Collaborations: Publication and Research

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.




Mom Visits

I’m taking today off from visiting my mom.  I usually see her two or three times a week, so spending today writing about my DH adventures doesn’t mean I’m neglecting her.  But I thought I would mention her here in the interest of saying something about the non-DH tasks that go into a digital humanist’s day.

My mom is widowed; we lost Dad three years ago last month.  And in the time since then, she has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s-like dementia.  So I have spent a lot of time visiting her and helping her through the changes that come with this part of her life.

In June 2012, I extended a trip to Austin, the town where she and Dad built their life together and where I grew up, from a planned ten days to the entire month.  I had heard from our extended family that they were worried about Mom, and I had hoped to use a trip down for THATCamp LAC as an opportunity for an extended visit.  As things turned out, Mom needed to move out of the house where she and Dad had lived for the past thirty years.  She was just too anxious living there alone.  So I researched senior living communities and found one near her church.  She moved in mid-June, and for the rest of the summer I flew back and forth between New England and Austin, arranging the estate sale, remodeling to get the house ready for the market, and putting the house up for sale.

We had a fairly calm year between summer 2012 and spring 2013.  Mom made friends in her new community and kept up with her church activities until she started getting lost when she went out in her car on her own.  We sold the car, and Mom focused on activities at the senior community.  I visited Austin more often, juggling taking Mom to medical appointments with teaching and not doing a very good job of either.

And then in May 2013, Mom called to say she wanted to move to where I live.  The process of the move was a difficult one, just as her own mother’s had been more than twenty years ago.  But once again, Mom settled in at her new home.  She made friends and enjoyed the group activities.

Mom moved into the memory care unit at her assisted living residence during the holiday period at the end of last semester.  The immediate cause of the move was water damage caused by a burst pipe upstairs from her apartment, and she was one of a number of residents displaced by the event.  But as the nursing director and I looked over Mom’s records, we realized that she would be safer if she remained in the memory unit.

So now I visit every other day or so.  Mom’s always pleased to see me.  She introduces me to everyone we encounter, proudly saying, “This is my daughter.”  We play bingo with the other residents and look through photo albums on our own.  Now that the weather is better, we’re starting to go out now and then.  We went out for lunch last Saturday.

Soon, Mom’s favorite barbecue restaurant will reopen–they’re closed for renovations at the moment.  She’ll be very happy to have her chicken with potato salad and coleslaw, along with a bottle of lemonade.  And she already likes the spring sweater I’m knitting her.


Collaborations: Writing

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been spending the bulk of my time on a collaborative writing project, and this week one of my main tasks involves a next step in publication of another one.  I want to reflect on collaborations as part of my Day of DH for at least two reasons.  First, because my work in Digital Humanities/Digital History would not be possible without collaboration from technologists, librarians, and archivists, and second, because 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.

First, a quick description of the two collaborations that are part of the publications on my to-do list right now.  My colleagues and I in the Wheaton College Digital History Project (WCDHP), which has been in the works in one way or another over the past ten years, have been writing up a case study of that project over the past few weeks.  We replied to a call for papers from Transformations, a digital publication of the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), and our proposal was accepted about a month ago.  We completed our draft last week, and we enter open peer review this week.  The publication timeline is a quick one, with a final draft due at the end of this month and publication planned for June.  The second collaboration I’m working on at the moment is a re-publication for Journal of Digital Humanities of the poster and abstract that Syd Bauman and I presented at DH2013 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  The poster offers a model for “transactionography,” an attempt to develop markup for financial records compatible with the Guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative.

Neither of the projects reflected in these publications would be possible without the specialized knowledge that my colleagues and coauthors bring to them.  Since I was trained in the practices of analog history in the late 1980s and 1990s, I bring to the projects knowledge about how to assemble context for them with regard to both scholarly literature and historical evidence.  I have some technical knowledge about eXtensible Markup Language (XML) and the TEI Guidelines, but I do not know enough about writing the stylesheets and transformation scripts that are necessary for publishing our XML files online.  Nor do I understand programming well enough to model nineteenth-century financial records for XML markup compatible with the TEI Guidelines.  As a practitioner of digital humanities, I need programmers who understand and value humanities scholarship to help me bring my work to my audiences.  The kinds of expertise I describe here are typical of those found in digital humanities projects.

As my WCDHP colleagues and I have been reflecting on our ten years’ experience with a collaboration that includes a historian, archivists, and technical experts, we have been looking over some publications that discuss DH collaborations.  The essay that speaks best to our context as professionals in different fields collaborating on a project that tries to address both pedagogical and archival goals is Bryan Alexander and Rebecca Frost Davis’s contribution to Matthew Gold’s Debates in the Digital Humanities, “Should Liberal Arts Campuses Do Digital Humanities? Process and Products in the Small College World.”

Alexander and Davis spend some time discussing the obstacles to doing DH in small colleges like the one where I teach, and one of the most significant of these is limited resources.  And one kind of resource that is in particularly limited supply at small colleges is staff time for the kind of software development that is needed for online publication of TEI-conformant files.  So a portion of the case study that my colleagues and I completed last week focuses in the TEI Publication, Archiving, and Access Service (TAPAS), a tool for publication of TEI files that will be launching this spring.  In addition to solving the problem of inadequate resources to support software development at small institutions, TAPAS will also make it possible for students who are working on TEI projects to upload their own files and test them, thus improving the pedagogical process when faculty members use transcription and markup assignments in their teaching.

I began this post with discussion of coauthored publications, and before I close, I want to come back to that topic because single-authored articles and monographs are the norm in my home discipline.  Coauthoring adds to the tasks of research, thinking, and writing that we undertake when we write single-authored works.

As the lead author for our case study, I had to think through the process of writing, organizing, and editing our piece for my colleagues as well as for myself.  I wrote a timeline for my coauthors, noting when I would need to see their contributions during the month of March so that we could meet our April 4 deadline.  I set up a shared space on Google Drive for materials from the editor of the special issue of Transformations in which our case study will be published.  I scheduled a meeting so that my coauthors and I could discuss what we had to say in our essay.  I adjusted our timeline to accommodate the time my coauthors had available during their full-time work weeks to write up their contributions to our shared document.  I adjusted my own writing times to leave the Google Doc free when my coauthors were using it because individual authors were getting booted out of the document when more than one of us was writing at the same time.  And finally, I adjusted my workdays on the document, leaving final edits until the due date so as to give my coauthors as much time as possible to complete their contributions to the document.

My coauthors made adjustments as well.  I am sure they had to make time to meet with each other to discuss portions of their contributions that reflected common experiences, though I did not discuss any of these extra meetings with them.  I know for sure that one of my coauthors who is in a managerial position spent time in the evening before our final meeting to read over the rough draft and make comments.  This was time when he was home with his family, a kind of time that I would resent having to use for an extra work task if I were asked to do so when I already spent more than forty hours per week at my nine-to-five job.

I highlight the extra tasks that come with coauthored work because such writing falls outside the experiences of many within my home discipline.  It is one piece of the collaborative work of digital humanities/digital history that needs to be explained so that my colleagues in history can evaluate the work we do in this field.

Later today, I’ll post more about collaborations as well as about the other kinds of things I do in a Day of DH.

Slow Start

I think I might make this my new nickname.

My Day of DH began with being awoken around 4 a.m. with a fire alarm blaring loudly and flashing brightly.

I live in a loft apartment in Providence, Rhode Island.  About a year and half ago, I moved out of an antique house in a somewhat suburban setting and into this remodeled factory building on the other side of the freeway.  Perhaps the most recognizable difference–aside from the shift from nineteenth-century balloon-frame construction to early twenty-first century industrial chic–is the quarterly testing of the fire alarms, complete with loud noise and flashing lights.

We just had a test at the end of March, so I knew the alarms work.  And now, with a fuzzy brain and a need for still more caffeine, I can assure anyone who needs to know that the alarms go off when something happens in the middle of the night.

When I stumbled out into the hallway before dawn, I saw only one neighbor, a man who has lived in the building for quite a while.  I asked whether this had ever happened before, and he said there had been a glitch in the electrical panel in the lobby several years back.  As he went downstairs to check whether the glitch had happened again, I went back into my loft, and the alarm soon stopped.

There were some sirens and flashing lights from fire engines, but it did turn out to be a false alarm.  So I went back to sleep.  And I’m moving slowly and drinking a lot of coffee on this Day of DH.

I’ll post again later, with some reports on what I’ve been doing over the past couple of months of sabbatical, doing DH.


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