Dr. Julia Flanders (jf) is a longstanding member of the TEI and DH communities, Director of the Women Writers Project, Editor of Digital Humanities Quarterly, past Vice President and past President of the Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH), current ACH President, TEI Board Member, and teacher of numerous text encoding workshops and seminars across North America.
[Interviewer: Stephanie Schlitz (ss)]
Thanks very much, Julia, for taking time for this interview and for agreeing to share your insights with readers. I’ll start the interview with several introductory questions.
First, although you’ve been involved in Digital Humanities for nearly two decades, you’ve indicated elsewhere that you “came to computers late,” remonstrating even as an undergraduate student that “perhaps [you] might never own a computer” (“Day of Julia Flanders”). How did you become involved in Digital Humanities — What were the decisive factors that “detour[ed]” (Digital Humanities 6) you from doctoral study in literature and directed you toward the Women Writers Project and therein to your longstanding, integral involvement in the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) and humanities computing?
It’s funny. I think when I tell the story of how I got to the Women Writers Project, it always revolves around serendipity, right; the sort of throwaway line is it was entirely an accident. I was given a proctorship by the graduate school which could have landed me anywhere, but it happened to land me a proofreader job at the Women Writers Project (WWP), and at that point, I knew nothing about computers, and even in those first years of working at the Women Writers Project, I was simply engaging with texts. I was really just proofreading, and in fact, the technology side of it baffled me. And it wasn’t until I started working at the WWP full time that I started to become more engaged with the digital side of things and more interested in it.
But in a way I realize that the thing that made me stay at the Women Writers Project and the thing that made me interested in taking a job there and that made me ask the kinds of questions I did of what I was doing that then eventually led me to become interested — those things had already been with me for a while. And I think that the fundamental question I had in my mind had to do with how we can understand the relationship between the surfaces of things – how they make meaning and how they operate culturally, how cultural artefacts speak to us. And the sort of deeper questions about materiality and this artefactual nature of things: the structure of the aesthetic, the politics of the aesthetic; all of that had interested me for a while, and I didn’t immediately see the connections. But once I started working with what was then what would still be called humanities computing and with text encoding, I could suddenly see these longer-standing interests being revitalized or reformulated or something like that in a way that showed me that I hadn’t really made a departure. I was just taking up a new set of questions, a new set of ways of asking the same kinds of questions I’d been interested in all along. So I don’t know if that is a good beginning for the answer.
In a way, I also want to say that there was a strong professional, a set of professional questions which provided another kind of stimulus because at the time that I went on leave to work at the Women Writers Project full time I was a graduate student, but I was not a happy or successful graduate student. And I think the real turning point for me in that narrative was attending the Digital Humanities – well, I guess it was at that time the Conference of the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing and the Association for Computers and the Humanities. The first year that I attended that conference it was like an eye-opener. I had been to MLA once before, and it was, you know, bitterly cold; it was Toronto, I think; it was huge; it was unmanageable; I didn’t know anyone; there was no way of getting a purchase on any of the things that were happening there, either professional, or social, or even logistical.
And the digital humanities conference by contrast was small; it was welcoming; there were people there who were instantly ready to talk about what they were doing with me and interested in what I was doing and just, you know, there was a great deal of kind of intellectual porosity I guess you’d have to say, and that was inspiring to me because it gave me a way of seeing myself as a participant in a professional discussion, which I had never been able to understand before. I had never been able to project myself into a real kind of participation in professional discourse as a graduate student. And so just from the point of view of how one does work, how one’s – how one engages one’s colleagues, it was a tremendous shift, towards a kind of collaborative, I now realize, a kind of collaborative model of work, away from a kind of strictly codified professionalism, towards an opening up of the kinds of professional responsibilities one might have and the kinds of skills that one might be asked to learn. All of that seemed tremendously fertile to me, and in retrospect I realize even more, moreso. So I think those two things taken together probably constitute somewhere the answer to your question.
Did you have any mentors who particularly influenced your early work within Digital Humanities or within TEI, and, if so, could you describe their contributions?
Yes, I mean, the first has to be named with emphasis, Allen Renear, who at the time was the Director of the Women Writers Project or serving in that role, and he was the person who hired me but also a number of other people in my same situation to work at the Women Writers Project, and he also who asked us, well, enabled us to think of ourselves as being not only legitimate participants in this sort of emerging professional discourse of digital humanities but, also, gave us a really excited, enthusiastic sense of how interesting the questions were and how interesting they were going to continue to be. He is a passionate – he is passionately devoted to the philosophical, and methodological, and intellectual – every single kind of question that was happening then in humanities computing, and he couldn’t say enough about how exciting it was to sort of be alive at that time, how lucky we were to be participating in it. And that enthusiasm really wore off on all of us but particularly for me because I was really eager to have some kind of professional change of direction I think at that point. So he said, you know: this could be a wonderful career; these are the most interesting questions; these are the foundational moments for a really interesting field. And going beyond that, obviously anyone who has met Allen knows how enthusiastic he can be but also the specific kinds of work that we were being invited to do at the Women Writers Project were tremendously engaging and exciting and important, so I have to give – I have to give him credit, and I know I’m not alone in that. He’s brought a number of people into the field with the same kind of enthusiasm.
I think I’d also like to name two others, John Unsworth, who was eventually my dissertation director and has provided a kind of model for me of professional effectiveness and leadership. He was before me, the chair of the TEI, the president of the ACH. He’s of course been a huge number of other things, but seeing the way he’s able to think about the creation of new organizations and the leadership of organizations has always been really useful to me.
And the third I’d like to name is Alan Liu, whose ways of writing about the digital humanities and also other things, importantly, has always been really, really inspiring to me, and I feel like I’m now sort of trying to tackle the question of how to write about digital humanities myself in a more sort of sustained and substantive way, and I’m learning a great deal from his work: The Laws of Cool and his wonderful essays in critical inquiry and elsewhere. It’s just there’s just a tremendous fund of really wonderful ideas and also wonderful ways of arguing that I’m finding really inspiring.
I’ve studiously avoided referring to Digital Humanities as a field, as a method, or as a discipline during this interview in order to remain definition-neutral, but the question of definition is an important one. Although you’ve responded to it before in a number of different contexts (e.g. “Julia Flanders @ MITH”), I’d like to pose it again in part because, in the broadest sense, the debate over definition persists, as evidenced, for instance, in the repeated raising of the question in contexts such as Day of Digital Humanities (“How do you define Humanities Computing / Digital Humanities?”), and in part because a definition, if one is codified, will surely play a role in determining the future of Digital Humanities (be it constrained, i.e. restricted as a method or set of methods, or expanded, i.e. institutionalized as a discipline warranting, for instance, departmental standing with a corresponding curriculum within academic institutions). So, for teachers, researchers, and students who are new to Digital Humanities and want to understand its role within the larger humanities community as well as its implications for the community, how do you define digital humanities?
It’s a really interesting question, and I feel as though I’m going to answer it by deflecting it. I think that at once there’s — Attempts to define this field and attempts to find the right terminology for defining this field have been around as long as people have been doing this. So questions of, you know, what is humanities computing they’re perpetual. And now questions of what is digital humanities, they also are perpetual, and terminology: humanities computing, digital informatics, humanities informatics, digital humanities, and so forth, these are terms that we probe and we play with and we try to feel the fit, you know; we try to understand them as really telling us something about what we’re doing. I think that that effort is itself revealing, and I’m not sure that what we discover is that there is a field. I’m not sure that there is or should be a domain that we could define in methodological terms or in, you know, as a discipline. I think there are political reasons why that would be advantageous, right: the ability to found credentialing programs and to create professorships and so forth. That all in some sense requires that we be able to pin something down. But I’m not sure that the benefits outweigh the costs of doing that, so I’m going to — I’m going to state my reservations on that point.
However, I think there are two useful ways of identifying key features of the digital humanities landscape. And the first is very broad, right, I mean, when digital humanities, when the term digital humanities was first coming into focus, one of the things that contributed to the use of the term was the desire to spread a wider net intellectually and to acknowledge the fact that many, many, many people, huge sectors now of the professional academy, are using digital tools and methods in a variety of ways, some of which are more substantive than others, some of which have more to do with, you know, are deeply — more deeply entrenched in method than others. But nonetheless, you know, all of these people are doing and thinking digitally, and surely that matters. And so the desire in a sense to acknowledge that as a broad domain of shared interest for purposes of things like founding professional societies or naming conferences or even naming things like professor roles, that’s – the breadth of that gesture seemed, I think, very useful, and still seems to be quite useful. It’s a way of identifying a set of commonalities. It’s not a way of identifying a boundary, and it’s not a way of policing that boundary, but it is a way of saying we are all interested in some common things.
That’s a very broad way of thinking about it. I think there’s also a narrower way that I find useful, and I think I invoke this in my definition for the Day of Digital Humanities. And that is that the digital humanities represents a kind of critical method. It’s an application of critical analysis to a set of digital methods. In other words, it’s not simply the deployment of technology in the study of humanities, but it’s an expressed interest in how the relationship between the surface and the method or the surface and the various technological underpinnings and back stories — how that relationship can be probed and understood and critiqued. And I think that that is the hallmark of the best work in digital humanities, that it carries with it a kind of self-reflective interest in what is happening both at a technological level – and it’s what is the effect of these digital methods on our practice – and also at a discursive level. In other words, what is happening to the rhetoric of scholarship as a result of these changes in the way we think of media and the ways that we express ourselves and the ways that we share and consume and store and interpret digital artefacts.
Given those comments it seems that my follow up question is especially appropriate, so a narrower strand of that same question would be: What do you view as the role of TEI within Digital Humanities?
Right, I think the TEI serves two really important functions, and maybe they mirror the two functions I was just speaking of. At the broad level I think the TEI fills an important role of providing both a common language for representing certain types of digital artefacts and also a common forum for talking about how we make that representation and for, sort of, continuing the research on how we make those representations because I don’t think that we, you know, have arrived yet at any final statement on that subject. So the TEI in its role as consortium, as lingua franca, as, Guidelines, that social role and that sort of homogenizing role, I suppose you could say, is in some ways analogous to that sort of big tent theory of digital humanities that I was articulating.
I think though the TEI also serves a more critical purpose which is to state and demonstrate the importance of methodological transparency in the creation of digital objects. So, what the TEI, not uniquely, but by its nature brings to digital humanities is the commitment to thinking through one’s digital methods and demonstrating them as methods, making them accessible to other people, exposing them to critique and to inquiry and to emulation. So, not hiding them inside of a black box but rather saying: look this, this encoding that I have done is an integral part of my representation of the text. And I think that the — I said that the TEI isn’t the only place to do that, but it models it interestingly, and it provides for it at a number of levels that I think are too detailed to go into here but are really worth studying and emulating.
Thinking again about those who are new to this area: What works – articles, for example, books, projects, Guidelines (e.g. TEI) and so forth, would you recommend as seminal within Digital Humanities and thus as essential reading for the emergent digital humanist?
It’s interesting. I think in a way that the search for seminality is something I’d like to resist because I think for the same reason that discussions of terminology and field boundaries and so forth are ongoing in this field, in this domain, whatever we call it. I think in the same way seminal works or works that will prove after the fact to have defined things may actually not be easy to identify, and it might not be desirable to identify them. So, rather than pointing to specific texts, I can point to some useful collections that constitute an entry point. And I guess I should back up and say I think the way for people new to the field to get into it is not to try to read the foundational texts but rather to join the discourse. So in a way the things I am going to describe are ways of joining the discourse.
So, I want first to say the Humanist Discussion Group, which has been around for ages now, I guess over twenty years, is an important part of the discourse. And it’s important not only because it is a place that brings together a very wide and interesting and interested audience of discussants in digital humanities but because it’s a place where through its archives you can read the emerging conversation, right; you can read the whole texture of what has been discussed and how people have been thinking and talking for the past twenty years. It’s not just a set of single significant interventions in the way that if I were to list ten important books, you would get those ten viewpoints. It’s actually a whole set of dialogues, and you can get a sense not just of the content of what’s been said but also the, sort of, the alliances, and the concerns, and the anxieties, and the disagreements, and the enthusiasms, and all that kind of thing. I think Humanist is a tremendously rich resource for that.
For the same reason I’m also going to recommend conference proceedings. And those are a little harder to find, but in fact the Association for Computers and the Humanities and the umbrella organization ADHO that contains it are right now working on making the abstracts and proceedings for all of the past digital humanities conferences available online. So I hope that fairly soon it will be much easier for people to read back through that record as well.
There are also a couple of really useful collections, more than a couple, that have been published over the past ten years, and, in particular, I’d like to mention the Blackwell’s Companion to Digital Humanities and the more recent Companion to Digital Literary Studies I think it’s called, both of which are available online and also as big impressive books. And they’re useful because they provide a kind of cross-section at the time of publication of what people were thinking and writing about, what this group of people thought was useful to note. The essays are very good. They provide a useful grounding for a beginner. They give you a kind of broad sweep of the state of the field or the state of some part of the field at that point, so I think those are a very good place to look.
I’ll resist asking a question that requires a superlative in its answer, so for those who are interested in learning more about TEI specifically, what would you suggest as some of the best resources or avenues for learning or learning about text encoding?
Very good question. In a way the process of learning about the TEI has to proceed along sort of three fronts, and in a way the most salient of those, although not necessarily the place that you should go first, is the TEI Guidelines because, you know, for people who learn by reading manuals, that’s the manual. Right, I mean it’s a comprehensive place to look for basic information about the TEI.
However, the other two fronts are first of all building something, right, having a project. Find some texts that you love and try marking them up. And even if you don’t know how, the process of getting interested in a project of your own is the best motivator, in a way, to learning more and also the best way to make that knowledge stick in your head that I know of. And a help to you in that process is the TEI Discussion list, TEI-L, which is a great place to answer questions, to ask other people for their thoughts about particular practices and so forth. So that’s the second leg, right, the sort of roll up your sleeves and get into it leg.
And the third leg, of course, is to seek out workshops and opportunities for a more mentored or guided kind of instruction. And for those, of course, I have to shill for workshops that the Women Writers Project provides which we do at various venues including the wonderful Digital Humanities Summer Institute, but also we’re now launching a set of workshops at Brown, and we continue to do them at other institutions as well. But there are also excellent workshops offered at the TEI Conference each year, and I know that Oxford University offers TEI workshops. There are a number. The Digital Humanities Observatory in Ireland offers workshops. So there are a number of places where you can go to get, sort of, more contextualized TEI instruction. And those opportunities are great not just because you get to learn from the presenters but also because you can meet other people who have projects that they’re passionate about and learn from the way they’re doing things, which ultimately is the best model in some ways.
In writing about your professional identity in Digital Humanities and the Politics of Scholarly Work you describe inhabiting a “hybrid role as a researcher and an administrator/consultant” and explain that consistent with this “mixed professional identity” (7) your typical work week might, among other activities, include “design[ing] a database, writ[ing] an academic article on textual editing or on text markup, writ[ing] a grant proposal, fill[ing] out payroll forms, or serv[ing] on an MLA committee” (6-7).
What does this kind of synthesis suggest about the role of a digital humanist with regard to the division of higher and lower order tasks within the humanities, what you describe – and I’ll return to this shortly – but what you describe as the “modal separation of head and hands…” (128)?
I think in a way I really, I want to resist – and I know you’re not suggesting this – but I feel a strong resistance to the language of higher and lower tasks, especially within the digital humanities context because I think it sets us up for a misunderstanding about how different kinds of roles in the digital humanities should be viewed and how those roles interact with one another. I think – I mean my job is still highly varied along all the lines that you’ve quoted me as describing – and I think that that variation is a luxury in some sense for me because it marks the kind of job I have as one within a small group where lots of division of labor hasn’t really been possible or necessary, right. The Women Writers Project has only three professional staff, and we all have to do a lot of different things. If we were in a much larger group, we might find our roles being more specialized.
But I think that the non-specialization that the digital humanities encourages, and in particular the kind of hybridity that we see in people with the kind of jobs that I’m describing, is valuable not just because it’s — because it calls into question that sort of higher-lower distinction, but also because it models a kind of flexibility. I think that there’s a sense in some parts of the academy that certain types of work from the digital humanities side of things are intellectually — how can I put this — they’re intellectually alien. In other words, it’s not that these aren’t types of work one wouldn’t want to do. It’s that these are types of work which in effect have no place in an academic job or in a humanities world view.
And I think that what the digital humanities in general tends to demonstrate, but what these kinds of staff positions in particular tend to demonstrate, is in fact how much those different kinds of work have to do with one another even though in many cases they happen to be assigned to different people. The fact that I on any given day might be both designing a data specification and creating the intellectual content that that specification is modeling isn’t just a reflection of the fact that I have to do two jobs. It’s a reflection of the continuity between those two tasks. And when we teach TEI in our workshops, one of the things we’re teaching people is how to think across that continuum, how to bring the scholarly concerns that they’re very familiar with and express those in formal terms as components of digital humanities projects. And sometimes what we’re teaching people is how to take the technical concepts that they already understand quite well and how to understand the consequences of those technical concepts for the scholarly content.
In other words, we’re trying to build bridges in both directions. And I think that it’s not necessary for every human creature in the humanities landscape to become a hybrid, but I think that the professional paradigms have to acknowledge – will benefit from acknowledging – the possibilities of hybridity because I think that that then troubles the strict separation that has been sort of assumed for so long.
On a more personal note, how has your own work changed in the past five years, if indeed it has? How would you today describe a typical week in your role as the Director of the Women Writers Project, Editor of Digital Humanities Quarterly, past Vice President and past President of the Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH), current ACH President, TEI Board Member, teacher of numerous text encoding workshops and seminars, and so on? And what do you relish most about this work?
It’s funny. I think in some ways my job hasn’t changed very much over the past five years, but I think one thing that has changed is that the Women Writers Project has now been relocated into the Brown University Library and its new Center for Digital Scholarship. And in a way that contextualization has put all of us, and certainly me, into a new set of conversations about how digital scholarship functions in a university like Brown, how the kinds of outreach activities that we are already undertaking could be broadened and brought to new audiences, and in a way it’s a kind of a foundational moment for Brown, creating this new center. And so there have been all sorts of tasks and conversations and long-term strategic questions that have arisen as a result of that that have in some ways also changed my job a bit because now I’m thinking about the relationship of a project like the WWP in relation to those larger questions.
I think what I like most about my job is partly its variety. But also the dimension of simultaneously, sort of, education and outreach in the form or workshops, mentoring, consultation and so forth. Also the proleptic quality of writing grant proposals. In other words, in both of these areas, one is thinking about what can be and what might be. In teaching someone or in working with someone to develop a project you’re projecting yourself into a space of possibility, and trying to frame that possibility in fruitful and achievable ways. And in the same way writing a grant proposal for your own project, you’re doing the same thing; you’re thinking about what can come of the present endeavor and how it can be shaped most usefully. And I find that very exciting, and it’s not a virtue in me, I think, because in a way it’s a form of a fantasy, right. I’m good at thinking about the future and perhaps less so about, you know, planning and managing the present. It’s certainly a rich pleasure to be constantly imaging all these possible futures and a different kind of pleasure to bring them into reality I guess.
I’d like to turn now to questions stemming from your dissertation, “Digital Humanities and the Politics of Scholarly Work,” which was completed at Brown University in 2005, as well as to questions pertaining to several of your other important contributions to Digital Humanities and TEI.
While I could point to any number, really, of your publications, invited lectures, or administrative roles as having been highly influential within Digital Humanities, to many, myself included, your work as an educator, offering text encoding workshops (e.g. “WWP Workshops”, DHSI workshops where you’ve taught nearly 100 participants) and scholarly text encoding seminars (e.g. “WWP Seminars”) has been among the most significant of your contributions.
What compels you to contribute so actively and so prominently in your role as an educator?
I think in a way the answer grows out of what I was just saying a moment ago: that I think one of the most rewarding things one can do, certainly I find one of the most rewarding things I do, is interacting with other people in a way that can help them get to a place they’re interested in being. That’s a sort of wishy-washy way of putting it. But I’ve accumulated, and my project has accumulated a body of expertise and a body of contacts and perspective that really only has value if it is passed along to others. And so the kinds of outreach that we do: documentation, certainly workshops, consultation, mentoring, internships, those kinds of things, are a way of seeing that expertise and that knowledge take root in another form. It’s a way of seeing other people’s minds take hold of things and give them a shape that one wouldn’t have expected. It’s actually pleasurable in the same way that I imagine the seed savers groups that take heirloom seeds –
Oh sure -
– and then plant them so that they can be perpetuated –
I mean knowledge has to be planted, I think, and this is the way one does it. And it’s the most rewarding thing ever, and I think that’s the best answer I can give.
And to some extent then you’ve really responded to the next question but I’ll pose it formally nonetheless. How would you describe your approach to teaching TEI in particular; what practical and theoretical guidelines underpin your approach?
It’s a good question, and we think about it a lot. And at some point I’d like to take a retrospective look back over the lecture materials that we’ve developed and the workshops that we’ve done to see how our practice has changed because I suspect that it has. I think the key, as far as I can tell, the key to teaching people something like TEI which is both very substantially – I mean it looks substantially technical, right, people are typing things onto computer keyboards into text editors with pointy brackets – but also very substantially intellectual and scholarly, the key there is to give participants a sense of first of all what is at stake in what they’re doing. In other words, start the conversation by thinking: What are we doing when we represent something digitally? Why would we do this? How does this fit into our practice, our professional practice, our scholarly practice, our intellectual practice? What’s the goal and why are we invested in it? And then once we’ve established that common ground we can think of, for example, the TEI, and, you know, creating a TEI project as just a way of accomplishing that. And I think most of the technical concepts, if one can even call them that, are comparatively straightforward once people understand that they arise out of scholarly questions and issues that they’re already familiar with.
So, you know, issues of how you edit a manuscript, issues of how you represent a revision process, issues of how you might represent structures of materiality, those things are all in the TEI just ways of saying what’s already in our minds, and so the question is just, you know: What is the vocabulary for doing so? How can we use that vocabulary in a way that is both powerful and transparent? And I think that approached in that way the task of actually learning the vocabulary, learning about XML, learning the sort of parts of it that are uncompromisingly computer-ish kind of fall into place around the ideas. And so I think the short answer is: Don’t treat it like a training exercise. Don’t treat it like a computer training exercise. Treat it like a seminar in scholarly methods where the method in question is just a little more arcane than most.
As a community which defines “training and outreach” as components of its goals and mission (“TEI: Goals and Mission”), what are some areas of opportunity for TEI; how could the TEI community improve its efforts to offer education and outreach?
I think the TEI already has starting points in so many good ways in this area and it’s worth just, sort of, noting them. I think that the Special Interest Groups, the SIGs, are a tremendous focus for education and outreach because, precisely because they attract people together who have a shared interest and who can be counted on to be talking about the same thing and be interested in the same thing. And the TEI’s new program to provide grants to the SIGs for meetings, for the production of documentation, for workshops, whatever, I think is a really a step in the right direction and it just needs more resources, but hopefully when the economy rebounds there will be more resources for that kind of activity.
I think that in a way the other things that are needed for the TEI community are things that the TEI itself can’t necessarily provide. The community definitely needs more people who are interested in teaching TEI, and it needs more people who are interested in teaching TEI in a scholarly context. There’s plenty of training informally and formally that emphasizes the technical side of it and that emphasizes its use in contexts like digital libraries, but it’s harder, for, for example, faculty and graduate students to get to find workshops that address the kinds of specific scholarly questions that they may have in mind. And I think part of the problem is also that universities and colleges, ideally, need to have – they need to incorporate things like TEI, in other words deep, digital, scholarly methods into their graduate and undergraduate curricula, and that’s harder to do because the ideal teachers for that would be the faculty themselves, and yet, I think it’s still rare to find humanities faculty who are comfortable teaching TEI even though they may be comfortable using it. But I think that that will change over time. I think that that’s a slow process of migration that will happen. It’s just a matter of waiting for it and encouraging it.
But what do you think will lead that change? What could we expect to create the kind of change that you’re describing?
I think the academy evolves under its own guidance, under the guidance of its own emerging interests and sense of opportunity, and I think that what will help here is for professional societies like the MLA or the Association for Documentary Editing and so forth to reinforce the value of the kinds of scholarly outcomes, both the value of certain kinds of digital publications that might use the TEI but also, I think, the value of methods like text encoding for graduate education. And I think that with that idea planted in the discourse, I think that then there’s more of an incentive for faculty to investigate, to think about these things, to think about how they could incorporate this into their own teaching.
It’s hard because it’s a generational change. I mean I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect current senior faculty to sort of drop what they’re doing and learn TEI so that they can become teachers of TEI, but I think that younger digital humanities faculty may play a role in bringing that expertise and that interest into the discussion. And then you know, figuring out how to staff those courses.
In writing about the Women Writers Project, you’ve discussed the role of the search interface as one example to illustrate how digital resources can be designed to encourage and enhance educational usage by college students (“Learning, Reading, and the Problem of Scale: Using Women Writers Online” 52). With this in mind, could you offer some general guiding principles for text editors who aim to develop archives or editions as educational resources?
Interesting. I think the thing that strikes me about this is first of all that the interface has to play a kind of double role. On the one hand, it does need to be a successful articulator of what the editor, the producer, the curator thinks is at stake in the resource. But it can’t assume the self evidence of those ideas. So, a good interface needs to have a kind of pedagogical role built right into it. It needs to be prepared to invite the reader or to help educate the reader in its own virtues. I don’t think that — well, I think there’s a culture now, given the ubiquity of easy to use interfaces, I think there’s a culture now that expects that things should be very simple and self-evident and that if when you show up at a website or a resource, whatever, if you can’t figure it out in less than a second it’s a failure. And I think that’s – that may be too harsh. I think there’s a role for scholarly resources that are prepared to do something harder and more — not resistant exactly, but just having more there that requires the reader’s attention, and I think that those interfaces need to have a pedagogical dimension to them. In other words, they can’t just expect that the reader will spend the time necessary to figure them out, but they also need to invite the reader to put in that work.
At the same time, though, I think it’s worth remembering that readers bring interesting questions from left field, and an interface needs to be prepared to accommodate those questions. In other words, a good interface to an edition, or a good interface to a scholarly resource needs to be not so preoccupied with demonstrating its own rightness or demonstrating the interestingness of the editor’s own questions that it can’t be used to ask other questions.
And I think that the recent rise in interest in visualizations really illustrates this because visualizations are often offered as the exploratory interface, the way for readers to familiarize themselves with an unfamiliar terrain, et cetera, et cetera, but so many of the visualizations we see in fact exist with a kind of implicit Q.E.D. at the bottom, right. They exist to show one particular outcome or one particular set of answers to questions, and I think that there that’s a failure to realize the real potential of the medium. I think that readers need to be able to work with an interface and expect it to yield, to obey the intellectual laws of gravity, to be equally informative about things that the reader wants to know as it is about things that the editor wants the reader to know.
And I think there’s a lot of usefulness in a piece that John Unsworth wrote. It’s a presentation that he gave called “What is Humanities Computing and What is Not,” where he speaks of the charlatanry of interfaces that are in effect fixated on their own answers and that protect — that prevent the reader from really manipulating the fundamental terms that are in play. And I think that’s very astute. I think that editors need to be very attentive to the open-endedness of the questions that may be asked of the materials that they’re presenting.
In my discussions with students, they point out recurrently that Digital Humanities remains virtually absent at the undergraduate level, and they’d like to know why. From your perspective, why isn’t there more emphasis on Digital Humanities at this level?
It’s interesting. I think that in a way there’s an absence of digital humanities at every level, if by that we mean an absence of courses and sort of formal opportunities to discuss and learn. But certainly in discussions I’ve overheard or been part of there’s a sense that for the undergraduate audience, the kinds of questions that digital humanities takes most seriously, those questions may be harder to ask at the undergraduate level because undergraduates typically haven’t yet been exposed to the idea of method in itself, and they don’t necessarily have as much stake in it as graduate students, for example, or faculty. It’s not hard at all to imagine an excellent digital humanities methods course or digital humanities course for graduate students, and you’d expect them to be very invested in thinking about, you know, as people who are embarking upon, you know, their own professionalism or their own professionalization, you’d expect them to be interested in what it is that digital humanities does to that ecology and how it provides a set of instruments and ways of thinking.
For undergraduates, I think it’s harder to get a purchase on digital humanities ideas at that level and that instead, if one were trying to design an undergraduate course one would have to focus it, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but one might have to focus it more on case studies, in other words, on teaching them about the mediatedness of interfaces just as you would in any liberal arts course. So, teaching them to look at digital resources and at the kinds of things they read with an eye to understanding the relationships between surfaces and their underpinnings.
But that’s a hard course to design and it’s a very hard course to teach. And I think, you know, getting back to what we were saying a moment ago about the difficulties of teaching TEI, the faculty to teach those courses, in a way, are just now being formed, people who have both an astute sense of how the discourse of digital humanities is taking place and also a well-informed and well-grounded understanding of the digital methods that are producing these resources.
The motif of division, dichotomy, really, recurs throughout your dissertation (as well as in subsequent publications, e.g. “Data and Wisdom”), where you interrogate: the notion that the “machine” stands as an antagonist to humanism (14); the “body” and “soul” binary and the classification of computer as soulless body (17); Swinburnes’s “singer” and “poet” in opposition to his “pedant” and “sciolist” (72-73); the “higher” art literary criticism beside the “lower,” artless textual editing (81); and the “modal separation of head and hands, brain work and tool work” (128). Together, these putative divisions embody one of the most prominent arguments against Digital Humanities – that the machine and machinist are not only lower on the intellectual hierarchy but are, perhaps worse, antagonistic to humanism.
I know we discussed this a little bit earlier, but how would you suggest that a digital humanist respond to this sort of argument?
It’s so hard… I think the real answer to your question is that in a way we’ve gotten past the point, if we ever were there, where the machine in any literal sense is determining or affecting the way these kinds of questions are asked. I think that to the extent that early humanities computing looked like it was in service to the machine or was inflected by the ways that we might – in our imagination – fantasize that the machine thinks, to the extent that that was the case it was because of those fantasies. It was because we expected digital research to be of that type. We looked to the computer to produce for us an ecology of rigor, of reductionism, of scientific hypothesis-driven research, and so forth. And because we looked for it, we found it.
But I don’t think that there’s any way in which the machine itself, the fact that our interactions and intellectual activities are conducted using a computer, I don’t think there’s any sense in which that deterministically produces certain patterns of thought, or research agendas, or anything else that are distinctively machine-like or reductive or soulless or dehumanized.
And I think that particularly now that the digital humanities engages with fields including new media, and game studies, and the study of digital cultures, and so forth, those in a way have very little to do with the machine and everything to do with media, information, discourse. All of which are questions which have sustained the humanities for ages, and I expect will continue to do so.
In a sense the opposition does a disservice both to the role that the computer and the digital environment play and also in a way to humanism because it positions humanism in that equation as a kind of simplistic, nostalgic, romanticized view of culture. I mean, it plays into all of the, sort of, post-romantic sentimentality about literature, which in a way has been there from the start. I mean, you see people like Wordsworth and Matthew Arnold expressing the same anxieties about humanism with a different antagonist but, you know, there’s got to be an antagonist to make it all mean something. And I think that for the past twenty years that antagonist has been the computer, but it’s an invented enemy, and I think that the dichotomy that is being proposed is really – we should be suspicious of it precisely because it’s so familiar.
In your dissertation you also write at length about the history of humanities and its influence on the humanities community’s wary reception of digital methods, as you just described. How would you characterize the role of more recent humanities history as it expresses humanists’ acceptance of Digital Humanities. Has the landscape changed in the past five years; do you think humanists in general still flinch in “’revulsion,’” to use Jerome McGann’s term (qtd in “Digital Humanities” 23), at the prospect of a digital humanities?
I don’t think that they do, and I am not as keen an observer of this as others, so I’ve heard second hand from people who have been paying more attention that in fact in the past year there has been a sort of remarkable adoption of digital humanities as the kind of, as the next coming thing within the mainstream humanities, which I find interesting because I think that it’s more the big tent digital humanities that’s being welcomed and less the, sort of, what I would think of as a kind of more rigorously critical and grounded view of the digital humanities that might emerge out of greater expertise with digital humanities projects. So, I think that — and I think as well that this new way of thinking about digital humanities does justice to the idea that we’re talking about information and media here; we’re not talking about ‘the technical’ precisely. So I think that there is — some of what was previously off-putting has been sort of denatured and removed from the discussion.
I do still see an interesting tension or something in conversation when you’re at a conference and there are people in the room who are digital humanists and people who are not — and, you know, a mix of different kinds of jobs and backgrounds. People often feel that they have to preface a comment about the digital humanities by saying: “I’m not a geek; I’m not an engineer; I’m not a programmer; so all I know is this other thing.”
In other words there’s this simultaneous gesture of positioning themselves as lacking a certain kind of technical knowledge and also kind of bracketing off that technical knowledge as something that maybe one doesn’t need to have in order to go on and say whatever it was that one was going to say. And I think that’s a subtler cue about how the digital dimension of this is still being positioned. In other words, sort of, some of my best friends are digital, kind of thing, rather than a more seamless integration that I think has still yet to happen, and I suspect that that will be a slower change in coming because it involves a more profound change in how academic work is constructed and the kinds of tasks and expertises people take on. But, you know, we’ll see. Ask me again five years from now.
Specifically with regard to TEI: Today, the publication of digital editions, archives, and a wide-ranging variety of TEI-conformant scholarly projects is commonplace. One might argue therefore that TEI is to some extent altering methods of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. From your perspective, how is TEI contributing to and thus influencing scholarship in these areas, and how is the academic community responding?
It’s funny. I think that the TEI’s influence is still in some ways largely discursive in the sense that it is a name to conjure with; it’s a name people are familiar with. And yet, if you look for the big body of TEI projects, completed, substantial, influential TEI projects that are actually being used by their intended users and making the kind of impact that they hoped to have on the community, that is not present to the extent that one would have hoped by now. And I think part of the reason is that it’s difficult to bring those kinds of projects to completion. It turns out, that in fact, those efforts take longer and are more vulnerable and so forth than one imagined. And so the actual influence on the academy has been perhaps less than the influence on the digital humanities. I mean, I can think of a few; the Walt Whitman Archive comes to mind as a really successful TEI project that is having its impact in the Whitman community not just in the digital humanities community, and I think that that’s really quite an achievement.
I hope that the Women Writers Project is having something of the same impact within the audience of, you know, people working with early modern women’s writing, but I don’t know for certain. And I think you could name a few other projects. Certainly many of the NINES projects seemed to have gained that same level. But I think that these are rarer, that proportionately it’s a small number proportional to the total number of TEI projects being undertaken. And I don’t know to what degree the TEI-ness of these projects is really visible to their users. I mean I don’t know how many Whitman scholars, for example, outside of the Whitman archive itself, are aware of how much the TEI is doing for them when they use that resource. So it’s an interesting question. It may be having an influence that is more invisible and more subtle than one would hope.
What do you view as the most significant challenges facing the Digital Humanities community over the next decade?
Well, that’s a really good question, and I think in a way there are almost too many to name. I think that the next big type of challenge is roughly speaking aggregation, harmonization, linking things up, right. We’ve spent the past ten, fifteen, twenty years building prototypes of things and having great ideas and, kind of, creating examples of things, and what we haven’t got yet really, is the integration between these things that enables them to work together in the way that our other intellectual systems work together. You know, we have had for a long time, you know, a single cataloguing system for library books in the United States. We’ve had, you know, systems for distributing books that make sure that when you want a certain book you can get it. We have other kinds of uniformities that help the academy invisibly get along. And I think that what we don’t have in the digital world is some of these kinds of infrastructures. And I’m thinking even of basic things like, you know: If you want to search across collections, how do you do that? If you want to find — if you’re work– if you’re interested in a person or concept or thing that is to be found in many different places in many different collections there’s really no way of making the connections that are necessary between digital resources.
And that work of harmonization and so forth is both difficult in itself even if it were a self-evident good, but it also involves thinking through the sacrifices that would be involved in achieving it. And by this I mean the sacrifices of uniformity and the elimination or the de-emphasis of the kind of, you know, research-dimensioned digital humanities that has been one of its most vibrant facets. I think that in producing, you know, uniform cross-collection interfaces and so forth, we are likely to see a loss of some of the experimental zeal that has animated the digital humanities, and, you know, maybe that’s just the price we’ll pay as the field matures, but I think it will be worth thinking about how to keep that in some ways while also achieving the benefits of harmonization and scaling up.
In a similar vein, what would you view as the most significant challenges and even opportunities for the TEI community? Where do you think the TEI should be directing its efforts as we look toward 2020?
Gosh, I think that the TEI’s biggest challenge right now is producing –- I think that there are two significant challenges that the TEI faces right now, one of which is to make good on the theoretical promise that customization offers, to provide a mechanism for disciplinary communities to produce TEI specifications that are suited to their own particular methodological needs. This mechanism has existed for several years now and it’s fantastically important and powerful, but it’s sufficiently difficult to use that we haven’t yet seen a lot of, sort of, group activity aimed in this area. There have been important projects doing TEI customization and there are good examples out there, but we haven’t yet seen, sort of, representatives from major disciplinary groups like, you know, the scholarly editing community or the manuscript community creating TEI customizations that will help harmonize work in those areas, and I think that’s an important step both for the TEI to sort of facilitate that process and also for disciplines and communities of usage to step forward and do that.
The other area where I think the TEI really has an opportunity is – and this sort of goes along with the previous one – is documentation and improving the levels of, sort of, easy documentation, training, tutorials. Basically, there needs to be a proliferation of on ramps to the TEI. And I think to some extent these need to be sponsored by the TEI itself. I think that the Guidelines are wonderful and authoritative but there needs to be more of that, more explanation, more outreach, more of a sort of porous, permeable surface that people can really get their fingers into.
In “Learning, Reading, and the Problem of Scale: Using Women Writers Online,” you critique the American educational system, pointing out that a system which offers students “careful guidance on what to read” and holds them “accountable for only the contents of the syllabus for a given course” (50), for example, sets up a model where intellectual exploration is effectively dis-incentivized.
This argument is to some extent taken up again in your dissertation where you describe the ‘liberationist’ approach to electronic editing, an approach which embraces the “world of digital copia” (40) where an edition, and I’m going to quote you here, “can include every source, every piece of relevant context, every conceivable addendum (maps, biographies, family photographs), every possible sensory mode (audio clips of poetry readings, video clips of performances)” (40). And you argue that this kind of digital edition “has the potential to become an emporium of readings, a textual superstore” (42). But the fundamental problem introduced by the liberationist approach, you suggest, is precisely the problem of choice: While digital editions create choices, readers are ill-prepared to make them because, as you argue, “our educational system and all of our prior reading habits have disabled us to inhabit this new world of responsibility and agency” (42-43).
Given your commitment to pedagogy and your profound expertise in this area, as a closing question, it seems fitting to ask you: What kind of “re-education” (43) do you envision might prepare individuals to inhabit a world of intellectual choice, a world of “responsibility and agency,” the world currently being developed in part by digital humanists? And what role should humanists play in shaping this re-education?
This question scares me in a way because I think it demands a much more thorough-going and radical answer in a way than I almost want to dare to give. I mean, in a certain sense the answer is so deeply cultural that it’s not a matter of re-educating, and that’s kind of a scary word for historical reasons to use, but it’s more a matter of, you know, changing the way we think about education at the earliest levels and at the deepest levels. I mean, if we think of education as being a process whereby we impart knowledge to people or impart information to people, that perhaps already is part of the problem, right. Education, I think, needs to be a process of building on people’s desire to learn and giving them a framework within which they can do that fruitfully and critically. And I think that, you know, imparting information is the least of it, and if by first grade children are being taught to, you know, master topics and so forth rather than being taught to explore independently, you know, in a way we may already have lost the battle.
But I think that from the point of view of the culture we have already, if we’re – if the we here is focused more narrowly on undergraduate and graduate education and thinking about how to raise up a new generation of educators and also how to train a new generation of readers, in a way I think humanism isn’t where I would look for the answer. I mean, when we speak of the digital humanities, I’m comfortable with the word humanities there for, because I think, to me at least it means something fairly broad having to do with a certain set of topics and materials and questions and so forth, right. It’s the humanities as distinguished from, for example, the hard sciences or the life sciences or what have you. But when we start to talk about humanism, I’m less comfortable with the term because I think that starts to bring with it a set of commitments to a kind of tradition, an intellectual tradition, a set of ideas about received knowledge, a way of positioning authority, and a way of constructing education around a body of culture rather than around a set of questions. And I think that the most effective readers in this new universe are those who are comfortable being self-directed in their path through this gigantically various and copious landscape of material that’s now available to them.
I had a conversation recently in a meeting with someone who felt very frightened by Wikipedia, and this person was sort of citing Wikipedia as, in effect, the big intellectual threat, right: It’s a type of resource that can’t be trusted because you don’t know who’s written the articles and so you don’t know how much of it is true. And that struck me as a really telling example because the idea that we need to know which things are true so that we can know whether we ought to know them or not seems to me to be in a way the diagnostic for whether our educational system has succeeded or not. What Wikipedia offers a new generation of readers is the opportunity to be people who can figure out for themselves whether things are true based on their reading of many different sources and their internalization of many different perspectives. And without that critical view, even the best resource, even a resource that has been vetted six ways from Sunday, will not be something they should trust, right. Blind trust in a true fact is worse than critical exposure to ten false facts as far as I’m concerned.
And so I think that the kind of education we need to be giving, for example, our undergraduates and our graduates is an education that will help them navigate that landscape, and it’s a landscape both of copia as you’ve reminded me, one in which the prevailing wisdom is that: Information should be available; there should be transparency of both information and methods; people should have access to everything. And also it’s a landscape of uncertainty and of destabilization and one in which one is free to choose things that one isn’t necessarily yet competent to choose, and one has to take responsibility for those choices anyway. And I think that’s a hard, hard thing to teach. It’s especially hard to teach it after the fact, you know, as a kind of an overlay over a deeper set of assumptions that may be quite deeply rooted. But to the extent that there is a re-education to be made, I think that’s the direction in which it has to lie.
Thank you very much, Julia! This has been fascinating, and it has been a genuine pleasure talking with you.
And for me as well. Thank you so much for these amazing and wonderful questions.
A. Introductory Questions
1. Although you’ve been involved in Digital Humanities for nearly two decades, you’ve indicated elsewhere that you “came to computers late,” remonstrating as an undergraduate student that “perhaps [you] might never own a computer” (“Day of Julia Flanders”). How did you become involved in Digital Humanities — What were the decisive factors that “detour[ed]” (Digital Humanities 6) you from doctoral study in literature and directed you toward the Women Writers Project and therein to your longstanding, integral involvement in the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) and humanities computing?
2. Have you had any mentors who particularly influenced your early work (within Digital Humanities or within TEI specifically), and, if so, could you describe their contributions?
3. I’ve studiously avoided referring to Digital Humanities as a field, as a method, or as a discipline during this interview in order to remain definition-neutral, but the question of definition is an important one. Although you’ve responded to it before in a number of different contexts (e.g. “Julia Flanders @ MITH”), I’d like to pose it again in part because, in the broadest sense, the debate over definition persists, as evidenced, for instance, in the repeated raising of the question in contexts such as Day of Digital Humanities (“How do you define Humanities Computing / Digital Humanities?”), and in part because a definition, if one is codified, will surely play a role in determining the future of Digital Humanities (be it constrained, i.e. restricted as a method or set of methods, or expanded, i.e. institutionalized as a discipline warranting, for instance, departmental standing with a corresponding curriculum within academic institutions). So, for teachers, researchers, and students who are new to Digital Humanities and want to understand its role within the larger humanities community as well as its implications for the community, how do you define digital humanities?
a. And a narrower strand of that same question: What do you view as the role of TEI within Digital Humanities?
b. Thinking again about those who are new to this area: What works – articles, books, projects, Guidelines (e.g. TEI) and so forth – would you recommend as seminal within Digital Humanities and thus as essential reading for the emergent digital humanist?
c. And for those who are interested in learning more about TEI, what would you suggest as some of the best resources or avenues for learning or learning about text encoding?
4. In writing about your professional identity in Digital Humanities and the Politics of Scholarly Work you describe inhabiting a “hybrid role as a researcher and an administrator/consultant” and explain that consistent with this “mixed professional identity” (7) your typical work week might, among other activities, include “design[ing] a database, writ[ing] an academic article on textual editing or on text markup, writ[ing] a grant proposal, fill[ing] out payroll forms, or serv[ing] on an MLA committee” (6-7).
a. What does this kind of synthesis suggest about the role of a digital humanist with regard to the division of higher and lower order tasks within the humanities, what you describe (and I’ll return to this shortly) as the “modal separation of head and hands…” (128)?
b. Do you think this kind of synthesis is requisite to the professional identity of a digital humanist (or should some but not others of these tasks be seen as essential strains of the work of a digital humanist), and if it is, what might be its broader academic-political implications?
c. On a more personal note, how has your own work changed in the past five years — How would you today describe a typical week in your role as the Director of the Women Writers Project, Editor of Digital Humanities Quarterly, past Vice President and past President of the Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH), current ACH President, TEI Board Member, teacher of numerous text encoding workshops and seminars, and so on? And what do you relish most about this work?
B. Questions stemming from Digital Humanities and the Politics of Scholarly Work (Flanders’ dissertation completed at Brown University in 2005) as well as questions pertaining to several other of the interviewee’s important contributions to Digital Humanities and TEI.
5. While I could point to any number of your publications, invited lectures, or administrative roles as having been highly influential within Digital Humanities, to many, your work as an educator, offering text encoding workshops (e.g. “WWP Workshops”, DHSI workshops where you’ve taught nearly 100 participants) and scholarly text encoding seminars (e.g. “WWP Seminars”) has been among the most significant of your contributions.
a. What compels you to contribute so actively and so prominently in your role as an educator?
b. How would you describe your approach to teaching TEI in particular; what practical and theoretical guidelines underpin your approach?
c. As a community which defines “training and outreach” as components of its goals and mission (“TEI: Goals and Mission”), what are some areas of opportunity for TEI; how can the TEI community improve its efforts to offer education and outreach?
6. In writing about the Women Writers Project, you’ve discussed the role of the search interface as one example to illustrate how digital resources can be designed to encourage and enhance educational usage by college students (“Learning, Reading, and the Problem of Scale: Using Women Writers Online” 52). With this in mind, could you offer some general guiding principles for text editors who aim to develop archives or editions as educational resources?
7. In my discussions with students, they point out recurrently that Digital Humanities remains virtually absent at the undergraduate level, and they would like to know why. From your perspective, why isn’t there more emphasis on Digital Humanities at this level?
8. The motif of division, dichotomy, really, recurs throughout your dissertation (as well as in subsequent publications, e.g. “Data and Wisdom”), where you interrogate: the notion that the “machine” stands as an antagonist to humanism (14); the “body” and “soul” binary and the classification of computer as soulless body (17); Swinburnes’s “singer” and “poet” in opposition to his “pedant” and “sciolist” (72-73); the “higher” art literary criticism beside the “lower,” artless textual editing (81); and the “modal separation of head and hands, brain work and tool work” (128). Together, these putative divisions embody one of the most prominent arguments against Digital Humanities – that the machine and machinist are not only lower on the intellectual hierarchy but are, perhaps worse, antagonistic to humanism.
a. How might digital humanists respond to this sort of argument?
b. In your dissertation you also write at length about the history of humanities and its influence on the humanities community’s wary reception of digital methods. How would you characterize the role of more recent humanities history as it expresses humanists’ acceptance of Digital Humanities — Has the landscape changed in the past five years; do humanists in general still flinch in “’revulsion,’” to use McGann’s term (qtd in “Digital Humanities” 23), at the prospect of a digital humanities?
c. And specifically with regard to TEI: Today, the publication of digital editions, digital archives, and a wide-ranging variety of TEI-conformant scholarly projects is commonplace. One might argue therefore that TEI is to some extent altering methods of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. From your perspective, how is TEI contributing to and thus influencing scholarship in these areas, and how is the academic community responding?
9. You’ve written about some scholars’ misunderstandings of Digital Humanities; for example, you’ve recounted the details of one reviewer who misconstrues a John Burrows article on text analysis in the works of Jane Austen. Could you describe and respond to some of the more pervasive misconceptions about Digital Humanities and TEI. Which of these demand rectification? (e.g. Burrows’ Jane Austen study; see Digital Humanities and the Politics of Scholarly Work 76)
10. What do you view as the most significant challenges facing the Digital Humanities community over the next decade?
a. And what do you view as the most significant challenges and opportunities for the TEI community — Where should the TEI be directing its efforts as we look toward 2020?
11. In “Learning, Reading, and the Problem of Scale: Using Women Writers Online,” you critique the American educational system, pointing out that a system which offers students “careful guidance on what to read” and holds them “accountable for only the contents of the syllabus for a given course” (50) sets up a model where intellectual exploration is effectively dis-incentivized.
This argument is to some extent taken up again in your dissertation where you describe the ‘liberationist’ approach to electronic editing, an approach which embraces the “world of digital copia” (40) where an edition “can include every source, every piece of relevant context, every conceivable addendum (maps, biographies, family photographs), every possible sensory mode (audio clips of poetry readings, video clips of performances)” (40). And you argue that this kind of digital edition “has the potential to become an emporium of readings, a textual superstore” (42).
But the fundamental problem introduced by the liberationist approach, you suggest, is precisely the problem of choice: While digital editions create choices, readers are ill-prepared to make them because, as you argue, “our educational system and all of our prior reading habits have disabled us to inhabit this new world of responsibility and agency” (42-43).
Given your commitment to pedagogy and your profound expertise in this area, as a closing question, it seems fitting to ask: What kind of “re-education” (43) do you envision might prepare individuals to inhabit a world of intellectual choice, a world of “responsibility and agency,” the world currently being developed in part by digital humanists? And what role should humanists play in shaping this re-education?
Flanders, Julia. “Data and Wisdom: Electronic Editing and the Quantification of Knowledge” Literary and Linguistic Computing 24.1 (2009): 53-62.
—. “Day of Julia Flanders.” A Day in the Life of Digital Humanities 2009. 17 Feb 2010. <http://ra.tapor.ualberta.ca/~dayofdh/JuliaFlanders/2009/03/13/hello-world/>.
—. Digital Humanities and the Politics of Scholarly Work. Diss. Brown University, 2005. Print.
—. “Julia Flanders @ MITH.” The Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations. 24 March 2010. <http://digitalhumanities.org/view/Essays/JuliaFlandersMITHSpeakersSeries>.
—. “Learning, Reading, and the Problem of Scale: Using Women Writers Online.” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture 2.1 (2002): 49-59.
—. “Text analysis and the problem of pedantry.” The Face of Text: The 3rd Conference of the Canadian Symposium on Text Analysis. 10 Feb 2010. <http://tapor1.mcmaster.ca/~faceoftext/abstracts.htm>.
“How do you define Humanities Computing / Digital Humanities?” Taporwiki. 12 March 2010. <http://tapor.ualberta.ca/taporwiki/index.php/How_do_you_define_Humanities_Computing_/_Digital_Humanities%3F>.
Ottenhoff, John. “Renaissance Women, Text Encoding and the Digital Humanities: An Interview with Julia Flanders.” Academic Commons. 8 Feb 2007. 28 Feb 2010. <http://www.academiccommons.org/commons/interview/flanders>.
“Participants at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute.” DHSI: Digital Humanities Summer Institute. 15 Dec 2009. <http://www.dhsi.org/home/archive>.
“TEI: Goals and Mission.” TEI: The Text Encoding Initiative. 9 May 2010. < http://www.tei-c.org/About/mission.xml>.
“WWP Seminars on Scholarly Text Encoding.” Brown University Women Writers Project. 24 April 2010. <http://www.wwp.brown.edu/encoding/seminars/>.
“WWP Workshops on Text Encoding with TEI.” Brown University Women Writers Project. 24 April 2010. <http://www.wwp.brown.edu/encoding/workshops/>.
Thanks to Marisa Peterson, my spring 2010 Undergraduate Editorial Assistant, for assistance in researching the questions developed for this interview.
 My count is based on the participant lists available at: “Participants at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute.”
During summer 2007 I had the great pleasure of attending the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) where I participated in a seminar on text encoding facilitated by Julia Flanders and Syd Bauman. In a word: the class ruled. Julia and Syd are exceptional teachers, and, as a pair, they endowed the curriculum with technical insight (PhD in literature + senior programmer = intensely rich content), wisdom of experience, and the knowledge of scholars whose own work has figured prominently in shaping the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) and Digital Humanities (DH) communities — all of that, plus a tremendous, infectious passion for their subject matter.
I have no doubt that I am not the only participant to have left the week-long seminar (or any one of the other text encoding seminars they teach) with new-found methodological prowess, confidence that I could implement what I had learned, and a gnawing impatience to return home and unleash my fingers to attack my (then) current project.
For all of these reasons, it was an honor and a pleasure to have Julia and Syd as teachers.
When, in my role as TEI Education SIG co-convener, I was involved in a DH-related publishing project, among the most appealing aspects of it were the possibility of including interviews (my inspiration: the pithy and insightful interview series coordinated by the Journal of English Linguistics) and the prospect of choosing whom to interview first (pardon the aside, but the promise of conducting or just listening to long conversations with scholars whose work is not only fascinating but also foundational within DH was for me like winning the academic lottery).
Because the project and the interview were conceived first and foremost as educational and community-building resources and because her background spans teaching, administration, project management, and scholarship, asking Julia Flanders to serve as the first interviewee was such an obvious and indisputably fitting choice that I never considered anyone else (Syd, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook just yet…).
2. The Questions
In determining the questions I’d ask, I was reflective and research-driven, but I confess I was also selfish. Let’s face it: I had been thinking about TEI and DH a lot in recent years and I was deeply interested in the perspective of a teacher and scholar whose work I greatly respect. But I also tried to adopt the role of students, graduate and undergraduate, as well as TEI- and DH- community members and community observers, and I explored the kinds of questions that, in speaking with individuals sitting in precisely those positions, I suspected would yield insights that are authentic, practical, and candid.
3. The Process
In conducting the interview, well, I tried to imagine what Terry Gross would do and to do that. Though I’ve been likened to a ‘court reporter’ in my ability to transcribe spoken text, I’ve yet to earn anything like a ‘Terry Gross’ accolade, and for good reason – interviewing is incredibly challenging work!
It’s a… well, it’s a þrekvirki ‘a feat of great strength’ (this is an Icelandic term I call upon when I’m at a loss for an English equivalent, and it’s suitable in precisely this kind of situation) to stay on script, not to interrupt, and not to generate spontaneous new questions when listening to responses that all but compel you to do just that.
In terms of discourse rules, it feels like a terrible violation not to offer continuants or phatic comments (in this case like: “that’s so interesting,” “I completely agree,” “you rock!”).
So, alas, I am not Terry Gross, but, at least most of the time, I managed to keep my enthusiasm in check and to stay on course, guiding the interview narrative via carefully researched questions, yes, but leaving the ultimate direction of the conversation to rest on the shoulders of the interviewee.
The intended home for this interview was recently placed on hold, but I suspect I am not the only DH educator who will find this piece useful in classes this fall. So until the interview finds a more permanent home, the interviewee has graciously granted me permission to share it here in this informal setting.
5. The Format
Naturally, the interview was encoded in TEI-XML, and I’ll make that version available as well as the mp3 podcast and a traditional, human-readable version posted as a blog entry.
6. Forthcoming: Parts Two and Three
I’ve decided to share the piece in two additional parts: Part Two: The questions & Part Three: The answers. I wanted to separate the two for several reasons.
First, it was crucial from my perspective for readers to know that while the questions were researched, written, edited, and reviewed in advance, the responses were not. Indeed, the interview itself was a two-part process.
It was also important to me to convey that to the best of my knowledge the answers represent a genuine conversational artefact; that is, they are spontaneous, unrehearsed, and therefore, I sense, precisely the kind of responses any other student or scholar might receive in a conversation with Julia.
Second, I wanted the questions to stand alone (without answers) at the outset because, from my vantage point, they are important ones (I’d like my own students to consider and respond to several of them initially without the benefit of Julia’s answers). And while I find Julia’s answers thought-provoking and profoundly significant, the kind that urgently warrant dissemination, they still represent only one part of what I hope will be a larger conversation.
Arguably, Drupal is an excellent CMS; it’s used by “hundreds of thousands of projects” (from professional to proprietary to educational); it’s the platform I selected for my most recent DH project; and it’s one I’d recommend to others (it’s learnable; teachable; extensible). But I would by no means necessarily advocate Drupal over any other CMS.
In a previous post I very briefly sketched how my most recent TEI project exemplifies an instance of Drupal-TEI integration, and I pointed out that this was made possible via the XML Content module, which carries some significant advantages in that it offers editors crucial levels of flexibility and granularity in determining which Drupal node types are to be written in XML.
While via this module Drupal indeed met one of my essential CMS selection criteria: XML capability (in addition to criteria such as open source, journal capability, media capability, and so on), it isn’t the only CMS which does so.
Prior to settling on Drupal, among other options, I considered:
And it doesn’t require too much sleuthing to discover that Drupal is not the only open source CMS which supports the authoring of content in XML.
But I should be even more explicit: I’m a historical linguist – not a programmer – so I don’t take CMS selection decisions lightly and I don’t make them in isolation. For serious projects, I bring in serious heads, and in choosing a CMS, I sat down with an experienced programmer more than a few times to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each. I outlined my project needs, content and technical as well as short term and long term, and in our discussions, the programmer and I used my own critical and desirable features lists to adjudicate between the various CMSs. Drupal was simply the best match for my criteria.
Even still, although my ‘marriage’ to Drupal has already taken place, I confess that I’ve been anything but constant. In recent months, long after selecting Drupal, purely as a matter of academic interest and project scrutiny habit, I’ve continued to check out all kinds of CMSs. Most recently, I took a close look at TYPO3, the platform adopted for the DH 2010 conference site. The conference site, as I reviewed it, was well-designed and features-rich, and the site’s developers created a very useful set of view options for the conference program and abstracts, including (TEI)XML as well as HTML and PDF. Having explored this notable implementation and having reviewed the TYPO3 documentation, if I were starting from scratch today, TYPO3 would make my short list.
While I do expect to walk hand in hand with Drupal for the foreseeable future, I admit that I have a roving eye (I should really qualify here so that I don’t get into any trouble: that is – I have a ‘roving eye’ where technical matters are concerned), and the next time I am starting from scratch, if something better comes along, I’m prepared to be seduced.
In short, I (along with my colleagues Garrick Bodine, Helmut Doll, and Elaine Gustus) have been responsible for the research, design and development of the TEI-EJ publishing model and publishing platform (I presented a related talk at DH 2010; see the abstract here). Below I offer a very brief description of how the TEI-EJ platform leverages both Drupal and TEI-XML.
My team’s work on a Drupal-TEI integration results from implementation of the XML Content module (if you’re working in Drupal, I suspect this is all you really need to know):
“XML Content is an XML entry, XSL transformation, and XML validation module that leverages PHP xml and xsl support, and the drupal output filter system. With XML Content, you can save XML inside the body of any node type, and have it display differently with XSL, or validated against a preconfigured schema.”
What does this mean in general? It means that via the Drupal XML Content module, virtually any Drupal site text content can be authored in TEI-XML.
What does this mean for journal developers and/or editors interested in leveraging TEI in their Drupal sites? The best way for me to answer this is by explaining how TEI-EJ utilizes the module. TEI-EJ’s Drupal site infrastructure was customized to distinguish three different Content Types:
- Journal content: Editorials, articles, essays, interviews, reviews
- Community-driven content: Blog posts; featured projects; tutorials; comments; teaching and learning resources
- Static, informational content: ‘About’ page, submission guidelines, etc.
And the site is designed to accept and publish these content types in various Formats, including:
- Text-based: TEI-XML as well as .txt and .doc formats (which are converted to TEI-XML)
- Media-based: e.g. mp3 audio, mp4 video, image
- Web-based: HTML
Because the journal in particular is an excellent place to exploit TEI, any text-based manuscript content published within the journal section of the site is encoded in TEI-XML, and this content is managed by the XML Content module.
When an author submits a manuscript encoded in TEI-XML using the online submission form, it is automatically validated against a Roma-generated custom schema. Authors can also submit in other formats (e.g. .txt or .doc attachment) which can then be encoded in TEI-XML by editors, pasted into the submission form, and validated against the schema (which can be updated or modified as needed).
The display of the TEI-XML content reflects custom XSLT and CSS styling (thanks to my colleague Garrick Bodine at Penn State). At present, the transformation ignores the TEI header, displaying instead a transformation of the TEI-XML document body as well as title, author, and other relevant metadata which authors (or editors) have entered into a database field via the online submission form.
As a publishing project, TEI-EJ is interested in contributions from a broad range of readers, including those from outside the TEI community. For this reason, community-driven sections of the TEI-EJ site (including tutorials, featured projects, blog posts, comments, and teaching and learning resources) do not require contributors to submit in TEI-XML. However, whether for experimental, editorial, or any other reason, editors can adjust the XML Content module settings to permit, require, or convert text-based content in these areas, as well as in static-informational areas and the journal, in TEI-XML.
Thus, the XML Content module offers editors crucial levels of flexibility and granularity in determining which Drupal node types are to be written in TEI-XML.
Although TEI-EJ is in moratorium just now, I hope to make the (in-progress) publishing platform, which will be open-sourced to support publishing projects in general, available for open preview shortly, but if you’re interested in access even sooner, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*The original question, as I understood it, was rooted in the possibility of harnessing tools such as the newly released Anthologize as well as TEI-XML to advance social media objectives. I’m reading Anthologize as a WordPress plugin not a Drupal module (though I’d love to be wrong about this and find that it’s usable in both), but one that does promise export in TEI and certainly one that will prove a lot of fun to experiment with in blogging and blogging-based pedagogical contexts.