Wednesday, 18 July 2012

First steps in Digital Humanities

Back in 1995, at Lancaster University where I undertook an MA in Mediaeval Studies (with 'ae'!) I met Professor Meg Twycross, who turned out to become one of the most influential women in my life. At a time when it was still possible to read through the complete internet (what we attempted in the computerlabs at night) and when we were trying out different nicknames on #IRC chat channels, Meg Twycross not only caught my attention with her tremenduously well taught courses on Medieval literature and culture and Paleography, but especially with the pilot for the York Doomsday Project which she was building at that time. In one of my nightlong Internet sessions, I came across Stuart Lee's Break of Day in the Trenches Hypermedia Edition which also exploited hypertext as a didactic means in the teaching of literature and culture. This appealed so much to me that I started to build similar editions of poems by Hugo Claus when I was a research assistant at the University of Antwerp in 1996. This was picked up by people from the Department of Didactics at the University of Antwerp who invited me to present on a conference on teaching Dutch in secondary education. I presented my first conference paper on 15 November 1996 under the title "Retourtje Hypertekst. Een reis naar het hoe en waarom van hypertekst in het literatuuronderwijs" and a revised version was published as:

However, this wasn't my first publication. Before this article came out, I had already published two pieces about the same matter:

  • 'Oorlogspoëzie en HyperTekst: Gruwel of Hype?' WvT, Werkmap voor Taal- en Literatuuronderwijs, 20/79 (najaar 1996): 153-160.
  • 'Met een Doughnut de bib in. Over de rol van HyperTekst in het literatuuronderwijs' Vonk, 25/5 (mei-juni 1996): 51-56.

In the following years, I wrote some more on this subject:

  • 'De geheugenstunt van hypertekst.' Leesidee, 3/10 (december 1997): 777-779.
  • 'De soap 'Middeleeuwen.' Leesidee, 3/9 (november 1997): 697-698.
  • 'Het web van Marsua.' Tsjip/Letteren, 7/3 (oktober 1997): 9-12.

Meg Twycross not only stimulated my interest in the use of hypertext for literary studies and through this for models of electronic editions, she also charged me with an important mission which changed my life forever. One day, when I was awarded the County College Major Award which came with a cheque for £250, I asked her what I should do with that money and she told me to go away, learn everything I could about SGML and come back and tell her. The first book I bought with the prize money was Charles Goldfarb's The SGML Handbook.

Both the interest in the hypertextual modeling of scholarly editions and the markup of texts using SGML formed what I have been doing since. And the only person to kindly blame for it is Meg Twycross.

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