I received a graduate degree working on the oxidative decarboxylation of uronic acids. I am unaware of a single person who published in my department as a single author. Instead two, but often three, four and sometimes many more would contribute to an article. When one can divide the work up between the mass spectrometrist, geneticist, laboratory chemists and whatever else you happen to need, it is readily evident how the number of people involved in an intellectual pursuit can swiftly expand. With history, however, it is a very different story.
As Mark Ashurst-McGee once quipped, “more often than not the historian is a lone wolf stalking its prey.” Four years ago I first started working on publishing academic history. Both Kris and I wrote for By Common Consent and when I had business (my profession as a chemist) close to her home, I met her and her husband for dinner, the first of many.
We were both interested in similar topics and perhaps due to my previous training, it seemed natural to work together. Over a period of months and with the kind advice of some folks at the Church Archives and across the proverbial academy (hi Matt B., Sam, Justin, Turner, and Jill et al.), we set out a plan of what to do, where to present and what to write. Without question, it has been a thoroughly enriching process. To work closely with someone in history requires a significant amount of effort. Still, being able to bounce ideas off each other, exult in the latest archival discovery, and share an insight derived in the most random of circumstances – it is just plain fun. And I believe the result is better than anything we could have produced separately.
But what if you disagree about a certain phrase, or bit of analysis, or entire section of the collaborator’s writing? Well, you dig in and communicate and debate and come to consensus. Kris and I typically divide up a manuscript into sections and we each write them and then put them together. Then we each go through and edit the whole thing separately and together…several times. With modern technology it is easy to track changes in a document and then debate around a specific section in sequential drafts.
Kris and I are almost done with our third project together, the culmination of that first dinner. I have another manuscript that I am working on with Sam and I just finished my first manuscript as a sole author. I am a better historian because of this collaboration; Kris is a wonderful scholar. I will always look back on this project with reverence and fondness. And I hope that it is only the beginning.