Thursday, 18 October 2012

The I3MS comes to an end

On account of the poor attendance to today's meeting, it has been decided to bring the Informal Iberian and Italian Medieval Seminar (I3MS) to an end.

Thank you very much for your support during the last two years and we wish you all the best in your career as Medievalists.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Thursday 18th of October: Meeting


Sunday, 7 October 2012

New term, new I3MS?

Welcome back to all the participants in the I3MS!

We hope that the new academic year looks as good as the past one, and that the long vacation has been productive as well as relaxing for all of you. This term is full of challenges and you will need all your energy to cope with them.

One of the most immediate challenges this year is the future of the I3MS. As you probably know, we have experienced some problems finding speakers for our fortnightly sessions and attendance has been rather poor. This circumstances have made us think if we should not change the format of the seminar and reduce the number of sessions to either two (one on an Italian topic and the other on an Hispanic topic) or just one longer session per term. Please, express your views on this in the comments below or write to us at i3ms.oxford@gmail.com.

Moreover, the current organisers are both in their last DPhil year and they do not think they will be able to devote as much time to the I3MS as necessary to keep it working at the current rate. Although the reduction of the number of sessions could be a solution, it is only temporary and passing the organisation over to other hands seems the most sensible thing to do. Therefore, we would like to know if anyone volunteers for this task Should you be interested in taking over the organisation of the I3MS, please send us an e-mail to i3ms.oxford@gmail.com as soon as possible.

The last and saddest possibility, but a solution as well, is to discontinue the I3MS. This is totally unfair for new graduates and for new students in general, however, interest on the seminar has reduced considerably. This could be taken as a sign that the moment of the I3MS has passed and maybe this is true, but we cannot help thinking that this would be a shame.

There will be a special session to discuss the future of the I3MS on week 2, time and place to be confirmed, but very likely at the same time and place the seminar has been taking place this last two years. In this session, you will have the opportunity to comment on the above options and even volunteer for taking over the organisation of the I3MS. Meanwhile, you can use this blog or the e-mail to express your views or contact us, or just express your interest in the I3MS.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Review of the Digital.Humanities@Oxford Summer School 2012

The Digital.Humanities@Oxford Summer School (DHOXSS) 2012 took place from 2nd-6th July 2012 at the University of Oxford. Our colleague and seminar member Amaranta Saguar attended the course "An Introduction to XML and the TextEncoding Initiative" and has decided to share her experiences with us.

One of my greatest frustrations as a graduate student at the University of Oxford has been –and still is– the lack of courses on Digital Humanities. While other British universities such as King's College London or the University of Sheffield offer programmes on that subject, the University of Oxford has no course devoted to any aspect of Digital Humanities, neither practical nor theoretical. Only the Oxford University Computing Services run courses on tools used in the field but, until now, none of them has specifically been oriented to Digital Humanities, and most of them are either introductory or just informative. This situation is far more serious as the University of Oxford is part of, leads, hosts and fosters several Digital Humanities Projects. Therefore, when I heard about the Digital.Humanities@Oxford SummerSchool I was determined not to miss the opportunity, despite the course fees being so high. Luckily, I was awarded one DHOXSS Bursary to attend and the financial effort got considerably reduced.

Among the different courses offered, An Introduction to XML and the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) seemed the most appropriate for my expectations. First, I was looking for something with an immediate application to my research that was more practical than theoretical, as well as something that could be learned in some depth in just one week. Second, I had had previous experiences with tag-based languages, so that the mechanics of the TEI were quite familiar to me and I was sure I could make the most of this course. And last, I was at the time transcribing one piece of manuscript text for an on-line project, and realised how much it could benefit from the tagging system proposed by the TEI: creating indexes, recording special characters, reflecting the layout... I immediately started dreaming of a world of possibilities and simple scripts based on tags and Javascript/JQuery.

The course was exactly what its title announced: an introduction to the TEI, quite similar to having a guided look through the TEI Guidelines. And there is the word that makes this course worth: guided. While approaching the TEI from the point of view of documentation can be confusing and lead to misunderstanding –to be honest, there is sometimes too much technical information for the person who just arrives to the TEI–, this course focuses on understanding the practical part and getting into the way the TEI structures texts and the hierarchical relations among its components. Once this has been understood and assimilated, getting familiar with the different tags and practice is everything that is needed for starting to work with the TEI. Moreover, the course provides information on forums, websites and mailing-lists devoted exclusively to the TEI, its features, its difficulties and examples of TEI encoding, so that it is no longer necessary to spend hours surfing the web looking for the right answer to TEI-related questions.

By contrast, the practical part of the workshop was a little bit disappointing. In this case, the adjective “guided” does not have such a positive meaning as it does above, but it is the principal weakness of the course. Directed exercises have an undeniable pedagogic value, however, they stop being challenging when they are reduced to following the steps and concentration does not last for long if you are told exactly what to do and do not have to think by yourself. It is true that this is an excellent method if you are working on your own –have a look at programming reference books and/or sites if you do not believe me–, but it makes no sense if you are in a group supervised by specialists in the topic, to whom you could pose your questions directly and in which you could discuss your problems at encoding as well. I would have preferred so much to be confronted to raw texts and raw encoding rather than to guided exercises...

Despite the above criticisms, I learned a lot. Not only about the TEI, but about other topics too. In first place, people that attended the course had quite interesting things to say, not only about Digital Humanities, but on a whole range of topics. In addition, some plenary lectures and sessions were quite inspiring –others did not interest me the slightest, as it is impossible to please everyone every time– and introduced aspects of Digital Humanities that I had dismissed or not considered before. Only the “surgery” sessions were too specific for me and I think they could have been organised in a different way, so that everybody can follow them and be interested in what is being discussed there. This last aspect could be improved if topics were less anglocentric and more open to general considerations than to particular circumstances in the United Kingdom, as well as if Oxford-based projects gave way to external ones or, at least, did not focus on its particularities but on what can be applied to other projects.

Unfortunately, only the TEI applies to my current research, but I got some good ideas for some parallel and future projects. Not only have I started to encode the piece of manuscript text that inspired me to attend the course, but I have tried to apply the principles that I learned on accessibility and machine readability to some of my on-going projects. What I learned about copyright and open licensing has proved very useful to publish one book, as well as the information on crowdsourcing. I only miss not to have had the chance to learn about the use and the creation of databases in the field of Digital Humanities! My life would be so much easier if I had!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Thursday 14th of June: WORKSHOP!


 
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