In September 2015, I came to The University of Sheffield to take up my current role as Research Associate on The Baudelaire Song Project, a four-year, AHRC-funded project led by Dr Helen Abbott, with Co-Investigator Dr Mylène Dubiau, who’s based in Toulouse. (www.baudelairesong.org). The Project focuses on the work of the nineteenth-century French poet Charles Baudelaire — author of the verse collection Les Fleurs du Mal (first published in 1857) and the posthumously published prose collection Le Spleen de Paris (1868). My day-to-day work involves developing a database of all the song settings of poems by Baudelaire ever composed and / or recorded (we have to find them first, though, so if you know of any then tweet us @baudelaireproj !). Baudelaire wrote more than 200 poems, and so far we’ve found more than 1,000 song settings of these, though some of his poems are set to music more often than others. The other key part of my job is using digital tools — including Sonic Visualiser and Audacity — to analyse the interactions and tensions between words and music in song, using methodologies which we’re developing as a team.
Although I’m very much an amateur musician, I’ve always been fascinated by song. I’ve been involved with musical ventures and, particularly, with singing for as long as I can remember, in choirs and, occasionally, as a soprano soloist. I also love 80s and 90s pop music and my love of French as a teenager was reinforced by a very extensive compilation disc of francophone pop music given to me by my French exchange partner’s father on a school trip to Toulouse when I was in the Sixth Form. One of my favourite tracks on the CD, was Mylène Farmer’s 2000 hit “Innamoramento”, so I was very excited when, a few weeks into my work on The Baudelaire Song Project, I discovered that, in 1988, Farmer had recorded a synthesiser-tastic setting of Baudelaire’s poem “L’Horloge.” I believe that music is a great way to learn languages but also to experience poetry in your own language. I’d love to see song made a compulsory part of the MFL curriculum in schools, and I really enjoy sharing some of the weird and wonderful things we’ve found on the Project through public engagement events. I’m always looking to extend my own playlists, too, so I’ll welcome tweets with recommendations for poetry and pop music fusions, in any language!
Part of the joy of working in and with Modern Languages — beyond the obvious privilege of being able to communicate with others across languages, cultures and mindsets — is the scope to extend your research into wide-ranging fields, and to gain experience of working in disciplines other than your own. As linguists, we can be historians of art, politics, ideas and cultures, we can be literary scholars or musicologists, we can be sociologists or biographers and, what’s more, we can engage in dialogues which cross geographical borders, cultural frontières and, of course, language barriers. The same can, I think, be said of the Digital Humanities, which can be applied in so many different disciplines and often draws together unusual and diverging themes. As a result of my work on the Baudelaire Song Project database and song analysis techniques, I’ve become increasingly interested in digital methodologies, and in particular, in the relationship between DH and Modern Languages. I recently joined the team of editors-at-large for the online journal Digital Humanities Now, where I volunteer for week-long stints reviewing and nominating relevant online content from various sources (most notably selected RSS feeds). It’s an innovative idea for a web-based journal and I’ve found reviewing for DHNow has really opened my eyes to the tools which are being used in other fields of the humanities, as well as helping me become familiar with the kind of discourse used in DH. If you can spare an hour a day for a week, every now and then, and have an interest in the Digital Humanities, I’d recommend getting involved.
While the Digital Humanities are, understandably, becoming an increasingly important area / mode of humanities research, I’ve been surprised to find that there is currently very little literature which engages deeply with ways in which the Digital Humanities can be applied in Modern Languages. What’s more, those of us who do use digital methodologies as part of our research are often familiar only with our own “patch”. Greater collaboration and dialogue would encourage us to branch out, to support each other in new and established ventures, and to benefit others’ different areas of expertise. With this in mind I’m currently making the first steps in establishing a network for Modern Linguists who have a digital element to their research, or who are interested in engaging with digital tools and methodologies (if that’s you, get in touch!). During my time as curator of the @WeTheHums Twitter account, I’m hoping to hear some different perspectives on the Digital Humanities and, in particular on the relationship between DH and Modern Languages teaching and research.
Also, for those interested in Modern Languages and DH, on Tuesday (21 June), I’ll be tweeting from Common Ground, the AHRC Commons event, where I’ll be running a workshop with colleagues in technology and Digital Humanities. We’ll be looking at how digital tools and collaborations with industry sectors can help humanities researchers to demonstrate research impact and develop their ability to use digital tools for public engagement. Common Ground looks to be a brilliant day and I’m sure there’ll be lots of meeting and lots of tweeting — I can’t wait!
Looking forward to hearing from you all and seeing where the week’s discussions take us!