The Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory Project: Scaling Up Collaboration Online

Susan Brown, Professor
College of Arts
University of Guelph

Words move. They move us to understand Canada’s tradition and diversity. They move our perceptions and our subjectivities. They move roughly 160,000 majors yearly through humanities programs of Canadian universities. They move $3.3 billion yearly through our publishing industry. They move people halfway around the world to visit Anne of Green Gables’ farmhouse on Prince Edward Island. Words move differently now, through semi-conductors, across screens, at lightning speed, and in vast quantities. Scholars have studied how words make and move us for centuries, but the digital turn demands new tools and new tool environments.

This is the raison d’être for the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory/Le Collaboratoire scientifique des écrits du Canada (www.cwrc.ca), an ambitious infrastructure project that is developing a virtual research environment to enable unprecedented avenues for studying the words that most move people in and about Canada. At this critical juncture when Canada’s literary heritage is moving online, management of information about Canadian cultural history still relies largely on tools derived from print models, which cannot accommodate the explosion of online materials. The traditional model of solitary scholars working on small groups of texts is increasingly complemented by large-scale cross-disciplinary collaborative endeavours. The Collaboratory is funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation to serve both types of work. It will enable individual scholars to pool their research resources with others in mutually beneficial ways, and also enable groups of researchers to work together to create new scholarly materials, and edit or annotate digitized versions of existing texts. The Collaboratory will support the interoperation of related research projects and some existing digital collections, including a number of research projects on women’s writing in Canada, to enable new knowledge to emerge. It will provide tools for analysis and visualization that provide researchers of Canadian writing new perspectives on their materials.

Collaboration is key activity that this infrastructure project seeks to support, and collaboration is indispensible to the process of building a successful infrastructure. This paper will describe the Collaboratory project and outline the many modes of collaboration that are integral to the infrastructure development process, and the challenges and rewards associated with them.

The emphasis of the paper will be on the cultural rather than a technical challenges having to do with the culture of humanities scholarship, institutional and funding structures, and rapidly changing modes of scholarly production.

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