attended Dyan Elliott's "Counterfactual Twelfth Century" presentation in lieu of the "Meaning of Digital Humanities" talk today. I began tweeting (with permission) but soon found myself distracted. I was missing those great phrases, interesting linkages, and difficult names. I was trying to share but losing the presentation’s most intricate and poetic points.
To whom did I owe this reporting, anyway? Was I doing this for notes, as a listening exercise, or because it was digital and "that's what I do"? No matter the reason for trying, I was bad at it. My tweets weren't helpful or detailed. I was losing on both sides. I had to choose medieval or digital in yet another moment of multidisciplinary multitasking. But here’s the catch: I didn’t want to choose.
Because whether it’s Anglo-Saxon Chronicles or Semi-Saxon dream visions, this stuff is just too damn cool for people to miss.
I remembered that I want this Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Map because the texts are difficult, marginalized, and under-studied. I want to make them accessible, relatable, and fluid. I want the map to prompt new scholars with new interpretations and new interests. That's why I was at a medieval event-- that's why I was tweeting there, too.
So I'm back to feeling good about my digital inklings. I feel justified in my interest. I won't let difficulty (and at times, seeming impossibility) distract me from what I know-- what I see-- is important.
But now I need some help. Conversation and advice, of course, but more drastically perhaps, practice and experience.
Archivists, coders, digitalization specialists, visualization wizards, and anyone else (other Anglo-Saxonists out there?)-- I'd love to know what you think and how you’ve learned.
I'm looking forward to sharing ideas and inspiration with everyone here.
Huzzah for HASTAC!