Collaboration in DH and the English Department

One topic I’ve been hoping we’d eventually discuss in class is that of collaboration… which I feel might be particularly pertinent to discussions of DH; although it also pervades many (most?) subfields of literary studies. Many of the articles from Debates in the Digital Humanities seem concerned with the idea of defining DH. The definitions that struck me as most innovative or interesting had to do with the necessarily interdisciplinary (as Christina mentioned) and collaborative nature of the field. In “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” Matthew Kirschenbaum writes that the “digital humanities is also a social undertaking. It harbors networks of people who have been working together, sharing research, arguing, competing, and collaborating for many years.” Meanwhile, Alan Liu writes in “Where Is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?” that “Ultimately, the greatest service that the digital humanities can contribute to the humanities is to practice instrumentalism in a way that demonstrates the necessity of breaking down the artificial divide of the ‘two cultures’ to show that the humanities are needed alongside the sciences to solve the intricately interwoven natural, technological, economic, social, political, and cultural problems of the global age.” Both of these scholars define DH and its potential for success as being based on the foundations of social networking and an open flow of information unbounded by disciplinary borders. It strikes me that, while the term “interdisciplinary” has become somewhat of a catchphrase within English departments – likely in an attempt to further justify the value of our work and make it more meaningful to the “real” world – very few of these allegedly interdisciplinary projects actually go so far as to collaborate with scholars outside the home field. It seems most literary scholars are often discouraged from even working with each other, let alone colleagues from other departments. True interdisciplinary collaborations are often avoided, even when doing so clearly has a negative impact on scholarly progress. This issue seems particularly resonant in Ecocriticism, which, although rooted in science and environmental studies, fails to directly interact with those scholars even as that refusal threatens to delegitimize it (after all – what do a bunch of English majors know about environmental management?).

It then seems ironic to me that some of the resistance towards DH seems to stem from the fact that it actually does incorporate collaborative processes of becoming – a discussion of which would certainly regress back to our previous conversations on the touchy subject of “evaluating” scholarly work, especially as a means to tenure-track promotion. It seems clear to me that we need to be rethinking these standards, and figuring out how to assign greater value to collaborative projects – probably starting at the level of the graduate school (collaborative seminar papers? Collaborative dissertations?) and working our way up into the administration of the universities. Does anyone have thoughts on how we could better assign credit/prestige to scholars who take part in collaborative works? Or on what we could do as graduate students to encourage the department to foster a more collaborative environment?