Reading in the labyrinth library: [biblio|sito|twitto]graphy

March 27, 2012 in Afternoon, Learning, Office, Reading, Research

Vire and netbook

The book by G. Viré I am officially reading, and all the rest I am skimming through via my netbook

18.45. After working at my class website, I have turned back to research, and to the most traditional form of research: I have done my reading. But what does it mean to read bibliography in the Digital Humanities?

A little bit of context first. As I already said, I’m studying digital scholarly editions.

  • On the one side, I am reviewing the existing ones for a seminar that I should hold before Summer here at the Accademia;
  • On the other side, I am planning to realise some experimental prototype of digital critical edition of a classical text  following the methodological issues I am studying.

Every research work needs bibliography. Currently I am officially reading “onl”y a book by Ghislain Viré (and making my reading notes in English available online) and skimming over Alison Babeu’s “Rome Wasn’t Digitized in a Day”: Building a Cyberinfrastructure for Digital Classics (waiting to have time to read it through).

The point is: when I used to study “traditional” Classics, I would be reading one article at a time, one book at a time, and keep linear track of my reading on paper, Word, Excel or JabRef.

Only in the last couple of hours (devoted to “reading”), however, I have been notified with an impressive frequency of the existence of a number of interesting further books, articles, blog posts, websites, projects through Twitter or discussion groups. I don’t even have the time to skim over one blog post and add it to my JabRef bibliographical archive that I find two further resources through that post. A labyrinth.

The problem is that the quantity of stuff to read increases exponentially, while the last time I checked my time flowed linearly.

Things are made more complicated by an odd nevrosis that comes from my training as a classicist, that of bibliographical completeness: you must read all that has been written on the topic before you write a line. Which, in the DH scenario, would lead you to aphasy (not necessarily a bad thing, in times of publication overflow).

Jabref and Twitter

JabRef vs. Twitter: linear vs. exponential

It is 19.15 now. I am going to be heading home. But on the tram Twitter will keep pouring new links on me through my smartphone, and I’ll keep doing my reading (either on Vire’s printed book or in my phone’s browser), as I did in the last two hours. But what is DH scholarly “reading” in the age of Twitter? I am trying to find out, while I try to cope with the labyrinth. I don’t want to be the lazy guy who complains about too many readings for the class. Yet, I think I can spot, through the labyrinth’s fog, what “reading” will have to do without:

  • disciplinary boundaries;
  • bibliographical completeness within a discipline;
  • bibliographies as we know them in the paper form;
  • sitographies that try to reproduce the format of paper bibliographies (and go out of date in a year);
  • traditional personal bibliographical archives;
  • much of our old bibliographical reference conventions (how do I cite a research article first  published in print that has then been self-archived online by its author? And a conference paper slideshow?);
  • the idea of ‘publication date‘ (what is the publication date of a website, or of an evolving online DH project?);
  • a lot more. But it’s time to go home.

Class website: why do DH change your teaching style?

March 27, 2012 in Afternoon, Communication, Editing, Office, Teaching


A page of my course's website

17.00. I just finished adding new materials to the website of the Digital Humanities course I am teaching (for free – it’s a long story) at the University of Palermo.

At some point of my course, students are required to write a paper using digital tools. I just edited and uploaded some sample papers by students of last year’s class and notified them via the website’s news page and the class email distribution list.

This year, my course (whose syllabus anyone is very welcome to fork, although it’s in Italian) is divided into two modules:

  • Module A is “theoretic”: students have some reading to do on an introduction to the Digital Humanities;
  • Module B is conceived as a seminar: students (in the last year of their MA curriculum – “Laurea di secondo livello” – in Classics) are required to apply the digital tools and methods they have learned to the production of an actual classicist paper.

Going now to the title of this post: it is a fact that teaching DH tends to change your teaching style. I have taught Latin before, both at school and at college level, both in Italy and in the USA. When I did so, I must confess that, mostly, I lectured – as it is customary (alas!) in Italian education. But when I teach DH, I tend to:

  • Use the class website quite intensively. Year after year, I keep building materials myself and piling them up in my teaching websites;
  • Change contents and methods of m teaching from semester to semester. I can say in all honesty that I have never taught using the same syllabus – and even the same methods – twice, so far (as shown by my previous years class websites);
  • Elicit and use student’s feedback a lot, in all phases of the class (this year, I started even before the course started, with an initial survey).  Maybe it’s because I experiment very much with teaching, and I need to know when things go wrong (as it may be the case with experiments). For instance, I asked the students to let me know what topics of the syllabus they’d like me to cover at more length in Module B, before starting it;
  • I try to lecture as little as possible, but rather to let students work and experiment in the laboratory or write essays, while I follow them like in a sort of seminar.

A sample essay, some hand-made HTML editing, and a PDF with the assessment criteria

This is how one can spend one hour and a half (about 15.30-17.00) editing and publising extra teaching materials that he might have done without if he had confined himself to one-way lecturing. So: why is it that the DH change your teaching style? I remember two quotes that might help. But I am not sure where I have read them…

One should be from Father Roberto Busa, and went more or less like: The DH should not let us do old things with new tools; they should enable us to do new things. The other one (a tweet by Melissa Terras?) was shorter, as it is typical of the very efficient tongue of Shakespeare: DH are about collaboration.

Meeting with prof. Orlandi on Viré’s book

March 27, 2012 in Communication, Meeting, Morning, Office, Reading, Reflecting, Research

Accademia dei Lincei

Main entrance of the Accademia dei Lincei, Rome

At about Noon I had a brief meeting with prof. Tito Orlandi, the supervisor of my post-PhD bourse here at the Centro Linceo Interdisciplinare “B. Segre” of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome.

I showed him the Quantifying Digital Humanities poster that the secretary of the Accademia just delivered to me (hurray! Thank you, Melissa Terras). Countries outside the anglo-saxon area are only really present in the first figure (“Physical centres in Digital Humanities across the globe”), but do not show up when funding is taken into account. Maybe because the quantity of funding to DH institutions outside UK and USA is not comparable to that of those nations?

DH infographic

DH poster by Melissa Terras, now hanging at the wall of the Centro Linceo Interdisciplinare

Our short meeting today was mostly a discussion on a book that I am reading:  Viré, Ghislaine (1986), Informatique et classement des Manuscrits. Essai méthodologique sur le de astronomia d’Hygin, Editions de l’Université de Bruxelles, Bruxelles (I am making my reading notes on the book, in English, available online).

I am currently studying the methods underdying digital scholarly editions. Viré’s book, although old, has an interesting reflection on what a “variant” is and how it should be modelled (Viré 1986, 27-41). What I and prof. Orlandi discussed is that Viré’s task was to feed the computer with a number of variants to let it build a scheme of the relationships between manuscripts (an automatic recensio codicum), so the human philologist can continue the work from there. For Viré, collatio, emendatio and constitutio textus should not be automatised. All that the computer should take care of is recensio: it is required to build semi-automatically a scheme of kinship between manuscript.

Centro Linceo Interdisciplinare

The hall of the Centro Linceo Interdisciplinare, where I normally work (see brown bagpack and white netbook)

I argued that this primary task affects dramatically Viré’s modelling of textual variance, which results oversimplified (by means of a complete orthographic “normalisation”). However, as Orlandi rightly replied, her thoughtful discussion on textual variance modelling is of extreme interest, and much ahead of the oversimplified text modelling at the basis of some literary digital editions today.

One of my goals is to propose a reflection on possible models on how to model textual variance in our digital scholarly editions and our textual archives, so I will take the interesting point of Viré and take the reflection further from there.

Periscope: Twitter and discussion groups

March 27, 2012 in Blogging, Communication, Email, Home, Morning, Outside, Research, Travel

This beautiful spring day in Rome started before I went to my working place in the Accademia dei Lincei, Rome.

While having my delicious Italian breakfast (no eggs and bacon for us, British friends: tea and very sweet biscuits), I checked Twitter and email.

These activities are entirely part of my research activitity, as almost all the Twitter profiles I follow have to do with the Digital Humanities, inlcuding the digiclass list. This is one of the best ways I have to stay up to date with such a fastly-evolving field.

Tiber river, Rome

View of the Tiber on my way to work, at the Accademia dei Lincei, Rome

The other ways are two email-based discussion groups that I subscribed to and check regurlarly (including today): Digital Classicist and Humanist. The latter is wider in themes and scope and much more crowded with messages. The former, more specific to my profile as a classicist.

Skimming through tweets is an activity that accompanies me on the tram #8 on my way to work, thanks to my not-quite-so-smart smartphone.

By the way, I am well aware of the luck I have in enjoying such view of the TIber river (with St. Peter’s dome in the background) on my way to work, so I am posting it here.

About me

March 26, 2012 in Biography

I hold a PhD in Classics from the University of Palermo (2006). My dissertation was on space in Latin love elegy and I mostly published on Latin classical poetry (CV; home page).

Paolo Monella

Me in 2006, when I had a beard and had just completed my PhD

During the last years of my PhD I developed a personal interest in the Digital Humanities, that became a research interest in 2006, when I started studying the topic of digital scholarly editions of classical texts with an article on publishing glossae together with the literary text they refer to in a manuscript.

After teaching Latin at UCLA for six months (2007-2008), I have been teaching Digital Humanities at the University of Palermo, where I am normally based (see the webpages of my courses, in Italian).

I am now working at the Centro Linceo Interdisciplinare of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome, Italy, with a post-PhD bourse in Digital Humanities under the supervision of Prof. Tito Orlandi.

My current research project is about the philological method applied to digital editions. I built up a website in through which I aim to ‘open’ my research to anyone interested while it is still in progress, and to receive valuable feedback.