As a Friday afternoon treat, I’m dipping into a bit of TEI. We’re working on a model TEI template and schema for correspondence, as part of a project to digitise and research the letters written to Thomas Hardy. Working with a PhD researcher, student volunteers and interns, we hope to encode and make available a selection of letters that illustrate the breadth of correspondence this British novelist and poet received. His interest in science and in politics are facets that are directly apparent from the letters he received. The letters are in the collection of the Dorset County Museum, and the project is part of a developed theme on Hardy, led by Prof. Angelique Richardson, which will link to resources on other South West writers in due course.
We’re currently providing training in TEI methods and markup, and as this progresses and discussion takes place on the features of the letters and the markup required, we will start to look at customising the TEI schema through restricting the available elements, to ensure consistency across the texts and to allow more efficient display when they are made available. It’s a process of negotiation that leans heavily on the combined experience of the global TEI community through such resources as the TEI Guidelines and the TEI Correspondence Special Interest Group.
Of course, Hardy’s relationship with scientific and technological progress, including such innovations as photography and the telegraph, seems not always to have been a comfortable one; themes explored in the novels “Two on a Tower” and “A Laodicean”. What would Hardy have made of today’s Internet?
Looking at the soft underbelly of one of our databases this afternoon. The “Privy Council Papers” site is a catalogue of appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and provides information about British Empire and Commonwealth law that’s unavailable elsewhere. We’re working on a modest expansion of the metadata of this dataset, adding some more comprehensive fields and tidying up a few idosyncracies. A student intern is being employed to work on the data, whilst our team provides the new fields and other changes in the database itself. The project is overseen and coordinated by Nandini Chatterjee, the database was developed in part by Tom Rosenbloom, and is now maintained and updated by Sam Wise.
It’s a good lesson in sustainability of data, as no matter how ‘final’ a dataset seems, it always has the potential to spring into life again. Here, there is an impetus from the resource being used for teaching and the added information will ensure a more usable resource for our students, but in other cases, data can be put to completely new and unanticipated purposes. Whilst the creation of data must always answer the immediate needs, it’s worthwhile thinking about other uses from the start, and planning the database in that way – here, we are having to construct data entry forms and make changes that would have been simpler, had the database been planned slightly differently. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!
The University of Exeter is in a fairly constant state of organisational change at the moment, and will be for the foreseeable future. In many ways, this is a good thing; we all need to adapt to new conditions, new demands and new markets, external influences that are uncontrollable but a necessary part of Higher Education and the research environment. Working in technology gives us an advantage over many other teams undergoing change, as we’re used to our tools and technologies evolving rapidly.
So today I’m on a training course – “Leading through change” – which will indicate how to recognise the need for organisational change, embrace it, and lead colleagues through it. I’m struck, whilst sitting in the class, that there’s a lot of commonality with software development practices. As a team, we operate on an informal Agile model, which recognises that change is often necessary through the course of a project, and that you may not always end up with the solution that you anticipated when discussing initial requirements with the client.
This is particularly true of our research project work. Often the research questions will change as the research team understands the texts or data under study, and sometimes the availability of new methods will change the outcomes considerably. It’s part of our adaptation to the clients’ needs, which will always evolve as the project progresses.
I’ve learnt a few things this morning about how people see change, and I’ve also learned a little more about our development practices, thinking through the way we interact with other researchers, collaborators and colleagues.
Now for something a little more interesting! We’re coordinating an announcement of new investment to coincide with Day of DH – this is something we’ve know about for a few weeks but are jsust going public with – for new facilities for DH activity at Exeter. We’ll be adding some new digitisation spaces and a technology-enabled seminar room and exhibition space, as a new extension to the Queen’s Building on Exeter’s beautiful Streatham campus. The press release is written, and has been published overnight, and suddenly the facilities feel as though they’re moving from a proposal to a reality. Just time to check the text has been published correctly, and then off to my first meeting. Not even time to tweet the news!
The morning begins with paperwork. A day of job interviews yesterday (sadly not for a DH post) generates an inordinate amount of paperwork, both electronic and dead-tree-based, with scanning of notes, completion of spreadsheets and following up of references. As with many DH practitioners, there are many activities that take us away from our core research or productivity. My aim is always to make these non-DH tasks as efficient as possible, and use the more interesting DH work as motivation to get them done!
After a false start (I have a feeling I selected the wrong options when creating my DayofDH blog) and some superb technical support from the Day of DH team (thanks!), I’ll be creating a few retrospective posts covering the day’s activities.