Examples of Collaborative Digital Humanities Projects

Observing that humanities scholars rarely jointly author articles, as I did in my last post, comes as no surprise.  As Blaise Cronin writes, “Collaboration—for which co-authorship is the most visible and compelling indicator—is established practice in both the life and physical sciences, reflecting the industrial scale, capital-intensiveness and complexity of much contemporary scientific research. But the ‘standard model of scholarly publishing,’ one that ‘assumes a work written by an author,” continues to hold sway in the humanities’ (24).   Just as I found that only about 2% of the articles published in American Literary History between 2004 and 2008 were co-authored, so Cronin et al discovered that just 2% of the articles that appeared in the philosophy journal Mind between 1900 and 2000 were written by more than one person, although between 1990 and 2000 that number increased slightly to 4% (Cronin, Shaw, & La Barre).   Whereas the scale of scientific research often requires scientists to collaborate with each other, humanities scholars typically need only something to write with and about.  But as William Brockman, et al suggest, humanities scholars do have their own traditions of collaboration, or at least of cooperation:  “Circulation of drafts, presentation of papers at conferences, and sharing of citations and ideas, however, are collaborative enterprises that give a social and collegial dimension to the solitary activity of writing. At times, the dependence of humanities scholars upon their colleagues can approach joint authorship of a publication” (11).

Information technology can speed and extend the exchange of ideas, as researchers place their drafts online and solicit comments through technologies such as CommentPress, make available conference papers via institutional repositories, and share citations and notes using tools such as Zotero.  Over ten years, ago John Unsworth described an ongoing shift from cooperation to collaboration, indicating perhaps both his prescience and the slow pace of change in academia.

In the cooperative model, the individual produces scholarship that refers to and draws on the work of other individuals. In the collaborative model, one works in conjunction with others, jointly producing scholarship that cannot be attributed to a single author. This will happen, and is already happening, because of computers and computer networks. Many of us already cooperate, on networked discussion groups and in private email, in the research of others: we answer questions, provide references for citations, engage in discussion. From here, it’s a small step to collaboration, using those same channels as a way to overcome geographical dispersion, the difference in time zones, and the limitations of our own knowledge.

The limitations of our own knowledge.  As Unsworth also observes, collaboration, despite the challenges it poses, can open up new approaches to inquiry: “instead of establishing a single text, editors can present the whole layered history of composition and dissemination; instead of opening for the reader a single path through a thicket of text, the critic can provide her with a map and a machete. This is not an abdication of the responsibility to educate or illuminate: on the contrary, it engages the reader, the user, as a third kind of collaborator, a collaborator in the construction of meaning.”  With the interactivity of networked digital environments, Unsworth imagines the reader becoming an active co-creator of knowledge.  Through online collaboration, scholars can divide labor (whether in making a translation, developing software, or building a digital collection), exchange and refine ideas (via blogs, wikis, listservs, virtual worlds, etc.), engage multiple perspectives, and work together to solve complex problems.  Indeed, “[e]mpowering enhanced collaboration over distance and across disciplines” is central to the vision of cyberinfrastructure or e-research (Atkins).  Likewise, Web 2.0 focuses on sharing, community and collaboration.

Work in many areas of the digital humanities seems to both depend upon collaboration and aim to support it.  Out of the 116 abstracts for posters, presentations, and panels given at the Digital Humanities 2008 (DH2008) conference, 41 (35%) include a form of the word “collaboration,” whether they are describing collaborative technologies (“Online Collaborative Research with REKn and PReE”) or collaborative teams (“a collaborative group of librarians, scholars and technologists”).  Likewise, 67 out of 104 (64%) papers and posters presented at DH 2008 have more than one author.  (Both the Digital Humanities conference and LLC tend to focus on the computational side of the digital humanities, so I’d also like to see if the pattern of collaboration holds in what Tara McPherson calls the “multimodal humanities,” e.g. journals such as Vectors.  Given that works in Vectors typically are produced through collaborations between scholars and designers, I’d expect to see a somewhat similar pattern.)

I was having trouble articulating precisely how collaboration plays a role in humanities research until I began looking for concrete examples—and I found plenty.   As computer networks connect researchers to content, tools and each other, we are seeing humanities projects that facilitate people working together to produce, explore and disseminate knowledge.  I interpret the word “collaboration” broadly; it’s a squishy term with synonyms such as teamwork, cooperation, partnership, and working together, and it also calls to mind co-authorship, communication, community, citizen humanities, and social networks.  In Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky puts forward a handy hierarchy of collaboration: 1) sharing; 2) cooperation; 3) collaboration; 4) collectivism (Kelly).  In this post, I’ll list different types of computer-supported collaboration in the humanities, note antecedents in “traditional” scholarship, briefly describe example projects, and point to some supporting technologies.  This is an initial attempt to classify a wide range of activity; some of these categories overlap.

–FACILITATING COMMUNICATION AND KNOWLEDGE BUILDING–

ONLINE COMMUNITIES/ VIRTUAL ORGANIZATIONS

  • Historical antecedents: conferences, colloquia, letters
  • Supporting technologies: listservs, online forums, blogs, social networking platforms, virtual worlds, microblogging (e.g. Twitter), video conferencing
  • Key functions: fostering communication and collaboration across a distance
  • Examples:
    • Listervs: Perhaps the most well-known online community in the humanities is H-NET, which was founded in 1992  and thus predates Web 2.0 or even Web 1.0.  According to Mark Kornbluh, H-Net provides an “electronic version of an academic conference, a way for people to come together and to talk about their research and their teaching, to announce what was going on in the field, and to review and critique things that are going on in the field.”  Currently H-Net  supports over 100 humanities email lists and serves over 100,000 subscribers in more than 90 countries.  Although H-Net has been criticized for relying on an old technology, the listserv, and is facing economic difficulties, it remains valued for supporting information sharing and discussion.  For digital humanities folks, the Humanist list, launched in 1987, serves as “an international online seminar on humanities computing and the digital humanities” and has played a vital part in the intellectual life of the community.
    • Online forums: HASTAC, “a virtual network, a network of networks” that supports collaboration across disciplines and institutions, sponsors lively forums about technology and the humanities, often moderated by graduate students.  HASTAC also organizes conferences, administers a grant competition, and advocates for “new forms of collaboration across communities and disciplines fostered by creative uses of technology.” In my experience, online communities often break down the hierarchies separating graduate students from senior scholars and bring recognition to good ideas, no matter what the source.
    • Online communities: Since 1996, Romantic Circles (RC) has built an online community focused on Romanticism, not only fostering communication among researchers but also collaboratively developing content.  Romantic Circles includes a blog for sharing information about news and events of interest to the community; a searchable archive of electronic editions; collections of critical essays; chronologies, indices, bibliographies and other scholarly tools; reviews; pedagogical resources; and a MOO (gaming environment).  Over 30 people have served as editors, while over 300 people have contributed reviews and essays.  Alan Liu aptly summarizes RC’s significance: “Romantic Circles, which helped pioneer collaborative scholarship on the Web, has become the leading paradigm for what such scholarship could be. One can point variously to the excellence of its refereed editions of primary texts, its panoply of critical and pedagogical resources, its inventive Praxis series, its state-of-the-art use of technology or its stirring commitment (nearly unprecedented on the Web) to spanning the gap between high-school and research-level tiers of education. But ultimately, no one excellence is as important as the overall, holistic impact of the site. We witness here a broad community of scholars using the new media vigorously, inventively, and rigorously to inhabit a period of historical literature together.”In building a community that supports digital scholarship, NINES focuses on three main goals: providing peer review for digital scholarship in 19th century American and British studies (thus helping to legitimize and recognize emerging scholarly forms), helping scholars create digital scholarship by providing training and content, and developing software such as Collex and Juxta to support inquiry and collaboration.
    • Advanced videoconferencing: With budgets tight, time scarce, and concern about the environmental costs  of travel increasing, collaborators often need to meet without having to travel.  AccessGrid supports communication among multiple groups by providing high quality video and audio and enabling researchers to share data and scientific instruments seamlessly.  AccessGrid, which was developed by Argonne National Laboratory and uses open source software, employs large displays and multiple projectors to create an immersive environment.   In the arts and humanities, AccessGrid has been used to support “telematic” performances, the study of high resolution images, seminars, and classes.
CollabRoom by Modbob

CollabRoom by Modbob

COLLABORATORIES

  • Historical antecedents: laboratories, research centers,
  • Supporting technologies: grid technologies/ advanced networking, large displays, remote instrumentation, simulation software, collaboration platforms such as HubZero, databases, digital libraries
  • Key functions: fostering communication, collaboration, resource sharing, and research regardless of physical distance
  • Examples:

William Wulf coined the term collaboratory in 1989 to describe a “center without walls, in which the nation’s researchers can perform their research without regard to physical location, interacting with colleagues, accessing instrumentation, sharing data and computational resources, [and] accessing information in digital libraries.” Most of the collaboratories listed on the (now somewhat-out-of-date) Science of Collaboratories web site focus on the sciences.  For example, scientific collaboratories such as NanoHub, Space Physics and Astronomy Research Collaboratory (SPARC) and Biomedical Informatics Research Network (BIRN) have supported online data sharing, analysis, and communication.

What would a collaboratory in the humanities do? The term has been used in the humanities to refer to:

“Collaboratory” has thus taken on additional meanings, referring to “a new networked organizational form that also includes social processes; collaboration techniques; formal and informal communication; and agreement on norms, principles, values, and rules” (Cogburn, 2003, via Wikipedia).

“Virtual research environment” seems to be replacing “collaboratory” to refer to online collaborative spaces that provide access to tools and content (e.g. Early Modern Texts VRE, powered by Sakai). Through its funding program focused on Virtual Research Environments, JISC has sponsored the Virtual Research Environment for Archaeology, a VRE for the Study of Documents and Manuscripts, Collaborative Research Events on the Web, and myExperiments for sharing scientific workflows.

–SHARING AND AGGREGATING CONTENT—

DIGITAL MEMORY BANKS/ USER-CONTRIBUTED CONTENT

  • Historical antecedents: museums, archives, personal collections
  • Supporting technologies: Web publishing platforms (e.g. Omeka, Drupal), databases
  • Key functions: “collecting & exhibiting” content (to borrow from CHNM)
  • Examples:
    When the Valley of the Shadow project was launched in the 1990s, project team members went into communities in Pennsylvania and Virginia to digitize 19th century documents held by families in personal collections, thus building a virtual archive.  As scanners and digital cameras have become ubiquitous and user-contributed content sites such as Flickr and YouTube have taken off, people can contribute their own digital artifacts to online collections.  For example, The Hurricane Digital Memory Bank collects over 25,000 stories, images, and other multimedia files about Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  Using a simple interface, people can upload items and describe the title, keywords, geographic location, and contributor.  The archive thus becomes a dynamic, living repository of current history, a space where researchers and citizens come together—or, in the terminology of the Center for History and New Media (CHNM), a memory bank that “promote[s] popular participation in presenting and preserving the past.”  As the editors of Vectors write in their introduction to “Hurricane Digital Memory Bank: Preserving the Stories of Katrina, Rita, and Wilma,” “Their work troubles a number of binaries long reified by history scholars (and humanities scholars more generally), including one/many, closed/open, expert/amateur, scholarship/journalism, and research/pedagogy.”  CHNM also sponsors digital memory banks focused on Mozilla, September 11, and the Virginia Tech tragedy.  Likewise, the Great War Archive, sponsored by the University of Oxford, contains over 6,500 items about World War I contributed by the public.

CONTENT AGGREGATION AND INTEGRATION

  • Historical antecedents: museums, archives
  • Supporting technologies: databases, open standards
  • Key functions: making it easier to discove, share and use information
  • Examples:
    Too often digital resources reside in silos, as each library or archive puts up its own digital collection.  As a result, researchers must spend more time identifying, searching, and figuring out how to use relevant digital collections.  However, some projects are shifting away from a siloed approach and bringing together collaborators to build digital collections focused on a particular topic or to develop interoperable, federated digital collections.  For instance, the Alliance for American Quilts, MATRIX: Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online, and Michigan State University Museum have created the Quilt Index, which makes available images and descriptions of quilts provided by 14 contributors, including The Library of Congress American Folklife Center and the Illinois State Museum.  As Mark Kornbluh argues, interoperable content enables new kinds of inquiry: “In the natural sciences, large new datasets, powerful computers, and a rich array of computational tools are rapidly transforming knowledge generation. For the same to occur in the humanities, we need to understand the principle that ‘more is better.’ Part of what the computer revolution is doing is that it is letting us bring huge volumes of material under control. Cultural artifacts have always been held by separate institutions and separated by distance. Large–scale interoperable digital repositories, like the Quilt Index, open dramatically new possibilities to look at the totality of cultural content in ways never before possible.” Other examples of content aggregation and integration projects include the Walt Whitman Archive’s Finding Aids for Poetry Manuscripts and NINES.

DATA SHARING

  • Historical antecedents: informal exchange of data
  • Supporting technologies: databases (MySQL, etc), web services tools
  • Key functions: support research by enabling discovery and reuse of data sets
  • Example projects:
    By sharing data, researchers can enable others to build on their work and provide transparency.  As Christine Borgman writes, “If related data and documents can be linked together in a scholarly information infrastructure, creative new forms of data- and information-intensive, distributed, collaborative, multidisciplinary research and learning become possible.  Data are outputs of research, inputs to scholarly publications, and inputs to subsequent research and learning.  Thus they are the foundation of scholarship” (Borgman 115).  Of course, there are a number of problems bound up in data sharing—how to ensure participation, make data discoverable through reliable metadata, balance flexibility in accepting a range of formats and the need for standardization, preserve data for the long term, etc.  Several projects focused on humanities and social science data are beginning to confront at least some of these challenges:

    • Open Context “hopes to make archaeological and related datasets far more accessible and usable through common web-based tools.”  Embracing open access and collaboration, Open Context makes it easy for researchers to upload, search, tag and analyze archaeological datasets.
    • Through Open Street Map, people freely and openly share and use geographic data in a wiki-like fashion.  Contributors employ GPS devices to record details about places such as the names of roads, then upload this information to a collaborative database.  The data is used to create detailed maps that have no copyright restrictions (unlike most geographical data).
    • Through the Reading Experience Database researchers can contribute records of British readers engaging with texts.

–COLLABORATIVE ANNOTATION, TRANSCRIPTION, AND KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTION–

CROWDSOURCING TRANSCRIPTION

  • Historical antecedents: genealogical research(?)
  • Supporting technologies: wikis
  • Key functions: share the labor required for transcribing manuscripts
  • Examples:
    Much of the historical record is not yet accessible online because it exists as handwritten documents—letters, diaries, account books, legal documents, etc.  Although work is underway on Optical Character Recognition software for handwritten materials, making these variable documents searchable and easy to read usually still requires a person to manually transcribe the document.  Why not enable people to collaborate to make family documents and other manuscripts available through commons-based peer production? At THATCamp last year, I learned about Ben Brumley’s FromthePage software, which enables volunteers to transcribe handwritten documents through a web-based interface.  The right side of the interface shows a zoomable image of the page, while on the left volunteers enter the transcription through a wiki-like interface.  Likewise, the FamilySearch Indexing Project, sponsored by the LDS, recruits volunteers to transcribe family information from historical documents.   (See Jeanne Kramer-Smyth’s great account of the THATCamp session on crowdsourcing transcription and annotation.)  Not only can collaborative transcription be more efficient, but it can also reduce error.  Martha Nell Smith recounts how she, working solo at the Houghton, transcribed a line of Susan Dickinson’s poetry as “I’m waiting but the cow’s not back.’’  When her collaborators at the Dickinson Electronic Archives, Lara Vetter and Laura Lauth, later compared the transcriptions to digital images of Dickinson’s manuscripts, they discovered that the line actually says “‘I’m waiting but she comes not back.”  As Smith suggests, “Had we not been working in concert with one another, and had we not had the high quality reproductions of Susan Dickinson’s manuscripts to revisit and thereby perpetually reevaluate our keys to her alphabet, my misreading might have been congealed in the technology of a critical print translation and what is very probably a poetic homage to Emily Dickinson would have lain lost in the annals of literary history”(Smith 849).

    Efforts to crowdsource transcription seem similar to the distributed proofreading that powers Project Gutenberg, which has enlisted volunteers to proofread over 15,000 books since 2000.  Likewise, Project Madurai is using distributed proofreading to build a digital library of Tamil texts.

COLLABORATIVE TRANSLATION

  • Historical antecedents: translation teams, e.g. Pevear and Volokhonsky
  • Supporting technologies: wikis, blogs, machine translation supplemented by human intervention
  • Examples:
    Rather than requiring an individual to undertake the time-intensive work of translating a complex classical text solo, the Suda Online (SOL)  brings together classicists to collaborate in translating into English the Suda, a tenth century encyclopedia of ancient learning written by a committee of Byzantine scholars (and thus itself a collaboration).  In addition to providing translations, SOL also offers commentaries and references, so it serves as a sort of encyclopedic predecessor to Wikipedia.  As Anne Mahoney reports in a recent article from Digital Humanities Quarterly, an email exchange in 1998 sparked the Suda Online; one scholar wondered whether there was an English translation of the Suda (there wasn’t) and others recognized that a translation could be produced through web-based collaboration.  Student programmers at the University of Kentucky quickly developed the technological infrastructure for SOL (a wiki might have been used today, but the custom application has apparently served its purpose well).  Now a self-organizing team of 61 editors and 95 translators from 12 countries has already translated over 21,000 entries, about 2/3 of the total.  Translators make the initial translations, which are then reviewed and augmented by editors (typically classics faculty) and given a quality rating of “draft,” “low,” or “high.”   All who worked on the translation are credited through a sort of open peer review process.  Whereas collaborative projects such as Wikipedia are open to anyone, SOL translators must register with the project.  Mahoney suggests that the collaboration has succeeded in part because it was focused and bounded, so that collaborators could feel the satisfaction of working toward a common goal and meeting milestones, such as 100 entries translated.  According to Mahoney, SOL has made this important text more accessible by offering an English version, making it searchable, and providing commentaries and references.  Moreover, “[a]s a collaboration SOL demonstrates the feasibility of open peer review and the value of incremental progress.” Other collaborative translation projects include The Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert, Traduwiki, which aims to “eliminate the last barrier of the Internet, the language’; the WorldWide lexicon project; and Babels.

COLLABORATIVE EDITING

  • Historical antecedents: creating critical editions
  • Supporting technologies: grid computing, XML editors, text analysis tools, annotation tools
  • Example Projects:

As Peter Robinson observed at this year’s MLA, the traditional model for creating a critical edition centralizes authority in an editor, who oversees work by graduate assistants and others.  However, the Internet enables distributed, de-centralized editing.  To create “community-made editions,” a library would digitize texts and produce high quality images, researchers would transcribe those images, others would collate the transcriptions, others would analyze the collations and add commentaries, and so forth.

Explaining the need for collaborative approaches to textual editing, Marc Wilhelm Kiister, Christoph Ludwig and Andreas Aschenbrenner of TextGrid describe how 3 different editors attempted to create a critical edition of the massive “so-called pseudo-capitulars supposedly written by a Benedictus Levita,” dying before they could complete their work.  Now a team of scholars is collaborating to create the edition, increasing their chances of completion by sharing the labor.  The TextGrid project is building a virtual workbench for collaborative editing, annotation, analysis and publication of texts.  Leveraging the grid infrastructure, TextGrid provides a platform for “software agents with well-defined interfaces that can be harnessed together through a user defined workflow to mine or analyze existing textual data or to structure new data both manually and automatically.” TextGrid recently released a beta version of its client application that includes an XML editor, search tool, dictionary search tool, metadata annotator, and workflow modules. As Kiister, Ludwig and Aschenbreener point out, enabling collaboration requires not only developing a technical platform that supports real-time collaboration and automation of routine tasks, but also facilitating a cultural shift toward collaboration among philologists, linguists, historians, librarians, and technical experts.

SOCIAL BIBLIOGRAPHIES, COLLABORATIVE FILTERING, AND ANNOTATION

  • Historical antecedents: shared references, bibliographies
  • Key functions: share citations, notes, and scholarly resources; build collective knolwedge
  • Supporting technologies: social bookmarking, bibliographic tools
  • Projects:
    With the release of Zotero 2.0, Zotero is taking a huge step toward the vision articulated by Dan Cohen of providing access to “the combined wisdom of hundreds of thousands of scholars” (Cohen).  Researchers can set up groups to share collections with a class and/or collaborators on a research project.   I’ve already used Zotero groups to support my research and to collaborate with others; I discovered several useful citations in the collaboration folder for the digital history group, and with Sterling Fluharty I’ve set up a group to study collaboration in the digital humanities (feel free to join).  Ultimately Zotero will provide Amazon-like recommendation services to help scholars identify relevant resources.  As Stan Katz wrote in hailing Zotero’s collaboration with the Internet Archive to create a “Zotero commons” for sharing research documents, “For secretive individualists, which is to say old-fashioned humanists, this will sound like an invasion of privacy and an invitation to plagiarism. But to scholars who value accessibility, collaboration, and the early exchange of information and insight -– the future is available. And free on the Internet.”

    Similarly, the eComma project suggests that collaborative annotation can facilitate collaborative interpretation, as readers catalog poetic devices (personification, enjambment, etc.) and offer their own interpretations of literary works.  You can see eComma at work in the Collaborative Rubáiyát, which enables users to compare different versions of the text, annotate the text, tag it, and access sections through a tag cloud.   Likewise, Philospace will allow scholars to describe philosophical resources, filter them, find resources tagged by others, and submit resulting research for peer review. Other projects and technologies supporting collaborative annotation include Flickr CommonsAus-e-Lit: Collaborative Integration and Annotation Services for Australian Literature Communities, NINES’ Collex, and STEVE.

COLLABORATIVE WRITING

  • Historical antecedents: Encyclopedias
  • Supporting technologies: Wikis
  • Key functions: sharing knowledge, synthesizing multiple perspectives
  • Examples:
    With the rise of Wikipedia, academics have been debating whether collaborative writing spaces such as wikis undermine authority, expertise, and trustworthiness.  In “Literary Sleuths Online,” Ralph Schroeder and Matthijs Den Besten examine the Pynchon Wiki, a collaborative space where Pynchon enthusiasts annotate and discuss his works.  Schroeder and Den Besten compare the wiki’s section on Pynchon’s Against the Day with a print equivalent, Weisenburger’s “A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion.”  While the annotations in Weisenburger’s book are more concise and consistent, the wiki is more comprehensive, more accurate (because many people are checking the information), and more speedily produced (it only took 3 months for the wiki to cover every page of Pynchon’s novel).   Moreover, the book is fixed, while the wiki is open-ended and expansive. Schroeder and Den Besten suggest that competition, community and curiosity drive participation, since contributors raced to add annotations as they made their way through the novel and “sleuthed” together.

GAMING: “Collaborative Play”/ Games as Research

  • Historical antecedents: role playing games, board games, etc.
  • Key functions: problem solving, team work, knowledge sharing
  • Supporting technologies: gaming engines, wikis, networks
  • Example Projects:
    Perhaps some of the most intense collaboration comes in massively multiplayer online games, as teams of players consult each other for assistance navigating virtual worlds, team up to defeat monsters, join guilds to collaborate on quests, and share their knowledge through wikis such as the WOWWiki, which has almost 74,000 articles.  Focusing on World of Warcraft, Nardi and Harris explore collaborative play as a form of learning.  They also point to potential applications of gaming in research communities: “Mixed collaboration spaces, whether MMOGs or another format, may be useful in domains such as interdisciplinary scientific work where a key challenge is finding the right collaborators.”

    Sometimes those collaborators can be people without specialized training.  Recently Wired featured a fascinating article about FoldIt, a game to come up with different models of proteins that is attracting devoted teams of participants (Bohannon).  The game was devised by the University of Washington Departments of Computer Science & Engineering and Biochemistry to crowdsource solutions to Community-Wide Experiment on the Critical Assessment of Techniques for Protein Structure Prediction (CASP), a scientific contest to predict protein structures.   Previously biochemist David Baker had used Rosetta@home to harness the spare computing cycles of 86,000 PCs that had been volunteered to help determine the shapes of proteins, but he was convinced that human intelligence as well as computing power needed to be tapped to solve spatial puzzles.  Thus he and his colleagues developed a game in which players fold proteins into their optimal shapes, a sort of “global online molecular speed origami.” Over 100,000 people have downloaded the game, and a 13 year-old is one of the game’s best players. Using the game’s chat function, players formed teams, “and collective efforts proved far more successful than any solo folder.”  At the CASP competition, 7 of the 15 solutions contributed through FoldIt worked, and one finished in first place, so “[a] band of gamer nonscientists had beaten the best biochemists.”

    How might gaming be used to motivate and support humanities research?  As we see in the example of FoldIt, games provide motivation and a structure for collaboration; teamwork enables puzzles to be solved more rapidly.  I could imagine, for example, a game in which players would transcribe pieces of a diary to unravel the mystery it recounts, describe the features of a series of images (similar to Google’s Image Labeler game), or offer up their own interpretations of abstruse philosophical or literary passages.  In “Games of Inquiry for Collaborative Concept Structuring,” Mary A. Keeler and Heather D. Pfeiffer envision a “Manuscript Reconstruction Game (MRG)” where Peirce scholars would collaborate to figure out where a manuscript page belongs. “The scholars rely on the mechanism of the game, as a logical editor or ‘logical lens,’ to help them focus on and clarify the complexities of inference and conceptual content in their collaborative view of the manuscript evidence” (407).  There are already some compelling models for humanities game play.  Dan Cohen recently used Twitter to crowdsource solving an historical puzzle. Ian Bogost and collaborators are investigating the intersections between journalism and gaming.  Jerome McGann describes Ivanhoe as an  “online playspace… for organizing collaborative interpretive investigations of traditional humanities materials of any kind,” as two or more players come together to re-imagine and transform a literary work (McGann).

PUBLISHING

  • Historical antecedents: exchange of drafts, letters, critical dialogs in journals
  • Supporting technologies and protocols: CommentPress, blogs, wikis, Creative Commons licenses, etc.
  • Projects:
    Bob Stein defines the book as “a place where readers (and sometimes authors) congregate.” Recent projects enable readers to participate in all phases of the publishing process, from peer-to-peer review to remixing a work to produce something new.  For instance, LiquidPub aims to transform the dissemination and evaluation of scientific knowledge by enabling “Liquid Publication that can take multiple forms, that evolves continuously, and is enriched by multiple sources.”  Using CommentPress, Noah Wardrip-Fruin  experimented with peer-to-peer review of his new book Expressive Processing alongside traditional peer review, posting a section of the book each week day to the Grand Text Auto blog.  Although it was difficult for many reviewers to get a sense of the book’s overall arguments when they were reading only fragments, Wardrip-Fruin found many benefits to this open approach to peer review: he could engage in conversation with his reviewers and determine how to act on their comments, and he received detailed comments from both academics and non-academics with expertise in the topics being discussed, such as game designers.  Similarly, O’Reilly recently developed the Open Publishing Feedback System to gather comments from the community.  Its first experiment, Programming Scala, yielded over 7000 comments from nearly 750 people. New publishing companies such as WeBook and Vook are exploring collaborative authorship and multimedia.

SOCIAL LEARNING

  • Historical antecedents: Students as research assistants?
  • Supporting technologies: blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, social bibliographies
  • Motto: “We participate, therefore we are.” (via John Seely Brown)
  • Example:
    As John Seely Brown explains, “social learning is based on the premise that our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions, especially with others, around problems or actions.”  Social learning involves “learning to be” an expert through apprenticeship, as well as learning the content and language of a domain.  Brown points to open source communities as exemplifying social learning.  I would guess that many, if not most, collaborative digital humanities projects have depended on contributions from undergraduate and graduate students, whether they digitized materials, did programming, authored metadata, contributed to the project wiki, designed the web site, or even managed the project.

    Why not create a network of research projects, so that students studying a similar topic could jointly contribute to a common resource?  Such is the vision of “Looking for Whitman: The Poetry of Place in the Life and Work of Walt Whitman,” led by Matthew Gold.   Working together to build a common web site on Whitman, students will document their research using Web 2.0 technologies such as CommentPress, BuddyPress (Word Press + social networking), blogs, wikis, YouTube, Flickr, Google Maps, etc.m  Students at City Tech, CUNY’s New York City College of Technology and New York University will focus on Whitman in New York;  those at Rutgers University at Camden will look at Whitman as “sage of Camden”; and those at the University of Mary Washington will examine Whitman and the Civil War.   Similarly, Michael Wesch, the 2008 CASE/Carnegie U.S. Professor of the Year for Doctoral and Research Universities, asks his students to become “co-creators” of knowledge, whether in simulating world history and cultures, creating an ethnography of YouTube, or examining anonymity and new media.

While collaboration in the humanities is certainly not new, these projects suggest how researchers (both professional and amateur) can work together regardless of physical location to share ideas and citations, produce translations or transcriptions, and create common scholarly resources.  Long as this list is, I know I’m omitting many other relevant projects (some of which I’ve bookmarked) and overlooking (for now) the challenges that collaborative scholarship faces.  I’ll be working with several collaborators to explore these issues, but I of course welcome comments….

Works Cited

Atkins, Dan. Report of the National Science Foundation Blue-Ribbon Advisory Panel on Cyberinfrastructure. NSF. January 2003. <http://www.nsf.gov/od/oci/reports/toc.jsp>.
Bohannon, John. “Gamers Unravel the Secret Life of Protein.” Wired 20 Apr 2009. 26 May 2009 <http://www.wired.com/medtech/genetics/magazine/17-05/ff_protein?currentPage=all>.
Borgman, Christine L. Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure, and the Internet. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2007.
Brockman, William et al. Scholarly Work in the Humanities and the Evolving Information Environment. CLIR/DLF, 2001. 24 Jul 2007 <http://www.clir.org/PUBS/reports/pub104/pub104.pdf>.
Cohen, Daniel J. “Zotero: Social and Semantic Computing for Historical Scholarship.” Perspectives (2007). 27 May 2009 <http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2007/0705/0705tec2.cfm>.
Cronin, Blaise, Debora Shaw, and Kathryn La Barre. “A cast of thousands: Coauthorship and subauthorship collaboration in the 20th century as manifested in the scholarly journal literature of psychology and philosophy.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 54.9 (2003): 855-871.
Cronin, Blaise. The hand of science. Scarecrow Press, 2005.
Kelly, Kevin. “The New Socialism: Global Collectivist Society Is Coming Online.” Wired 22 May 2009. 26 May 2009 <http://www.wired.com/culture/culturereviews/magazine/17-06/nep_newsocialism?currentPage=all>.
Kornbluh, Mark. “From Digital Repositorities to Information Habitats: H-Net, the Quilt Index, Cyber Infrastruture, and Digital Humanities.” First Monday 13.8: August 4, 2008. 
Kuster, M.W., C. Ludwig, and A. Aschenbrenner. “TextGrid as a Digital Ecosystem.” Digital EcoSystems and Technologies Conference, 2007. DEST ’07. Inaugural IEEE-IES. 2007. 506-511.
Mahoney, Anne. “Tachypaedia Byzantina: The Suda On Line as Collaborative Encyclopedia.”  Digital Humanities Quarterly. 3.1 (2009). 22 Mar 2009 <http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/003/1/000025.html>.
McGann, Jerome J. “Culture and Technology: The Way We Live Now, What Is to Be Done?.” New Literary History 36.1 (2005): 71-82.
Nardi, Bonnie, and Justin Harris. “Strangers and friends: collaborative play in world of warcraft.” Proceedings of the 2006 20th anniversary conference on Computer supported cooperative work. Banff, Alberta, Canada: ACM, 2006. 149-158. 18 May 2009 <http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1180875.1180898>.
O’Donnell, Daniel Paul. “Disciplinary Impact and Technological Obsolescence in Digital Medieval Studies.” A Companion To Digital Humanities. 2 May 2009 <http://www.digitalhumanities.org/companion/view?docId=blackwell/9781405148641/9781405148641.xml&chunk.id=ss1-4-2&toc.id=0&brand=9781405148641_brand>.
Schroeder, Ralph, and Matthijs Den Besten. “Literary Sleuths On-line: e-Research collaboration on the Pynchon Wiki.” Information, Communication & Society 11.2 (2008): 167-187.
Smith, Martha Nell. “Computing: What Has American Literary Study To Do with It.” American Literature 74.4 (2002): 833-857.
Unsworth, John M. “Creating Digital Resources: the Work of Many Hands.” 14 Sep 1997. 10 Mar 2009 <http://www3.isrl.uiuc.edu/%7Eunsworth/drh97.html>.

Revisions: Fixed From the Page link, 6/1/09; Tanya ] Tara, 6/2/09; fixed typos (6/14/09)

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15 responses to “Examples of Collaborative Digital Humanities Projects

  1. nice post, keep writing thanks for sharing

  2. Pingback: Examples of Collaborative Digital Humanities Projects « Digital Scholarship in the Humanities | Urban Humanist

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  5. Hi Lisa,

    Just a short note that I really appreciated this (and linked to it with my blog), but did want to see something here about how collaboration could help one’s teaching in the digital humanities.

    In other words, the collaborative models for inquiry you propose here, which offer collective models of information exchange, group authorship, etc, are equally helpful for the inquiry conducted in a classroom, and have the potential to make one’s teaching much more effective. (you already know this is an interest of mine, but I still think it’s worth stressing)

    Great work here, please keep it up.

    Best,

    DM

    • Great point, Dave. I hope to explore collaborative approaches to teaching further in a future blog post. I think your course on 1771 provides a great example of how collaborative approaches expose students to a wider range of expertise and make learning more engaged, authentic and fun. As for collaborative approaches to teaching digital humanities, I know that Matt Jockers at Stanford works with his DH students to produce a collaborative research project (which was presented at this year’s Digital Humanities conference), and I’m sure there are many more examples. This is well worth looking into further. Thanks for the suggestion!

  6. Thank heavens this post exists — so, so thorough as usual, Lisa. I’m putting together a module on collaboration for the course I’m developing, and I was stymied as to where to turn for readings on the subject. Odd, since, as you mention, it’s a key term at conferences these days.

    And that’s a great point about collaborative teaching. I only wish it were structurally easier.

  7. Thanks, Amanda! I hope it’s useful. I’ve been compiling a big (and overwhelming) bibliography of, um, stuff about collaboration, including sociological studies of collaborative work in science, examples of collaborative digital humanities projects, books and articles about peer-to-peer collaboration, and whatever else strikes me as interesting. It’s at http://www.zotero.org/lisaspiro/items/collection/143164 If you don’t feel like wading through 600+ bibliography entries (I’m such an information packrat), I’d be happy to suggest particular readings that might be relevant to your class…

    Best of luck with the course–it sounds fabulous.

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