Monday, April 15, 2013

Toward a Language and Literature Lab

[As part of a talk at CLA I was discussing collaboration. What follows extends my line of thinking there.]

I've recently been thinking about the development of a language and literature lab, with the "lab" being a somewhat virtual space for a team of researchers to work on a variety of projects related to African American literary art, reading, creativity, and other topics. At the moment, that team of researchers would be primarily comprised of graduate students and a couple of undergraduates. I refer to what I'm developing as a lab as opposed to a class, because the projects extend over time more than a single semester, and the lab projects move to beyond-the-curriculum activities.

The models for the language and literature lab I have in mind are from the sciences as opposed to anything I've seen in literature so far. For the most part, in literary study, the major projects are individual-authored. The goal is to get (yourself) published in a reputable scholarly journal and from there get a book published by a reputable press.     

Developing a lab would mean earning the funding support to develop a staff or team to assist on projects. The team would pursue research questions, perform experiments, compile and organize data sets, make discoveries, produce reports, present findings in multiple formats, guide new members of the cohort, assist in identifying new funding sources, and collaborate on publications.

Few literary scholars are exposed to the necessary managerial skills required to run a lab. According to R. Keith Sawyer in his book Explaining Creativity, "successful scientists have to know how to compete for and win grants, how to budget and allocate funds, and how to manage a team of diverse individuals." He further notes that "leading a lab requires immense administrative and leadership skills."

In addition to acquiring those skills, advancing the idea of labs in literary study means rethinking collaboration, individual authorship, and the nature of projects. 

Digital Humanities at CLA 2013  
African American Literature @ SIUE 

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