In this post, I want to focus on the second reason I mentioned earlier today for focusing on collaborations as I write for Day of DH this year. I said in an earlier post that I want to think about the kinds of collaborations that are part of scholarship and teaching in my home discipline and whether or how those differ from collaborations in DH generally.
We talk a lot about collaborations in digital humanities because the work of making a digital edition or tool and making it available online usually involves programming or code of one kind or another. And programming or code is not necessarily part of what we expect to be part of the humanist’s toolkit. Indeed, because most of the humanities disciplines involve research in the kinds of sources that we read and think about and write about as individuals, we think of that toolkit as consisting of books and print articles and analog archives. After twenty years of the Internet, we may think also of digital versions of analog sources, and word processors have certainly been digital tools everyone has been expected to use at least since I was in graduate school. But solitary authorship has tended to remain the norm in humanities disciplines even in the digital age.
In one of the articles I reviewed as my colleagues and I were writing the case study I mentioned in a post earlier today, Kenneth M. Price outlines the various collaborations that can be part of any DH project: with DH centers, with fellow subject matter specialists, with librarians and archivists, with presses, with graduate students (or undergraduates, I would add), with computer science specialists, with broad audiences, with machines, with funding agencies. These are all important sites of possible and even probable collaborations in digital humanities.
But the observation I most appreciated in Price’s essay came in the introductory portion of the article, one that resonated for me as a historian–that is, as the sort of humanist who was trained to think of my research, writing, and publication as solitary acts. Price writes:
But more than the simple fact of collaboration, it is the degree to which there is conscious collaboration (as well as some difference in types of collaboration) that distinguishes digital scholarship from more traditional models.
He goes on to discuss the notion that traditional literary scholarship has focused–like traditional historical scholarship, I would note–on monographs as solitary achievements.
Most importantly for me, Price notes:
However, this image of the self-sufficient scholar is largely an illusion, one that arises from our having become so accustomed to the collaborations of print culture that they are often nearly invisible, especially when we focus on the monograph or single-author article.
And he outlines the multiple collaborations that are part of print production:
the way book designers, proofreaders, copy editors, advisers, peer reviewers, and editorial boards shape the final product in cooperation with the author. The manufacturer of paper, the writer of advertising copy, the bookseller, and a host of others are agents, too, in different phases of the life cycle of an article or book. All contribute to highly complex systems of production, distribution, and preservation.
Price notes that digital scholarship makes strange the familiar collaborations of print publication, bringing back into our awareness the all but invisible community behind any process of publication. For me, this making visible the invisible has been a great source of the appeal of digital scholarship. As a historian who began my career with a deep interest in women’s work and the invisibility in particular of housework, I found wondrous the obligation to record changes to TEI files, to credit each transcription and edit, and to make those changes part of the document itself.
Librarians and archivists, too, are part of the nearly invisible community behind the individually authored article or monograph. They tend to appear, alongside friends, children, life partners, and funding agencies in the acknowledgments found in the front matter or back matter of those articles or monographs.
I much prefer the consciousness of collaborations found in digital scholarship to the illusion of solitary achievement that we have inherited from print culture.