Friday, September 23, 2011

Q & A with Lawrence Friedman: on collaborating

Note to readers: This is a part of a series of questions and answers with Lawrence Friedman. If you have a question you've wanted to ask him, please post it in a comment, or email me

Question from Karen Tani:  I've noticed that in addition to writing his own major works, he has co-authored a fair amount over the years. This strikes me as unusual for a historian.  I'd like to know his view on when collaboration is fruitful for a historian, why he thinks more people don't do it, and what he enjoyed about writing with other scholars.

Answer from Lawrence:
On collaboration:  I've always enjoyed working with other people.  You have to distinguish between collaborating with students-- after all, you can tell them what to do, and you as the senior author have what Hollywood directors call "final cut-- and working with colleagues, where you have to treat your co-author as an equal (which he or she usually is). 
I've done both kinds of collaboration; and found them profitable.  Obviously, it depends on who you collaborate with.  Some people can be very difficult, and you have to choose carefully.  But I feel I learn a lot from my collaborators; and it really does make the work easier in some cases.
A lot of my work is mildly quantitative; and student help is extremely useful; they're good at numbers, and they can do the heavy lifting, so to speak. 
Why don't historians collaborate?  You know, I never thought about it; but I realize now that they don't, because I can't think of my books in our field that are collaborations (other than source-books).  I think historians might collaborate if they worked more (as some of course do) in the law and society tradition.  But there's also a general reluctance, which frankly I don't understand completely.  Law professors also shy away from collaboration.  Maybe they're afraid people will think the other guy had all the bright ideas.  There's no particular credit for collaborating in the legal academy.  Yet in the hard sciences, collaboration is the norm.