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: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/offthetracks/part-one-models-for-collaboration-career-paths-acquiring-institutional-support-and-transformation-in-the-field/a-collaboration/collaborators’-bill-of-rights/
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: http://sappingattention.blogspot.com/2012/11/reading-digital-sources-case-study-in.html 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: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/09/10/joint-authorship-digital-humanities-collaboration/ 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. http://tedunderwood.com/2015/10/03/can-we-date-revolutions-in-the-history-of-literature-and-music/ Collaboration thus can be motivated by a certain urgency to join a discussion that is already well under way.