Question 6: ML Research and Process

Modern Languages as research and process. Traditional academia discourages sharing of process and encourages researchers to share a final finessed piece. Digital spaces allows us to reveal, share and upend this by showing the tools, materials and infrastructure of our study. In what ways has this changed how we think about the end result of our research? What are the benefits of this laying bare? What are the pitfalls of this means? Does it change research itself?

First contributor:

Daniel Purdy


Kathleen Fitzpatrick

Paul Spence


2 thoughts on “Question 6: ML Research and Process

  1. Daniel Purdy’s Response to Question 6: ML Research and Process

    Does “collaboration,” the word most commonly used to describe working with others, reveal anxieties inherent to any division of labor? “Collaboration” opens up problems from the start, given that it means both “united labor” and “traitorous cooperation with the enemy.” To what extent is one sharing or abandoning one’s own principles through collaboration? Yet to even raise the question of collaboration’s connotations requires one to engage in a humanist practice of concentrating on ambivalences, rather than on productive meanings. To ask about what “collaboration” means may simply be a way to hold up the process of collaboration. Is this query merely a form of epistemological quibbling or does it acknowledge institutional disparities in joint research? Anyone with a dictionary can recognize the ambivalence in “collaboration,” but just how serious is this concern?
    The abundant commentary on the collaboration concentrates on both the ethical and methodological decisions required in setting up digital projects, as well as in interpreting the data they generate. The moral implications of collaboration usually involve making sure that all the participants are acknowledged appropriately. Humanities scholars like to presume that the natural and social sciences have worked out the conventions of crediting authorship for jointly written articles, however the dynamics and specializations of digital projects often do not align with what are imagined to be clear-cut protocols. The “Collaborator’s Bill of Rights” may suggest an orderly assignment of roles, but its reliance on Enlightenment universalist categories would lead anyone to doubt their effectiveness.
    As for methodology, the first point introduced is that although humanities scholars tend to work alone, they now need to learn collaborative methods of research and institutional evaluation if they are going to participate in digital research. Asymmetrical relationships are almost a requirement in the most innovative digital projects. Collaboration ideally includes very different kinds of partners. So that it does not look like a bunch of professors all discussing the same problem, nor should it follow a corporate IT model whereby a team is assembled of different experts to produce one result. And if the collaboration is meant to be even-handed, then it cannot be structured along a simple service arrangement, whereby data is brought forward from an archive for the humanist to interpret.
    The most exciting digital scholarship argues, of course, that we are not faced with a choice between either humanities questions or scientific methods. Ben Schmidt’s work on this point is exemplary. Likewise, there a plenty of people arguing against the imperative to work in teams. Presumably, individual scholarship will revive as digital scholarship refines its tools: Before we formulate a utopian model of even-handedness in research, we should note that interactions between disciplines rarely operate at the same speed or with a calm sense of parity. Interdisciplinary work inevitably entails appropriating methods and information from other fields so that they can redeployed in unfamiliar contexts. As Ted Underwood states, humanists who require convincing of the virtues of distant reading should not hesitate for too long, lest researchers from outside their discipline start explaining their own field to them. Collaboration thus can be motivated by a certain urgency to join a discussion that is already well under way.’-bill-of-rights/


  2. As Daniel’s response and Paul’s comment both indicate, collaboration is hard, and yet absolutely crucial for the future of research in modern languages. And by that I mean that collaboration is at the core of all research in modern languages, not just the obviously cross-disciplinary team-based work that often takes place in digital form. We are, to varying extents, all always collaborating, and learning to do so in more productive ways can help both the quality of the work we produce and the quality of the experience we have in the process.

    Many scholars in modern languages resist understanding their work as inherently collaborative, in no small part because that work is assessed and credit for it apportioned individually. I have heard colleagues say in the course of a tenure review that included a co-authored project, ‘but we can’t tell how much of it she wrote.’ There’s a pervasive sense, in other words, that in a collaborative project, one does one’s part, and should only get credit for that part, which can ever only be a fraction of the work in a solo project. In fact, as nearly anyone involved in a successful collaboration can report, such projects require 100% (if not more) from everyone involved. I have a couple of co-authored articles on my vita, and of each of them, I would say if asked that each of us wrote the entire thing. Some paragraphs may have been outlined by me, and drafted by her, and revised by me, and polished by her, and some may have happened differently, but none of it was not written by both of us.

    Collaboration does not always require full-on coauthorship, but our nervousness about such prospects point the way toward our real uneasiness with collaboration: in the loss of control it implies, and the realization that our ideas and the sentences that result from them won’t ever be fully our own. If we’re being honest with ourselves, though, we’d have to admit that they have never been fully our own: we have all read and discussed things that have generated the ideas, and we have dozens of influences that affect the sentences. All of scholarly writing, in other words, is always subterraneanly collaborative, a conversation carried out across publications and across time. The best collaborations enable us to have that conversation, and benefit from its results, in something closer to real time, throughout the work, building on the multiple strengths that only a team can bring to bear.

    What the digital brings to such collaborations, as the question notes, is the ability to surface the conversational processes inherent in them, to make those processes as much a part of the work as are the object of study and the resulting project. Digital tools also enable us to open our collaborations at key moments to a much broader set of publics — not just more scholars, but more readers, more interlocutors, more people who might engage with us and contribute new ways of thinking about our work. This openness will no doubt require us to learn even more about how to collaborate, but again, we are very likely to find that both our results and our process for realizing them improve dramatically as a result.


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