Chronicling Budget Cuts: Narrating Institutional Memory in the 21st century

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts thinking about the recent round of budget cuts at the University of North Dakota. Go read part 1part 2, and part 3 if you find this interesting.

One of the little things that working on the Bakken oil boom has taught me is that history is awkwardly situated to deal with the 21st century. Historians have long preferred to think of themselves as working in the “long present,” but the speed of change (and capital) in the 21st century has pushed us to think harder and work faster to keep relevant. Our long-standing practice of deliberate reading and our veneration for documents feels upset by the ephemeral blur of digital communication and the decentralization of media. If the speed of the present and the distributed and ephemeral nature of historical evidence aren’t challenges enough, we are also beset by a crisis of agency which has opened the door to objects, people, groups, even such abstractions as the environment and time has exerting agential weight in the construction of the future. As someone with largely philological training and still prone to look to the “Classics” to understand the two centuries worth of modernity, the changes have been bewildering. 

That being said, history has to adapt, and I’ve got to thinking that the budget crisis at the University of North Dakota offers an opportunity to figure out how our discipline can move at the speed of the present. The current (and by current, I mean the last couple of years) budget crisis offers a few key challenges and opportunities.

1. Evidence. The body of evidence explaining the budget cuts is highly distributed and ephemeral. Last week, for example, each division and college released another round of draft versions of their budgets here. But this clearly is not an archival location (and these are the second drafts of their budgets; I have copies of the first drafts, but I’m not entirely sure that they are still available publicly). These are pretty basic documents, but I’d struggle to find the budgets released just a year ago (although I’m sure it’s possible) for the first round of budget cuts. Moreover, these “official” documents only tell part of the story.

A simple search of my email for the word “budget” has produced thousands of documents and the prospect of a public records request to the institution for, say, all of the President Schafer’s and President Kennedy’s emails on budget cuts would produce literally thousands more. This is not even considering the correspondence at the level of the deans and departments and divisions, and various documents – minutes, agendas, memos, and the like – that spew forth from complex institutions on a daily basis.

More essential yet is a recording of the human cost of budget cuts. Since the “cutting time” began last year, there have been heartbreaking testimonials offered at public fora, outbursts at faculty senate meetings, and innumerable stories, anxieties, and conversations in the hallways, offices, and conference rooms across campus. Particularly high-profile stories sometimes appear in the media, but most of the impact of budget cuts on individuals do not make it into the Grand Forks Herald or an official email.

Fortunately, there are easy – and anonymous – ways to collect the stories of the budget crisis. One of my favorite digital history projects of the past decade was the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank which used Omeka to collect people’s stories of hurricane Katrina and Rita. Similar projects have used Omeka to document the stories of 9/11 and the Virginia Tech shootings, and the developers of Omeka have shown a strong awareness of the need to protect user anonymity

The trick is with any project like this to get people to contribute.

2. The Narratives. Producing a body of evidence will not be enough, of course. Individuals will have to take on the task of using this evidence to produce narratives of the budget cutting process. There will not be just one story, and it will not be a story that can accommodate all sources of evidence. From the perspective of historical methodology, the immediacy of the crisis, our commitment to institutions and individuals, and our larger view of the goal of higher education and the state will undoubtedly shape the kinds of stories that we can tell.

The plurality of voices, stories, and perspectives is the key strength of a project like this. As a historian, I recognize that our values and commitments appear through how we speak about the past both informally and as professional practitioners. By navigating, however selectively, the deluge of evidence, we present more than simply a view on how the budget cuts happened, but we seek to identify the key moments in the process and outcomes that we hope will shape future considerations. Historians, through analyzing the record of complex events, produce a template for future actions. Identifying through analysis and narrative, the problems and successes within the process will shape the future.

3. Memory and Forgetting. As I began to mull a project like this over in my head, I looked around for recent models that presented university budget cuts as more than simply a policy and planning issue. I wanted something that introduced a more open-ended and multi-vocal oral history or even ethnography to budget cuts in higher education and didn’t find much in my admitted hasty literature search.

What struck me is how crucial institutions and institutional records are to the process of remembering and forgetting things like the trauma associated with budget cuts. Laws and rules ensure that policy decisions get recored carefully and archived in their overwhelming detail, but the human cost is often lost to the informality of the moment. As a result, budget cuts appear in the administrative record as impersonal policy decisions without the complexities of their human cost. This is an intended consequence, of course, of institutional work. It occludes pain and emotional through the rationality of its structure, and while this structure is necessary, as a historian, I can’t help but think that our responsibility is to complicate the neatness of administrative authority.

The additional benefit of the personal side of budget cuts is that they can make the massive deluge of administrative evidence legible for the future. In effect, the personal side of budget cuts can curate the administrative evidence by marking those documents that had an impact on individuals within the university community. This curation would function as a way to ensure that we both narrate and remember the unfolding of the budget crisis in a way that will inform future decisions both in North Dakota and elsewhere, communicate the human cost to a wider audience, and make the experience of the budget cuts accessible to a future generation.

Finally, years ago, I wrote a history of the Department of History at the University of North Dakota, and it was very much an institutional history. The reason for this is that the university archives are a trove of administrative documents, but preserve very little in the way of personal encounters with UND’s campus, institutions, and individuals. This is both sad and rectifiable, but we have to think of our experiences at UND as contributing to the history and fabric of the place. This involve being proactive and making sure that they are recorded, curated, and narrated.

If you’re interested in being part of a project to document the budget cuts at UND, drop me a line here or on social media or over email. You know how to find me.

Announcing the Digital Edition of Pyla-Koutsopetria 1: A Free Download

Over the past three years, I’ve been working with the good folks at the American Schools of Oriental Research (especially on the Committee on Publications) and Sarah and Eric Kansa at Open Context to produce a linked, digital version of our 2014 book in the ASOR Archaeological Report Series, Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coast Town that I edited with my friends David Pettegrew and R. Scott Moore. 

Here’s a link to download the book. All you have to do is to become a friend of ASOR which free. Do it! 

Scott Moore and I worked to insert hundreds of links throughout the book to our data which we published on Open Context at about the same time as the book appeared. These links are permanent, persistent, and unique which is super cool. This allows a reader to “drill down” into our data. I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago, but I’ll expand some of the main points here This is good for our data and for our readers for a few reasons:

1. Every Sherd. Ok, well, not technically EVERY sherd, since we did group identical artifacts together into batches. But since the batch is the smallest level of archaeological analysis for our project, a reader can look at exactly those sherds that led to to make a particular argument. Here is a sample of the batch table, and here’s a link to a Roman period kitchen ware rim.

2. Every Unit. Our batches coincide with units which is the smallest spatial division of our survey area. Over the last couple of years Open Context has become much slicker in dealing with spaces in a survey project. So it’s now possible to attach particular batches of artifacts to particular spaces or to query particular places for the artifacts present there. Here’s Unit 39, and here’s Batch 29 (a Late Roman 1 Amphora handle).

3. Every Type. We organized our artifacts using the Chronotype system which provides a local typology for each artifact recovered during the survey. This typology can be extraordinarily broad (for example, a Medium Coarse Ware, Ancient History which is a sherd datable only to the historical period (i.e. 700 BC – Today) with a medium coarse fabric)  or rather more narrow (like a Late Roman 1 type amphora). These can then be viewed across the units in the survey area.

This kind of linked archaeological publication, however, is just the start. There are a few things that a future model for this kind of publication could do.

1. Links from Data to the Book. At present, it is easy and useful to drill down from the rather traditional archaeological monograph into the data. It is not possible, right now, to drill up (?) from the data to our arguments. 

2. Beyond the Book. There are also precious few opportunities (yet!) to go from our work and Chronotype typologies into other bodies of published data. One low hanging fruit would be the Levantine Ceramics Project data which could be linked to our PKAP finds data to expand both datasets. As we look ahead to publishing data from the excavation at Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla, we hope to be able to link to both our survey and excavation datasets in a born digital publication.

3. Better Digital Circulation. Right now, this is a trial balloon designed to show what is possible leveraging existing platforms and a little DIY elbow-grease (like, inserting a bajillion links!). In the future, we need to look toward a better way to circulate the digital manuscript and to ensure it’s stability and persistence. Obviously, the friction of having to add your email and join a list is not terribly great, but it remains a barrier to access. More significantly, ASOR’s Archaeological Report Series does not have a standard way to distribute digital content and to make it discoverable on the web, and this makes sense, since this is a proof-of-concept type project, but in the future, we hope for a more robust method to make digital publications available from ASOR with as low a barrier to entry as possible!

Anyway, these are all exciting prospects for digitally publishing of archaeological data and reckon that this is a great way to celebrate “Love Your Data Week 2017

ARS 21  PKAP Linked SM Page 003

On Academia.edu

Yesterday Sarah Bond published a thoughtful, short article in her regular Forbes column suggesting that academics abandon Academia.edu and move their research to open access alternatives. Bond argues that academia.edu is a for-profit wolf in .edu-sheep clothing. It’s not a real .edu, in that it’s not in institution of higher learning (which is the current criteria for an organization to use the “.edu” domain name). It is a for-profit company that is looking for ways to monetize academic research further. Academia.edu’s recent offer to boost a participant’s visibility on their increasing crowded site for a small fee would seem to confirm their willingness to ignore academic convention in the name of profit. 

To be clear, I largely agree with Sarah’s critique and when Ethan Gruber and Eric Kansa lend their voices to the call, I’m even more inclined to follow their lead. My purpose of writing this blog post is to force myself to think through the issues at stake rather than necessarily to weigh in with any authority.

That being said, it seems to me that the pros and cons of academia.edu break down like this:

Academia.edu is good at what it provides at present: an easy to use and highly discoverable outlet for scholars to share research. They seem to have very little interest in interfering with what people upload to their site making it a useful back-channel for acquiring articles that would otherwise be trapped behind paywalls. They don’t charge fees for posting content or downloading content. 

There are risks. Academia.edu can mine who looks at our research as well as the research itself and make this data available to people who do not have our best interest at heart (as well as those with shared interests, to be clear). As we have all encountered with Facebook, there is a model for monetizing visibility and discoverability, and it seems clear that academia.edu has in mind to monetize that. Finally, and most boorishly, academia.edu could clutter its interface with obnoxious advertisements, special offers, and other crap diminishing its legibility and utility. 

The risks associated with using Academia.edu are not, to my mind, entirely unique to that platform. For example, the recent panic over the status of climate change data in the U.S. has demonstrated that state sponsored repositories are not necessarily safe from those who seek to undermine the free exchange of information. In state with an emboldened and interventionist super-majority in our legislature, I am not sure that I would trust North Dakota to protect access to my work in a repository. At the same time, private companies who understand their audience, users, and clients, have recently gone to battle with the federal government to protect privacy of their users (while at the same time mining user data for their own purposes). It is likely, of course, that academia.edu sells what they know about us to third parties, but to avoid this practice one would have to stay off the internet entirely. As a user of academia.edu and any number of other commercial platforms and tools from gmail to Facebook, WordPress.com, and my iPhone, I’m familiar with the cost/benefit dance that goes on any time we use a diverse digital ecosystem, and our power as consumers and users of these tools to influence how they use the information that they collect about us.

As an aside, I’m not terribly concerned about academia.edu’s ability to mine our research. Making our research open to the public always exposes it to the possibility of commercial uses. After all, we hope that our students mine our research for their own personal profits, both monetary and, we can hope, humanistic. I also have the feeling that community building in the public sphere will expose us to certain risks. 

The alternatives to Academia.edu do help avoid some of the risks associated with that platform, but they sacrifice discoverability, ease of use, and familiarity. I know the argument that if more people used the alternatives, then they might develop many of the same features and utility as academia.edu and provide a platform that is simultaneously more open and safer. I’m slowly populating my account at the Humanities Commons with my research, but I think I’ll keep my Academia.edu account for a while. For now, the visibility and utility of the platform – much like gmail or even Facebook – outweighs the risks, but as negative vibes around it continues to grow, I’ll prepare my escape route.

More on Picking the President

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota’s most recent book, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College edited by Eric Burin is getting some positive attention both around campus and in the local media. 

If you haven’t downloaded the book, do it today! 

Check out Eric Burin’s interview with Prairie Public Radio’s Main Street here.

Our friend Jack Russel Weinstein has posted it to his blog, PQED, which I’m sure gets far more readers than this little outfit!

The book and some brilliant words from me and Eric also appeared today in the local campus outlet UNDToday. 

This weekend, I’ll get it all set for paper publication and with any luck it’ll be available on Amazon by the end of the month.

ASAPArcheo? Speed and Publication in Archaeology

Next month, I’m going to give a little paper at the TAG Conference in Boulder, Colorado. I posted a fairly provisional abstract for it here. Basically, I want to argue that speed with which academic ideas are made available is changing the practice of knowledge production even in very traditional fields like archaeology.

It was fortuitous that this week the New York Times published an article on how Carol Greider, a Nobel Prize laureate in biology, published a preprint of an article at site bioRxiv and then followed it up with a tweet using the hashtag #ASAPbio. The dissemination of research by preprint has been more or less common practice in some fields for the last two decades with peer-reviewed publication representing an article’s wide-spread acceptance rather than its debut before the public eye.

The utility of digital preprints is widely understood as a way to ensure that research, particularly publicly funded research, reach as wide an audience as possible. For some, the circulation of preprints represents a convenient way to undercut cost of top tier journals. It leaves the prestige of peer review more or less intact, by allowing traditional journals to publish a “definitive version” of a paper, but also ensures that research circulates more widely without the complications of pay walls. 

The #ASAPbio buzz, however, was not as much about undercutting the cost and barriers associated with traditional, peer-reviewed journals. As the “ASAP” hashtag implies, the preprint system also offers scholars a way to get their research to their colleagues and the public more quickly. The traditional peer review process takes time and tends to feed into an equally time consuming production process. For matters of immediate public health concern like the outbreak of the Zika virus in South and Latin America, the rapid dissemination of research might play a key role in averting a larger catastrophe.

Archaeologists, of course, can almost never make a claim that the publication of their results will avert some kind of catastrophe. At the same time, archaeological publication is slow even in the best of circumstances. Moreover, highly descriptive archaeological publications have tended to be both production intensive with images, technical texts, and intricate formats and benefited only modestly from peer review. In these circumstance, the pace of publication is less a product of the rigorous, synthetic interpretation necessary to create new archaeological knowledge (or at least the raw materials that form the basis for archaeological knowledge), and more a product of expectations assigned to “proper” archaeological publication. 

This opens a whole series of questions concerning the dissemination of archaeological “data” and the nature of archaeological publication. For example, how do we balance the need to disseminate our results efficiently and quickly against the need for comprehensive publication? I often wonder whether releasing data through an outlet like Open Context and not burdening traditional publishing houses with the expensive and time consuming practice of laying out catalogues is the way forward. While datasets available in Open Context can be peer reviewed, they do not necessary have to be to be posted there. The data sets can be refined and even expanded over time even after peer review (from my understanding). This flexibility allows scholars to publish quickly (and refine over time), but it also undermines expectations that published archaeological data represents a stable, authoritative source. 

Of course, any scholar working in the field knows that even catalogues produced through traditional publication practices are only as authoritative as the assumptions (chronologies, typologies, and practices) upon which they are based. Archaeology, as well as all academic disciplines, should probably reflect critically on our dependence on traditional practices and expectations bound up in conventional publishing. Our willingness to wait patiently for the appearance of an article in print, our willingness to put up with the endless routine of editing, formatting, and fussing, and our longstanding fetishization of printed texts on paper, in ink, has roots in the commercial enterprise of print publishing. As someone dabbling in publishing myself, I don’t think this is necessarily bad. After all, print publishing was the way for academic knowledge to circulate. Today, the close link between the technology (paper, typesetting, printing) and the expectations (editing, authority, and stability) associated with print publishing has made the dissemination of knowledge more ponderous, more expensive, and slower. 

Peer review fits into the tradition of print publishing because it reinforces the authority of texts, and it fits into a tradition of knowledge production that favors stability, accuracy, and persistence. If we shift our emphasis to a world where speed is a priority, we enter a world where the often slow process of peer review becomes a negotiable aspect in our desire for greater efficiency.   

Proposals for New Grant Programs

I spent part of yesterday morning contributing to an email discussion of digital humanities and virtual reality with the good folks at the North Dakota Humanities Council. This was both fun and productive. One result of these conversations is that I was encouraged to propose some new grant initiatives to the NDHC. These are just proposals, but I wanted to think out loud here on the bloggie-blog to gets some feedback from as wide an audience as possible. As with any grants, the outcomes are only as good as the program will allow. Poorly articulated grant programs produce poor projects.

The first of two new programs that I’d propose would be called Digital North Dakota Grants. These grants have three goals:

1. Extending the Reach: The state of North Dakota has long suffered a diaspora of sorts as people with strong North Dakota ties have moved elsewhere for a better climate, more opportunities, and a different life. These individuals often retain a strong sense of connection to the state and its communities. The energy and remittances from this diaspora community has had an impact on life here in the state. The Digital North Dakota Grants would be a way to engage the North Dakota diaspora in the vibrant, local humanities scene.

More importantly, perhaps for the NDHC is that these folks have resources, and as the NDHC has turned its attention toward development to ensure that our programs can weather upheavals in federal funding, we need to expand the impact and reach of the NDHC to the diaspora who have typically remained active in state initiatives.

The population of the state has historically trended older, but recent trends have shown that the state is, in fact, getting younger and the media age of ND residents is now below the national average. Our younger constituency typically lacks the financial resources of the North Dakota diaspora, but should nevertheless be a target audience for humanities programing. Digital North Dakota grants would help bring a generation of citizens more familiar with digitally mediated discussions into the conversation.

2. Celebrating the Local. The National Endowment for the Humanities initiated its Office of Digital Humanities in 2011. This office has funded a wide range of grants that they recognized as having national and international impacts. They have been somewhat less interested in digital projects that have local impacts or reflect the more focused priorities of local communities. As we approach the 20th anniversary of the 1997 Red River flood or the 50th anniversary of the publication of Elwyn Robinson’s influential History of North Dakota, we encounter local events that speak directly to history of the region, the state, and our communities. Funding to support digitally mediated projects that engage these events (as examples) is unlikely to come from a federal sources (and even if it does, the NDHC brand should be associated with work to preserve, celebrate, and reflect on these memorable events).

3. Preserving the Conversation. The NDHC is remarkable in its ability to stimulate conversations. All too often, however, these conversations, discussion, and engagement are ephemeral. Digitally mediated conversations offer a way not only to expand the conversation but also to preserve it allowing future generations of North Dakotans to reflect on how certain events or encounters transformed their ways of thinking or even their communities. For example, the recent tumult over the new University of North Dakota nickname provides a fascinating perspective into the relationship between UND stakeholders and Native communities, ideas of North Dakota identity, and the politics of race in the state. Creating a digital application where members of the community can contribute their reactions to this process, while it remains energized by emotions, polemic, and conversation, presents an exciting way to document and capture the local history of the state at a particular moment in time.

With these goals in mind, my proposed grant would encourage applications that (1) extend the reach of traditional humanities programming, (2) focus on local concerns, issues, collections, and conversations, and (3) feature robust data management plans to ensure that both the program and conversations are preserved. Successful proposals must stimulate discussion, focus on local groups or communities, and encourage and preserve dynamic and thought provoking engagement with the humanities. Purely archival or access based initiatives will not be funded unless they foreground dynamic opportunities for reflective and reflexive engagement with collections. Whenever possible proposals should involve open source software and encourage free, open access materials.

In my formal proposal, I’ll include case studies funded by other state humanities councils like Washington’s, DC Digital Museum or Vermont’s wonderfully simple, Civil War Book of Days serial email.

The second proposed new grant program would focus on the North Dakota Humanities Council’s already successful GameChanger Series. One of the most exciting things about this series is how effectively it stimulates discussion and brings together a diverse and dynamic group of speakers and from the community to engage with the most pressing issues of the day. The first GameChanger focused on conflict and culture in the Middle East, the second focused on the challenges and opportunities of the digital world, and next year’s series will celebrate 100 years of the Pulitzer Prize.

The disappointing thing about these events is that the energy of the conversation tends to dissipate rather quickly as the attention of the small NDHC staff ramps up for the next year’s event. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether the game has, in fact, changed (or just the playahs). The KeepChanging Grant Program would support programs and projects that continue the momentum and themes of the GameChanger series in the three years following the event. Each year at least three grants would be available with at least one grant set designated to support a project related to each of the previous three years of the GameChanger. (Wow, that’s hard to articulate in a clear way!).

The goal of the KeepChanging program is to extend the impact of the GameChanger series without taxing the small NDHC staff. It will also provide us with an informal measure of the impact of the GameChanger in on the humanities in the state. Presumably more engaging events will spur ongoing interest.

As per usual on the blog, I’m interested in any and all feedback on these ideas. They are, as I said, just proposals; just my thoughts, man – right or wrong.

Curated versus Automated Revisits

There’s a good bit of buzz lately about Apple Music’s “curated” playlists, and TIDAL, my preference for a music streaming service, offers a range of curated music playlists as well. In general, the term curation, like crafted, artisanal, or any of the other tech-media, marketing buzzwords has come to mean that a human, rather than an algorithm has produced a collection. As many, many have observed, the term curation is annoying and overused.

But I still want to use for a little bit in reference to our work on the Western Argolid Regional Project. This morning, I took some time out of the field to start to analyze some of our finds and field data. We plan to revisit a few units before the season concludes and to collect some more material. Our hope is that these targeted revisits will help us both to refine our survey methods by offering some points to calibrate our sampling strategy, they’ll help us produce more robust assemblages of types of pottery that might only appear in very small quantities using our typical collection approach, and revisits will allow us to document archaeological features a bit more intensively than we would have time and resources to do over the course of intensive survey.

RevisitMap4BlogSM

We target sites for revisit in three ways. First, our field teams can tick a check box and provide a brief explanation for why a particular unit is worth revisiting. Our ceramicists, Scott Gallimore and Sarah James, can also identify units as being interesting, important, or confusing and consequently worth revisiting. Finally, we can analyze data through our GIS and databases that target units with certain characteristics (such as low visibility with either high densities or diverse assemblages). Our revisit lists generated by team leader and ceramicists are not fortified by statistics, but generated through careful observations and total situational awareness. These units represent the slow archaeology approach to landscape and artifact analysis.

So far, it has been heartening to recognize that the lists of revisit units curated by our team leaders and ceramicists are remarkably consistent with the units generated from my analysis of our various databases. In fact, combining the curated list of unit with list of units generated through our analysis of GIS tend to complement each other by expanding the potential target units for revisit. As we nuance the criteria for revisit a bit over the next week, I’m sure that we’ll discover some counterintuitive units that will serve as tests of our archaeological instincts. For now, though, we’ll proceed into the final week of the season with just a bit of confidence that our experiences in the field and at the pottery tables reflects the complexity of our study area.

Adventures in Podcasting 8

This week, Richard and Bill welcomed their first guest into the studio: Andrew Reinhard. We convinced Andrew to talk to us about his research on Archaeogaming which is the archaeology in and of video games. We became particularly interested in his assertion that “meatspace” is no different than the virtual space of games. This, as you might guess, triggered some vigorous discussion that eventually devolved into Bill citing Pierre Bourdieu and railing against capitalism, Richard interviewing his 8-year-old son and comparing capitalism and video games to religion, and the homunculus who operates Andrew’s flesh robot almost leaping out of his head. Needless to say, a good time was had by all.

The opening and closing track on the podcast is 80-R’s Pacific Rim. You can listen to it in its entirely here.

Meatspace is a thing.

Over 19 million people have bought the PC version of Minecraft which is apparently Minecraft: Savior of Education and Marginalized Kids, according to the Fargo Forum.

There are only three characters you need to know about in Minecraft:

Steve– your default character

steve

Herobrine– your nightmare:

herobrine

Notch – the Creator:

110px-Notch_Adweek

Read a bit about Herobrine.  Then read a bit more.   This seems to be the ur-CreepyPasta.

Good lord, do you live in a box?  Learn about CreepyPasta.

And, well, we only briefly touch on him, but Slender Man is mixed up in the this a bit – he is the inspiration for the Endermen.  You should probably be aware of the tragic, bizarre and sad, Slender Man stabbing perpetrated by two 12 year old girls in Wisconsin.

A super-brief explanation of why Minecraft is so popular at Kotaku.

Richard’s son Matt reminded him that his prattle about Minecraft needs to be informed by an appreciation of DWARF FORTRESS. Fair enough.  Richard, a historian, responds ZORK – a version of which he played on the mainframe at CampVandyland a million years ago.  But Richard also concedes that Zork is not the same.

We don’t recommend going down this rabbit hole, but here are approximately 2,880,000 videos about Herobrine on YouTube.  (For perspective, Richard’s count is 19, Bill’s is 18, and Dionysus’s is 41,800).

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Mancamp Moment of the Week:  ManCamps in Grand Forks, North Dakota!  It won’t be different in the sense that every type of workforce housing that exists in the world exists in Williston.

Writing and Publishing

I’ve spent a good bit of time this past month preparing the Punk Archaeology volume for publication (hopefully within the next week or so) and laying out the volume dedicated to a series of short posts from last year’s 3D Thursday series of blog posts.

At the same time, I was thinking about this year’s series of posts on craft and archaeology, and it occurred to me that the process of managing a book from writing, to contributors to lay-out, represents an artisnal approach to production. As the artisan, I’ve managed just about every step in the process layout, with the appreciation that my late friend Joel Jonientz did much of the basic conceptualizing of the punk archaeology, cover design, and laid out the first draft, and Andrew Reinhard and Brandon Olson have done more than their share of copy editing for Punk Archaeology and 3D Thursday respectively.

PunkA cover 1

Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

1. Book layout is hard. It has taken me endless hours of fussing (and still more on the horizon) to get the basic layout of the book right. Things like gutters, margins, and overset texts have become a preoccupation. I still can’t get pagination right: who realized that chapters almost always start on odd numbered pages? It has taken me weeks of fussing to get things right for even a relatively simple book design. If the technical details are not complex, the execution is.

2. Book production is invisible. While I’ve been laying out my own books, I’ve also been editing page proofs for Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town for the ASOR Archaeological Report Series. As I’ve carefully re-read the text and made small corrections here or there throughout, I got to thinking how relatively invisible book designers, layout people, and even copy editors are within the system of academic production. So many of us academics consider ourselves sensitive to the various inequalities intrinsic to the various systems at play in our worlds. At the same time, I’ve never seen a particularly spirited defense of those folks who participate in the publishing industry below the levels of the clearly evil corporate overlords who spend their days converting the fruits of academic labors to the fruits of their table.

(With not a little embarrassment, I remember enabling a co-author to rewrite a good chunk of an article at the stage of page proofs, and the editors and production folks, through gritted-teeth, accepting our requests. As someone who is now spending time on the production side of publishing, I am becoming more and more aware of how our late-game creative decisions do not exist in a vacuum.)

3. The Heterotopia of Independent Publishing. Over the past few years, the potential of self or independent publishing has emerged as a largely unrealized threat set against the worst abuses of the academic publishing industry. As a blogger, I’m sure that I’ve expressed and even acted on some of those threats by pushing out pre-prints, sacrificing time that I could be spending producing products for publishers to make my ideas accessible on my blog, and by, finally, using my blog platform as an incubator for content that I will eventually publish with my low-fi press.

New Digital Press logo

At the same time, by actually following through on becoming an independent/self-publisher, I’ve realized how much time and energy goes into the production process. The time and energy involved in preparing a manuscript for publication redirects my work flow from writing toward editing, layout, correspondence, and even financial matters. The result of this reassignment of energy is that I will be a less productive scholar – at least for the foreseeable future. 

If our concern is making scholarship accessible to a wide audience in an efficient way, self and independent publishing represents a way of streamlining the appearance of scholarly works in print and cutting through a certain amount of corporate overhead. On the other hand, it shifts the burden of production closer to the hands of the author (and much of this burden is invisible in traditional, corporate model of academic publishing). 

Another View of Ghost Towns, Process and Product

My colleague Prof. Cindy Prescott generously offered this response to the my conversations with Troy Larson. 

Bill’s previous blog post and Troy’s response raise interesting questions about intellectual property and the relationship between academic and public history. Many researchers in the hard sciences worry constantly about being “scooped.” Historians (and people in the humanities in general) tend to worry far less about this, since we tend to be pursuing lines of inquiry that interest each of us individually, rather than all working toward common goals or on common problems (say, curing cancer). And the nature of historical research and publishing also means that the timeline is much slower — which is perhaps made possible by the fact that we’re less likely to be trying to beat each other to publish the same material.

Academic historians have traditionally staked a claim to their chosen research topics at conferences, which (sometimes) have a shorter lead time than do historical journals, let alone coveted monographs. But in my experience, historians generally value conference presentations for the opportunity that they represent to receive feedback from knowledgeable people who can help us to hone our arguments, more so than as an opportunity to stake a claim to a particular topic. Thus you are willing to share your database, because you believe that other trained scholars will bring their own perspectives to bear on that data and produce interesting arguments that enhance, challenge, or perhaps refute your findings. As an academic historian, you are free to welcome such challenges and refutations, precisely because you have already received the substantial benefit of a Ph.D. diploma and a tenure-track job on the basis of your interpretation of the data.

Likewise, I published a book based on my dissertation that will never make me a single cent, and I’m OK with that, because I didn’t write it to make money. I wrote it so that I could get and keep a job at a university. And I would gladly share the database on which I based part of that book — should it be useful to anyone else without me having to go back and bring order to my crazy notes — because I’d welcome different interpretations of that data. The worst that would happen to me is that someone might publish something that refutes my book and discourages people from buying the remaining stock of my book before it gets remaindered. Either way, I’m not getting any cash out of the deal, and it wouldn’t take away my tenure.

Blogs and other internet materials raise these questions precisely because they welcome engagement by the general public, who do not operate within the terms of academic scholarship. As I understand it, Troy Larson has been willing to share his images and ideas online not only because he’s generous, but also because he seeks to benefit from sharing them with an audience in much the same way that an academic traditionally has benefitted from presenting at academic conferences: (1) he gains an audience for an intended publication, and (2) he gains information and perspectives from others that will strengthen that publication. An academic historian wants very similar things, but ultimately seeks different long-term benefits. Academics, then, can afford to be more generous with data than can public scholars. As faculty at a public university, we’re essentially being paid to do so.

I’m intrigued by your comparison to borrowing from someone else’s class syllabus. For all that we insist on intellectual property rights to our teaching, I think that most academics will willingly share the reading lists for their classes. Indeed, we tend to borrow from one another’s reading lists, seeking the tried-and-true rather than to be cutting edge in terms of reading assignments. I suspect most college instructors would be somewhat more hesitant to share their lectures or active learning assignments, but even these we are more willing to share freely. We tend to think of teaching as a more collaborative experience — perhaps because no one is going to publish my lesson plans or give me tenure on the basis of those lesson plans. But perhaps more importantly, it’s because even someone who had my lecture notes would still have to stand up and deliver that lecture — and it would sound and look different from what I deliver in class.

I think that intellectual property concerns get raised far more often — and appropriately so — when it comes to the realm of online teaching. While a grad student could certainly deliver a lecture drawn from my lecture notes in their own course, that feels different to me than having someone else launch an online course using lectures that I had typed/videotaped/tegrity-ed. Because then they’re not just delivering a lecture based on my content (which in turn is based on information drawn from mainstream textbooks and materials). But my personal objection would come less from their cribbing of my ideas (which I had quite appropriately gathered from published sources in the first place, and in which I generally am not trying to make an original argument), and more from the sense that they are cheating and stealing my work. In other words, my objection comes not from them borrowing my content, but from them using my hard work without me benefitting. Why this is OK when sharing lesson plans but not OK when copying lectures, I’m not entirely sure – especially considering that I generally dislike lecturing, and am far more invested in, and am more proud of, my active learning assignments. I suspect that it is because I tend to view sharing ideas/plans for active learning assignments as part of the larger project of intellectual exchange that is one of my favorite parts of a career in academia (and that sharing tends to strengthen my other favorite part of an academic career: having an impact on student learners). But to copy a lecture wholesale feels like stealing or outsourcing my work (something that might allow the university to replace me and my tenure line with a cheaper teaching assistant or adjunct), rather than engaging in an intellectual exchange. I suspect that non-academic researchers like Troy Larson, who are depending on their information-gathering to make a living, would see someone else using their database more like I would look at someone else delivering my pre-recorded lecture content – particularly if the people using the data are supported by a larger structure such as a public university. While I am fearful of having my material “stolen” (used extensively) by someone who would teach for cheaper (a grad student or adjunct instructor), Troy Larson appears fearful of having his material “stolen” (used extensively) by someone who might be far better paid, but whose paycheck is primarily supported by their other services to a large research university.