Update: The Recommendations are posted!
Final NEH White Paper

The final draft of the recommendations, including community comments, was posted on MediaCommons at

Collaborators’ Bill of Rights

The following “Bill of Rights” was developed at the “Off The Tracks” workshop in College Park, Maryland on January 21, 2011. In the afternoon of the last day of the workshop, the participants divided into four subgroups tasked with discussing models for institutional support, models for career paths, models for collaboration, and models for transformation. This initial draft was written by the “collaboration team” which included Matthew Kirschenbaum, Bethany Nowviskie, Tom Scheinfeldt, and Doug Reside. We are posting this very rough draft just hours later in the hopes that it will provoke further discussion by the larger community.

  1. All kinds of work on a project are equally deserving of credit (though the amount of work and expression of credit may differ). And all collaborators should be empowered to take credit for their work.
  2. The DH community should default to the most comprehensive model of attribution of credit: credit should take the form of a legible trail that articulates the nature, extent, and dates of the contribution. (Models in the sciences and the arts may be useful.)
    1. Descriptive Papers & Project reports: Anyone who collaborated on the project should be listed as author in a fair ordering based on emerging community conventions.
    2. Websites: There should be a prominent “credits” link on the main page with PIs or project leads listed first. This should include current staff as well as past staff with their dates of employment.
    3. CVs: Your CV is your place for articulating your contribution to a collaboration. All collaborators should feel empowered to express their contributions honestly and comprehensively.
  3. Universities are locations of creativity and innovation. Intellectual property policies should be equally applied to all employees regardless of employment status.
  4. Credit for collaborative work should be portable and legible. Collaborators should retain “soft” ownership to the work of the collaboration and be able to continue building on it even if they change institutions or projects.
  5. Funders should take an aggressive stance on unfair institutional policies that undermine the principles of this bill of rights. Such policies may include inequities in intellectual property rights or the inability of certain classes of employees to serve as PIs.

§ 29 Responses to Recommendations"

  • Matt Huculak says:

    This is a wonderful idea, and a great document. I can’t wait to see more. This is such an important issue, and the community at large really does need a firm set of guidelines. It would be even better if an organization like MITH came up with a credit/timetracking tool that could be implemented for any DH project. (I know, one step at a time)

  • Doug Reside says:

    Thoughts, anyone?

  • Adam Crymble says:

    I like this concept and I’m glad you’ve put it together. I’d like to add a few comments.

    To what limit is someone a “Collaborator”?

    If I build an Omeka exhibit, do I have to credit everyone on the Omeka team? Do I have to list the names of all the photographers as “Collaborators”? What about the double-keyer in India who did some for-pay transcription of some of my sources held by the British Museum? What about Tim Berners Lee? Aren’t all the authors who I cite “Collaborating” in building my own work – be it perhaps unknowingly or unwillingly? I’m taking this to the extreme, but where does one reasonably draw the limits?

    Does this apply to the traditional academic monograph? I’ve been a “Research Assistant” for several professors who then used my work to write books. But I was paid for my services and my work considered “For Hire” and so I was not a collaborator. Does a paycheque directly tied to the project mean someone is not a collaborator? Do we need to reclassify the authorship of millions of books already printed to give proper credit? Or does this only refer to creative digital works?

    Just some things I think that need ironed out, but I do like the basic principles.

  • Melissa Terras says:

    This is great. One thing- we had a researcher who (for whatever reason) didn’t want to be named on any project outcomes. So individuals should have the right to opt out, too?
    And of course, you’ll have seen Ray Siemen’s and Stan Ruecker et al’s work on project charters, agreeing all this up front in a project with everyone?

    • Lynne Siemens says:

      Just following up on Melissa’s comment about models for project charters.

      Within Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE), we are publishing research about our collaboration, including our goverance documents.

      The link to the article is

      Lynne Siemens with INKE Research Group, “From Writing the Grant to Working the Grant: An Exploration of Processes and Procedures in Transition”,



  • Katherine D. Harris says:

    This seems like a great start to the conversation that was had. I fear, though, that 2c might bury contributions somewhat and would be interested to hear more from the participants on this area. Perhaps we could be clearer in the published pieces about contributions made rather than relying on author listings excluisvely? (Are there not some issues with the first, second author listing in the sciences now?) Instead, I would be most interested in reading about contributors’ roles in concert with the Descriptive Papers and Project Reports (rather going to another site to find those contributions). How can we achieve this eloquently but make clear the valuable and varying skillsets brought to a collaborative project?

  • Jim Brown says:

    I wonder if there’s a way to suggest that collaborations articulate the nature of members’ participation in some way. That is, rather than only suggesting that collaborators can explain their participation in their CV (this is certainly one really nice way of explaining one’s role), is there some way we might recommend that PIs have an area (a page? a section? a separate web page if it’s a web project?) that more fully explains how the collaboration worked. Or maybe the document could recommend that PIs be prepared to write letters that more fully explain the contributions of individuals?

    I can already see the problems with my own suggestion: the nature of colalborations is never that clean cut, this adds more work to those who are probably already overworked, etc.

    I guess I’m just trying to think through how claiming credit can be both distributed (“Write up how you contributed on your CV.”) and centralized (“Here are the roles of those who collaborated on this project.)

  • Eric Johnson says:

    You all have touched on so many deep and important points with such a simple and clear approach–thank you, thank you, thank you!

    One quick note–I realize that DH centers are pretty much all based at universities, but DH collaboration is not solely contained therein. I would love to see this Bill of Rights apply no matter the nature of the institution(s) involved–whether university, museum, library, archive, or other setting. So where possible, I would caution against adhering too strictly to the vocabulary of and about the academy (e.g., “PI,” “Universities are locations of creativity and innovation,” etc.) Otherwise, this is wonderful! Thanks so much for your hard work.

  • Peter Hirtle says:

    Interesting. Do you need to distinguish between authors for purposes of credit versus authors for purposes of copyright? For example, in 2A any collaborator identified as an author would own an equal share in the copyright of that work, regardless of the level of her commitment.

    You may wish to make it clear that these recommendations address scholarly credit, but that intellectual property rights need to be spelled out in separate agreements.

  • Hugh Cayless says:

    Overly rigid employment categories are a big problem for DH collaborators in Academia. At one place I worked, for example, librarians can be PIs. People with software development skills don’t get hired as librarians though, because the administration is picky about librarians having to be properly credentialled (must have an MSLS or similar), and librarians are harder to hire than regular staff. So when they look for developers to work in the library, they choose (quite rationally) to create staff positions for them so they can pick from a larger pool.

    The practical upshot of this is that programmers hired into this library to do DH work, for example, have only limited prospects, can’t initiate projects themselves, and can’t be promoted beyond a certain point. They are stuck.

    None of this is due to malice on anyone’s part. It’s simply the case that the traditional institutional structures don’t work well or fairly for the kind of scholar-programmer who is ideal for DH projects. Changing it would require lobbying the administration, which would require motivation to do so and also successful models to emulate. I think this document is a great step forward towards providing that.

  • Echoing what some others said above about documenting contributions, I think the nature of “contribution” needs to be clarified a little, possibly by enumeration (in this document) of some kinds of roles, especially those at the edge of projects. (e.g. Does “I send bug reports regularly” count as being a contributor? Is the definition different for tools projects than for resources/archives projects?)

    I read this in its current form (and institutional subtexts) as a call for recognition of staff-status work alongside faculty-status work, and for that I think it’s great. I also know that increasing numbers of students– undergrad and grad– participate substantively in DH projects as part of coursework. Is this Bill of Rights calling on faculty to list their entire 20-person undergraduate DH seminar on the credits page? (I’m not saying that that would be a problem; I’m just pointing out one form of contribution which might be easily overlooked otherwise.)

  • Alex Gil says:

    I want to jump in here in mid-game to add my Hancock to the bill of rights. In particular the last point, addressing “the inability of certain classes of employees to serve as PIs,” hits home to me. Several years ago, when I was still a middle of the road grad student, I tried to get a team of scholars from Europe, the US and the Caribbean to collaborate on an archive of Caribbean literature online. One of my main obstacles was that I couldn’t be PI for the project. This led me on a hunt for a friendly faculty member who was receptive to my idea. Although I owe much to the faculty member who eventually listened to what I had to say (and who helped get that monster at least 1/3 of the way to the promised land), trying to constantly translate the vision into analog slowed things down, and eventually led to the project being put on hold. I’m still waiting to get a faculty position just so that I can have the street credit to awaken the beast from its slumber. Even if I was a bit naive about some of the larger issues at stage, I would’ve been an ideal PI. Alas, if general faculty and alt-acs are getting no love, imagine a graduate student!

    The problem, I want to point out, doesn’t seem to be only with our home institutions. It also seems to be coming from the granting agencies. I’m guessing institutions would back non-traditional PIs if the NEH or Mellon, wouldn’t think it’s bad joke for a graduate student to apply for a large grant. Take the NEH Startup Grant. For that grant, you can’t even apply as an individual, let alone a graduate student. Sometimes I feel that some of my DH ideas can have a large impact (I’m aware I may just be deluding myself), or at least fail with enough pedagogical detritus to justify them. Alas, in order to develop them, I have to put somebody in front of me. I’m reminded of a recent speculative post by @kfitz that really got me thinking on the topsy-turvy world we inhabit, where a large (perhaps the largest?) pool of talent is made to play behind the scenes, oftentimes at the expense of innovation and efficiency, just because.

    So yes, let’s collaborate on a different key!

  • Mark Tebeau says:

    Science offers some, albeit imperfect, models for sharing credit that we used as a rough model. Another model that many people might find interesting are films, which have lots of individuals collaborating in different ways. And, indeed, isn’t that the point, to recognize collaborators, each in their own way. That is different than the currently individual scholar investigator that is so common in the humanities. Importantly, recognizing collaborators is important regardless of the level of that contribution. And, that’s the point, that we should create ways of recognizing that work; though, surely, it is not a demand to list everyone who ever sat in a meeting or classroom.

    Credit is different than intellectual property or being a PI. Intellectual property and such are separate issues whose application vary by institution, and even state law. This bill of rights will do little to change law or university guidelines. But, what it can do is suggest a model for building more egalitarian communities within DH centers, which can improve the research climate and incubate creativity and inventiveness.

    Incidentally, I am not at all sure that all the great talent is working “behind the scenes” while hacks occupy central stage, suppressing innovation. Universities are surely conservative places, and tenure works against innovation by its very construction. Hailed to protect academic freedom it also ties up University resources in salary lines that have a half life of 30+ years. Even so, the possibilities for innovation in universities are still impressive, esp. relative to industry where employees’ intellectual property rights are notably more restrictive as as the frames for their creativity. In fact, I would suggest that the emergence of DH Centers, and their flourishing underscores that innovation is not only possible but alive and well in Universities.

    Even so, I was impressed by the bill of rights because it is a gesture against what can be lacking in both the industry and university models. It suggests that providing a more egalitarian project structure in DH projects might not just promote innovation, but it also will help the field to retain talent, and to help digital humanists of all varieties build lasting, sustainable careers.

    Also, I would strongly endorse Eric Johnson’s recommendation that we recognize that DH careers do occur in many non-university institutional contexts; it is an important point.

    • Agreed. When universities look for experienced scholars with Ph.D.s to support DH work among faculty, they may be best served by following their processes for staff hiring. (Faculty hiring is slower for a reason, often due to the long-term commitments of the tenure process and to the fact that faculty teach undergrads in courses.).

      In some ways, these recommendations are actually more important for universities and colleges that don’t already have dedicated DH centers, or where DH support is folded into an IT organization.

      An institution that tries to hire a PhD with expertise in DH as staff– where “staff” means no ability to be a PI on a grant or to retain intellectual rights to and/or publication credit for one’s work– causes its entrenched bureaucracy to get in the way of advancing knowledge. Yet that’s precisely what I’ve been seeing in recent waves of hiring. They say they want a PhD with expertise in this emerging field, but they haven’t been prepared to think about adjusting their policies to fit the intellectual demands of the job.

      Promoting these standards within the community of existing DH centers is important, but it’s also preaching to the choir in many ways. I’d encourage people to think about how to get these recommendations in front of dean-level administrators before job descriptions are written and job postings appear.

  • Douglas Knox says:

    Sounds like a great workshop. I am curious to learn from the eventual report how this document relates to the other three areas of interest.

    Others have drawn attention to the distinction between credit and copyright. Following up on that, I would suggest #3 as stated is too compressed, to the point that it may not say what it’s intended to say, and seems like a nonsequitur. Reading sympathetically, I can certainly imagine an account of the relationship between creativity, university settings, and intellectual property policies, but it isn’t spelled out here. And then I imagine an unsympathetic reading of the call for policy consistency in the second sentence of #3. Demands for equality could be met by trying to move toward reducing everyone to equally unfavorable terms. While the goal of sharing credit fairly is an important one, there is more than equity at stake, if we’re also talking about the conditions favorable to creativity, innovation, and the advancement of knowledge as a collaborative enterprise.

  • Very useful Bill of Rights – great way to start discussion of this as something that isn’t of only academic interest, but as something that matters to many involved in projects. I would suggest a few more points to make:

    * Collaborators should discuss credit at the beginning of a project, not at the end when there are outcomes that have to be signed. As distasteful as such conversations can be, collaborators should negotiate expectations when they have the choice to change their contribution rather than after the fact. These negotiations can be formalized in charters if needed.
    * There are a number of ways to acknowledge contributions other than co-authorship. One can recognize the inspiration of others in footnotes; one can have a formal acknowledgements appendix; or one can have a corporate co-author that statnds in for the others as INKE does.
    * Most projects don’t lead to a single outcome. It is therefore important to think of credit across a range of outcomes and it is also important to recognize the rights of collaborators to initiate different outcomes in the context of a collaborative project. Thus an interdisciplinary project could lead to papers in different venues which would allow all members to lead the writing of a paper for their constituency. A research assistant might present a paper at one conference that they initiate while the PI might be lead author of a paper for a different venue.

    Thanks for starting this!

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  • Sarah Carr-Locke says:

    Within archaeological and anthropological work, what were previously called “informants” are now more often being understood as collaborators in the humanities (digital or otherwise). It would be fantastic to provide increased recognition for this type of collaboration as well, keeping in mind that C-Vs may look very different.

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