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Making Digital Collaboration Visible

Tenure[This is a guest post by Adrianne Wadewitz, a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Digital Learning + Research at Occidental College. Find out more at her homepage and follow her on Twitter at @wadewitz.--@JBJ]

In my first two posts in this series, I described a day in the life of digital humanities postdoc at a liberal arts college and digital scholarship in the liberal arts tradition. In this post, I will explore the question of how one develops as a scholar and a professional academic in a digital humanities postdoc at a liberal arts institution. Specifically, I want to highlight the various kinds of collaboration necessary to digital scholarship that are often elided when we think about professionalization and marketability.

Because postdoc positions are by their nature of short duration, those of us in them must constantly think about maximizing our marketability. As digital scholarship postdocs, we are seen as both technical support and scholarly collaborators, but when we enter the job market, much of our work becomes invisible. For example, here at Occidental I am being given the opportunity to work with a Chopin scholar and several people from our Scholarship Technology group on a large project. Together, we are bringing this scholar’s vision of indexing and cross-referencing the expressive terms of Chopin’s music to the Online Chopin Variorum Edition so that scholars and performers can see the variety of ways Chopin used markings such as piano.

This wonderful project allows me to expand my technical and programming expertise, draws on my own passion for the piano, and gives me the chance to learn about Chopin scholarship, however, it puts me in a difficult position in a job market that tends to value specialization and published journal articles. Traditional tenure-track jobs in my field – English literature – value publications in a narrow field rather than this kind of interdisciplinary, non-traditional project. Most job advertisements in my field do not make it easy to showcase this kind of work – unless I published an article about it, thus requiring me to do double the amount of work as someone in a different specialty. Moreover, many of the skills I am developing and which are valuable in the changing environment of academia, such as the ability to work collaboratively and the ability to conceive of and write grant-funded projects, are difficult to make visible. Because this project will take many years to complete and spans multiple institutions, it is unclear precisely what kind of “credit” we postdocs will receive. Our work thus becomes invisible.

It is not only digital scholarship that elides postdoc collaboration, however – teaching does the same. This year, for example, I developed ties with a faculty member in the psychology department who specializes in child psychology and is also an aspiring children’s author. As a scholar of children’s literature, I was of course delighted to talk with her and we shared our love of and interest in children’s literature in several wonderful chats, broaching the topic of co-teaching a class on childhood and children’s literature. We applied for and received a grant to develop a course that will expose students to a variety of ways to study childhood and children’s literature. The students will have the benefit of learning literary, historical, and psychological approaches, some of which are in direct contrast. Not only will the students visit archives of historical children’s literature, they will also develop and perform and experiment with a group of children to determine the benefits and drawbacks of electronic reading devices. This kind of highly interdisciplinary and collaborative course which takes significant time to develop and teach, however, receives very little space on one’s CV. While these kinds of teaching collaborations have led to joint publications for postdocs at my institution, it is important to recognize that the market is privileging one kind of academic work and pushing us to develop teaching methods that lead to publication.

I want to make clear that all of this work is invigorating and inspiring, but postdocs do worry about their professional future. In the digital humanities in particular, where postdocs do a great deal of innovative, collaborative work, the profession needs to start considering this work as real academic labor.

Final installment in the series: How does one prepare to live and work in a city for a short period of time? How does one time-manage a postdoc? How does one choose what methods and tools to learn? How can one learn new areas of the digital humanities and incorporate them into one’s work while trying to complete projects?

Photo “Lloyd Dangle and USC Creativity & Collaboration” by Flickr user Norman Lear Center / Creative Commons licensed BY-2.0

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