Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: Feb. 28, 2022, 6:24 a.m. Humanist 35.556 - working with others

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 556.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
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        Date: 2022-02-27 14:42:28+00:00
        From: Jennifer Edmond <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.555: working with others?

Dear Willard,

For what it's worth, we did a series of interviews a few years ago exploring a
number of questions around research processes in the DH-adjacent humanities,
with questions of collaboration among them.  On this topic, we concluded the
following, which chimes somewhat with our observation that modes of
collaboration are dependent on a number of variables:

Anecdote would have it that humanists do not collaborate: at the most, their
manner of work has been deemed ‘cooperative .’ (Unsworth, 2003)  This perception
... lies not so much in any lack among humanists in collaborative skills, but in
a widely promulgated, very narrow understanding of collaboration as consisting
of co-publication and the pursuit of narrowly defined parallel strands of
physically co-located work.  The fact that much of humanities research is based
on human interpretation of cultural and social artifacts means that the presence
of the wider community is always strong and the researchers interviewed were in
constant exchange with it.  What is different, however, is that the modalities
by which they collaborate are, like their instruments of analysis, highly varied
and often unique to their personal circumstances, topic of research, or personal
efficiency requirements.   When asked about how they tested their ideas with
peers before publication, we received a wide variety of responses.

Conferences are a very common (but by no means universal) outlet, but even
within this response were degrees of variation: for some, the idea of an
audience pushed them to ensure their ideas were robust, for others, it was the
performative aspect of hearing oneself speaking the line of argument before an
audience that was most useful.  The actual questions and comments received at
the presentation were of marginal value, but fitting one’s ideas into the theme
or focus of a meeting was a key way of giving them form and shape, of focusing
among many possible alternative routes of enquiry and of stretching one’s
comfort zone in terms of content of approach.  The fact that the presentation is
ephemeral (though it may often lead to a publication) makes the perceived
barriers lower and reduces the necessary investment of time, but it is also
important that a conference organizer and audience are present to validate the
work.  In this respect, the divergence in disciplinary convention by which
science or technical papers are most often submitted ready to publish, while
humanities papers are generally (but not always) presented either as ideas or,
if a written text, as a work very much in progress, can be seen to have a
specific purpose.

Beyond conferences, researchers also draw individually on peers, but only when
they feel they can do so without wasting their precious time.  In some cases,
the peer input is used to extend the reach of a piece, in some cases to ensure
that scoping of the secondary landscape has been robust enough to pass an
initial friendly test:  “If it’s something where you’re really reaching outside
your comfort zone, it’s not only wise to ask other people’s advice, I think it’s
also courteous, you know if you’re trespassing on somebody else’s patch,
although scholarship shouldn’t be like that, I think it’s good idea just to open
lines of communication, and mostly people are very well disposed.” Teaching is
another avenue in which input is sought, not so much from the perspective of an
expert point of view, but as a place to discuss, present, test the coherence of
an argument, and quite importantly, to motivate the process of completing a full
review of the secondary literature.

Other forms of consultation and cooperation we observed other included co-
writing with a spouse or other colleagues, consulting family members or other
non-specialists to ensure an argument made sense outside of the jargon of a
discipline or indeed chatting on-line with writers from outside of academia as a
way of motivating progress and establishing a feeling of common purpose
(“marching together”) in highly individualized work.

Full report available here:


Jennifer Edmond
Trinity College Dublin
From: Humanist <>
Sent: Saturday, February 26, 2022 6:36 AM
To: Jennifer Edmond <>
Subject: [Humanist] 35.555: working with others?

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 555.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
                Submit to:

        Date: 2022-02-25 12:42:33+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: working with others

Commenting on the attitudes of the Stoics, early Christians and others,
Bertrand Russell notes in The Conquest of Happiness (1930) that,

> All these are solitary philosophies in the sense that the good is
> supposed to be something realizable in each separate person, not only in
> a larger or smaller society of persons. All such views, to my mind, are
> false, and not only in ethical theory, but as expressions of the better
> part of our instincts. Man depends upon co-operation, and has been
> provided by nature, somewhat inadequately, it is true, with the
> instinctive apparatus out of which the friendliness required for
> co-operation can spring.

The value of working with others, it seems to me, is beyond doubt.
But in what sense, 'with others'? My question is this: how does
'collaboration' in the broadest sense, including the sort that a
scholar working alone does, with others both living and dead,
play out across the disciplines? How does it vary by discipline?
By kind or phase of a project? I take it that 'collaborsation' is not
a transcendental good but is contingent on the nature of the work.


Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist<>

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