I’m pleased to be participating in a Roundtable (#723) at MLA 18 on “Collaborative Authorship at Large Scale.”

Many thanks to Andrew Piper for the invitation to participate! I’m excited to talk about my experiences in the DHLC at MSU, coordinating large-scale writing projects (both grants and articles) with both faculty and undergraduate collaborators. I’ll also be discussing collaborative writing as central to graduate student professional development– particularly in Digital Humanities– by reflecting on my own joint-writing projects.

Sunday, January 7

8:30 AM – 9:45 AM

Hilton – Lincoln Suite

Presider: Andrew Piper, McGill U

Speakers:

  • Mark Algee-Hewitt, Stanford U
  • Michelle Nancy Levy, Simon Fraser U
  • Laura B. McGrath, Michigan State U
  • Tom Mole, U of Edinburgh
  • Dahlia J. Porter, U of Glasgow
  • Jonathan Sachs, Concordia U

Program Description: This roundtable will explore the practical, intellectual and technological implications of large-scale collaborative authorship in literary studies.

Session Description:

As part of the ongoing debate surrounding the impact of the digital humanities, this roundtable will explore the practical, intellectual and technological implications of large-scale collaborative authorship in literary studies. As a field, literary studies is strongly identified with single-author models of knowledge production. While there are numerous examples of small-scale collaborations across the field – involving 1-2 or maybe three authors – this roundtable will explore what it means to write collectively in larger numbers. Given new kinds of technological platforms that allow for co-creative labor, what kinds of ideas are made possible when we think as a group? How is more different?

As a means of addressing these questions, this session will feature a line-up of speakers who have experience with different forms of collaborative authorship. Included will be directors of literary laboratories (Piper, Algee-Hewitt), where questions of collaboration and credit loom large, as well as a graduate student perspective of working in a laboratory environment (McGrath). A second cohort of participants (Levy, Mole, Porter, Sachs) will be drawn from a recent project on the history of print that involved 22 co-authors to produce the first ever “multigraph” (resulting in the forthcoming volume Interacting with Print).

The roundtable will address three broad themes related to large- scale collaborative authorship:

The Question of Credit. How do we ensure the equitable distribution of credit when numerous people are involved in a project? In what ways is the “author model” of academic writing too limited to account for the range of work involved in larger- scale research projects (whether digital or not)? We know that for any research project there are numerous layers of labor that contribute to a written outcome. Whether it is librarians and archivists who make the archival research of primary sources possible, the computational experts who make data manipulable and interpretable, the teams of students who often do the work of data collection and cleaning, how might we might we construct more transparent models of creation, where authorship is only one among many layers? Conversely, how might more collective models help resist the rising accountability of academic labor and emphasize instead collective action over against highly individualized, and highly hierarchical, forms of labor? What happens when we sign our work as a collective rather than a list of vertically-differentiated individuals? Who benefits here and who is put at risk?

The Question of Quality. How do ideas change when more people are involved? For so long humanities knowledge has been bound up with an ideology of individualism. What are the concrete changes that happen to our research when we work together? Why do certain methods seem to lend themselves to collective work more than others? Today, technological affordances such as the annotated web promote a culture of commentary in ways that harken back to older hermeneutic models (such as medieval gloss). How might such collective frameworks alter the separateness of culture and critique that have for so long underpinned our critical practices and in the process change the nature of criticism? At the same time, how might more collective practices of collaborative critique transcend the individualized nature of commentary and approach more synthetic forms of thought? How can research collectives move past the one-scholar, one-idea model and produce a notion of scholarly consensus where multiple scholars work towards a single, shared goal? What would such synthetic thoughts look like?

The Question of Scale. One of the aims of this roundtable is to encourage us to think beyond the normal scales of scholarly practice. What are the technological as well as disciplinary frameworks that are necessary to make possible academic creation beyond the level of the individual or even the small group? How would 50, 100, or even 1,000 academics work together? And what are the social costs and benefits of such an approach? Whether one is for or against collective scholarly practice, it is important that we understand the norms and biases of our current practices as well as the potential gains and pitfalls of potential new ones. What are we leaving behind in a model of large-scale collaboration and what can we potentially hope to achieve? These are the questions this roundtable will put in motion to encourage us to critically observe our existing frameworks of academic labor.

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