Judith W. Page and Elise L. Smith: Writing a Book Together

Roundup: Talking About History

[Judith W. Page is a professor of English at the University of Florida. Elise L. Smith is a professor of art history at Millsaps College. Their book, "Women, Literature, and the Domesticated Landscape: England's Disciples of Flora, 1780-1870," will be published in February by Cambridge University Press.]

Collaborative writing is not as common as it should be in the humanities. Faculty members often consider it too risky for professional advancement, based on what they hear—either in the form of explicit warnings or more subtle suggestions—from chairs, deans, and tenure committees.

Ever since we began writing a scholarly book together, it's been the source of frequent quizzical confusion ("But why would you want to do that? Don't you have a lot of disagreements?") and what might be described as professional envy ("Oh, fun! I wish I could do that!"). One friend, an accomplished teacher and writer, wondered how it was possible to preserve an individual voice in collaborative writing.

In our case, we found a way to harmonize our voices, a literal and figurative process for turning the "I" of individual chapters into the "we" of our book.

In the natural and social sciences, research methods often necessitate co-authored publications, and institutions have devised a framework for evaluating the individual work of scholars collaborating on research teams. But publication in the humanities continues to be predicated on the model of single authorship. As humanities scholars, we typically do our research alone, most often in libraries and archives rather than in the field or in laboratories. And while we often ask for help along the way—for example, seeking peer readers of our works in progress—we include such disclaimers in the published version as, "All errors of fact or judgment are the author's own."...

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