One year, one book, one author, one friendship. Can you actually call it that way? A friendship? Is it there just to make the tasks sound “cool”, “hip” and “young”? Are we not too old for this? Do we need fancy funny words to describe research about a book? Maybe.
The GTA chair wants us to get to know the process of finding, physically touching, researching and analyzing a book. It is a great approach to understand the work of historians and to (somehow) contribute to research at ETH. But can you call it a friendship?
There was a bit of an excitement when I went to the ETH main building library to meet the book for the first time. I then saw it once for 20´. It was brought to me and disappeared right after, going back to its cold, closed and dark shelf. I might be the first person in years to have had a glimpse at it. Unfortunately, my book consist mainly of illustrations, which makes it more difficult to get the feeling of “having read it”. However, I lost myself in the book quite quickly and the 20 minutes were rapidly over. After that experience, the relationship with the book somehow ended abruptly. The tasks were made on the side and it was not part of my daily life. Looking back at it, the lack of physical contact made it feel very distant. Reading a PDF Scan does not convey any of the majestic character the book has in real life. If it had stood in my book shelf for a year, the relationship would definitely have been closer. Furthermore, the fact that the book cannot be “read”, but merely “looked at”, made all of the difference. Maybe if the books we received were younger and had actual text that can be understood, the task could consist of reading the book over the course of a year. This would make us actual experts in the field the book is about and teach us to read texts for the sake of research. We learned how to access books, find online PDFs and write quick paragraphs about it. The process of analyzing the data obtained from the OCRs was not done by us, so we merely know that it works, not how it works. The last task brought us together with random students and was used as a group work exercise, but let us be honest. If the outcome of our contribution to research was clearer, the motivation might be higher for the students to fulfil the tasks more precisely. Furthermore, the format of a public blog is highly debatable. If it had a layout, which could be easily navigated for externals, it might be a great data collection. The way it is now, it mostly leads to fact that there is a video of us reading a book and some texts about a “friendship” when future employees google our names.
To conclude, the tasks were a great approach to researching an old book, which might differ a lot depending on the book the student received. The format of the exercise could however be revised.