So Long, Thanks for all the Fish, and Promises to Keep.
Today is my last day here at the Sherman Centre, and it’s a bit melancholy. I honestly believe the model of the Centre–where faculty and graduate students don’t hand the work off to be processed but are active participants in every aspect of the technical labor involved in their research–is perhaps the best model I’ve seen for a self-sustaining digital scholarship center that doesn’t need to keep on the grant treadmill to keep the lights on. It’s also one that not only produces good results but a strong cohort of digital scholars who are ready to use the skills they learn both at McMaster and elsewhere.
Which sounds awful sappy, but it’s true.
During my time here I finished work on, turned in, and will have out at the end of this month an edited collection (alongside the fabulous Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel and Ece Turnator) entitled Meeting the Medieval in a Digital World. It’s on the intersections between medieval studies and digital humanities, and is published by Arc Humanities Press. I revamped my personal website to try to have a single professional presence and began producing various short pieces for it — expect more once I’m done moving and the like. That was, in part, inspired by an invited post for the Digital Medievalist on databases as a methodological model, which made me realize that perhaps public scholarship could be done without sucking up too much time better spent on “real” research. I also added some new functionality to my long-neglected archive of the works of John Lydgate, and I plan on taking some of the things I learned here at the Sherman Centre along with me to build the infrastructure for the site even more robustly, since I haven’t the institutional budget for image rights to display the transcriptions I have. I’ve put together a video for the Sherman Centre video wall on the site as it currently is constituted, which I’ll include below, but I’ve added 3d functionality to the force-directed model shown there. I wrote a chapter for inclusion in the edited volume, and began work both on a follow-up article to my piece on the staging on the Digby Mary Magdalene and on a piece comparing the public presentations of John Lydgate’s Testament and “A Lamentation of our Lady Maria” at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Long Melford with the more private, portable witnesses of the poems as they exist within “devotio-literary” culture. The ultimate goal of the article is to understand how examining this obscured public perception of the poet provides a fuller picture of how Lydgate was understood by near-contemporaries who were not part of the London elites. I also began work on a database mapping the connections between people in the registers “Herveye” and “Baldwyn,” which I believe will show a web of spirtual debt and obligation, and learned how to shoot and edit audio and video more efficiently thanks to the work I did with the videos our Folger Seminar produced for Folgerpedia (although the lions share of the credit for the finished product should go to Heather Mitchell-Buck, who provided the narration and final editing of the films produced). Most importantly, I made solid headway on revisions to my dissertation, with a solid gameplan towards turning it into a book I think people will want to read.
That’s an awful lot of “I’s” there. So let’s talk a bit about other people. The staff here at the Centre are caring, dedicated scholars and technologists and the graduate cohort, if this past year is any indication, are really strong and doing some fascinating work. It’s been a pleasure to be a sounding board for them, to organize the graduate colloquium, and to help them take their next steps in their growth as academics. Drs Andrea Zeffiro and Dale Askey, the Academic Director and outgoing Administrative Director, respectively, were nothing but supportive of my work and made me feel like I was a scholar, rather than a hired gun whose only value to the academy was the technical skills I had. It’s been a distinct pleasure to work under them both. John Fink, Gabriella Mircea, Matt McCollow, and Jay Brodeur, who made up the Centre staff and affiliated people for the majority of my tenure, were great to get along with and made coming to work a pleasure (Matt has subsequently gone on to bigger and better things at the library at McMaster, and they are the better for it). Melissa Elliot, who came on board this year, has been a delight and has helped things in the Centre immeasurably in small, often unnoticed ways.
Finally, my students. Going back to the video wall, one of the last things I did “officially” for the Sherman Centre was teach a section of the Introduction to Digital Humanities course, 2DH3. The way I structured that course was as an intersection between understanding metadata and social justice, and because of that students were asked to do a final project that didn’t talk about data so much as attempt to use what they had learned about data to persuade an audience. Unfortunately, the Sherman Centre video wall doesn’t have sound, and so the videos there are silent. You can go here, though, to hear the two videos with sound.
As for me, since I was basically runner up on two positions I had campus visits for my gameplan at the moment is to go back to Texas, where my partner is finishing up her degree, and teach for a year while she writes her dissertation and defends. Then we’ll see what happens.
One final thought before I go – I’ve always been technically proficient. I often joke that my first technical jobs were basically being dropped into a situation and banging my head against the wall until something worked. And that’s true. But it also means that I generally don’t want to code for the sake of coding, or use a new gadget unless I know it’ll produce results. And that can be limiting, because despite what I want to think about myself I don’t have all the answers to everything. What I gained at the Centre during my time here was a little bit of understanding in multiple tools and methods, to the point where even when I myself don’t engage in that kind of work I can create something that will do the job. And that’s really what the goal of the Centre is for all of its Graduate Residents, Postdocs, and affiliated faculty. I like to think that I helped some folks out along the way.