Sustainable collaboration and a democratic structure in DH projects

For the last meeting of this course we have read four articles; two of them related to large-scale DH projects (Dr. Silvia Valisa’s and Dr. Will Hanley’s collaborative projects), and two interesting analyses of the field of DH in general and a study of student labor in such projects.

For this post, I will concentrate in what I personally find most interesting, which is also a good topic for a final discussion of this course. I am referring to Dr. Nowviskie’s emphasis on care, mentioned in Dr. Graban’s introductory post, as it is related, not only to the articles, but also to what we have been reading and discussing during the seminar. Dr. Nowviskie proposes to include an “ethics of care” in relation to the capacity and potential for growth. She explains that an ethics of care fosters an appreciation of context, interdependence, and vulnerability, and it is oriented towards personal, worldly action and response. For a collaborative team to be successful, she states, we need to promote a happy yet critical engrossment.

The article written by Anderson, et al about student labor and training actually questions Digital Humanities rhetoric of collaboration and freedom from traditional hierarchy. It argues that the hierarchy of power in academia is a structural problem and it is not eliminated in the DH field. Students are usually “unseen collaborators”, and they tend to see their work in DH projects as the intellectual property of their supervisors. Their lack of recognition and involvement in the last stages of the project (such as scholarly interpretation), due to the kind of work they usually perform, is an issue that this article proposes to tackle. Their suggestions are aimed to improve the team work and truly achieve the ideal of collaboration fostered by DH.

The best practices proposed by the authors in relation to students should be extended to all projects, as they would contribute to the community of care that Dr. Nowviskie refers to:

  • Explicit and negotiated power structure, and transparent communication and assignment of responsibilities
  • Training should be deliberate, formally budgeted and accounted for, with an equal compensation for different tasks
  • Creating/promoting training institutes and supplementary online learning
  • Integrating Digital Humanities training within traditional education curriculum
  • Making the students feel their contributions are impactful
  • Fostering connections with other researches (affective labor)

I am sure there are many projects and programs that have taken these issues into account; however, this article’s findings show that more attention should be given to students’ involvement, and it makes us all aware of some of the challenges faced for the field to reach the growth it promises.


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