[Guest Post] Reflection on my #100DaysOfDH challenge experience (by Philip Allfrey)

As you probably know, I started the #100DaysofDH challenge on this blog during the first few weeks of Covid lockdown. While I myself am still somewhere around day 40, slowly making my way to the 100 days after multiple re-starts, there is a participant who already finished the challenge. This post is a reflection on the 100 Days of DH Challenge by Philip Allfrey – the first person to complete the challenge! I am very happy to have inspired this and hope you enjoy Philip’s reflection:

 

Reflection on my #100DaysOfDH challenge experience

Back in May I was scrolling through the hashtag #DigitalHumanities on Twitter when I came across this tweet

Now I’ve seen these sort of challenges before, and never really felt the urge to take part, but this one seemed like a good fit. I usually spend an hour or so in the evening working on side projects, so it wouldn’t require too much change to my routine. I also had a few digital humanities projects that had stalled, and thought that having to tweet my progress each day could give me the impetus to get them going again. So I signed up.

Today marks Day 100 of #100DaysOfDH for me, and @latex_ninja has invited me to reflect on my experience of the challenge, and what I have accomplished. Some things I expected, others I didn’t.

1) I made progress on my existing projects

Since 2019 I have been transcribing a 17th century manuscript from the Folger Shakespeare Library (Folger MS V.a.447). I’m currently encoding the transcription into XML using the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) Guidelines. Before starting #100DaysOfDH I hadn’t worked on this since December, the main reason being I’d got to some pages where the text was more like a diagram, and it wasn’t obvious to me how best to encode it. But because I had started looking at it again and tweeted about it, someone gave me a suggestion, which helped me decide which avenue to take. Over the course of the challenge I have encoded another 11 pages. I had thought I might get more done in 100 days, but the reason I didn’t is the next point.


2) I made a WEBSITE (and A TWITTER BOT!)

The TEIhub website completed during the challenge


A conversation I had on Twitter during #100DaysOfDH about examples of TEI reminded me of an idea I had previously had, to use GitHub search as a means of discovering other projects using TEI. I investigated a bit and thought it shouldn’t be too difficult. I ended up using a bunch of new-to-me tools (GitHub actions, Eleventy static site generator, FaunaDB NoSQL database, Netlify web hosting and automated builds) to create an automated pipeline that queries GitHub every four hours for recently updated TEI files, aggregates these with previous results, rebuilds the website, and tweets an interesting repository from these results. I’m very pleased with how this turned out, and the fact that it now runs autonomously. It seems other people are finding it useful too, as my Twitter bot, Satei P the @TEI_Pelican, has over 40 followers.

3) I made connections


I’ve made some new connections during this challenge too. One, as I mentioned above, helped with some TEI guidance, and another I was able to help with some Javascript coding. I’ve also spent more time looking at other digital humanities projects and learning more about what others are doing.

4) I made a model of a digital scholarly edition

One thing I definitely didn’t expect was to get into Digital Humanities theory. A number of factors from the challenge combined here. Getting back into my transcription project got me thinking about how I wanted to present it as a digital scholarly edition. Looking at other projects got me analysing what I liked or didn’t like about them, and why. A question from a student on Twitter about “what makes a project a digital humanities project” got me wrestling with definitions, or at least characteristics. All of this culminated in my coming up with a theoretical model for how to structure a digital scholarly edition of an individual text.

5) I made more tweets

I tweeted at least once a day during the #100DaysOfDH, which is more than I normally would. The challenge also encouraged me to “think aloud” by writing down some of my DH-related musings. I didn’t expect to have the prompting to engage in this sort of reflection.

In terms of completing the challenge, I think it helped to have a regular time of day when I would work on my project(s) (not that I stopped myself from working on them at other times when I felt the urge). Also knowing that I had to tweet my progress at the end of each day was a great motivating factor. I wasn’t thinking of it at the time, but it probably helps if the project you are working on for the challenge is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely). As noted above, I didn’t stick to a single project for 100 days. Digital humanities projects can involve a lot of often quite repetitive labour (e.g. data entry, normalisation, or cleaning) to set up the “digital” part before one can move onto the more exciting “humanities” part. Being able to switch gears and work on something different probably helped with my continued engagement, as did the suggestion in the challenge “rules” to do a mini-challenge on days when life happens and you can’t spend an hour (en)coding. A few other people have since taken up the #100DaysOfDH challenge, and I look forward to seeing what they get up to.

Thanks to Philip

I think I can speak for all readers when I thank Philip for this insight into his fascinating projects.  Congrats on the TEI Pelican – such a great idea!

I’m hoping you’re all now very motivated to start your own #100DaysofDH experience and share your progress.  I’m hoping to start some real project after my dissertation is finished.

I like LaTeX, the Humanities and the Digital Humanities. Here I post tutorials and other adventures.

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