Beyond the Book

This post will seem pretty ordinary to anyone who has thought critically about the digital humanities or digital archaeology over the past few years, but since I’m up, it’s early, and I’m thinking, I thought I’d post it anyway.

Last fall, my co-editors and I saw our first book appear from our work at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria. About six months earlier we had published the data from our site on Open Context. Unfortunately, since the book only appeared in paper, there was no way to connect the PKAP I volume and the Pyla-Koutsopetria book. The great thing about being an author, though, is getting page proofs (although the worst thing is having to read through them one. last. time.) Page proofs are usually just .pdfs of the final draft of the book, but they’re also a bit of a blank canvass. They provide the author or authors with all the value of layout and copy-editing (provided by the press) but also flexibility modify the content. 

So, I began to go through the catalogue section of the volume and insert links connecting the various objects in the catalogue to the entries in Open Context. 

For example:

94.29. Rim (fig. 4.10, reproduced at 1:2). Diam.
= uncertain, PH = 0.020, PL = 0.035, Th. (rim)
= 0.006, Th. (body) = 0.005. Medium-grained,
yellowish-red fabric (5YR 4/6) that is poorly fired
with a discolored gray exterior and a discolored
dark gray slip (10YR 4/1 to 7.5YR 4/4) on the ex-
terior. Fabric contains rare, sparkly inclusions.

With one click in Open Context, you can move back to the survey unit where the object originated, Unit 94; and another click allows you to see photos of the artifact here, here, here, here, and here

More recent updates to the Open Context database will expand the links throughout the volume. My edition of the book will be much better, more dynamic, and potentially more accurate than the paper original.

Pretty cool, right?

The problem is, how do I circulate this modified version of the book. Technically, I do not own the copy of the book that I’m modifying so I can’t really circulate it. So what I have is a private circulation book that has significantly added value on an “Unofficial Digital Edition.”

ARS 21  PKAP Text  Unoffical Digital Edition SQRpsd

So I got to thinking about my press and dynamic books. I know this is old turf for people thinking about the future of the book, but I have a current project at my press that will initially have only a very limited circulation. Bret Weber and I have been working to layout a collection of interview transcription from our work on the North Dakota Man Camp Project, which the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota will publish. The book is tentatively titled: Voices of the Bakken, and some time soon I’ll produce a snazzy cover for it (soon as in, um, today; see below).

There are two issues. First is that we need to sort out the organization of the interviews and decide whether we might obscure the identities of some of our informants (although we don’t have to according to our IRB paperwork) or contextualize certain aspects of our interviews more thoroughly. 

Second, we are in the process of developing online digital content for this project. Since our dataset is relatively large, we’ll likely publish parts of it over time rather than all at once. So the book will continue to accrue online content as we make more available. At present, though the book is in a private alpha which will probably expand to a private beta before being made available as a public beta sometime before the end of the year. The public version will then get a version number 1.0 that will be updated over time. The book then becomes an entity undergoing continuous development, like a piece of software, until it is formally retired. The final publication of the book, then, is the end of its existence as a living document rather than the start.  

I’m not saying that this will be the cover, but I’m also not saying it won’t be the cover. (Note the Gill Sans for the cover. I really, really wanted to use Cooper Black which to me invoked the 1930s and industry, but it was just too heavy to use in this mock-up.)

Voices of the Bakken 01 01

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