Don’t Panic

Over the past week, it came to my attention that I have not been doing a very good job of not panicking in this class.  While I did suspect that Matt was not likely to assign a failing grade to the majority of the class for not having Paper Machines working by the end of the meeting (the stated assignment), I spent most of that session feeling miserably confused.  I probably looked quite grumpy.  (I apologize to anyone at whom I may have inadvertently frowned.)  While conversing with classmates in the days that followed about this thing that felt like a disaster — I had after all (for the first time ever) failed to complete a pass/fail assignment — I started slowly realizing that I may not be as hopelessly behind the curve as I felt.  From the start, I was uncertain what to make of the assertion that failure is a good part of DH work; I thought “That’s all very well if you’re trying to make something just because you want it, but what about when my grade/job depends on success?”  I realize that I have not been a very active participant in class so far, but I think I figured out that my real problem may not be that I am technologically inept (though I am), but that I habitually operate under assumptions about good academic work that are entirely incompatible the way DH defines good work.  It will not be easy to murder the little perfectionist angel/devil on my shoulder, but it will probably do me some good if I manage it.

So, moving on, I went in search of the reason I ever even considered signing up for this class.  Last year, I attended a Digital Dialogues lecture by Mike Witmore (the director of the Folger Shakespeare Library) called “Shakespeare from the Waist Down.”  I had seen flyers for other dialogues, but I didn’t think they applied to me (due to the technological ineptitude thing), but I was curious enough to go to this one because it mentioned Shakespeare in the title.  I was astonished by the idea that something as simple as pronoun patterns could enable a computer to tell the difference between comedy, history, and tragedy, and that it could identify the late romances (a modern editorial categorization).  The link to the podcast of that talk is here, if anyone wants to watch it:

I am also really looking forward to the Folger visit tonight.  The Shakespeare Quartos Archive is the first thing we’ve studied that I’ve actually seen before!  I don’t know exactly what I may do, but I hope to pursue it further.  Collation and archiving seem the sorts of things I am most likely to use in the future, so I’m happy to be on somewhat more familiar territory!  So, stay tuned; I promise I’ll have something more interesting to say soon.

(And maybe, someday, I’ll even figure out how to take screenshots!)

7 thoughts on “Don’t Panic

  1. Ha! Oh boy can I relate to feeling technologically inferior and like a lecture called Digital Dialogues wouldn’t apply to me. That’s incredible about computers detecting comedy, tragedy, etc by observing pronoun patterns though. I think once I’m able stop considering myself a computer novice I’ll find a fascinating world waiting for me.

    • I think this is an important observation. Learning tools is a challenge especially when we see our skills as being elsewhere, but once we make a commitment to a specific tool or technology, the possibilities are outstanding.

  2. I remember my first day of Grad School I had a full on panic attack because the other students knew all of the canonical British Romantic writers and I couldn’t name one! I felt defeated my first day of class and questioned whether or not I belonged there. Feeling frustrated comes with the territory. I remember Dr. Harris told us, “I know you guys all think you are faking it in Grad school, but you’re not, so stop thinking like that.” So the best advice I can give you is, Stop. Work hard and trust in yourself. Sometimes things take a little longer than we anticipate.

  3. Jessica-I had a similar experience trying to figure out this whole Digital Humanities thing and how it relates to the work I’m used to doing studying literature (if you look at my post “Easing the Unease of a Literary Group member” over at the BeardStair project you can see how my grumpy-ness manifested itself). I think what worked for me, more than realizing that failure is inevitable, was really starting to rely on the tools that DH purports–collaboration, digital collections, archives, etc.–and forcing myself to see them as different roads to reach the same goals, not hurdles I have to jump over in order to communicate my “literary” chops to the digital arena. Have you been able to resolve the issues that you sound hopeful about it this post?

  4. I think I feel like we are experiencing a lot of the same trepidation here on the west coast as well. I feel like it is all well and good to discuss what things are called, and make sure we have our parameters right, but a lot of what I see going on, is a semantic debate that draws attention away from the subject matter, which I believe is at the heart of any good digital project.

    Without a strong background in computers it is possible to make a pretty good site using the tools available, so long as you have the material to back it up. Whereas without solid material to ground a project, it is only so many bells and whistles, but stands little chance of being viewed as scholarly, or capable of teaching us something.

    So of my own volition I have spent a majority of my time reading and explaing the text I chose to explicate as part of the project. I have felt like all this discussion of tools, and the focus on the digital aspects of our projects, may be drawing our energies away from the discovery and research of content that can make our projects really interesting.

    It seems we need to focus more on content fitting with form, and the form should fit the tools appropriate for them. If the content isn’t there, no one will care.

    I think the most successful platforms allow us to change the form of the project as it goes along. And without significant research, it seems we won’t be able to be very relevant in the future. I want our project to be a legitimate learning tool, whatever platform we choose.

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