This collaborative post, authored by Anna Twiddy, is part of our Behind the Scenes blog series.
For the first time in Project Vox history, we’ve published two entire philosopher entries in the span of just a few weeks: those of Mary Shepherd and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (if you haven’t checked out these entries yet, then you definitely should!). Undertaking these publications together would be quite a challenge even under normal circumstances, but the preparation of these two entries was further complicated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. The pandemic, as you can imagine, disrupted a lot of our team’s typical operations; as a result, we had to adapt to these unprecedented circumstances in time to carry out our equally unprecedented publication schedule. Today I pull back the curtain to show how we managed to do this!
I myself am a recent addition to the Project Vox team, having joined in January 2021; as an aspiring academic librarian interning at Duke University Libraries, I wanted to get some experience in digital humanities initiatives and the various ways they perform outreach. It’s been a wonderful experience so far, and taking part in the publication of these two entries this semester has been quite an adventure. I was so impressed by the way my colleagues were able to adapt to these circumstances and produce two valuable new entries, so I decided to ask some of them to relay their experiences and the lessons they’ve learned. I spoke to Liz Milewicz (our co-leader,) Nick Smolenski (our project manager and managing editor), and Jackson Cooksey (a member of our research team). All three have been a part of Project Vox for quite some time now, so they each had a lot of insight to offer.
My first line of questioning had to do with the personal experience of taking part in these publications while also dealing with these unusual circumstances. I found getting acquainted with the operations of Project Vox to be complicated by the fact that I couldn’t get to know any of my new teammates in person, but nonetheless, being a part of the Mary Shepherd and Sor Juana launches was such a rewarding experience. Liz, Nick, and Jackson each reflected on some of their personal experiences in the following ways:
LM: Publishing two entries back-to-back was a new experience, and a rare opportunity to identify and correct gaps and issues with our workflow. In spring 2020, the Anna Maria van Schurman entry was our first fully remote publication. The Mary Shepherd and Sor Juana publications were much more structured and smooth, due in large part because we had much more time to prepare for publishing them remotely. Being at a complete remove from our teammates has also forced us to plan and execute the publishing workflow in a much more systematic way, because we can’t rely on the more spontaneous ways of collaborating in person.
NS: The experience of facilitating publication was rewarding. The need to publish both entries remotely required me to be more dependent on communication tools like email and Box, and to think about utilizing them more creatively. The outcome of this work helped to offer clarity in directives, of course, but it also allowed for more transparency. Every person on the team had the chance to witness many aspects of publication.
JC: Most of the Shepherd entry was put together remotely, so I don’t really have experience in a non-remote setting. I think that the process went very well. The most important part of preparing and launching the Shepherd entry was communication between project members, which I think the team did well. I consider every member of Vox as a personal friend, so I think that makes communication easy for the team. Also, Nick did a great job of handling the logistics of the review and entry preparation process and a large part of how smoothly the process went can be attributed to that.
I then asked my teammates if they felt they had learned any particular lessons during this period. When I first joined the team, I had a semester of Zoom classes under my belt, but I found that the especially collaborative nature of Project Vox taught me a number of lessons in communication and teamwork from a remote distance. Liz, Nick, and Jackson all felt similarly:
LM: While I very much miss the in-person Project Vox meetings and the camaraderie of being in the same place, the pandemic has pushed us productively into a new way of working with each other. Now geographic location isn’t an obstacle to participating in team meetings (though we still have to coordinate a mutually convenient time). Also, Zoom creates a more level field of engagement for all team members: when we’re all connecting virtually, we’re more likely to have the same level of access to the conversation; we can also set norms for communicating that help ensure everyone can participate equitably.
NS: I think the project’s team was successful in Zoom collaboration. Some social cues become “lost in translation” over a digital communication platform, but I think the team was able to adapt to new methods of expression in order to make the most of our time together. Zoom also allowed us to collaborate with professional scholars for the first time on entry construction.
JC: One thing I miss about pre-pandemic times is being able to meet in person. I looked forward to seeing everybody in our weekly meetings before we went home last spring, so it has been hard not being able to meet in person. Otherwise, the pandemic has made the team, in my opinion, be really particular about planning and emphasizing workflows.
Here I am taking part in our Sor Juana publication, which was conducted over Zoom. Being new to the ins and out of Publication Day, I was a little nervous, but fortunately I had the (remote) guidance of my teammates to help me!
I also wanted to get my teammates’ perspectives on the experience of publishing Sor Juana’s and Mary Shepherd’s entries in such close proximity to each other. At a time when Project Vox is beginning to expand its scope to include many more marginalized philosophers, I wanted to hear their thoughts about how this unprecedented move might further this new mission, as well as any other insights they’d learned from it.
LM: In a year when we felt particularly impelled to diversify our site and include philosophers outside of Europe and the early modern period, it was gratifying to be able to publish the Sor Juana entry and begin that expansion. We also tested an idea with these two entries: that by developing two entries simultaneously, we could be assured that we would have at least one entry ready for publication each year. I won’t leak the philosopher’s name, since we like to “reveal” right before publication, but will say that we also had a separate feasibility study going at the same time — three philosophers being researched at once! a record for our small but growing team. Working on several philosophers at the same time is challenging, yes, but it also stretches us in productive ways.
NS: Publishing both entries this year has assisted in moving forward with our change of mission: to include marginalized voices from a myriad of diverse communities and time periods. Both Shepherd and Sor Juana not only expanded the Project’s scope, but they also serve as models for future entry construction and collaboration. The plan to publish two entries in one year took an immense amount of planning and commitment from the entire team, and I’m grateful to everyone for helping to construct and polish robust entries in a remote environment.
JC: The Vox team has definitely expanded over the last year or so, so I think launching two projects is a nice step in expanding our output with the larger team. I definitely think they help the overall mission of Vox, because it allows us to do vital research on underrepresented figures.
As you can clearly see, the members of the Project Vox team have learned a number of lessons during these uncertain times, and we all look forward to applying them to our future endeavors. As Liz alluded to above, we have a lot of exciting plans and new entries currently in the works, so stay tuned to learn more!
Jackson Cooksey is an undergraduate double majoring in Economics and Philosophy and minoring in Russian Language. He researched Mary Shepherd for Project Vox.
Liz Milewicz is Head of Digital Scholarship and Publishing Services at Duke University Libraries. She received her PhD in 2009 from Emory University, where she studied at the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts. For Project Vox, Liz works as a Project Co-Lead.
Nicholas Smolenski is a PhD candidate in Duke University’s music department; research interests include how sound, acoustics and sacred music collections intersect with Anglican architecture and theology in the seventeenth century. Nicholas is contributing to Project Vox as the project manager.
Anna Twiddy is a library science master’s student at UNC-Chapel Hill and an intern at Duke University Libraries. She is a member of Project Vox’s Outreach & Assessment Team.