In September 2019, so in pre-pandemic times, several (former) members of the IEG DH Lab went on a retreat to Kloster Jakobsberg for a couple of days. The main goal of this retreat was to discuss the individual research projects and to discover overlap between them and encourage cooperation within the frame of the DH Lab. In other words, the focus was on putting flesh on the bones on the laboratorial dimension of our research unit.
Given the positive experience of being away for a couple of days and being able to focus on a number of core issues uninterrupted by the daily grind of academia, the idea was to embark on such retreats more frequently, but then COVID interfered. As a result, plans for retreats in 2020 and 2021 had to be shelved, but luckily for us the retreat could take place in May of this year. It goes without saying that an inspiring event should take place at an equally inspiring location and, after a careful selection procedure, we decided to go to the beautiful Burg Ebernburg, located in the town of Bad Münster am Stein-Ebernburg. Apart from being lodged, enjoying our meals, and holding our meetings at this venue, it also served as a point of departure for various walks in the beautiful surroundings.
Apart from the evenings, our time at Burg Ebernburg was fairly regimented: in addition to a very detailed schedule of the various meetings and their aims, the organization operating the Burg serves food and refreshments at set times. However, having a clear structure actually was pretty nice: everyone knew what to expect and what to do (and when). Similar to the previous retreat in 2019, this year’s retreat comprised two half and one full day. However, the topics addressed this year were radically different. Instead of discussing our individual research projects, this time more fundamental issues regarding the vision and identity of the DH Lab and its role within IEG Mainz were the main topics of discussion. Moreover, we also reviewed and discussed some recurring activities such as our “60 minutes of DH” seminar series and this blog.
Without wasting time, immediately after arrival – well, after having had a nice lunch first – we delved into defining the goals, tasks and values of the DH Lab, a topic that we would return to in the days that followed. What do we want to achieve with and at the DH Lab? What kind of (research) environment do we want to offer to current and future members of the Lab and the people attached to it? These are important questions which are difficult to answer, in particular because most members of the DH Lab don’t have permanent contracts, a situation which is rampant in academia in Germany and abroad and which makes it very difficult to make plans and devise strategies for the medium and long term. Because the composition of the DH Lab will be subject to significant changes over the coming years, we needed to formulate goals, tasks and values which can stand the test of time, but which at the same time are not overly prescriptive and can also be easily brought in accordance with changing circumstances, if necessary. Still, we feel that a clear formulation of the goals and values of the DH Lab will support and guide its future developments. We are therefore in the process of drawing up a document in which this will be spelled out, one of the concrete results of our retreat.
Given the fact that most members of the Lab will move on to other (foreign) employers, we also discussed how we can support each other and our careers. Naturally, through our research, teaching, and other activities, we all contribute to the further development of the Lab, but ideally the Lab also is a platform which helps one to launch his or her career. The practical ways in which this can be done differs according to individual needs, but the awareness that such support is important and necessary, especially given the increasingly precarious nature of academic work, is an important first step.
In addition to the important discussions and brainstorm sessions, it was very nice to spend some time together in a different environment. Going for walks, watching the Europa League final (which was won by Eintracht Frankfurt, to the excitement of some), and having drinks together, really made the whole retreat extremely enjoyable. So much that plans for the next retreat – COVID volente – have already been discussed. It shows that being part of a team, apart from all the academic benefits it entails, really has an added value!
Featured image: Clouds above Burg Ebernburg, photo by photo by author.
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