SDP2008: Webscience, Scholarship and Digitisation of Rare Materials

Christine MadsenOII DPhil student and SDP2008 alumnus Christine Madsen writes about how the programme helped her research on the impact of the digitisation of rare materials on scholarship in the humanities, recently involving fieldwork in the Tibetan exile communities in Nepal and Northern India. She writes:

I have to admit I went into the OII’s Summer Doctoral Programme not knowing quite what to expect. To be honest, I was hesitant about applying because part of me just wanted to have a relaxing summer after a rather intense year. It was one of the best decisions I have made since I started my doctorate.

The SDP was pivotal in keeping me focused on my DPhil work, while still allowing me to experiment with new ideas. I participated just after my thesis proposal was accepted and while I was a bit earlier in my graduate career than many other participants, for me it was great timing. My SDP presentation was the first time I had presented on one of the core themes in my research to a diverse audience.

Rather than try to explain the breadth of my work, I took the opportunity to focus on one particular aspect of my work that I hope to continue after my DPhil as well. It felt a bit like stepping out on a limb – presenting this idea that is somewhat controversial to this amazing group of students, faculty, and Internet moguls from around the world – but the feedback I got that day and during the rest of the programme is still helping me craft my thesis today as I finish writing up.

I was also very lucky to receive one of the scholarships for the Web Science Research Initiative Exchange Programme. This was an amazing opportunity for me and a big part of the reason that I am still on schedule today. I spent the summer at Harvard, where I tested the framework I had designed for my case studies. The work I did that summer helped me to focus and refine my data gathering and analysis and it has kept me on track since.

My research is focused on the impact of the digitisation of rare materials on scholarship in the humanities and I did some fieldwork this November in the Tibetan exile communities in Nepal and Northern India. I was pressed for time, trying to fit a lot of site visits and interviews into the space of two weeks. The work I did during that summer on the exchange programme allowed me to have a fantastically successful trip.

I had some concerns that SDP would be a distraction for me, but it was far from it. It helped me focus my work more, while allowing me to understand the breadth of the potential audience even more. Perhaps more importantly, I met a great group of people. I still stay in touch with the faculty and other students who helped me out then and continue to inspire and guide me today.

The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (Dharamsala, India) maintains holdings of more than 100,000 manuscripts, xylographs (wood block prints), documents, illuminated manuscripts and microfilm records. Credit: mccarthymadsen

The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (Dharamsala, India) maintains holdings of more than 100,000 manuscripts, xylographs (wood block prints), documents, illuminated manuscripts and microfilm records. Credit: mccarthymadsen