Fragmentation and Publication in Digital Archaeology 2

It happens sometimes. I’m swamped by a painfully slow going paper, “Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology” for the IEMA conference at the University of Buffalo next month.

I wrote this today; it’s not very good, but it is what it is. I’m blaming the bomb cyclone.

Historically archaeologists have modeled their work on industrial practices with authority typically following a clear hierarchy. In an overly simplified form, archaeological responsibilities and tasks define the roles of project directors, field directors, trench or team leaders, and diggers. This division of labor is designed, at least on one level, to facilitate efficient archaeological work and to produce specialized and precise data. This form of organization allowed for control over a project’s outcomes and the knowledge making process. The formal definition of the site and the recognition that archaeological work involved embodied knowledge reinforced the spatiality of archaeological knowledge making. The long-standing concern for provenience, for example, and the location of the physical archives of a site in a dig house or storeroom near the site’s location further reinforce the connection between space and archaeological work. The connection between the hierarchy of archaeological knowledge making and the spatiality of archaeological place evokes the factory floor (or the prison) and the processes of enclosure that defined regimes of control of the modern ara.

Of course, this conceptualization of archaeological work has seen compelling challenges over the past 30 years. Shanks and McGuire argued that archaeology should return to its roots in craft practices as a way to challenge the industrial modes of archaeological knowledge making. McGuire’s radical efforts to create more a egalitarian and democratized archaeological project demonstrated the potential of such an approach in practice. A few radical projects in the U.K. have likewise sought to introduce democratic processes to field work (the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project (Faulkner 2000, 2009) cited by Morgan and Eddisford 2018). While these projects remain outliers, they demonstrate that the social organization of archaeological practice remains a topic of discussion and, to a lesser extent, experimentation for archaeologists. At the same time, Mary Leighton adopted an STS approach to understanding field work and argued that a certain amount of “black boxing” in archaeological practice masks a diversity of practices that are both more and less hierarchical than the formally reported results might suggest. Morgan and Eddisford (2018) have suggested that single context recording represents a far more decentralized and even anarchic method for producing archaeological knowledge.

The critical attention that field practices (including methods, but also more mundane procedures and unspoken conventions) has shaped how scholars have approached the growing use of digital tools in archaeological knowledge making and their practical, disciplinary, and ideological significance of these changes. My interest in workflow and the rise of logistics in archaeological knowlege making traces a scholarly trajectory that understands the movement, use, and reuse of data in a digital medium as a key element to transforming the institutional landscape of archaeology. The ability to disseminate data from the field, for example, and to repurpose that data for online publication through platforms like OpenContext demonstrates how the fluidity of the contemporary workflow is already challenging the barriers between fieldwork and publishing.

In 2014, a colleague and I founded the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. The goal of this project involved leverage digital tools enter into the world of academic publishing and to experiment with the potential for these digital tools to challenge the structure of the publishing process. Our current publishing model is extremely fluid, but follows certain relatively consistent conventions. First, we use digital tools to produce and distribute our books at a low cost using print-on-demand printing for paper books and PDF downloads on a low cost website running WordPress. Second, We publish mainly under various open access licenses. Finally, we collaborate closely with authors on all aspects of a publishing process.

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