Ronan Crowley

Ronan Crowley

'Exactly the expertise I need for my project'

Humboldt-Stipendiat Ronan Crowley

Ronan Crowley was a visiting researcher at the Chair of Digital Humanities from October 2014 to October 2016. The Humboldt Fellow, who hails from Ireland, researches James Joyce's literature – and connects his analysis with computer-aided methods.

It is merely a chapter from the novel 'Ulysses', probably the most famous work of Irish writer James Joyce, which Ronan Crowley is taking a closer look at. But 'Circe', written in the form of a drama, proves quite the challenge. 'The chapter is very complex and difficult. It took Joyce six or seven months to write it and there are several draft versions distributed in libraries throughout the world,' said Ronan Crowley.

The 35-year-old, who previously spent seven years analysing Joyce's literature in Buffalo (USA), is particularly impressed by the countless manuscripts. 'Since its publication in 1922, Ulysses has been thoroughly analysed again and again – and you'd think there was nothing left to analyse', said Ronan Crowley, adding, 'I want to find out what relationship the drafts have to each other and why Joyce has repeatedly adopted words and sentences from other writers, such as Shakespeare, and shaped them into something new.'

The aim of Crowley's two-year stint in Passau was to transform the knowledge in the manuscripts 'into data that my computer can understand and work with'. 'Here I have found exactly the kind of expertise I need for my project and which helps me to flesh out the wider picture of the writing process,' he said. This involves 'translating' the manuscripts by encoding them for the computer – a relatively novel approach to analysing literature.

His supervisor, Professor Malte Rehbein, Chair of Digital Humanities, and his team are helping him in this endeavour. 'Professor Rehbein has created the framework so that I can now present my findings in a new way. And the data also makes them accessible to others,' says Crowley, who greatly appreciates the good co-operation with the Chair's team. 'All my colleagues encourage me to try out their research methods and I am very grateful for this experience.'

Professor Malte Rehbein also showed himself very enthusiastic about the co-operation. 'Ronan does more than merely looking over our shoulders; he is a great enrichment for our team and also for our students. He provides them with an example of their own research and shows how literature can be linked up with digital humanities', said Rehbein, who sets great store by international exchanges. Particularly in the digital humanities, research must cross national borders, because different qualifications and expertise are required for this complex field.

Since Ronan Crowley has already taught writing courses in Buffalo, he will also start teaching in Passau in the next winter semester. And of course, James Joyce will be his big topic. Crowley: 'One of the things we will be looking at is why it was okay for him to adopt quotations from other writers – and why it's not okay for students to do so.' 

(transalated from Susann Eberlein, Campus Passau 02/2015)