Thursday, January 4, 2018: 1:30 PM
Marriott Ballroom, Salon 2 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Stephen Aron, University of California, Los Angeles
Peter Chesney, University of California, Los Angeles
I can place UCLA’s efforts at making history graduate students into expert collaborators in context, because I also participated in another program emphasizing collaboration: the Urban Humanities Institute (UHI).

Both experiences proved division of labor supports ambitious projects that can reach broad, diverse audiences. Graduate students habitually work alone on passion projects where they imagine themselves experts in every step of the production process. Ceding authority and workload to other collaborators means graduate students had to learn how to assess and to articulate their strengths, weaknesses, passions, and boredoms. Collaboration surprisingly lends itself to specialization for researchers who otherwise try, futilely, to master everything.
An example that illustrates this takeaway is my relationship with visual culture first at UHI and next when working just with history students. At UHI, our projects involved the collaboration of doctoral candidates with architects and planners. Sophisticated critics and creators of visual culture, these other students nevertheless needed analysts like me to put their ideas into historical context. Returning to the history department to collaborate with historians, I found my role inverted. Suddenly, I was relatively more literate in visual culture and could switch roles according to the needs of a new context.

Some graduate students are sensitive to calls for collaboration in academia. What they hear is that they as individuals are inadequate, not as sharp or diligent as heroic scholars from earlier generations who worked on their own. Of course, those same scholars would be the first to admit that they too usually collaborated in more-or-less invisible ways. My hope is that we can find a way to shift attitudes regarding collaboration. My experiences with both UHI and UCLA history boosted my confidence when I recognized the aptitudes I have that translated into my singular contributions to the projects we did.

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