[Humanist] 24.594 Falling into collaboration

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Dec 16 08:28:55 CET 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 594.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 15 Dec 2010 15:42:21 -0600 (CST)
        From: Alan Corre <corre at uwm.edu>
        Subject: Falling into collaborative research publication
        In-Reply-To: <1124260021.783390.1292448202975.JavaMail.root at mail03.pantherlink.uwm.edu>

Willard's justified editorial intervention, followed by his Pharaonic injunction (Exodus, 5.4) "Get to your labors!", gives me an opportunity to outline my own fall into collaborative research publication. I call it that because it was totally accidental, some might say serendipitous. 

About twenty years ago, I delivered a paper at a scholarly meeting on my finding individual words from Lingua Franca in a Judeo-Arabic text published in Oran. Lingua Franca is a kind of commercial Esperanto or Swahili, spoken around the Mediterranean for hundreds of years by individuals who lacked a common "normal" language. It died out around 1900 under pressure from French; in any case, it was always held in low esteem, but was nevertheless very useful. When the French took over Algeria, they even published a little dictionary and phrase book of LF so that their soldiers could communicate with the locals. At the time I delivered my paper, the World Wide Web had just begun, and instead of looking round for a publisher of my findings, I decided to throw them on my website.  I realized that the lack of monitoring was a problem, but I already had tenure, and my reputation was already made, for better or worse, so I went ahead. I made one concession to monitoring. It was customary in rabbinic literature to seek an approbation from a recognized authority before printing a work. This haskama, as it is called in Hebrew, differs a little from the Catholic nihil obstat and imprimatur, which latter limits itself to the doctrinal correctness of the opus. So I asked Dr Cyrus Gordon, appropriately a professor of Mediterannean Studies, to write me one such, which he graciously did. There  was no word or browser "Google" in those early days, but people using then current resources found my article. What eventuated surprised me. I started getting contributions from other scholars, often much more significant than my own. And with their permission, I added them to my website. For example, Lingua Franca was found to occur quite frequently in early modern literature, often in very interesting ways. 

This did not involve much work on my part. I just needed to know a few simple HTML tags and I was in business. I did some formatting of the contributions I received, corrected typos and spelling errors, but otherwise published them unchanged, without any censorship. The site has pretty much stabilized now. One of the most recent contributions I published came from Saba. I confess I had to look that one up on Wikipedia to know where it was. Early this year, out of a clear blue sky, I received an email from the Library of Congress. I was informed that the Lingua Franca section of my site had been designated an historic website, worthy of permanent preservation. With my permission, they would archive the site at their facility in Washington, to be seen on the premises or via the World Wide Web. If there are new additions, LOC automatically adds them. 

The thing I enjoyed about this activity was the total lack of acrimony that accompanied it. There was no outspotlighting, no harsh rejoinders. I set up a section entitled Conversazioni where people could engage in discussions. It must surely be one of the earliest examples of collaborative scholarship on the Web, and perhaps the first example of a virtual haskama, but I am not looking for entry into the Guinness book. 

Alan D. Corre
Emeritus Professor of Hebrew Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/corre/www > A Glossary of Lingua Franca

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