Smells like team spirit – DH Lab retreat 2024

Over the years, the DH Lab has been working towards establishing a veritable tradition of going on a retreat every so often. Yet due to epidemics, conflicting agendas, or simply the lack of time, we haven’t been able to do so annually. Last year, for instance, we spent one day in Mainz to discuss our ongoing research projects (and had some lovely Federweißer afterwards), but that was it. This year, we ventured to Herborn to spend two days (divided over three) at its Schloss. Like in our 2022 retreat, everything took place in one venue: we stayed at the Schloss, had our meetings there, and were provided with (tasty!) meals at set times. As a result of not having to forage for food, we could devote our energy and attention to the meetings and activities that we had planned.

The DH Lab in 2024

It might appear that going on a yearly retreat is rather superfluous, in particular considering that some of the topics that we addressed during our 2022 retreat resurfaced. Why, then, do we feel that going on these regular retreats is so beneficial?

First of all, the IEG Mainz and the DH Lab are constantly evolving. On the one hand, the IEG was positively evaluated in 2023 and 2024 has heralded the start of a new multi-year research programme with attendant institutional changes. As a result, there was a clear need to discuss the role of the DH Lab within the IEG at large and to start shaping the new “working group digitality” (Arbeitsbereich Digitalität der historischen Forschung) the Lab is responsible for. One the other, the DH Lab is so lucky to be able to welcome three new colleagues – Judit, Sarah, and Sofia – all of whom hail from different disciplines, have distinct academic trajectories, and occupy different roles within the Lab. They bring in valuable new perspectives, something which became particularly apparent when discussing the Lab’s self-concept, an outcome of the previous retreat.

Secondly, the daily grind of academia tends not to provide the time nor mental space necessary to take a step back and reflect on the Lab’s goals, values, and aims. Given that the Lab has been expanding, partly through the successful acquisition of third-party funding, there’s a need (and desire) to check whether the way in which the Lab operates continues to be in accordance with the desires, needs, and aims of its individual members. This is particularly relevant because of the higher diversity in terms of career stage, professional development, and research interests. As its staff evolves, the Lab needs to keep up.

Listing goals, tasks, and responsibilities

Thirdly and lastly, because of the (recent) influx of new members, it was important to get to know each other better and create some esprit de corps. Given that our work is cooperative to a larger extent than in more ‘traditional’ academic departments, this is of key importance. Very helpful in this respect was the fact that the meetings had a different structure and format, comprising interviews (in pairs of two), brainstorming sessions where the group was divided in two, and the more ‘classic’ setting where we all sat around a table and exchanged ideas. In addition, we went for walks (when the weather allowed) and in the evening we met up for a drink and played some card games. Without naming and shaming, it’s safe to say that some were decidedly more successful than others (to the delight of some)!

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The retreat also provided us with a couple of new insights. The (physical) mapping of the various projects that are currently undertaken by members of the Lab was particularly revealing as it made clear how much is going on and, despite the different nature of these projects, how much overlap there is. It also made us realise how often discussions of our research are quickly eclipsed by topics that require our immediate attention, including the work we need to do for the IEG at large, collaborations with external partners, the participation in or organisation of conferences and workshops, and so forth. This realisation gave birth to the idea to use of part of the corridor in our HQ in Mainz to showcase the Lab’s projects, thus creating a physical space that fosters collaboration and exchange.

Mapping projects, tracing communication channels

In direct response to the aforementioned institutional and personnel changes, we charted the various activities, goals, and responsibilities so as to ensure that the Lab continues to be an environment that supports various career paths. In order to look into the future – which is difficult, given that academia is such an unpredictable and unstable sector due to the proliferation of short-term contracts – we created three scenarios so as to try to anticipate what might lay ahead of us. Sadly, the scenario in which I would be made God-king, governing all and everything with a characteristic mix of a tiny carrot and a menacing stick, was ruled out from the start. All hope is not lost though; perhaps at the next retreat my colleagues will be more amenable to this highly desirable situation.

Mens sana in corpore sano

In the end, it is always surprising how much there is to discuss, in particular for those who have been part of the Lab for several years now. It shows that getting together and having these discussions is vital, in particular when aiming to create a work environment in which both the individual and the collective can flourish. The fact that this could be done in such a friendly and welcoming atmosphere proved to be the real icing on the cake.



Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Jaap Geraerts (2024, 8. Mai). Smells like team spirit – DH Lab retreat 2024. Digital Humanities Lab. Abgerufen am 20. Mai 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/11nke

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