collaborations

[image courtesy of Let’s be friends, an interspecies friendship blog with implausibly cute photos]

This has been a productive summer, largely because I’ve been able to get a number of projects going with the help of collaborators.  Most of these are related in one way or another to pedagogy, and most involve the work I’m doing on-campus to improve undergraduate teaching and research at UH.  For some reason, the pedagogy stuff always feels easier to share.  I also think that focusing on the work aspect of it and students’ performance helps disable some of the anxieties I have about research and writing.

First of all, I’m co-authoring an article on my 1771 course with the special collections librarian who worked with me last spring, Ms. Julie Grob.  That piece will be done before the end of summer and submitted to a library journal.  Working with librarians over the past year has really impressed me with their collaborative skills,  because librarians always seem able to work together much more productively than I’ve found with faculty members.

I’m also fortunate enough to have an undergraduate research assistant, SG, who has done a terrific job vacuuming up primary and secondary sources for the 1771 book while getting on with her own research in the 18th century.  SG will be back in classes soon to finish up her final year, but in the meantime I’ll have a nice backlog of materials to sort through for the rest of this school year.  I’ve never directed undergraduate research like this before, but it seems much less fraught than directing graduate work, because it really is focused on the intellectual task at hand, rather than that plus all the professionalization issues that come with grad-level instruction.

Finally, on a more reflective note, I’ve been thinking a great deal about this talk on collaboration and the web by Mr. Clay Shirky.  Shirky discusses the institutional obstacles to collaboration in formal corporate structures (read: academic departments), which contrast with the informal collaborative structures of the web.  (Much of this talk seems to be a rehearsal for his exposition of these themes in his recent book/blog/etc. Here Comes Everybody)  At the same time, this somewhat churlish review by Felix Stalder hammers at some of the self-imposed limitations of Shirky’s approach to the web and its characteristic forms of organization.

While reading Stalder, however, I thought that it would be interesting to revisit contemporary accounts of the European Enlightenment, to see if we could similarly recognize the tension between the social interests of the Enlightenment’s “users,” and the commercial interests of its “proprietors.”  And perhaps one of the key legacies of the commercial Enlightenment lay not in its “ideas,” but in the social, political, and aesthetic organizations used to communicate them all over the world?  Nonetheless, what is more characteristic of Enlightenment thought than its interest in collaboration, and the collective pursuit of knowledge?

DM

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5 responses to “collaborations

  1. Your illustrative-image-fu is impressive, Dave. I found that same photo recently and used it to calm myself after a hard day of writing.

    Nonetheless, what is more characteristic of Enlightenment thought than its interest in collaboration, and the collective pursuit of knowledge?

    While I agree with this, I think one can’t discount that another product of Enlightenment is the rise of the figure of the individual author, which is certainly to blame for many of the obstacles to collaboration we face, especially in an academic environment that celebrates its individuals and seems to have no way to reward collaboration, especially if it is across departments or, God forbid, across institutions. Good minds are at work on this problem, I know, and it’s on the table for discussion at MLA. I’ve seen a huge increase in collaborative oral papers, especially due to the rise of statistical analysis in literary studies, but it doesn’t solve the monograph crisis.

  2. Dave Mazella

    Yeah, well, this is the yin-yang of literary studies: individual authors and their social contexts, and never the twain shall meet. I agree with you that collaboration is hard, and weirdly penalized, considering how much it benefits the institutions in which it takes place.

    But for me this stems from the administrative obsession with quantification and productivity in assessing faculty “output.” If they rewarded it, more people would do it, because it actually works.

    Ever try team-teaching a course? Won’t happen except on an overload, or if you’re such an academic star you wouldn’t dream of actually grading the papers. But there are a lot of ways to do this very effectively, as long as you can get the clearance from Up Above.

    Glad you enjoyed the pictures, though. They are absurdly cute, aren’t they?

    DM

  3. No, I haven’t team-taught, but I’ve heard from friends that it was deeply rewarding for them. This fall, it’s possible I may have a TA for the first time, and I’m looking forward to it, but I admit that a part of me is a little nervous because I’m such a control-freak about my classes.

  4. Sounds like this particular tag team is just asking for a Batrachyomyomachia!

  5. Dave Mazella

    Good catch, Greg. I was thinking of that the whole time. DM