Get Thee to a Research Partner

Waldorf: I wish Gene Kelly would teach me to Charleston.

Statler: I wish Gene Kelly would DRIVE you to Charleston!

Constance: I was recently interviewed for a blog post and was asked if I had advice for researchers who were just starting out. I had two pieces of advice. The first is to work on other scholars’ projects — it’s a great way to learn how to design a research project and to develop relationships with mentors. The training I got at Ryerson University’s Centre for Digital Humanities on The Yellow Nineties was the making of me.

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My other piece of advice is get a research partner even if the discipline that represents the “H” in your DH practice disapproves of co-authored or collaborative work. It’s really motivating to have a partner who cares as much about a research project as you do. You can keep each other going when you face disappointments and setbacks and you can celebrate success together (when it comes to the minutia of budgets, flight cancelations, server outages, and metadata development, no one other than a research partner, not even your mother, will want to hear all your woes). Work together to develop projects that you love, ones that you would happily work on in the evenings or on weekends, even if they are never funded.

Of course, I especially recommend teaming up with Michelle Schwartz.

Michelle: Constance and I started our project, Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada, in the employee lunchroom at Ryerson. She was encoding The Yellow Book in XML-TEI, and I was volunteering at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. It was in our time eating lunch that we hatched the idea of using TEI to encode Don McLeod’s chronology of gay liberation history, Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada: A Selected Annotated Chronology Volumes 1 and 2.

What we started using just email and a Dropbox account has morphed into a DH project that stretches across three university campuses. To keep the project running, we broke it into chunks that can function independently to build pieces of the eventual whole. Constance works with RAs at the University of British Columbia to turn our data into a graph database that can be queried from a web application. At Ryerson, RAs do the research necessary to fill in missing information about the people, places, publications, and organization of the gay liberation movement. An RA at Simon Fraser is putting together an ethics application that will allow us to create an online survey to collect even more biographical information from participants in the Canadian gay liberation movement. There is no way that any of this would now exist if either Constance or I had tried to build it alone. In DH, as in all things, every Statler needs a Waldorf.

Constance Crompton and Michelle Schwartz

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