SDH/SEMI Roundtable on Conversation, Collaboration, Credit: The Graduate Researcher in the Digital Scholarly Environment

By Constance Crompton (Electronic Textual Cultures Lab, University of Victoria)

I remember my first Congress presentation: I was new grad student, fresh-minted, nervous, and reliant on my carefully prepared PowerPoint presentation. With all that I had heard about Congress, I expected to present to dozens of people, but alas, my 9:00am spot on a Tuesday morning only yielded a sleepy audience of six.

The graduate students who led the “Roundtable on Conversation, Collaboration, Credit: The Graduate Researcher in the Digital Scholarly Environment”, Daniel Powell (Victoria/ETCL), Tara Thomson(Victoria/MVP), Matt Bouchard (Toronto/EMiC), Melissa Dalgleish (York/EMiC), Andy Keenan (Toronto/Digital Economy Trading Zones Project and The Inclusive Design Institute), Alyssa Anne McLeod (Victoria/ETCL), had the converse experience. The room was packed, the discussion was lively, and they extemporized, rather than relying on prepared scripts.

Daniel Powell organized the panel in order to address the rights and responsibilities of graduate students who work on the large teams common to digital humanities projects. After a brief introduction, he invited his fellow discussants to share their personal DH narratives. None of them had started their university careers as digital humanists; they were almost all ushered into DH through faculty members’ mentorship. Most, having been introduced to the world of DH, had moved from project to project.

The group’s discussion of professionalization was untinged by the cynicism that generally accompanies discussion about the academic job market. As several faculty members in the audience pointed out, doing DH usually requires practitioners to maintain a second discipline, in effect doubling aspiring scholars’ workload. However, as one audience member noted, holding a wide range of DH jobs helps graduate students learn how large projects manage grant writing, administration, computing, and publishing. One senior faculty member underscored how attractive hiring committees find candidates with varied experience: “the leader is often the person who also knows how to sweep the shop floor.”

One discussant had had trouble framing his DH work for an audience that might not value collaboration. The audience was sympathetic, indeed, digital humanists are working on several fronts to increase collaboration’s prestige. The NEH white paper, Off the Tracks: Laying New Lines for Digital Humanities Scholars, proposes a collaborator’s bill of rights, while projects like Adam Crimble’s FairCite aggregate best practices from across the field. Digital humanists have also devised platform-specific tools to help hiring and merit committees see at a glance who has been contributing and how. To this end, CWRC is considering implementing The Magic Circle, a tool for visualizing contributions in the wiki environment, to display the multiple tasks that go into producing and maintaining multi-authored text. Although credit-sharing practices vary from project to project, the field’s new guidelines and tools will help recognize contributions to, and encourage participation in, collaborative work environments. If the enthusiastic (and far from sleepy!) audience is any measure, the future is bright for all six roundtable participants.