Why “Still Trying to do DH”?

This was cross-posted at my other blog at IHE. At least it will be sometime tonight.

To marks the second year that I’ve participated in the Day of DH, where those of us who are digital humanists (or aspiring to be) record what it is we do during the day. The first one was in 2009, organized by my alma matter, the University of Alberta. This year, the Matrix over at Michigan State University is hosting our blogs for the day. Last year, I spent the day digitizing a pile of inter-library loan book I am using for my work over with the Editing Modernism in Canada group (among other things that I don’t even remember doing – I’ve been freaking busy!). For this first post, I want to explain why I named my blog this year, Still Trying to do DH.

I’ve come a long way in a year. My panel on DH was accepted at MLA13 (which was one of the things I was working on for last year’s Day of DH), and I was included on another one. This year, I’ve also been accepted to speak at DH2013, which is a pretty big deal. I’ve also now attended DHSI and the inaugural DHWI, a THATCamp, and the Networked Humanities conference. But I’m still struggling with actually “doing DH.” I’ll give you an example of why that is.

I’m currently writing a traditional academic book on the Haitian-Canadian author Dany Laferrière.  I’m looking specifically at how he revises, rewrites, and adapt his work. One chapter is going to be focused on his book Chronique de la dérive douce (or A Drifting Year in English translation). When he revised and expanded in the original 1994 edition in 2012, it nearly doubled in size. I wanted a way to visualize the changes, so see if anything jumped out as being significant. I also wanted to more easily see how much he had changed and added. This meant digitizing the two books.

I’ve been working on this for a month. First, photocopy the books. Then cut them up, so that there are no page numbers or page headings. Then, scan them, then OCR them, then turn them into txt files, then clean up the text. Oh, the cleaning of the text. Adding to the challenge is that the books are in French, with all of the accents and other symbols. Why did this take a month? Because I teach four writing-intensive classes, am trying to still write the book, and have no place to go on campus that offers this kind of support. I could pay for it, but I would probably have had to clean up the text anyway.

I’ve written about it before, and I’m writing about it again: it is hard to actually do DH (at least the way some define it) if you are off the tenure-track at a smaller institution that does not (yet) value or support (and perhaps never will) digital humanities work (we teach students how to use proprietary tools, and “hacking” is no encouraged). I use the tools that are freely available to me because that’s all that I have the time or the expertise to do at the moment. It’s hard to do digital pedagogy when my students openly resist learning to use them.

On the actual Day of DH (as opposed to Sunday afternoon as I am writing this), I will be in class all day, largely watching my peer-driven learning students present their project. While most of the projects thus far have been analogue in nature, the ethos of building something has informed what we have done as a class in order to engage with the materials they chose to read.  I have been live-tweeting the presentations over the past two weeks using #peerdriven and will continue today. I’ll blog a little more about that during the day, and hopefully once my kids get to sleep, I’ll be able to do a little more work on my research, feeding my lovely txt files through both Juxta Commons and Voyant.

Until then, remember the isolated DH practitioner, trying to make things work on her own.