Collaborative Culture

Most digital scholarship units and digital humanities centers focus on building projects. While project work forms the bulk of our visible activity, the primary focus of Greenhouse Studios is building a new culture of collaboration. Reforming scholarly workflows for the digital age is less dependent on new products than on new attitudes toward collaboration, especially among humanities faculty who have been trained and incentivized to work alone. Greenhouse Studios’ primary “product” is a community of interdisciplinary collaborators comprised of faculty, librarians, editors, designers, developers, students, and others from across academe.

Floorplan for future Greenhouse Studios space

Breaking the Chain and Collapsing Hierarchies

In September 2017, Greenhouse Studios moved into a 3,500 sq. ft. custom built space on the first floor of UConn's main Homer Babbidge Library. Designed to maximize collaboration, the new space features dedicated "studios" for each project, a flexible, reconfigurable main collaboration space, and dedicated workstations for Greenhouse Studios' staff and students.

Given the humanities’ longstanding configuration around the production of physical texts, it is no surprise that despite changing communication technologies, many of the basic workflows and hierarchies of scholarly communications have remained intact. Contact among different actors in the scholarly communications workflow occurs mainly at points handoff when a book or article manuscript passes from author to editor to reviewer to librarian and finally to reader. While the introduction of digital tools across this “information chain” has altered activities from research and writing on through to preservation and reading, it has not reconfigured the larger workflow in which the various actors remain interlinked but largely independent save for key transactional, or handoff, moments.

This transactional model is, of course, manifest in, entwined with, and exacerbated by frictions within academic labor hierarchies. The emphasis on transactional relationships gives visibility to some forms of academic labor while misrecognizing or discounting other kinds of academic labor. Supposed “doing” activities (e.g., programming, design, database development, metadata management, etc.) are often cast as separate from and subordinate to “thinking” activities (e.g., research, analysis, synthesis, writing). Today’s digital humanities community recognizes that "hacking" involves "yacking" and vice-versa, but this consensus has not filtered out into academia more broadly. Even within digital humanities a practical workflow that fully recognizes this mutuality is lacking. Uneven power relationships between faculty and librarians, between tenure-track faculty and non-tenure track faculty, between credentialed librarians and technical library staff, between editors and authors, and between faculty and students remain.

Collaboration, From the Very Start

Greenhouse Studios is dedicated to addressing these persistent and intertwined problems of workflow and hierarchy with a research mission that equally values all stakeholders involved in producing scholarship; that flattens traditional academic hierarchies; and that systematizes the collaborative production of multimodal scholarship by implementing an inquiry-driven, collaboration-first model of scholarly production that places continuous, close, equitable communication between all kinds of scholarly communications labor at the heart of its mission.

All too often, collaborators are brought on board to implement scholarly projects, not imagine them. Greenhouse Studios aims to change this by pushing collaboration on traditional as well as digital scholarship upstream in the research and publication workflow, to the very headwaters of inquiry, imagination, and project conception. This “collaboration first” approach will bring scholars together with designers, developers, editors, and librarians to start new projects, not merely to finish them.