Thursday, March 8, 2012
Jumping In With Both Feet
Although I didn't know it at the time, since I began work on FromThePage in 2005 I've had one toe in the digital humanities community. I've worked on FromThePage and I've blogged about crowdsourced manuscript transcription. I've met some smart, friendly people doing fascinating things and I've even taught some of them the magic of regular expressions. But I've always tried to squeeze this work into my "spare time" -- the interstices in the daily life of an involved father and a professional software engineer working a demanding but rewarding job. As the demands of vocation and avocation increase; as disparate duties begin to compete with each other; as new babies come into my home while new technologies come into my workplace and new requests for FromThePage arrive in my inbox, the basement inventor model becomes increasingly untenable. The numbers don't lie: I've only checked in code on four days during the last six months.
In January I was offered an incredible opportunity. Chris Lintott invited me to the Adler Planetarium to meet the Citizen Science Alliance's dev team. This talented, generous team of astronomer-developers gave me a behind-the-scenes tour of their Scribe tool--early versions of which powered OldWeather.org--and I was blown away. I don't think I've ever been so excited about a technology, and my mind raced with ideas for projects using it. . Serendipitously, two days later I received email from Ben Laurie asking if I'd like to implement Scribe for the FreeREG project, a part of the FreeBMD genealogy charity that is transcribing parish registers recording the baptisms, marriages, and burials in England and Wales from 1538-1835. All development would be released open source, and all data would be as open as possible. It's a dream project for someone with my interests; there was no way I could pass this up.
So as of March 18 I'm starting a new career as an independent digital history developer. It is heartbreaking to leave my friends at Convio after nearly a dozen years, but I'm delighted with the possibilities my new autonomy offers. I hope to specialize in projects relating to crowdsourcing and/or manuscript transcription, but to be honest I'm not sure where this path will lead. Of course I plan to devote more time to FromThePage -- this year should finally see the publish-on-demand integration I've always been wishing for, as well as a few other features people have requested. If you've got a project that seems appropriate--whether it involves genealogy or herpetology, agricultural history or textile history--drop me a line.
Posted by Ben W. Brumfield at 10:03 AM
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Congratulations on your new adventure! I am looking forward to following progress on your projects and hope there will be new applications for family genealogy collections.
Exciting days are ahead!
Dear Mr. Brumfield,
I write to thank you for this very helpful expression of a tension I have sensed as I acquaint myself with the new insurgency of the so-called "digital humanities."
As you may know, I've recently embarked on an analysis of the movement in my New York Times column (not to say, blog) and the fourth essay in the series -- http://bit.ly/H4Suf4 -- makes reference to your writings on transcription and "the crowd." It offers, I'm afraid, a bit of a challenge to the facile conclusions you draw.
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