Is Collaboration Worth It? A Roundtable Discussion

AHA Session 41
Thursday, January 5, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Room 501 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Seth Denbo, American Historical Association
Paul William Harvey, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Edward J. Blum, San Diego State University
Paul William Harvey, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Vanessa M Holden, Michigan State University
Jessica Johnson, Johns Hopkins University
Joseph Locke, University of Houston-Victoria
Ben Wright, University of Texas at Dallas

Session Abstract

In 2011, AHA president Anthony Grafton urged historians to reject the myth of the solitary scholar. Arguing against Wilhelm von Humboldt’s idealization of “loneliness and freedom” as the hallmarks of academic life, Grafton wrote “that there is much to be gained by recognizing, and promoting, collaboration … and, with it, the elements of joy and creative fantasy that can too easily be lost as we go about our traditionally lonely craft.” And yet, academic historians typically toil under a professional paradigm designed for the isolated scholar. Tenure and promotion policies, for instance, commonly revolve around single-authored works. So what, then, does it mean for our profession when historians actively collaborate? How, as a profession, can we foster or otherwise encourage collaboration? What areas lend themselves best to collaboration? What are the downsides or the dangers of collaborative work? How should the profession measure the achievements of such work? The so-called “digital turn” and the rise of the digital humanities have generated new collaborative energy, but can collaboration also shape traditional research opportunities?

To explore these questions, six participants, representing three major collaborative projects that range from a traditional monograph to a massively collaborative digital enterprise, will lead a discussion about the practice, the promise, and the perils of academic collaboration in the modern historical profession. Paul Harvey and Edward J. Blum co-wrote the award-winning monograph The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. Vanessa Holden and Jessica Johnson direct the Queering Slavery Working Group, a collection of scholars operating on page and screen to discuss issues related to reading, researching, and writing histories of intimacy, sex, and sexuality during the period of Atlantic slavery. Joseph Locke and Ben Wright directed the collaboration of over 300 historians in producing The American Yawp, a free and online, collaboratively built American history textbook. As new technologies and emerging paradigms further facilitate academic collaboration, these scholars will draw on their respective experiences to encourage a critical and open-minded reckoning with the realities of collaborative historical scholarship.

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