ACH @ MLA: Transacting DH: Roles, Rights, and Responsibilities of Collaboration

Session 487
Saturday, January 5 at 12:00 PM
Acapulco Room, Hyatt Regency
Chicago, IL
#mla19 #s487

In 2011, Tanya Clement and Dave Lester convened an NEH-supported conversation titled Off the Tracks, which led to the eventual publication of the Collaborators’ Bill of Rights. Prompted by this year’s presidential theme–Textual Transactions–this guaranteed panel supported by the Association for Computer in the Humanities (ACH) will address questions of “transaction” as a combination of form and function. Since 2011, what models of collaboration have evolved? How have advisors and students negotiated their roles in digital humanities research projects? What are the rights and responsibilities of mentoring, supervising, directing, or staffing a digital humanities research project? What are the boundaries of these transactions? How can digital humanities transactions challenge our ideas of collaboration?

This session will consider what the rights, roles and responsibilities associated with forms of DH research and pedagogical transaction.  What models are there? What are the pitfalls? What honest conversation can we have about them? We would like to hear models from those working in a variety of situations: faculty, altac, library, student, advisory board, volunteer, or administrator. The session will begin with short reflections by panelists with plans to open up conversation

Presenter Information:

Kathleen Fitzpatrick
Twitter: @kfitzpatrick
Humanities Commons:

Carrie Johnston
Twitter: @CarrieEJohnston
Humanities Commons:

Rikk Mulligan
Twitter: @CritRikk
Humanities Commons:

Lisa Rhody
Twitter: @lmrhody
Humanities Commons:

Dhanashree Thorat
Twitter: @shree_thorat
Humanities Commons:


“Generosity, Solidarity, and Sustainability”

Kathleen Fitzpatrick

It goes without saying that collaboration is challenging, and perhaps especially within fields that have long privileged the work of the individual author; participants in collaborative projects find themselves not just having to demonstrate the significance of the projects but also having to account for their precise contributions to them, in order that they might be accorded the proper level of credit in a system whose reward structures remain predicated on individual merit. This system, as I argue throughout Generous Thinking, is part and parcel of the academy’s relentless drive toward privatization, toward individualization, which has serious ramifications both for higher education’s funding model and for the public conception of the benefits that it provides. If we are to find our way out of the impasse in which our colleges and universities and those who work within them today seem trapped, we must reorient our thinking about our work from individual achievement to focus instead on more collective forms of accomplishment.

Such a reorientation has to take place not just at the individual level, however, but at the institutional level as well. A significant number of major digital infrastructure projects currently underway — academy-owned, not-for-profit projects that bear the potential for freeing the university from the stranglehold inflicted by some corporate providers — require the active participation and investment of multiple institutions in order to make the projects and their benefits sustainable. And that participation and investment require the institutions, in many cases, to put the interests of the academy writ large ahead of their own local, competitive interests.

There is, in other words, an aspect of sustainability for major digital projects  that I would argue precedes the financial, or the technical: the social. This social aspect points not just to the determination of a group of people to support a particular project, but to the determination of those people to support their groupness; not just to their commitment to the thing they’re doing together, but to their commitment to the concept of “together” in the first place. Sustainability in collaborative development has solidarity as a prerequisite, in other words, a recognition that the interests of the group require commitment from its members to that group, at times over and above their own individual interests. This presentation will open the question of how we foster that commitment: how, in fact, we understand that commitment itself as a crucial aspect of sustainability.

“Language and Labor in the Digital Humanities”

Carrie Johnston

This presentation will address the opportunities and challenges of transacting digital humanities collaborative projects from the perspective of a Digital Humanities Research Designer in an academic library. While collaboration is often celebrated as a central to the success of digital humanities projects, I argue that often the language of collaboration excludes those whose work is organized by reward systems that do not include long-term projects. In this presentation, I will discuss the language of digital humanities project management that, when put into practice, often replicates the academic hierarchies that DH prides itself on transcending or resisting.

As a digital humanities project manager, one of my responsibilities is to acknowledge that “collaborator” is a title or role that many do not have the option to take on. Additionally, I attend to the ways that words used to describe DH labor—“showcase” as a verb to describe digital exhibit building, for example—can rebrand the often-invisible labor of librarians, archivists, and museum professionals as a new endeavor taken on by a digital humanities project team.

Digital humanities transactions have challenged our ideas of collaboration in productive ways by facilitating interdisciplinary, inter-institutional, and public humanities projects. However, we must acknowledge the ways that these successes have largely ignored the material realities of many academic laborers. By drawing attention to the language we use in digital humanities outreach, planning, and staffing, this presentation will provoke honest conversation about the privileged assumptions that impede our efforts toward equitable labor practices.

Conflicted Collaboration: Creating Models for DH Service and Collaboration at CMU

Rikk Mulligan

The University Libraries and the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences of Carnegie Mellon University jointly sponsor our digital research and publishing center: dSHARP. Our core faculty include digital humanities specialists and consultants for research data management, digital publishing, and digital scholarship. As a library-hosted center we are a discipline-neutral research hub that partners with liaison librarians, CLIR postdoctoral fellows, HASTAC scholars (graduate students), and student interns. The University Archives, special collections, and digitization team help provide our research materials. We incubate DH as a community of practice at CMU by hosting events and open collaborative sessions, teaching workshops, seminars, and an interdisciplinary undergraduate DH course. We respond to inquiries involving methods and tools, consult on grants, and connect researchers with subject matter experts and collaborators–students, faculty, and staff including ourselves. Those of us who are faculty can also offer up to 20% of our time to collaborate on projects.

This combined service and research model creates several challenges including differentiating between faculty consultations and collaboration, tracking efforts and contributions at the project-level, and acknowledging the contributions made by other library personnel. We try to illuminate the entire DH research lifecycle, from planning to preservation. Unfortunately, some are only interested in a tool or method, while others find that their projects metastasize. Our intent is for everyone to understand the roles and contributions of everyone involved, and to acknowledge and credit them appropriately.  Our pedagogic partnerships might include modules for Canvas, classroom instruction, or collaborating in designing a technology-enhanced course. However, some faculty view collaboration as service, so they avoid team-based project planning and fail to recognize the contributions of library personnel as research.

Collaborating with Graduate Students

Lisa Marie Rhody

Collaborations on scholarly, digital projects are shaped by the contexts in which they are created and the relationships between the partners involved. Collaborations with graduate students can represent tricky ethical terrain where the boundaries between professionalization and opportunity is vexed. On the one hand, collaborations between graduate students and faculty or administrators can lead to valuable opportunities to develop new skills and to connect with professional networks. However, collaboration can also become burdensome for students when the needs of the group encroach on individual boundaries.

This presentation considers the particular case of the Graduate Center’s Digital Fellows, specifically in relationship to the recently-funded GC Digital Humanities Research Institute, tracing the development of a collaboratively authored curriculum. Moving beyond codes of conduct, bills of rights, and project charters, this presentation considers the limits of collaboration when aspirational statements are challenged by the realities of project goals.

“Post/Colonial Transactions in the Global Digital Humanities”

Dr. Dhanashree Thorat

In the last several years, digital humanities has expanded its global imaginary outside the United States and Europe. This is indicated by the location of the annual DH conference in Mexico City in 2018, and the various digital projects (such as the Digital Library of the Caribbean) that  envision Global North-South co-production. While these new developments are promising and frame Global South partners as collaborators, the field of digital humanities also has a troubling history of digital initiatives grounded in asymmetrical power relations.(For instance, digital archives built by outsourcing Optical Character Recognition (OCR) work to cheap and invisible labor in the Global South.)

This talk takes up the pitfalls and ethics of Global North-South collaborations given the existing asymmetries in power and knowledge production globally. Grounding myself in the specific context of Indian Digital Humanities, and my work as Executive Council member with the Center for Digital Humanities, Pune, I outline practices for North-South digital collaborations that we delineated during our engagements with scholars and institutions located in the U.S. These practices foreground local needs and local scholars, and are premised upon a critical awareness of colonial histories. This talk specifically focuses on our conversations about three critical areas: working with Indian cultural heritage material, defining the roles of Indian collaborators, and the platforms and forms through which knowledge created by the collaborative project would be disseminated locally.

Presenter Bios

Kathleen Fitzpatrick is Director of Digital Humanities and Professor of English at Michigan State University. Prior to assuming this role in 2017, she served as Associate Executive Director and Director of Scholarly Communication of the Modern Language Association, where she was Managing Editor of PMLA and other MLA publications, as well as overseeing the development of the MLA Handbook. During that time, she also held an appointment as Visiting Research Professor of English at NYU and Visiting Professor of Media Studies at Coventry University. Before joining the MLA staff in 2011, she was Professor of Media Studies at Pomona College, where she had been a member of the faculty since 1998.

Fitzpatrick is author of Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy (NYU Press, 2011) and of The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television (Vanderbilt University Press, 2006). She is project director of Humanities Commons, an open-access, open-source network serving more than 15,000 scholars and practitioners in the humanities. She is also co-founder of the digital scholarly network MediaCommons, where she led a number of experiments in open peer review and other innovations in scholarly publishing. She serves on the editorial or advisory boards of publications and projects including the Open Library of the Humanities, Luminos, the Open Annotation Collaboration, PressForward, and thresholds. She currently serves on the board of directors of the Council on Library and Information Resources.

Carrie Johnston is the Digital Humanities Research Designer in the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University. In her role of supporting digitally-inflected humanities research, she has become committed to addressing the precarious nature of digital humanities labor. She is a co-author of a forum piece addressing labor issues in the special issue of American Quarterly, “Towards a Critically Engaged Digital Practice: American Studies and the Digital Humanities.” Her research considers the ways that technology has historically informed women’s literary labor, and she co-edited the fall 2017 special issue of Studies in the Novel, “Gender and the Cultural Preoccupations of the American West.” In 2014, she earned her Ph.D. in English from Southern Methodist University, where she became interested in digital humanities through a partnership with the university libraries to create a digital collection of rare Santa Fe Railway advertisements and ephemera.

Rikk Mulligan is Digital Scholarship Strategist in the Hunt Libraries at Carnegie Mellon University. He holds a PhD in American Studies from Michigan State University where he specialized in popular culture, particularly genre literature and media including science fiction, fantasy, and horror. His research focuses on social and political criticism in popular media. He has published on apocalyptic narratives including Battlestar Galactica and the zombie apocalypse, as well as critical studies of graphic novels and comic books. Current digital humanities research extends beyond these genres with collaborations on the Latin American Comics Archive and the digital publishing platform for the Encyclopedia of Science History at CMU, and the Frankenstein Variorum, a multi-institutional collaboration to create a digital scholarly edition and variorum of multiple editions of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Lisa Marie Rhody (chair) is Deputy Director of Digital Initiatives at The Graduate Center, CUNY. She is an administrator, teacher, and researcher whose work has considered the varied and often complicated ways in which emerging digital technologies change the ways we study, present, and teach the humanities and social sciences. Lisa directs the GC Digital Fellowship Programs, which include the GC Digital Fellows, the Program Social Media Fellows, and the Videography Fellows, coordinates the Provost’s Digital Innovation Grants, and holds a faculty appointment in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, Master of Arts in Digital Humanities, and Master of Science in Data Analytics and Visualization programs. She currently serves on the steering committee of NYC DH, a loosely-organized city-wide coalition of digital humanists. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Digital Humanities, differences, Debates in the Digital Humanities, and PMLA.

Dhanashree Thorat situates her research at the intersection of Digital Humanities, Postcolonial Studies, and Asian American Studies. Her work investigates the manner in which digital spaces, specifically digital archives and social media, codify hegemonic narratives of Muslims in the post-9/11 moment, and how Muslims use these same spaces to articulate political agency and intervene in mainstream conversations about their racialized bodies. Dhanashree is a founding Executive Council member of the Center for Digital Humanities, Pune in India. She serves as the lead organizer for a biennial winter school on Digital Humanities, and advises the center on digital archival projects and DH curriculum development. She has organized and led DH workshops on various topics including digital archiving, feminist digital humanities, and digital pedagogies.

By Lisa Marie Rhody

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