More on Mobilizing the Past

Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology is the most recent book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota continues to produce downloads, sales, and page views. 

If you feel like the prospect of a free download or a $20 book is just too much of a commitment, then check out editor Jody Gordon’s summary of the book’s scope and perspective. He presented this paper at the recent American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting and released it to the world under a CC-By license. So rather than read something blather I’ve hacked out, go and read Jody’s summary.

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(And if you’re still hungry for more, go and check out the next book from The Digital Press, Micah Bloom’s Codex. We’re doing a very quiet little conversation and preview here.)

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A Deep Map of the Bakken

Over the long weekend, I immersed myself in William Least Heat-Moon’s PrairyErth: (a deep map). (1991). I didn’t know this book until a conversation with a few graduate students this summer after my tortured attempts to explain my tourist guide to the Bakken project. I wasn’t particularly familiar with the term “deep map,” but as I explored PrairyErth, I came to realize that Heat-Moon’s project with this work, which explores a single county in Kansas, was fundamentally similar to what I wanted to do with my tourist guide. The biggest difference was that Heat-Moon was a kind of story-teller, ethnographer, and oral historians where my speciality was in things.

So, the base map for the deep map that I want to prepare for the Bakken is the tourist guide (which should appear next year from NDUS Press). It provides a route through the space of the Bakken which runs across US Route 2 before turning south at 13-Mile Corner to trace US Route 85. This inverted L forms the main artery of the Bakken both from its origins around Tioga to its current heart in William and McKenzie Counties. Our anchors are the towns of Ray, Stanley, Tinga, Williston, and Watford City, but we recognize that the Bakken is also made of places like the abandoned town of Wheelock, the depopulated township of Manitou, the area called Johnson’s Corner, and the numerous nameless agglomerations of tanks, unit yards, mobile workforce housing, and gas plants. This is the framework for a deep map.

When we submitted the original draft of the guide to new Heritage Guide series editor at the NDSU Press, he suggested that we add more people to our work. I begrudgingly did this, thinking all the while, that tourist guides aren’t really about people but about places, monuments, and stories. If people do appear, they’re past people or individuals who make short cameos (like the kindly priest who has the keys to the historic church or the vivacious merchant who will offer you tea while you browse his wares). Complicating matters more is that our guide is not about a landscape forged in the distant past but about a dynamic contemporary space. In other words, historic personages who populate traditional tourist guides played a relatively small role in our work because our primary focus was on the present. While I don’t regret the decision of inserting a few people in our guide, I think the object-oriented approach to our guide limits how one can encounter the Bakken landscape.  

Heat-Moon’s deep map is, in contrast, all about people. Most short chapters, even those with a rather more empirical bent, focus on the people from Chase County, Kansas. In fact, he uses the ugly word “countians” so many times that I am almost comfortable with it. For the Bakken, we have hundreds of pages of transcribed interviews that could populate our deep map and we received a small grant from the University of North Dakota to publish these interviews next year.

Heat-Moon’s deep map is more than just people, though. He uses people to tell the geological, the historical, the political, the cultural and the economic story of the county’s various landscapes and places. We’re fortunate for western North Dakota to have not only an outstanding (and new) geological history, but also have an intriguing (and growing) body of literature about the region and some solid historical treatments of the places. 

As I continue to turn the idea of a deep map over in my head, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that guide to the Bakken is just a beginning for a deep map. 

Another Book by the Cover

One of the really fun things about being a publisher is that I get to help bring amazing projects to a wider audience. I have a book in the very early phases of production and another project that is just gaining some moment.

After a little nudging I’ve managed to convince Micah Bloom to publish (part of) his remarkable installation Codex with The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. The ink isn’t quite dry on the agreement, but we’re far enough along that I feel like a quiet announcement on my personal blog is in order. I blogged about Codex when it was an installation at the North Dakota Museum of Art.

Our plan is to expand Codex by adding a series of short, incisive essays by archaeologists, historians, and scholars of the book to Bloom’s arresting photographs. The book will be released in a archival edition, a digital edition, and a lower-cost paperback each with slightly different content.  

Right now, we’re working out some of the production details, but Micah drafted a few potential book covers just to get some ideas flowing. 

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We also set up a website for some conversation between the authors and contributors. You can take a peek at it here and do check out the gallery to get an idea what this project is about.

More on Lolos’s Sikyon and Regional Scale Archaeology

The arrival of the Journal of Roman Archaeology – by mail no less – is one of the highlights of my year. I was very excited to see an extensive review of Y. Lolos’s Land of Sikyon: The Archaeology and History of a Greek City State. (2015) by long-time colleague in Corinthian archaeology, Joe Rife.  It’s “Surveying Sikyon from the State to the Land,” JRA 29 (2016), 864-874.

(As an aside, it’s one of two reviews of recent work on Sicyon (the other being a review by K. Slane of Conor Trainor’s The Ceramics Industry of Roman Sicyon (2015)) and this reflects the quantity and quality of work being done in the northeast Peloponnesus. In fact, it shocked me that there were two books on Sikyon and no books reviewed on Roman Cyprus.)

Joe is smarter and better scholar I am, and his review is smarter and more expansive than mine. The review not only deals with the book in detail, but addresses the larger issue of how to think about regional level archaeological projects. Rife points out that while Lolos’s work is carefully considered and reasoned (which it is!), he, nevertheless, tends to view the territory of the city of Sikyon as a persistent lens for social, political, and economic analysis. While the Lolos’s focus on the Sikyonian chora was undoubtedly appropriate for the pre-Roman era, Rife rightly asks if such “state-bound” approaches are optimal for regional level studies. The association of places with say the defensive needs of the state implies that existence and persistence of boundaries though time.

Likewise, Rife is skeptical of the stability of roads through the landscape which also shaped Lolos’s interpretation and is reflected in the thorough studies of his mentors Y. Pikoulas and W. K. Pritchett. Rife’s view of a “land-bound” approach to regional work would account for the shifting routes of roads across territory and decouple long-term settlement patterns from the more ephemeral pattern of routes through a territory.

Rife’s review also comments on the challenges of narrating a regional level archaeological project. The tension between a narrative confined artificially at times by archaeological, practical, and political boundaries. As he states, there is a need “to balance readability and referability.” Digital publication of the maps and maybe, in the future, the data could open Lolos’s careful documentation to new forms of scholarly attention and analysis. 

None of these observations are new, of course, but Rife’s review offers them in a compact and specific way and in clear reference to a well-done and thorough survey.

Open Access Week Musings

This week is #OpenAccessWeek which is one of those fake holidays like Halloween or University Educators Day. But like those other two celebrations, this week has a beneficial goal (as well as supporting a growing number of Open Access Week cards and gift): to promote open access publishing.

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This week also marked the release of the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota’s newest book: Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology. If you haven’t checked it out yet… why not?

With about 3 days under our belt, I can report on some of the early statistics for the book. So far, we’ve had just under 550 downloads of the book or parts of the book. 53% of those downloads were of the entire book, and no other chapter really set itself apart as the leading individual chapter download. Contributors have started to post their contributions and the entire book onto their Academia.edu pages and institutional repositories. So my numbers will only reflects the most centralized points of distribution. The real circulation takes place far from the center. There are no originals! 

We’ve sold a handful of paper copies, but the real circulation impact will likely come from digital downloads. And that’s fine with me, but I do wonder whether this book will lag in paper sales compared to downloads. Punk Archaeology, for example, which has well over 2000 downloads, has never sold more than handful of copies (52, to be exact). In contrast, The War with the Sioux, has had about 900 downloads and sold 232 copies. The Bakken Goes Boom has had about 1000 downloads and has sold 115 paper copies. We were particularly excited to see it appear on the Standing Rock Syllabus project and hope that its open access status makes it useful to folks on the front line of the Dakota Access Pipeline debate. What’s interesting is that Punk Archaeology – perhaps anticipating Mobilizing the Past – has been cited more times and more widely than my first official monograph which appeared in the same year, Pyla-Koutsopetria I: An Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town (2014). This is despite PKAP I appearing in almost 70 academic libraries and Punk Archaeology appearing in … like 4. I’m sure that over time, this will level out, but considering Punk Archaeology was published as the first book from a new press, I think this speaks to the potential of open access scholarship to reach new audiences quickly.

As we look ahead to the next year with The Digital Press, we are making plans to continue our open access and digital trajectories with both new “conventional books” but also some interactive or serialized works that develop as conversations over time and then crystalize – to some extent – into a formal volume later before once again heading off into the world under an open license (CC-By 4.0). So stay tuned! 

 

More on Adjusted Margin

Readers of this blog can probably tell that I’m enamored with Kate Eichhorn’s Adjusted Margin (MIT 2016). The book traces the history and use of xerography and argues that it offered a medium for folks at the margins to find a voice. I’ve blogged a bit on her argument that copy shops and photocopying in general serving as a third space, for today, I’d like to think a bit about how xerography served as an archaeological predecessor for digital practices.

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Eichhorn looks at the role the xerography played in the ACT UP movement to raise the awareness of the ravages of the AIDS epidemic especially, but not exclusively among gays in the 1980s. She examines how photocopies allowed this group to produce and distribute posters, to create graphically interesting media  designed to generate awareness (like the printed money that they rained down on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange when they occupied that building in 1989), and to distribute information to people suffering from AIDS, their supporters, and the medical community. Eichhorn described the weekly newsletters prepared by ACT UP organizers that summarized the media stories, promoted events, and generated a sense of community. She also discussed the stacks of photocopied articles, fliers, and other media arranged on tables at ACT UP meetings and quickly circulated among the attending activists. Many activists credited the rapid and expansive distribution of ACT UP media to their access to photocopiers either in the ACT UP office or in their places of work (often in the publishing world). In other words, production of photocopied media was at least partly decentralized. 

Zines provided an opportunity to explore how xerography promoted the rise of decentralized distribution networks. While most Zines had a place of origin – usually on the East or West Coast – they circulated widely and often co-promoted other Zines by including the mailing address of other Zines in their pages. This allowed for the formation of dendritic networks where Zines led to Zines. Anyone who was interested in music in era before the internet understood the importance of these kinds of informal associations for discovering new bands and understanding the culture associated with, say, punk rock music.

I got thinking of these decentralized networks of distribution because, on the one hand, they anticipated the the hyperlinked networks of associations that came to dominate the distribution of digital media through the internet. In fact, xerography allowed for the development in paper form of such common internet structures as links, blogs, and memes. As someone with a growing interest in publishing, I’ve thought about how Zine culture – with all its imperfections and irregular distribution – provided a model for publishing on the web and in digital media. As Eichhorn states throughout her book, with xerography, there is no need for an original and, as such, no need for a definitive point of origin. This likewise seems to anticipate open-access, digital publishing which depends upon a community and an ecosystem for media to circulate, but does not depend as heavily on the originating point of the publisher. Without a center there are no margins or, more properly, the influence of the center diminishes rapidly as it becomes less vital to the circulation of a work.

New Book from The Digital Press: Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future

The best days are book release days. I am super excited to announce the publication of Erin Walcek Averett, Jody Michael Gordon, and Derek B. Counts, Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology. Grand Forks, ND: The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. 

This is the culmination of months of hard work by the editors, contributors, and various other people committed to making Mobilizing the Past and The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota successful. I cannot begin to express my gratitude to them and my excitement for this publication.

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Here’s an excerpt from the press release:

The study of the ancient world requires the most modern tools. In the 21st century, archaeology is no longer the domain of picks, pith helmets, and sharpened trowels, but a high tech enterprise. Archaeologists now take high-powered laptop computers, tablets, drones, and sophisticated software and workflows in the field with them. In Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology, Erin Walcek Averett (Creighton University), Jody Michael Gordon (Wentworth Institute of Technology), and Derek B. Counts (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) brings together 17 papers authored by the most creative thinkers on technology and archaeological field practice. Introduced by a sweeping survey of the intellectual and practical issues surrounding digital practices in archaeology and anchored by two critical reflections, the volume is more than merely a survey of new technology, but stands as an enduring monument for a discipline undergoing rapid and dramatic changes. 

Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future emerged from a workshop (funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities) held in 2015 at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston that convened many of the leading practitioners of digital archaeology in the U.S. for a weekend of dialogue. The papers and conversations from this workshop formed the basis for the case studies presented in this volume and demonstrate the tremendous diversity in the digital tools used in archaeological field practice. From drones in the Andes to iPads at Pompeii, digital workflows in the American Southwest, and examples of bespoke, DIY, and commercial software, technology now provides solutions and crafts novel challenges for field archaeologists. 

Our method of releasing this book is also the most sophisticated yet attempted by my little press. The book itself appears in three places:

1. The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota’s website.
2. Digital Commons at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
3. Amazon (in paper).

Each site provides access to supplemental material hosted by Mukurtu.net and this multi-site approach makes it possible to download or link to a specific article or the entire book. We hope this multi-site approach offers the widest possible platform for the book’s distribution.

It is also exciting that this is Open Access Week (#OpenAccessWeek) which I hope will give our work at this book and The Digital Press a little more national visibility. On campus, there are open access events and the like, and while I’m not involved in any of them, I hope this book is part of the conversation.

So, please check out the book! Tweet out this announcement or the pages linked above and use the hashtags: #MobilizingthePast #DigitalArchaeology #Archaeology or #OpenAccessWeek. Please help us spread the word!

Feel free to grab these cover photos to enliven tweets or whatever:

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Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my article on “Slow Archaeology” in the book… check it out!!

Almost Done: Mobilizing the Past and the Stack Test

I have something like 12 changes to make to the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota’s next book, Mobilizing the Past, before it can go live in both digital and paper formats.

Most of these changes involve little cosmetic fixes within the book and the addition of the book’s freshly minted LCCN (2016917316 for those of you keeping track at home!).

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The most important test though for a book, is the shelf or stack test. This involves how does the book look when set on a shelf or put into a stack. The logic here is that even the most battered copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses spends of its life in a stack or on a shelf. So a good book can’t just be good, it has to look good, shelf good, and stack good too.  

Mobilizing the Past’s stack mates this week are Kate Eichborn’s brilliant Adjusted Margin: Xerography, Art, and Activism in the Late Twentieth Century (2016) from the MIT Press and my newly arrived copy of the Journal of Roman Archaeology.  

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Books from MIT press always look great, use well-considered fonts, and have just enough edge to make you feel like your reading something published by a press associated with a university on the cutting edge. They have a house style, but it never feels forced or overwhelming. And their books are affordable. (Read this 5 minute interview with Kate Eichhorn here).

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 The Journal of Roman Archaeology can only be described as aggressively anti-design. The cover only the smallest glimpses of what the reader should expect when he or she opens one of the two annual volumes. The text runs virtually from margin to margin on glossy paper and crowds inline images. The line spacing is dense and the font is some undistinguished member of Times family. This kind of design is not conservative or traditional, but assertively dull. 

The content, on the other hand, is so good, well-edited, and relevant that even a lapsed Roman archaeologist like myself looks forward the annual arrival of the JRA as the start of fall thinking season. So for all it’s design infelicities, the Journal of Roman Archaeology is indispensable.

My hope with volumes from the Digital Press is to make them both valuable and attractive, but I know that attractive books have more fun.

Ubik and Archaeology

As part of my ill-considered project to work through Philip K Dick’s novels in search for some kind of archaeological inspiration, I read Ubik this week. Largely regarded as among his most ambitious books, Ubik describes a future where the living and the dead can interact, individuals with special mental powers could read minds, predict the future, and even change the past, and it was a viable business to coordinate the labor of individuals who could block humanity’s expanded mental powers.

More prescient still is Dick’s world of autonomous things that constantly demanded payment for even the most routine functions like opening the door, turning on the television, or cooking food. While the “internet of things” promises world where every device from our refrigerators to our light fixtures and cars are seamlessly connected, Dick’s world is the dystopian vision of that reality. His integrated world allows for devices to conspire against their human owners and to negotiate and even deny their services. As technology creeps into everyday life from tractors to coffee makers, we are at the mercy of devices which are largely outside our control and mici-payments that nibble around the edges of diminishing income.

The story is convoluted. It involves a firm that employs individuals who can block psychic abilities. A specially assemblage group of the firms top agents was tricked into traveling to the moon to fulfill a lucrative contract. There, the group experienced a massive explosion which seemingly killed the firm’s president Glen Runctier. Joe Chip, Runciter’s right-hand man, tried in vain to discover Runciter’s murderer, but over the course of his grief-wracked investigate, reality began to change. First, Runciter’s image and name began to appear on objects including currency. Then, time began to slip in strange ways as the modern world (of 1992) begins to give way to earlier periods. First the the present started to give way to the relatively recent past, but then, the 1940s and 1930s. Like Dick’s alternate world in Time Out of Joint, the flickering past of Ubik created a world in which authenticity is always in doubt. Objects present the most obvious manifestation of this time slippage, although it also effected humans. The only remedy was the mysterious Ubik and only in the form of an aerosol spray. The novel concludes with Joe Chip pursuing Runciter’s murderer through 1930s Des Moines as his own life is subjected to the same chronological entropy as the world around him. Protected only by Ubik, Chip finally realizes that this slippage of time around him is evidence that he is, in fact, dead and Runciter is alive. The only complication to this is that, at the end of the novel, Runciter begins to find coins in his pocket with Joe Chip’s face on it.

Despite the convoluted plot, the continuous juxtaposition of the past and the present reflects Dick’s fascination with authenticity as a archaeological problem. For Dick, objects ground us in the world and anchor us in time, and distorted reality is not simply arbitrary hallucinations, but the displacement of objects in time. There is something archaeological here, of course. The relationships between objects and time structures reality and our ability to locate objects chronologically allows us to discern the authentic from the illusory.  

Placing a Digital Book on the Shelf

One of the fun challenges facing The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is getting our digital books noticed. This year, we’ve used social and traditional media, kept the website sharp, circulated a few books for review, and we’ll even do a little advertising for our most recent volume. The key is to get the news of the book out in front of as many people as possible.

For traditional publishers, this involves getting our books on the right book shelf, but since we don’t have the resources or the infrastructure for getting paper books stocked outside of a few very limited outlets, we have to find other ways to get our books on the right digital shelves.  

For The Bakken Goes Boom, we were lucky enough to have some global coverage in the popular media (Slate, Fast Design Co. and the Daily Mail as well as some recent coverage by the more specialized science press. We also got some nice publicity from the University of North Dakota. This coverage certainly raised awareness of the book and contributed to over 500 downloads and continued decent sales, but it remains to be seen if this kind of publicity results in the book getting cited consistently and having an impact in how both the public and scholars understand the Bakken.

The War with the Sioux is the Digital Press’s best seller and received both a proper book review in the public humanities media (in North Dakota History which strangely enough isn’t online!) and some strong word of mouth sales and downloads thanks to the hard work of the translators and their extensive network of local and regional connections. And this event. It’s a thing

Sometime in the next few months, the little guide that Bret Weber and I wrote to the Bakken is scheduled to appear from North Dakota State University Press. We have a website for it already and the hope is to use this book and its publicity to help us market The Bakken Goes Boom as well. As part of this, I have the idea of creating a “Bakken Bookshelf” with links various media – particularly books, but also articles – relevant to understanding the Bakken. Prominent among them would be a link to work by the Petrocultures collective at the University of Alberta, but also books and articles reviewed on my blog. By creating a virtual bookshelf, we can visually link our book to other significant books in the field.

For our next book, Mobilizing the Past, we are partnering with a the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee’s libraries to host a copy of the book and its chapter on their Digital Commons page (link coming soon!). Digital Commons is both highly visible to search engines, but it also has a kind of institutional imprimatur that will reinforce the academic character of the book and hopefully make it accessible to a wide audience. It will also be available from The Digital Press page and with any luck some future titles (and I have a couple in particular in mind) will help attract readers to the book. Finally, I’ve been talking with the book’s editors and we agree that getting the book up on our various academia.edu pages will align the book with various scholars’ interests and provide a context for our work.

Situating our work in an appropriate context seems crucial for the long-term success of a book. When the first wave of downloads subsides and the bubble of sales deflates, the real fruits of publishing appear as the book moves into the scholarly or public conversation, gets cited, and circulates. Getting a digital book onto the right bookshelf is an important step to ensure the lasting impact of a work.