Bethany Nowviskie

  • Published: Oct 24th, 2009
  • Category: higher ed

collaborative work: links & kinks

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This winter, I’ll join an MLA conference panel sponsored by the discussion group on Computer Studies in Language and Literature.  I’m among friends! and am looking forward to talking with Laura Mandell, Jason B. Jones, Timothy Powell, Jason Rhody, and our moderator, Tanya Clement.  Our panel is called “Links and Kinks in the Chain: Collaboration in the Digital Humanities.”  Here’s what I’ve offered for my bit:

New modes of interdisciplinary, tech-enabled research and production drive us to collaborate across an array of boundaries in the digital humanities.  It is no longer unusual for a scholar to lead a tight-knit, interdepartmental research group or function as part of an ad-hoc team that may include faculty colleagues, graduate students, designers, programmers, systems administrators, and librarians or other instructional technology and information specialists.  This is a good thing, and (in my experience) the most productive and interesting collaborations are grounded in a kind of professional and intellectual egalitarianism, or openness to the contributions of all team members.  But not all of the social boundaries inherent in digital humanities project-work can or should be ignored. 

University policies about intellectual property and open source impinge differently on the rights and responsibilities of faculty, students, and staff members.  These groups may have differing career trajectories and intellectual agendas, and their participation in projects is often understood and evaluated differently within their professions and disciplines. We may worry that acknowledging cultural and administrative distinctions in the academy will reify them — but, in fact, ignoring them can result in poor outcomes for digital humanities projects and personnel.  And woe to the increasing number of collaborators who fall into hybrid professional categories!  What do we need to establish at the outset of digital humanities projects in order to foster healthy collaborative work? How can we create collaborative teams in which all members’ contributions are acknowledged, respected, and appropriately rewarded?  And how can we open these potentially awkward conversations in a way that strengthens teams and permits the kind of fluidity and professional growth that should happen over the course of long-term digital humanities initiatives?

This is the big stuff!  I’ll have about six minutes.

Some of these issues emerge from my experience as a DH grad student, post-doc, member of UVA’s research faculty, and (most recently) administrator of a library department devoted to digital scholarship. I’ll also draw on some of the anonymous data (now being analyzed) from the “Graceful Degradation” survey I conducted this summer with Dot Porter of the Digital Humanities Observatory in Ireland. I’m posting this here on the chance it will garner some comments I can bring to MLA in December.  (And don’t be afraid to tell me I’m cracked.)

Finally, the panel will explore the question of how Bethany will manage to talk about this without getting herself into trouble.  Stay tuned for the next episode of “MLA Confessions!”

Creative Commons License This site uses a heavily modified version of Bryan Helmig's Magatheme. Work at by Bethany Nowviskie is always CC-BY. Want to know why? The falling letters are by Wayne Graham. He kindly made them to replace a set I designed in Flash in the late 1990s and had in place for more than 17 years. Not a bad run! Ave atque vale.