[Cross-posted from the Tree of Texts project blog]
The Tree of Texts project formally comes to an end in a few days; it's been a fun two years and it is now time to look at the fruits of our research. We (that is, Tara) gave a talk at the DH 2012 conference in July about the project and its findings; we also participated in a paper led by our colleagues in the Leuven CS department about computational analysis of stemma graph models, which was presented at the CoCoMILE workshop during the European Conference on Artificial Intelligence. We are now engaged in writing the final project paper; following up on the success of our DH talk, we will submit it for inclusion in the DH-related issue of LLC. Alongside all this, work on the publication of proceedings from our April workshop continues apace; nearly all the papers are in and the collection will soon be sent to the publisher.
More excitingly, from the perspective of text scholars and critical editors who have an interest in stemmatic analysis, we have made our analysis and visualization tools available on the Web! We are pleased to present Stemmaweb, which was developed in cooperation with members of the Interedition project and which provides an online interface to examining text collations and their stemmata. Stemmaweb has two homes:
If you have a Google account or another OpenID account, you can use that to log in; once there you can view the texts that others have made public, and even upload your own. For any of your texts you can create a stemma hypothesis and analyze it with the tools we have used for the project; we will soon provide a means of generating a stemma hypothesis from a phylogenetic tree, and we hope to link our tools to those emerging soon from the STAM group at the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology.
Like almost all tools for the digital humanities, these are highly experimental. Unexpected things might happen, something might go wrong, or you might have a purpose for a tool that we never imagined. So send us feedback! We would love to hear from you.
- Treat all variants as equal
- Assign the weights arbitrarily, according to philological 'common sense', personal experience, or any other criterion that takes your fancy.
My first publication arose from my M.Phil. thesis. The thesis itself was an enormous logic and date-accounting puzzle, which I thought was all kinds of fun but which, when described to fellow students, tended to get the reaction "I'm so sorry, that sounds horribly boring!" That says something about the geek disposition, I suppose.
The topic of my thesis, and the eventual paper, was the chronological weirdness of the first book of the Chronicle of Matthew of Edessa. There is a back story there, on how a vaguely Byzantium-fancying computer geek came to be writing about an Armenian historical chronicle concerned in large part with a topic (the Crusades) that, had I been asked in 2003, I would have found utterly uninteresting. It's also a tale of how the smallest sorts of circumstance can shape a career.
I began grad school on the heels of the Great Dot-com Bust. My bachelor's degree was a strange MIT hybrid ("Humanities and Engineering") which really meant that I had been on course to do a computer science degree when I realized that I could have a lot more fun doing half my coursework in history, and at the end of it I would still probably get a programming job at some Internet startup. So it came to pass, but I could never shake the urge to go back and give history a more proper study. In the end the universe did me a perverse sort of favor when my company laid me off just as I was finally resolving to prepare those grad school applications.
This is how I found myself in a room at Exeter College one gorgeous afternoon working out, together with the other new master's students, what I ought to be doing for the next two years. Among the decisions we needed to make was the language we would study for the examination requirement; the (rather fantastic-sounding) options were Greek, Latin, Armenian, Syriac, Church Slavonic, and Arabic. I had enough Greek and Latin to be getting on with, but my powers as a dead-language autodidact had already failed me once when confronted with Armenian. Why not get some actual tuition in it and see how I did?
Of such whims are career paths made. Once I had expressed a guarded interest in Armenian language, well, it seemed evident to the assembled dons that I should apply it by studying some Armenian history. That turned out to be a field so very under-studied that potential thesis topics were lurking under nearly every assigned primary text and journal article. I resolved eventually to write a thesis on the subject of the Armenian economy of the tenth and eleventh centuries, seeing what we might piece together by looking critically at literary and epigraphic sources. I dutifully began to read, and by August I had a collection of notes on the three main historians of the era (dots indicate approximate note volume):
- [..] Aristakes of Lastivert
- [....] Stephen of Taron
- [.........................................................................] Matthew of Edessa
Hm. Clearly my thesis had chosen a direction, even if I hadn't. It was not Matthew's poetic writing, vivid narrative, or historical accuracy that had caught my attention - in the latter case, rather the opposite. How could such a vast history be so very full of such obvious mistakes? Was there any rhyme or reason to them? Could we trust *anything* that Matthew was trying to tell us? If so, what? It took a few months more for the thesis topic to resolve itself to these chronological mistakes, but I got there in the end. The whole process began to turn into an intriguing logic puzzle that I had a lot of fun trying to solve, and it seemed a little unbelievable that no one had beaten me to it.
It took me three years (and another job in industry) to condense the thesis to an article suitable for publication, but I finally submitted it in 2008 to the standard journal for Armenian scholarship, the Revue des études arméniennes. My reward was a charming hand-written letter from the editor acknowledging my contribution and that he would be happy to publish it, though he wondered what my view was on certain issues I hadn't addressed. I got to pretend for a moment that I was about fifty years older than I am, initiated into the academic community in an era where scholarship was carried on through personal correspondence.
As I have not heard anything from Peeters (and cannot find any information online) concerning author rights, and as I don't believe I actually signed anything handing over any rights in any event, I have chosen to go with the safest reasonable option for open access: the final version of the article content, before typesetting.
Andrews, Tara L., 'The Chronology of the Chronicle: An Explanation of the Dating Errors within Book 1 of the Chronicle of Matthew of Edessa', Revue des études arméniennes 32 (2010): 141-64.
You see, yak shaving is what you are doing when you're doing somestupid, fiddly little task that bears no obvious relationship to whatyou're supposed to be working on, but yet a chain of twelve causalrelations links what you're doing to the original meta-task. [Source]
Yak Shaving is the last step of a series of steps that occurs when you find something you need to do. "I want to wax the car today.""Oops, the hose is still broken from the winter. I'll need to buy a new one at Home Depot.""But Home Depot is on the other side of the Tappan Zee bridge and getting there without my EZPass is miserable because of the tolls.""But, wait! I could borrow my neighbor's EZPass...""Bob won't lend me his EZPass until I return the mooshi pillow my son borrowed, though.""And we haven't returned it because some of the stuffing fell out and we need to get some yak hair to restuff it."And the next thing you know, you're at the zoo, shaving a yak, all so you can wax your car. [Source]
- No, as long as you can think systematically and understand the possibilities that digital methods open to humanities research, who cares if you know how to run a compiler? That's what collaboration is for.
- Of course you have to learn to code, because otherwise you will never fully understand the possibilities, and anyway you will simply not get anywhere if you sit around waiting for others to provide the tools for your specific problems.
I've been meaning to start this blog for a very long time now, just as soon as I could work out what I might have to talk about. As time passes, though, it becomes increasingly clear that (at least in my own little hybrid sector of the humanities) scholars need a web presence nearly as much as they need a decent list of publications on their CVs.
So here I am, joining the 21st-century version of the Republic of Letters. I'll be ruminating about topics on the digital humanities, and (I very much hope) topics on Byzantine and Eastern Christian history, in the months to come. I know there are quite a few digital humanists of various stripes in this new Republic; I hope I can ferret out a few more Byzantinists as well!