Although at the heart of digital humanities scholarship is the use of digital tools to enhance and compliment both traditional humanities research and its subsequent dissemination, there can equally be found a strong ethos around the promotion of an open source, collaborative and co-operative research methodologies. Coming, as I do, from a traditional academic background (whilst also being an active citizen of the digital age) the challenges of incorporating a collaborative element into my work and research practices proved a significant stumbling block to my transition from Arts graduate to Digital Humanist.
Intellectually the concepts of open access, copy left and collaborative conversational approaches to research questions were easy to grasp and held the easy appeal of a move towards the democratisation of information and the potential for enhanced results and problem solving generated from widening the pool of scholars included in any one debate, in a sort of organic, on-going, crowd-regulated process of informal peer review. Emotionally, however, informed by the regulations of traditional humanities scholarship the concept of ‘collaboration’ retained the flashing red warning signal that placed it, almost synonymously, alongside plagiarism as the ultimate in academic transgressions.
My approach to lifting the stigma and unease unconsciously attached to the notion of collaboration absorbed from five previous years of academia was twofold; first to attempt to bring about a shift in my thinking around what collaboration is and the role it plays in scholarship and secondly to demystify the process of collaboration in a more practical way i.e. by undertaking collaboration projects.
In regards the former, a useful tool for me proved to be as simple as conceptualising online collaborations as taking class room based discussions that are a familiar part of the student experience and re-imagining them as taking place with the limitless scope of online discussion. A conversation, a negotiation towards understanding seems a lot less in need of censure. Similarly discussing concepts with scholars, mid-research, working in similar or complementary fields around the world isn’t, on reflection, all that different from passively consuming the journal articles or books of published scholars in any given field.
The latter, more practical approach, to changing my relationship with the concept of collaboration came a bit slower but it is something which I hope to continue to build on and which has certainly contributed materially to a shift in my work process and learning environment.