What Does Collaboration Mean to You?

Recently, Jane Goodall and her latest (yet to be released) book, Seeds of Hope, have become the subject of significant scandal. It all began when The Washington Post reported in a review that the book “contains at least a dozen passages borrowed without attribution, or footnotes, from a variety of Web sites” including Wikipedia.”[i] And, just to add further complication to the situation, Goodall had collaborated with writer, Gail Hudson, to write and research Seeds of Hope. Given this partnership, there is even less information regarding the extent of either author’s recognition of the plagiarism or which of them may hold the bulk of the responsibility regarding the thefts. This case serves as a prime example of how collaboration and digital resources may serve as both a blessing and a curse to academics and researchers, creating more opportunities to fumble even as it creates more opportunities to collaborate and expand research.

In non-digital scholarship, the art of ‘collaboration’ has often been viewed as a practice of little practicality and one that is rarely conducted equitably whereas, in the case of digital humanities scholarship, it is often a necessity. Of course, as digital humanist Willard McCarty points out, the very term “collaboration” “is a problematic, and should be contested, term” as it is often misused and misunderstood even amongst digital humanists.[ii] Collaboration, he explains, “must occur on level ground” and is necessary in order to help digital and non-digital humanists alike reinvigorate their appreciation for “the social dimension of knowledge.”[iii] In other words, collaboration is work that is “done together…in every sense.”[iv] But, as even McCarty acknowledges, true collaboration is a rarity. And it is this lack of equality combined with collaboration’s inherent complications of where to award credit and blame that has often put it at odds with mainstream understandings of the authorship and ownership of creative and scholarly works.
How do you define collaboration? Have you ever collaborated with anyone before on a writing or research project? How’d it go?
(Don’t forget — if you’d like your comments included in the final version of this article as well as earn a contributing author credit, please include three asterisks *** at the beginning of end of your comments. Thanks!)

[i] Steven Levingston, “Jane Goodall’s ‘Seeds of Hope’ book contains borrowed passages without attribution,” The Washington Post, 19 Mar. 2013, Web.


[ii] Willard McCarty, “Collaborative Research in the Digital Humanities,” in McCarty and Marilyn Deegan’s Collaborative Research in the Digital Humanities, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2012. 2.

[iii] Ibid. 3, 4.

[iv] Ibid. 4.


4 thoughts on “What Does Collaboration Mean to You?”

  1. ***I’m currently working on a “Social Work on the Silk Road” project that will result in a non-fiction coffee table book, documentary film and “teaching the teacher” texts. One of my collaborators is my sister. We joke that we have the “collaboration gene” because our process on this and previous projects is open, flowing, balanced and at times downright playful. We generally trade material back and forth in round-robin fashion after assigning someone to start on a particular chapter or topic. That’s initially done based on who has the most expertise in a particular area. As we trade the documents back and forth we use track changes in Word to show edits and include as many comment boxes as needed to determine how to better focus or “fix” certain areas.We also designate a project leader from the very beginning; while we find freedom and creativity in governing by consensus, a hierarchy also serves an important role within the scope of any project. We also schedule regular Skype meetings with a specific agenda. I take minutes to keep us on track and provide a reference point for other collaborators working on different aspects of the project. The minutes are distributed the day after the meeting and any clarifications or corrections are added while still fresh in the recipients’ memories.

    As a side note, I am horrified that the esteemed Jane Goodall would use Wikipedia as a source. Any open site that accepts contributions from any and all comers cannot be considered a credible reference. Unattributed or undocumented information has no place in scholarly works — or any sort of non-fiction. I’ll admit I read Wikipedia, mostly because it pops up so reliably when I’m searching for a bit of data. But I always double-check any info I find there.

    1. Wow, Cyndi! It sounds like you and your sister have the art of collaboration down! I really like the idea of making sure that, even though it is a collaboration, there is one person who is ultimately the “project leader” in order to keep everything on track. I think this is a part of how leading authors on books (such as Jane Goodall’s recent book) are supposed to function. And I am also a big proponent of using Skype to meet with people — no longer shall rain, snow, or even an ocean stand between us and potential collaborators!

      And I second your feelings here on the use of Wikipedia as a research tool. I find that it can be useful as a first-stop, jumping off point to actual research in many cases, but it definitely shouldn’t be anyone’s one-and-only resource.

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