Primarily aimed at German speakers, this blog was set up by the Deutsches Historisches Institut of Paris. Written by a team of librarian and researchers under the supervision of Mareike König, this blog reviews various resources available such as digital libraries, archives, and provides useful methodological tips about historical research in and about France.
With an emphasis on virtual libraries, this blog constitutes an open window towards resources for medieval, early modern and modern history.
One of the first things I was told when beginning my PhD was that I had to make sure I would focus on my subject for the upcoming years. Yet, one of the main difficulties I encountered during my years of studying history, was that I couldn’t gather all my attention on one single aspect or one single time slot. As I’m now under pressure to finish the writing of my thesis, I look back at these years of research in the archives, travels to conferences, book reviews and other side-projects I undertook.
I probably did too much, because I don’t easily say no to an interesting venture. However, too much is up to the person who decides to undertake the work. Had I only focused on Huguenot correspondences for 4 years, I’m not sure I would still love reading them and talking about them. Instead, I kept on working various side jobs to pay my rent and this still makes me appreciate the time I can devote to actual research and academic matters. Each time though, I had this pang of guilt about not being tied down to my desk to dutifully write my chapters. This feeling of guilt you also get whenever opening a non-academic book or worse, daring to go out for something not PhD-related.
All things considered, all these side activities helped me to stay grounded. When into a PhD program, one often doesn’t see the rest of the world anymore. But there is more to life than research, however exciting this part of life is, and as idiotic as it may sound, it is often hard to understand that when one is immersed into the archives.
One of the crucial things I learned during the PhD was that networking was also a way to develop my research skills. Indeed, my attending conferences led me to meet researchers who helped me a great deal to get acquainted with other topics and to broaden my understanding of my own area of specialization. From seeing others presenting their research, I learned how to organize my work better, and about the crucial methodology that is so often not taught at university. Meeting other researchers also helped me to understand better why I wanted to be one (while some of them even helped me to see who I didn’t want to become, but no name-dropping here).
The journey of a PhD student is a long and winding one, but despite all the uncertainties and frustration, it is also a journey towards a maturation of the mind. We are given three or more years to achieve this. Some of us are better equipped to successfully manage that in that span of time. Others need more time to acquire the right analytical reflexes, because others elements go in the way, be they financial struggles, life events and most of all that self-doubt which often accompanies one’s solitary reflection. I’m still tiptoeing and doubting about every step I make when it relates to my research. It comes with its shares of frustrations, disappointments and discouragement. What I found to be the best answer to tackle these moments of doubts was to reach out to others in the same situation, to seek advise from more advances researchers, and to keep in touch with other parts of your life that make you feel content.
During the winter semester 2014-2015, Dr. Anne Baillot offered a course on historical networks in theory and digital practice at the Stuttgart Research Centre for Text Studies. She kindly invited Carolin Hahn and myself to give a workshop on various tools of data analysis and geovisualization. This post and the attached slides aim at sharing my experience of software Nodegoat and Palladio, the two online-platforms I used as I attempted to organize my PhD’s sources.
These tools are already depicted in detail on their respective webpages. Palladio (Research+Humanities Lab at Stanford University), constitutes the easiest – and probably fastest – way to draw your own network in no time. Nodegoat (developed by LAB1100‘s Pim van Bree and Geert Kessels), requires a little bit more attention at first, as the user needs to create its own framework from scratch before being able to visualize its date. Past the initial approach, it facilitates the work as it makes the frame entirely adapted to one’s own research needs.
The slides I used to present these tools are available here.
As this blog also seeks to raise methodological questions, I take the opportunity here to share my thoughts on a recurring question I hear, both as participant and organizer of workshops on networks analysis: “I have my data, but I’m no IT specialist, how can I quickly visualize my networks?”
I observed many times that humanists willing to use digital tools remain reluctant to learn about their proper use first. They want a result, and a quick one. But the sole visualization of a corpus in space is meaningless if one doesn’t explain its meaning and its value by aiming at answering questions set up well before the drawing of a network. While network visualization allows to emphasize one or the other aspect of one’s research and strongly supports the analytical process, it can’t constitute the core of it, as it merely illustrates a postulate that had to be thought of earlier on in the research process. Visualizing networks is a mean, not an end. The difficulties to properly use a network in humanities were well explained by Gabriel Garrote on the blog Réseaux et Histoire in “Réseaux: de la notion à l’analyse. Heurs et malheurs d’un outil“.
In January 2015, I held a lecture at Stuttgart University together with Emmanuelle Chaze focussing on possibilities offered by various software in terms of network visualization. The workshop was part of the course “Historical Network research” of Dr. Anne Baillot, holding a junior professorship at the Stuttgart Research Centre for Text Studies during the winter semester 2014-2015.
Emmanuelle Chaze presented Nodegoat and Palladio. I myself gave an introduction to Gephi. The attached presentation gives an impression of what is possible while using Gephi in Literary Studies.
Furthermore, a short introduction on how to install and use the software is provided. The presentation aims to provide guidance to get started with the program in a few simple steps. For further explanations see the tutorials on Gephi’s official website http://gephi.github.io/users/ and other websites or forums mentioned in the data file below. My presentation was given in German, and so is the attached PDF. Have fun!
As I would like to use this platform to broadcast the methodological issues encountered by junior researchers, this post will be devoted to that of the language barrier often encountered when reading previous scholarship on one’s research subject.
Although the logical introduction would be to mention the obvious dominance of English in current scholarship – at all levels and disciplines – I would like to address my struggles in dealing with another language, and maybe less accessible for Western researchers: Russian. I’m currently working on the scientific exchanges and networks between the Academies of Saint-Petersburg and Berlin in the 18th century.
Although the letters I’m editing, exchanged between the two secretaries of the Academies, Jean-Albert Euler (1734-1800, son of the mathematician Leonard Euler) in Saint-Petersburg and Jean-Henri Samuel Formey (1711-1797) in Berlin, are written in French, most of the protagonists of this correspondence belong to Russia’s national Pantheon. Subsequently, most of the information – although not necessarily the most relevant – is written in Russian. Indeed, the scientists quoted in the letters are well-known by Russian historians and scientists, less so by Western ones.
When I encounter a new name in a letter, I begin by searching it within the traditional instances used in such cases: biographies repositories, previous scholarship on the subject, or any other relevant primary or secondary source. But when the DNB (Deutsche National Bibliothek) is almost silent, and when a famous search engine’s only results viciously brings you back to your own editorial work, instead of leading you towards a nicely prepared Wikipedia page ideally well researched and full of footnotes leading to book references, which strategy to adopt? The obvious way seems to…
Learn a new language: Russian for beginners?
…in order to see the broader picture and have access to all the scholarship I need. As I intend to further research this field, this would make sense and I am indeed in the process of learning the language, but am in no way yet able to decipher texts written about these Russian scientists. One another note, I also have to write my PhD in the meantime and don’t have much time to devote to a new language just right now. Ideally, historians are multilingual. Realistically, they also have to somehow earn a living when they don’t hold a secure position in academia, and sadly learning new languages is seldom remunerated.
Hence the inherent dilemma: should I attempt to describe the scientific networks between Saint-Petersburg and Berlin based on the sole primary and secondary sources written in languages I understand? Most of Western researchers interested in the subject would still find the information I unveil relevant – as they would be original ones. I could begin by doing just that, alternatively I could also attempt to
Build my own research circle
When working to become a historian, one doesn’t learn about collaboration. On the contrary, the academic field is quite a competitive and ruthless one. So it doesn’t necessarily come to mind to look out for a (preferably nice) colleague who might have just the skill you’re lacking, here Russian language. However, while studying networks, one is bound to think about building up one’s own collaborative research circle.
And here being resourceful and reaching out, something one certainly doesn’t learn as a book nerd buried in the archives or when attending a seminar, is paramount. This is just what I’m in the process of learning and, having found a Russian speaking colleague equally eager to work on scientific networks, I’m much looking forward to share my ideas and collaborate, in order to write better documented papers on the subject and build up comprehensive and encompassing scholarship on these networks.