• Helpathon: Bringing Staid Data to Life

    I’d like to propose a helpathon session where I’m looking for ideas and thoughts on what I could do with a pile of data and notes that beg to be turned into a larger project.

    Quick background: in 1998-1999, I spent a funded research year in Berlin documenting the cultural output of the rump German minority that remained in then-Czechoslovakia after the 1946 expulsions. The main product is a database of all literary production from the community–from individual poems in the only German-language newspaper to full novels–that has been sitting on my hard drive for 13 years now. In the intervening years, I have continued the research, filling in gaps in the database, interviewing key people, gathering knowledge about the cultural politics of the era, etc.

    At this point, it’s only my own sloth and lack of career imperative (I’m a librarian who doesn’t require a PhD) that have prevented me from turning this all into the dissertation it ought to be. Now that my kids are a bit older and I have somewhat more headspace, I’d like to knock this out. Problem is, what I would have done in 1999 is no longer really relevant; besides, part of the goal here is to create an interesting cultural document, one that might appeal to many people with interest in the region and general topic, not only academic researchers with closely related research interests (of which there are about two on the planet).

    It seems that there ought to be interesting things I could do by combining the database, my copious notes, and any number of data points I could dig up: population figures, geographic locations, publication statistics, etc. to create visualizations, animations, and representations that would add new dimensions. Hence the helpathon proposal. I’m looking for creative ideas that elude my narrow focus on the work I know well. How can I spice up this data and make something compelling?

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