Starting to Write: Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology

Next week, I have to get stuck into down and get a draft of my paper from this year’s IEMA conference at the University of Buffalo.  My paper is titled: “Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology: Data, Workflows, and Books in the Age of Logistics” and I have to admit that it’s more of a concept or even idea than an argument at this point. 

Right now my paper will start with workflow and fragmentation, and then talk about various models of aggregation and publication, before concluding with something on attribution in digital media. (My sections are a vague hat tip to Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy.) 

Here’s the first bit of it. 

Over the last two decades, there has been the growing use of the phrase ”digital workflow.” As you might expect, the Google ngram plot looks like the proverbial hockey stick. While workflow has its roots in the language of early 20th century scientific management, the specific application to digital practices appears to have emerged at the turn of the 21st century in the field of publishing. In this context, the use of computer technology in the production of print media required a new way of organizing practice. It is hardly surprising then that as digital tools, technologies, and practices have become more common in the early 21st century archaeology, archaeologists have found themselves preoccupied with issues of digital workflow.

Today, I’d like to think a bit about workflow in the context of digital archaeology with special attention to archaeological publishing. Over the last five years or so, I’ve also started a small press called The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. Part of the goal of starting this press was to think about the role of publishing in the larger academic and intellectual process. Our first book was, appropriately, Punk Archaeology (2014) and as much as a test case in DIY (digital) book making, under the watchful eye of the experienced publisher Andrew Reinhard, as it was a kind of anti-manifesto of punk practice in an archaeological context. Since that time, my little press has published over a dozen other books on topics ranging from digital practices in archaeological field work to the historical and cultural significance of Colin Kaepernick’s protests. At present, we have in various stages of production, a 21st century archaeological autobiography, a 3D catalogue of digitally scanned votive objects from Athienou on Cyprus, and the republication with critical updates of a 1958 report on the social conditions in the Bakken oil patch in North Dakota. Each of these books have a discrete workflow that begins with a field work, library work, and an idea and culminates in book. Historically, we have divided this workflow in various ways, perhaps distinguishing between fieldwork and lab work, data collecting and analysis, research and writing, and, of course, submitting a manuscript and publication. The final division between the manuscript and the published volume tends to be among the most formal with the publishing process neat separated from the writing process by professional standards, credentials, and methods. The professionalization of publishing has led, in part, to its development as a multi-billion dollar industry as well as the its key role as a mediator in the hiring, tenure, and promotion processes on many campuses.

My experiences as an archaeologists, author, and publisher have led me to become interested in the way in which our increasingly digital workflow has come to shape the relationship between the various stages of archaeological knowledge making. I am not the first to think about these things, of course, but I’m hoping that my focus on workflow can show how digital culture and practices can change the structure of academic work for better and, perhaps, for worse.

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