UCL News


UCL in the News: No more lonely scholars?

4 October 2007

Although the idea of working as part of a research group has been present in the sciences for years, the model of collaborative research projects has been imported into the humanities by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and other research councils gradually over the past 10 years or so.

One group of academics who secured AHRC funding for such a project is a group of historians from UCL who are working on a project entitled "Images of America". Seven academics - three lecturers, two research assistants and two PhD students - are working on a four-year-long collaborative project which looks at images of America in 19th century Europe and Latin America. According to Dr Adam IP Smith [UCL History], one of the academics working on the project, securing a collaborative research grant was crucial in making such a large-scale project feasible.

"Essentially it was a question of pooling our resources," he explains. "By working collaboratively on this subject we are all bringing our specific areas of research expertise together. This, we hope, will allow us to reach a richer, and more informed, understanding of the subject by offering a multi-faceted examination of images of America in Europe and Latin America in the 19th century." …

According to Professor Michael Worton, Vice-Provost of UCL, it is a positive development. "This kind of collaborative research has enormous benefits," he says. "What we are seeing is true interdisciplinary work - whereby people share and exchange their knowledge and ideas to create something new.

"It is also serving to reshape academia in interesting ways. One impact of collaborative research projects is the breaking down of hierarchies. For example, instead of the traditional supervisor-supervisee relationship, we are now more likely to have more "horizontality' within departments: diverse groups of people at different stages of their career coming together to work collaboratively. This kind of academic dialogue and interchange of ideas can be hugely intellectually stimulating and enriching." …

The UCL "Images of America" project is meeting the logistical challenges by developing clearly structured "outcomes" and publication proposals. Although each academic in the group is working on their own autonomous "case-study", they hold regular meetings to stimulate comparative thinking and exchange ideas.

In terms of publications, their aim is to produce two PhD theses that will be turned into books, one monograph, and a major co-authored volume that will contain chapters by each project member on their specific area of research, as well as a jointly written theoretical introduction and comparative conclusion. A two-day conference will also take place next year at which all the project members will present their findings. …

Suzanne Lynch, 'The Independent'