Oh Manchester, so much to answer for..

Well here I am in Manchester. Sorry I couldn’t resist the Smith’s reference, but actaully so far things are pretty good here. I’m up here to give a seminar at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Department of Information And Communication. I’m not bothering to add the URL, you can all Google, right? So what I am going to be talking about is, surprise, my work on humanities users of digital resources, and particularly the affective aspects of their interactions with information. That’s really important for my work on the INKE project as it really drives the philosophy behind the UX research for INKE.

I say surprise because anyone who knows me will undoubtedly have heard me wittering on at inordinate length about the importance of studying users of DH resources, and you are probably all bored witless of it by now. The only truly surprising thing must be that there is anyone still out there who hasn’t and isn’t. If you are such a remarkable person, and are interested in such things, comment and I’ll tell you more about it, and why it’s so important. And everyone else can just ignore that entry and think ‘Oh no, Claire is off on one again’ :-)

I’m not going to go on about what we do on INKE as you have surely all heard about it, and if not, you soon will, (coming to a conference near you soonest). But if you really still haven’t heard of us, please look at the webpage. Or I’m sure Ray will talk about it, as he’s the PI. But basically we are combining research on books and texts as artifacts, with research on users of digital resources, to produce insights into new ways that we might design digital knowledge environments for readers, especially in the humanities.

But anyway messing about finishing my paper has meant it has taken me until now to post my first post on the day of DH, because I have been too busy doing DH to actually write about it. This is truly representative of my life right now!  A million things DH to do, and not enough hours in the day to do them all, let alone think or write about them. I’m going to write a more contemplative and light hearted piece in a minute, but wanted to get the serious stuff up first, just so you all know what I’m up to today.  More soon, funnier too.

Just can’t get enough

Right, so this post is going to be relatively light hearted and whimsical. If you prefer your DH serious, please look away now.

But actually we at UCLDH tend to prefer not to take ourselves or our subject too seriously. Indeed yesterday Claire Ross and I had a meeting the head of the Intercultural Interaction Grand Challenge who remarked that we are the only people she sees in UCL that seem to be having fun at work and enjoying what they do. And actually she is right. UCLDH is great fun at the moment, despite taking over almost every waking hour and some of my sleeping ones. (Yes, I do dream about work sometimes, I’m that sad)

This followed the inaugural Decoding Digital Humanities meeting the night before, held in the Jeremy Bentham pub, during which there was general discussion of the place of rabbits in DH and Melissa acquired an imaginary lute habit. Maybe you had to be there, but the point is that we did actually have some great discussion of DH, perhaps because we refused to take it entirely seriously, and as a result had a seriously enjoyable time. It was more light hearted than any ‘proper’ seminar I have ever been to, but what was said was just as significant, and I actually thoroughly enjoyed the experience, which I can’t honestly say of many seminars I’ve been at. Now I realise that when people say they love their subject they might really mean it. I always thought it was an exaggeration or a figure of speech until now.

I composed this post in my head this morning while swimming in the hotel pool before breakfast. I mention this because pools seem to have a DH connection too. I remember swimming every morning when we were in Ottawa for the INKE interviews (both times!) fighting the jetlag, and trying to get my brain to settle and deal with anticipated questions about ‘Pourquoi le livre?’ and ‘Where are all the cognitive scientists?’ It clearly worked, if at the second attempt. There is also a photo of the INKE admin team in Ray’s hot tub after an 8 hour grant writing session at his house in Victoria. Sadly I lost this when my operating system ate itself, but I recall that we all look pleased but shattered, as well you might after 5 solid days of grant writing.

As I swam I was thinking of the paper I am giving, which is about pleasure and the use of digital information resources by humanities scholars. And I thought of the remark yesterday about how much we all seem to enjoy DH. And I thought, well yes that’s appropriate. UCLDH really does make me enormously happy right now. I guess it feels a bit like being in love, which is probably appropriate since we are still at the heady stage of a new romance between UCL and DH. Everything is new and wonderful. You wake up with a sense of delightful anticipation about what you might do and who you might meet. Everyone wants to know who you are, and you meet new people all the time, who want to spend time with you. You get invitations to dates like Digital Excursions or Decoding Digital Humanities and even proposals (well research proposals anyway). Now I am struggling to push this metaphor to the lengths where suddenly songs and poems take on a startling new significance, since it’s hard to imagine a DH love song. But who knows, maybe someone will think of one (comments please) but obviously it has to be electronica…

I don’t kid myself though. This is the honeymoon phase and it might not last. The CS people might no longer return my emails, or loan me plasma screens for the launch. The Dean might start to tire of me regarding DH as a solution to any given research issue. A younger, sexier interdiscipline might come along and catch the eye of the VP research, and DH might start to look old by comparison. But it is up to us to make sure that instead of a heady romance and a painful breakup, the partnership will become more profound. We have to make DH so indispensable to UCL that it will not be able to imagine life without us and so ensure that this connection develops into a long term commitment. I’d like to be sure that even in future, UCLDH will still be an exciting, and pleasant place to be, long after the romantic fizz has fizzled

Fine Time

MMU seminar

Seminar at MMU

Sorry to be so silent most of the day. Despite the posting time my last effort was written this morning, it’s just that I couldn’t get an internet connection until now.

I walked to the station from the university earlier with New Order on the iPod. It seemed the right thing to do. But I still think I prefer the music to the place. Atavistic Yorkshire-ness takes a long time to wear off.

Nevertheless, the seminar went really well. Everyone was very interested in how much humanities scholars love their work, and indeed sometimes love things digital too, thought it takes them a while to admit it! I am beginning to unbend a bit in my scepticism of seminars. That’s three out of four I have loved, but then I was giving 3 of them, which is always more fun.

Now I am at Manchester Grammar School, hanging out in the staff room, checking email etc while husband does his important Cambridge admissions tutor presentation stuff. Given the general buzz about UCLDH it feels really strange to be somewhere where nobody is in the least bothered about what I do. It’s not part of the syllabus and as such it doesn’t matter to them. Lets hope it will in a few years’ time.

Working for the Clampdown

I’ve been catching up on email for the last few hours. What have I been doing? I’ve been making appointments to see people about projects on digital art and science collaborations, digitised evidence of conquistadors, brain injury and GIS, and how DH can take part in UCL’s Humanities for Business programme. Then I’ve been following up possible collaborations with computer scientists on digital archives and serious games and augmented reality for cultural heritage. I’ve been emailing people about organising our external launch, and preparing for a meeting on Monday about planning our new MA. So it’s all DH, but it’s all email. And somehow it doesn’t feel like proper work, it feels like stuff you have to get done before you can do any proper work, only it just never gets shifted these days. I have this conversation with everyone I meet at the moment. We all feel oppressed by this. But nobody can work out what to do about this mountain of packets under which we are in danger of being buried.

I hope you’ve been enjoying the 80s music allusions in the post titles by the way. Sure it dates me, but who cares? I am learning to embrace my inner fogey these days. And what with the state of the economy and the meltdown of UKHE continuing apace it feels very much like the 80s all over again, so we might as well revisit the music too.

Time it’s time I lived…

..Now that it’s all over.

I’ve been trying to catch up on the posts from yesterday given that I had very little connectivity until later in the evening. I thought it would be allowable to reflect on the day of DH, on the Day +1. It was a bit of an odd day for me. I was away from my computer a lot of the time, giving the seminar, talking to people, traveling. So I didn’t have chance to stay tuned in with what others were doing as the day progressed as I did last year. It was a shame as it felt like a more isolated day of DH for me as a result. I suppose it allowed me to think a bit more about what I am doing myself. So my apologies if you find these posts too solipsistic.

But in many ways the preoccupations I had yesterday are typical of my version of DH at the moment. Most of the things I am doing are about looking to and building for a future that is very hard to predict. We have no real idea what will happen to us in the UK in the next few months, whether in HE or at UCL, and what will happen to research funding. We don’t even know if there will be any left after the election. We just have to assume steady state and get on with things.

But against this background UCLDH is new and optimistic and we are using all our energies to build up new relationships and connections both at UCL and beyond. We have to have faith that at least some of these will work out, and result in something remarkable, new and significant. But we can’t predict anything at all. Against my natural instincts and all that rationality might suggest in this environment, I somehow believe that we will achieve good things here, and that we will not only survive but flourish. I have no idea where this positivity comes from. Perhaps it is from the remarkable good will being shown to UCLDH by almost everyone I meet, and crucially from so many of the senior people who will ultimately make the decisions about our future. Perhaps it is a result of working with such a brilliant group of people, who communicate so much energy and enthusiasm in all they do that it keeps me going when I start to feel a little overcome by it all. (I cannot express how grateful I am for that!) I don’t know the reasons, but we will just ride the wave for as long as it lasts, and I will try not to question why I have been so fortunate as to be in this position.

To finish with another 80s line, ‘Baby, life’s what you make it!’