Sometimes, its things happening in your real life that determine your academic direction.
Like most undergraduates academics I occasionally drop the “and this requires further work!” line into a conclusion of a book chapter or paper. I try and store these in a pop-stack in my brain for when I need a quick research output. When writing a chapter on digitisation for Digital Images, I made an aside about people beyond institutional boundaries who were carrying out systematic digitisation projects. This, I said, requires further work!
A year later, I’m on maternity leave with my firstborn. Late pregnancy and maternity leave is incredibly isolating and lonely. I, personally, looked forward to resuming my academic life, and making adult conversation. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, to go to a conference soon after my return to work, and see everyone in the flesh? Wouldn’t it be great to pitch up at Digital Humanities 2009?
But. To get funding to go to a conference, I needed to have a paper accepted. To have a paper accepted I needed to do some new research, and write an abstract. I had nothing new, and no time to do anything new. My brain was also quite, quite fried from dealing with the sleep deprivation that accompanies a newborn. A plan was hatched during 3am and 4am and 5am feeds to put in a rather promissory abstract (tut tut, they are supposed to report on something you’ve already done) on a small research project on “amateur” digitisation projects. If accepted, it would have the added benefit of giving me a little two-week research project to do as soon I got back to work, to kick start my brain. If it wasnt accepted, it could go back in the “requires further work!” pile. I could not gauge if this was a good idea, or not. It was an idea, and that is all that mattered.
Usually it would take me an afternoon to bash out a conference abstract. This took a painful four weeks of trying to get my head in the zone between baby mewling and nappy changing.
The abstract was accepted. I went back to work, and did the study. I went to Maryland, I gave a paper, I caught up with colleagues, I had a fabulous time. I was then asked to write up the paper for the conference proceedings (something I hadn’t planned on doing). What the hey! So here it is:
Terras, M (2009) “Digital Curiosities: Resource Creation Via Amateur Digitisation”. Literary and Linguistic Computing, 25 (4) 425 – 438. Available in PDF.
Its a bit wackier than my normal stuff. Its very positive – I chose to look at the “best” of amateur digitisation, rather than the worst. It comes from a place of sleep deprivation and left-of-centre. And it’s one of my most cited papers. (The book I spent 6 years on? Not so much…)