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Just testing. See you later.

Spring in Saskatoon

Spring in Saskatoon

One advantage of being a digital humanist is that I get to work indoors on days like this.

Fueling up


If, as Paul Erdös said, ‘a mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems’, what’s a digital humanist?

(That’s tea, by the way; maybe I’m a wimp.)


I am spending a lot more time than I expected this morning in responding to emails and clearing my inbox, but in the process I found myself using a digital resource I visit almost every day: the OED Online. And to think that my university library started subscribing to it only eight years ago. Astonishing how many loanwords from Persian there are in English, going back to the 16th century at least. Those are things one couldn’t find easily in the print OED, quite apart from the difficulty of navigating through all 20 huge volumes plus supplements.

Hours of fun.

Little graphs

ought graph

My main research project at present is a scholarly edition of a 14th-century Middle English long poem, and I set up a transcription of it in Jeff Smith’s Glyphicus to help me with the linguistic analysis. Jeff has written a few little analysis tools for me, and one of them spits out distribution graphs of requested character sequences. This one compares the distribution of the sequence ‘-oght’, which is probably from the original poem and from the scribe of this manuscript, both Northern, with that of ‘-ought’, which seems to have leaked in from south of the Humber, possibly from this scribe’s exemplar. The lack of ‘ought’ forms from folio 168v onwards may be significant; there are some other spelling changes in the text at around the same point.

Too much self-awareness

I am sure others have noticed this phenomenon, but all this reflecting on my work as a digital humanist is distracting me from my work as a digital humanist. Good thing it’s just for a day.

I hope the Day of DH team have a tag for ‘caffeinated beverages’: it seems to be a recurring theme.

And now back to work.


Since part of my day is teaching, here is a picture (with their permission) of some of my students, cheerfully contemplating auxiliary verbs.

horse skull

And, since my History of the English Language class was moved to the Biology building, I get to teach close to prehistoric horse skeletons.

Book stack

Books for the day

Usually, my work (including my work as a digital humanist) involves building stacks of books on the flat surfaces in my office. This is my stack of books for today, before I put them away.

And here’s a word cloud of today’s research, courtesy of Wordle:

I am about to do the final clearing of my email, flat surfaces, etc, and then I will do my best to avoid work for the rest of the day. I’ve enjoyed being distracted by everyone’s blogs. Thanks to the Day of DH team for putting this together.

Blogging about blogging

I’d like to mention something that might be of vague sociological interest to someone out there: my Day of DH 2010 was the first blog of my admittedly uneventful life.  This may be shocking to some, although it will not surprise anyone who knows me.

I’m used to a publishing model that includes many more gatekeepers. To publish in a scholarly journal I have to get my writing past some mysterious monsters called referees and editors. Perhaps this means that my potentially world-changing originality will never be realised, because it will be systematically squashed by the unsympathetic fist of conventional ignorance and lunkheaded misunderstanding, but I am actually very grateful to those gatekeepers for their willingness to tell me I am wrong and/or an idiot before I get the chance to broadcast that fact to the world. In that system, even if I turn out to have been wrong and an idiot, at least I can have the comfort of knowing that I took some other people down with me at the same time. On the Web, however, it is so much easier to make a fool of myself in public.

Granted that the Day of DH was not about publishing the results of research, but about what our work looks like in progress. But there, again, I found myself racked by uncertainty. I am not used to letting people know what happens before the polished article comes out. I wasn’t sure what to write about and at what level of detail. It’s not because my research is a great secret, but, really, how many people out there care about how a fifteenth-century Yorkshire gentleman spelled ‘hang’? Do I really want to add to the vast and ever-growing mess of words that people with lives will not have time to read? (You will notice that this is a problem for academia generally, of course.) So I ended up taking pictures. At least they are quick to look at.

What I did enjoy about the Day of DH, rather hypocritically, was reading others’ blogs. (Does this mean I have time not to have a life?) They provided evidence to support what I had already suspected: (a) that digital humanists are quite interesting people; (b) they subsist largely on caffeinated beverages; and (c) they react like everyone else when their computers crash or the server goes down.

This Last Post notwithstanding, I’m not tempted by this exercise to start blogging the rest of my life. I’m going to go back to building stacks of books in my office. Perhaps I’m too insecure for Web 2.0.