Day 3 of my summer research leave
After a bit of a hiccup yesterday, I’m back on track. It’s day 3 of my research leave, and I still haven’t gotten any of the “big tasks” started. If there is anything to be learned from previous iterations of this and other projects, it’s that without proper data management, the big tasks will never be finished. All of the available time in a side project like this will eventually be eaten by trying to understand where I left off last time, what needs to be done and where the files are. So the first step – in a way, the first “big task” – is to get an overview of what I have, where I left off, and what needs to be done to tackle the milestones.
A refreshing insight this morning was that I had already weeded out many superfluous files and manuscript versions of the book on the print and transmission history of the Ethica Complementoria. The most crucial documents are neatly stored in a public GitHub repository: the final version of the manuscript as published on the epub-server at the Herzog-August Library in Wolfenbüttel. The transcriptions of several prints in XML. Preliminary collation results and the code I used to create them. An ok README file describing the status quo and plans. One of these plans was to find a secure place for the documents which cannot be stored publicly, like scans I purchased for the publication and other admin stuff. I will put them in a private repository so I have access remotely.
While preparing the files for transfer into their new home, I witnessed a common problem of practical data management: Creating meaningful yet short and machine-friendly filenames! I used to teach data organisation and documentation in my previous job, and since then, I made it a daily practice only to use informative, machine-friendly filenames. For scans and digital photos of archival materials, manuscripts, or old books, I find it helpful to embed information about the source in the filename, e.g. which library holds this book? What is its shelf mark or reference number? What part of the book is the scan of? Is there any additional information relevant to see at first glance? With this in mind, and adhering to a few principles of good data management, like shallow directory structures, short names for files and folders, and no use of any special characters apart from underscore _ and hyphen – and ASCII letters and numbers. I made a little infographic about filenames for scans of archival materials and shared it with the researchers at the Dept. of Archaeology, Conservation, and History and my colleagues at the library. I will adopt this method now for the Ethica project and similar ones and rename all files accordingly. And add this info to the README so I might have a chance of remembering what I did and why next time!
The Ethica project is a single-person project for most of the time. I recently got funding for a research assistant to help me transcribe and prepare the bilingual digital scholarly edition of the Danish print of the Ethica from 1678. The assistant will mainly work on automatic text recognition, using Transkribus and building on the HTR model NorFraktur created by the National Library of Norway. NorFraktur is a multilingual model trained on printed Norwegian, Danish, and German texts from the early modern period. It performs quite well, and I hope to increase the performance slightly.
More interesting than the work, although, is collaborating with another researcher. Lots of the motivation behind proper data management and documentation stems from the need to work together on something, to share files and folders and workflows. The Ethica project is old, conceived in 2009, and has grown wildly since. So, for the following weeks to be a smooth and fruitful collaboration, I must create a usable data management plan (DMP) and set up a shared and version-controlled repository. And that’s why I had to go through all the “old stuff” – to know where things are, what is useful in this stage and which mistakes not to make again!
I will draft a DMP using DMPtool again
– if I get lucky, I can do it today and publish it on this site, too. Update: the DMP is public and published here: https://dmphub.cdlib.org/dmps/doi:10.48321/D1RP93.