Voice, Collaboration, Archaeological Publication…and Google Docs

I love publishing collaboratively. It shows the collective nature of knowledge construction in archaeology and it’s one of the ways that I can use my (relatively limited) power to push new ideas out in the world and to give other scholars a boost. I haven’t actually published “up” (with senior scholars) as much as is normally expected, though I have been included in a couple of publications for which I’m very grateful. Rather I’ve published articles with staff members, undergraduates, Master’s students (not my own), PhD students (also not my own), commercial archaeologists, fellow grad students in grad school, etc etc etc. (And, perhaps inadvisedly, my husband. I should burn a sage-filled manuscript for Sally Binford.) When I’ve solicited contributions for edited issues or conferences I try to contact a broad range of people to add their perspectives to the conversation.

I’m not necessarily trying to get kudos (I find this short piece on performing virtue and “rigid radicalism” extremely compelling), but it’s important to foreground participation and representation when “manels” and all-male journal editor boards and such are still happening. Like any good white liberal radical woman, I’ve got a good balance of (self-identified) male and female co-authors and, through the virtue of the projects that I’ve worked on, a few POC and “indigenous” scholars as well. (indigenous in quotations because I’m unsure they’d label themselves as such) These collaborations have never been out of tokenism but have been the result of compelling ideas formed out of collaborative work. Anyway, I’m being so reflexive that my palms are sweating. You can probably tell by the amount of parentheticals that it’s an uncomfortable subject to try to pick apart.

This is all to foreground something that has been nagging at me as I’m working on the edits for a chapter in an edited volume. It was collaboratively written by four people in very different career stages. There’s an undergraduate, a Master’s student, me (then a postdoc) and a Professor (sadly we never walked into a bar together as 2/4 are non-drinking Muslims). There are relatively large chunks that were contributed from the Master’s student and undergraduate, filler + theory from me, and some really gutsy, introspective stuff from the Prof. Interestingly, if you ranked us in academic power, then it would pretty much go as you expect. However if you ranked us in relative power in the socio-economic context in which we work, it might go something more like (in descending order of power): undergraduate, Professor, Master’s student and me (doh). With fairly wide gaps between a couple of these positions. I’m first author though. These kinds of interpersonal relationships and power differentials are so telling and important, and yet not visible to our eventual readership.

So we’ve put this Google doc together. The cool thing about the juggernaut of corporate evil and yet convenience that is the google academic ecosystem is that it is very easy to work collaboratively AND it is easy to unpick the relative authorship of a document by going through the version history (forget github, most academics begrudge you asking them to write in something other than Word). If journals published the version history alongside the final article you could see the 1) intellectual trajectory of the article 2) the impact of the peer reviewers and editors 3) the individual contributions of the authors to the writing. And cursing, probably. A whole new world of academic transparency.

I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve been going through the editorial comments on the chapter. Some of these comments have dealt with shifting spelling conventions (US vs UK), fine, but others have dealt with the use of the active voice, “we,” which I’d like to resist but it’s the style of the rest of the volume and the (non-white, non-western, though they’d probably not describe themselves in the negative–writing about identity politics while keeping identity anonymous is near impossible, argh) editors don’t necessarily subscribe to my particular brand of stroppy (white, western) feminism as performed through writing (strong; like a man). Other comments have more explicitly asked us to write with a consistent voice. As lead author, I guess that is my voice. Without the “we” or me. So I go through and subtly change or obliterate all that does not sound like me. So much for heteroglossia.

Rosemary Joyce co-authored a brilliant book, Languages of Archaeology that brilliantly delves into the creation of archaeological writing in a much more rigorous and poetic fashion than my mangy and fraught blog post. Joyce has pointed to the possibilities of hypertext on several occasions, and Jeremy Huggett encourages a further investigation of the form. It’s compelling to imagine ways to reveal the craft and co-authorship of individual research articles, but I think I’m kidding myself if I thought anyone would actually go through and unpick them–people hardly read academic articles such as they are. Though perhaps the influence of collaborative writing through transparent(ish) version systems would be more upon the writers than the readers. Authorship and the gradual transformation of the text is very visible and gives us a chance to rethink academic power and responsibility. Maybe.

Aaannnnd that’s 850 words on meta-writing/procrastination. Back to the chapter.


Author: colleenmorgan

Dr. Colleen Morgan (ORCID 0000-0001-6907-5535) is the Lecturer in Digital Archaeology and Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. She conducts research on digital media and archaeology, with a special focus on embodiment, avatars, genetics and bioarchaeology. She is interested in building archaeological narratives with emerging technology, including photography, video, mobile and locative devices. Through archaeological making she explores past lifeways and our current understanding of heritage, especially regarding issues of authority, authenticity, and identity.

2 thoughts on “Voice, Collaboration, Archaeological Publication…and Google Docs”

  1. Very perceptive and extremely penetrating insights Colleen. I think the archaeology/ evolution of a multi-authotrd article, book or journal issue is a fantastic (+if potentially explosive) idea.

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