My work here is done.

Tomorrow morning is the last class I have to teach this term – the ‘Tools and Techniques’ class, in which I’ll be giving the students a quick tour of the Python Natural Language Toolkit.

A portion of tomorrow's lesson on NLTK in iPython Notebook.
Lesson planning in Python

There are a couple of topics, like authorship attribution and topic modeling, that I intended to cover this term. Those sessions got squeezed away over the course of the term in order to spend extra time on more fundamental (but tricky) things like regular expressions. I do plan to release the lessons as iPython notebooks anyway, for the benefit of my students and of anyone else who might derive some benefit from it. Most of the lessons from the class this term are in Github and available through nbviewer.

And with that, I’m off for some seriously overdue sleep. Good night!

Digital Humanities is pretty pictures

On the train home from work a few hours ago, I finished the project work I’d started on the commute this morning.

Neo4J visualisation of the Chronicle of Matthew of Edessa
A critical edition of a medieval Armenian text


This little beauty is a critical edition of a twelfth-century Armenian text. (Well, of portions of it, anyway.) Once you know how to query it, you can extract anything you like – lists of variants, text of a particular witness, traditional apparatus criticus, stemma visualisation. By the time I’m done, you’ll also be able to extract commentary, indices of names and places, and links to medieval social networks like the Prosopography of the Byzantine World.

Decent curry in Switzerland! and reflections on DH pedagogy

I’ve been in my post in Bern for nearly two years now, which from a Swiss point of view is no time at all. Word of my existence is slowly percolating through the humanities faculty, and so I’ve had just as many messages this term as ever from various professors, postdocs, assistants, and so on proposing a get-to-know-you chat over lunch or coffee.

Which is how I found myself sitting in a small and pleasant Indian restaurant about five minutes’ walk from the office, across from a member of the English literature department who has just given her inaugural lecture last week as a Privatdozentin. It was sort of an appropriate day for our chat, since she is curious about DH and wonders where she (who disclaims any particular talent with technology) and her work (almost all of which was based on database collection) stands vis-à-vis the digital humanities. (That is of course a good question, since we who are unambiguously in the field have never agreed on any sort of definition of where its boundaries are.) Along the way I seem to have reassured her that she isn’t some sort of analogue dinosaur in a world of young digital natives, by telling my stories of what kids today don’t know about the technology that they use all the time.

We also talked a little about how to teach technical subjects to humanities students. This is something that has occupied a huge share of my professional thinking for the past two years (and, I suppose inevitably, slowed down my rate of research publication as I try not only to get my pedagogical house in order but to build it in the first place.) There is a tension between the somewhat rote but desperately needed teaching of fundamental skills on the one hand, and the critical exploration of theory and methodology that occupies a large share of the public conversation among DH practitioners on the other hand, that is extremely hard to bridge in any single curriculum devoted to “digital humanities”. I still don’t have a good solution to the problem of how to design a DH teaching program that ticks both the ‘intellectually rigorous’ and ‘practically useful’ boxes. If anyone is reading this, I’d be happy to hear your thoughts!

that was unexpected

Well I was on my way back to my office from a rather nice lunch, thinking of how I would report on it, when I found myself stuck in the lift. Which just goes to show how, even in the middle of our super-whizzy high-tech virtual environments and so much of our lives led online, we are still bound inconveniently to this occasionally-malfunctioning physical world.

On the other hand, even when I’m trapped in a lift I still get email.

Good morning!

My Day of Digital Humanities started with an unexpected lie-in: no one in my household woke up until 7:30, which is pretty much unheard of! And a good thing, too, since I have been staying up far too late the last few evenings preparing things like the final exam for my class on Management of Digital Research Data.

On Tuesdays I tend to start the day by going for a run, to make sure that at least a tiny sliver of my life is spent somewhere other than in front of the computer. My husband very kindly volunteered to get our daughter to school (also usually my job on Tuesdays) so that I could get a move on.

Uto Kulm toward the Alps
A view from a recent run.


Now I am on the train for my daily commute between Zürich, where I live, and Bern, where I work. It takes me about an hour and a half each way to get back and forth, but I can spend a lot of the time on the train with my head down in my computer, pretending that I’m in the office already. Usually that starts with checking my email – a few weeks ago, I had a photographer following me around for a SWITCH article about my typical day in Digital Humanities, so I can even show you.

Tara on the train
Looking self-consciously hard at work as I head to the office.


There isn’t too much this morning, thankfully, which means that I can get to work on one of my current projects, which is to take some text of the Chronicle of Matthew of Edessa that I’ve edited and move it into an experimental graph data model, from which we are building a new interface to edit, display, annotate, and analyse the text. Attendees of my talk at the DH Benelux conference next month will get to see the results!