“Trust the points”

Hello faithful followers! Hard to believe it’s midterm already, but time flies when you’re having fun as our DH projects get under way. This semester, I’m working on two primary projects. First of all, along with several other of our fearless bloggers, I’m working with a team from the Heard Library on encoding Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal in TEI. Vanderbilt possesses a special collection and a center for Baudelaire studies (http://www.library.vanderbilt.edu/bandy/) so it’s a natural choice for the campus’s first initiative in group coding. We’ve been learning not only the intricacies of encoding through TEI, but also figuring out this thing called “Github” (aka Purple Kitty), which I still don’t really understand enough to describe it in public, but it’s a good tool for hosting open source projects. I’m excited to be a part of the team as we live out the possibilities of collaborative research!

On a personal level, I’m working on a project with the GeoJSON working group to visually represent my experiences on Spain’s Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) pilgrimage. I became interested in what I’m calling “Folk shrines” – areas in which locals/neighbors that live along the trail or other pilgrims either spontaneously or through conscious design leave “shrines” that somehow offer support or reflection on the trail’s meaning. Examples are water stations set up by locals, literal shrines to pilgrims fallen along the trail, or stylized or improvised depictions of the saint. On the four Camino trails I’ve walked, I’ve collected dozens of photos of these “shrines”, and am now mapping them using GeoJSON to include their physical location with a photo and a short description. Here’s a sample of what I’ve plotted so far: Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 11.08.04 AMAside from a “sexy visual”, I’m hoping that seeing the spatial arrangement of the sites will lead me to new insights about the nature of these shrines. I’m following the advice of our digital muse Todd Hughes, and “trusting in the points” – that is, once plotted, a pattern will emerge that shapes my thinking.

This brings up an interesting debate in DH: Does doing a digital project serve the purpose of representing something that we already knew (or could have known) beforehand? OR Do the unique tools for DH research open up new modes of analysis we didn’t know were possible before? To put it another way: Do we (or should we) already know the results of the experiment before we undertake it, or should we, like Todd suggests “trust the points”? Already, I know that going through the process of selecting the “shrines” from my thousands of trip photos and then visiting remote areas on Google Maps to find coordinates has made me make conscious decisions and reflect about the definition of “folk shrines” in a way that I would never have done without undertaking this project. For now, I’m going to “trust the points” and see where they lead. Of course, I’ll report my findings, so stay tuned, and ¡buen camino!


¡Hola! My name is Tim Foster, third-year graduate student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese here at Vanderbilt. As a scholar, I’m interested in Early Modern literature and culture of Spain and its Transatlantic colonies. I’m also becoming more involved with various Digital Humanities ventures, including TEI and digital mapmaking. As an instructor at Vandy, I have taught elementary Spanish language, and will be teaching advanced elementary Portuguese in the Spring. A side interest personally, academically, and pedagogically has been the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, which I have done on my own, and as a course assistant on Vanderbilt’s Maymester trip last Spring through the class “The Way of Saint James: An Epic Trail to the Essence of Spain”. An exciting part about this course was the opportunity to introduce students to culture and improve language in an embedded real-world setting, where the rubber meets the proverbial (and literal) road. Seeing the confidence that a successful encounter with a native speaker can have on a language-learning student is one of the greatest joys for an instructor, and the greatest endorsement for the value of meaningful study abroad and other personal experiences with foreign language.

Bringing that same experience back to the classroom can be a challenge, but in the digital age as technological and interpersonal barriers fall, we have never been more poised to take advantage of real-world language learning opportunities. In a language classroom bounded by grammar, grades, and a finite semester, instructors can only do so much to introduce students to learning a language. I believe it’s my job as a language teacher to assist students in finding the resources they are most likely to continue to engage with beyond the confines of my classroom, whether it be foreign-language films, books, apps, podcasts, or video games, conversation partner chat sites, study abroad courses, or even just foreign-language Wikipedia pages (¿how many teachers get to encourage their students to use Wikipedia?). The more I can do in the classroom to get students interested in pursuing these media on their own time for their own life goals, the better I will have achieved my aim to teach them language not just for a semester, but help them find the tools they want/need to use to engage with language for a lifetime.

This is an exciting time to be a language student and teacher, and we at the CSLS are excited to share our year with you. ¡Bienvenid@s!