Three Things Thursday: Blogging, Archaeology and Climate, and Poetry

I’ve reached the point of the summer when all my projects seem to melt together into chaotic ball of deadlines, half-met expectations, and long bikes rides. Needless to say, it has not been very productive.

At the same time, I am having fun thinking about things to blog about and then stretching my morning blogging time well into my second cup of coffee. So this morning, I have three things that might, someday, mature into full blog posts.

Thing the First

Years ago (let’s say 2008), I wrote a piece on the archaeology of blogging (and blogging archaeology) for Archaeology magazine’s website. I returned to some of the ideas in that article with a piece co-written by Andrew Reinhard for Internet Archaeology which considered the place of blogs in the academic ecosystem.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how blogging has changed over the past five years. When I started blogging, I imagined an audience who would be interested in understanding how the [academic] sausage was made. Along those lines, my blog would serve as part idea box, part academic scratch pad, and part preview channel for my various research interests. At my most optimistic, I considered it to be living supplement to my academic CV (with occasional dog photo!) and as a way to move back the veil on how academics produce new knowledge. In any event, it may be that this was an optimistic program from the start, but I continue to think that it has relevance. I suspect that this is even more true for today as the general public has become increasingly invested in understanding how scientific knowledge forms the basis for public policy, authority, and expertise.

That said, I can completely understand how my blog is not to everyone’s taste. Indeed, it seems like public scholarship has two main areas of emphasis. One is works that approach historical problems with a journalistic flair for narrative, description, and analysis. Ed Watt’s recent book on the fall of the Roman Republic fits this category as do works by the likes of Eric Cline or my colleague Eric Burin. These works have the potential to attract the elusive crossover audience that includes both academics and the general public and have emerged as a revenue stream for publishers and scholars alike. This is important at a time when library purchasing power is in decline and faculty salaries have tended to stagnate.

The other major strain in public scholarship, and one that has particular prominence in the blogging community, is politically engaged outreach. This involves writing — often for blogs, but also in more established publications — on both academic issues that have an impact on contemporary society and in efforts to demonstrate how the contemporary political discourse has had an impact on what we do as researchers. I find the work of folks like Sarah Bond, Rebecca Futo-Kennedy, and the folks who blog at places like Everyday Orientalism (and previously Eidolon) compelling and important voices. At the same time, I recognize that this kind of public outreach often puts you in the crosshairs of the political outrage machine on social media. On the other hand, their work also attracts significant positive attention from readers within and outside the academy and if the goal of public outreach is actually reaching the public, then these authors have succeeded in spades. 

That said, it is a very different kind of blogging than what I envisioned when I started my blog and one wonders whether the changing political and cultural economy of academia has fundamentally transformed the character of outreach and public oriented scholarship? 

Thing the Second

I really enjoyed this article in the Journal of Field Archaeology by Karim Alizadeh, M. Rouhollah Mohammadi, Sepideh Maziar, and Mohmmad Feizkhah titled: “The Islamic Conquest or Flooding? Sasanian Settlements and Irrigation Systems Collapse in Mughan, Iranian Azerbaijan.” It is another in the recent gaggle of articles interested in considering the role of climate change in the transformation of settlement and activity in the ancient Mediterranean (broadly construed) landscape. Alizadeh and colleagues look at evidence for fortifications and irrigation systems in the Mughan Steppe region of the Azerbaijan-Iranian borderland.

They argue that the Sassanians constructed a complex network of irrigation canals throughout the region that only faltered as a result of two major flooding events in the 7th century. These floods cut down the Aras River bed making disrupting its relationship to the steppe’s irrigation network. These flooding events may well be connected to changes in climate and hydrology precipitated by the Late Antique Little Ice Age. The subsequent abandonment of settlement in the Mughan Steppe in the late 7th century, then, may not be related to the Muslim Conquests and the arrival of Muslim military forces in the world. Or, alternately, the faltering irrigation may have made the regional less resilient in the face of political and military challenges. 

This kind of work has had me thinking more carefully about the settlement change in Greece in the 7th century and the relationship between climate change, changes in economic structures, and the evident reorganization of Greek rural settlement. While the data that we have for the environmental conditions at the local level remains fragmentary and inconclusive, comparisons with other regions of the Mediterranean give us another reason to resist assuming that political and military events precipitated changes in the settlement and economy.   

Thing the Third

Do go and check out the North Dakota Quarterly blog today. I’ve posted a poem by John Walser titled “Chronoscope 181: And that spot.” It’s a great example of how poetry (and music!) can do things with time that we struggle to accomplish in the more linear world of academic prose. Plus, it’s a perfect poem to read heading into midsummer and thinking about how long days can slow down time and make even the chaotic disorganization of summer feel like something significant… 

NDQuesday: A New Issue’s Cover

I don’t remember whether NDQuesday is a thing or not, but it does appear as a category for this blog and, so, it’ll be a thing for at least one more week.

Yesterday, we received page proofs from our publishing partners at the University of Nebraska Press and this included three options for the cover. The cover art is based on a series of prints by our art editor Ryan Stander called “Pursue _______________:” The sentiments on the panels were crowd-sourced and printed using a letterpress.

With a little big of luck, the issue should be out in early May, just in time for summer reading!

Here are the cover design options:

1.NDQ 88 1 2 cover 1

2.NDQ 88 1 2 cover 2

3.NDQ 88 1 2 cover 3

4.NDQ 88 1 2 cover 4

Do you have a preference? Let me know in the comments!

Poetry

It was wonderful to see the excitement surrounding Amanda Gorman’s remarkable poetry during yesterday’s inauguration. I wonder whether this will spur people to read more poetry – especially contemporary poetry – and support its publication?

Over the last few years, I’ve been reading much more poetry than ever before both for myself and as the editor of North Dakota Quarterly. I’m convinced that poetry speaks in unique ways to our contemporary situation. I has the capacity to be ambiguous, elusive, and shifting while also speaking significant and, at its best, profound truths to the world. It reminds me that being true shouldn’t be a watchword for a kind of desiccated empiricism or descriptive practices that value reportage over judgement, interpretation, and understanding. Despite recent calls to embrace “truth,” poetry makes clear that being true doesn’t mean being tidy or straightforward. Truth is messy and, in most cases, unclear.

Anyway, maybe we’re living in an age where poetry matters.

My colleagues and I post poetry regularly at the NDQ blog. You can check it out here.

If you like what you read in NDQit would be really great if you subscribed. Poets need venues for poetry to thrive and one way to make sure that the next generation of poets have places to publish, to be read, and to be discovered.

This week, I’ve be reading my way through the latest issue of Rattle, a poetry journal with an impressive circulation, some remarkable poetry, and an enviable track record. Check them out here.

I’m always excited to get a copy of the Beloit Poetry Journal and read through the remarkable collection of poets that it assembles each quarter. NDQ’s stablemate at the University of Nebraska Press is the wonderful Hotel Amerika, which always features provocative and new poetry.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the poetry of Sun Ra (here’s a nice little essay on what they can be like) and I’m looking forward to getting a copy of Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal collection of Black poets published in 1968: Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro American Writing, which is currently published by a Black owned press, Black Classic Press. You can get a copy here. It’s worth remembering that Alain Locke’s classic anthology of African American literature, The New Negro: An Interpretation, that sought to capture the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance just as Baraka and Neal captured the anger and frustration of Blacks in New York though the Black Arts Movement.

In any event, I’m not trying to convince you to read any particular poetry or to subscribe or purchase any particular journal or collection. At the same time, I AM trying to encourage you to channel your admiration for Amanda Gorman into supporting poets and poetry more broadly. So please, at very least click on one of the links and maybe you’ll find something amazing to read. 

Public Domain Day NDQ Style

This year’s Public Domain Day was pretty exciting. It featured, among other things, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby which was published in 1925 and therefore entered the public domain on January 1. Hemingway’s In Our Time, John Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer and Edith Wharton’s The Writing of Fiction join a rather distinguished slate of new books. Jennifer Jenkins provides an expansive list here.

This annual injection of new material into the public domain impacts North Dakota Quarterly which produced four issues in 1925 that are now free from any copyright restrictions. This is particularly significant for the Quarterly because we don’t have individual author agreements dating to those years so have only been able to release the material via rather more restrictive “no derivatives” licenses for entire volumes.

In the 1920s, NDQ was edited by E.T. Towne who was dean of the business school at the University of North Dakota. The magazine mostly featured UND faculty contributions, but nevertheless took on issues of both regional and national interests. Most of the articles are non-fiction or reviews, but there was occasional poetry and fiction.

A quick scan of the 1925 issues reveals some interesting contributions.

The January 1925 (15.2) issue featured a survey of American magazines by UND librarian Alfred D. Keator. It is revealing how much the publishing landscape has changed, but also, in some odd ways, remained the same. While we’ve lost most of the high-volume, popular periodicals and lower volume “little magazines” such as NDQ always experienced significant turn over, it would seem that many of the mid-range, quality periodicals have held on over the last century.

The April 1925 (15.3) issue features a group of articles close to my own interest relating to the religious history of the state of North Dakota. Prominent among them is a piece by Edward P. Robertson which offers a retrospect on 20 years of the unique relationship between UND and Wesley College. Robertson was the president of Wesley College and together with Webster Merrifield negotiated the landmark agreement between the two institutions. If you want to learn more about my interest in this arrangement, check out this article that I just submitted. Another article with a disarmingly contemporary feel is the physicist Karl H. Fussler’s piece titled “The Oneness of Nature,” which was delivered as a convocation address at the University of Manitoba. Fussler departs UND several years later for the University of North Carolina. The Wikipedias tells me what his son, Herman H. Fussler, was a pathbreaking librarian primarily at the University of Chicago.

The May 1925 (15.4) issue includes at article by Lauriz Vold titled “The Supreme Court, Congress, and the Constitution” which sounds like it could appear in any number of quality publications these days. E.D. Schonberger’s poem “Fortitude,” written amid the Agricultural Depression of the 1920s, likewise resonates with our current situation. Since it’s in the public domain, I can publish it here without fear of legal action by Schonberger’s heirs or his ghost.

The Quarterly journal  University of North Dakota  v 15 1924 1925  Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust D 2021 01 05 07 49 57

The final issue of 1925 is 16.1, which appeared in the November of that year. Like the previous years, there are quite a few articles the feel contemporary. For example H.E. French, Dean of the UND Medical School, wrote on “The Number and Distribution of Physicians in North Dakota.” His colleague John Sinclair, who taught anatomy, wrote on “Evolution—Fact or Theory” which must have had some significant currency in the aftermath of Scopes Trial. Finally, the issue included a short travelogue penned by Orin G. Libby who joined the “The Upper Missouri Historical Expedition of 1925” sponsored by the “Great Northern Railroad” (sic) and visited historical landmarks across the state.

North Dakota Quarterly 87.3/4 is out!

Over the last three years, I’ve been editor of the literary journal North Dakota Quarterly. Needless to say this work has nudged me well beyond my conventional comfort zone. I’ve had to try to wrap my head around not only the intricacies of managing an editorial board and expert genre editors but also develop a workflow with our publishing partners at the University of Nebraska Press.

In any event, this weekend I received my copies of issue 87.3/4. This is the last issue of the third volume that I have edited. It brings together over 300 pages of poetry, reviews, fiction, and essays, and I’m pretty happy with it. 

If you want a copy, you can subscribe here or buy a single copy. If you think you might want a copy, but aren’t quite sure check out our last issue which is available for free here or drop me an email and I’m happy enough to send (very quietly) along a digital version  for you to peruse (as long as you promise to at least consider supporting NDQ!)   IMG 5816

Old Wine in New Skins: The University of North Dakota and the Great War

A few years ago, when The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota was just starting and when I was feeling my way forward as the editor of North Dakota Quarterly, I produced a little book as much as a design study as anything: The University of North Dakota and the Great War. The book was a reprint of nine articles published in North Dakota Quarterly between 1916 and 1919 that deal with the Great War. I set the book in Doves type which has just been re-released at around the same time. 

This past fall a colleague in the Department of English here at UND asked me whether we had ever produced a print version of the book. I admitted that we had not. He then wondered whether it would be possible to do this for a class he’s teaching on the literature of World War I. 

Six weeks later, we’ve prepared a print version of the book. I’ll release it over at the NDQ blog later this week and cross post with The Digital Press then as well. 

To be honest, it’s not my best work. There are some inconsistencies in the table of contents that will haunt me for a while (O.G. Libby versus Orin G. Libby?). I decided this morning that these reflect the historical place of the book in my development as a designer and publisher. I don’t have as clever an explanation for why I had to quickly upload a corrected cover to Amazon and revise the Amazon product description yesterday afternoon (ideally this will be live by noon-ish today).  

Anyway, warts and all, it’s here and available for anyone who wants it for the low, low price of $7.

As a little inducement to purchase this little book, the money raised by this little volume will support both the mission of The Digital Press and it’s role as the financial and production backstop for North Dakota Quarterly. In 2021, NDQ will embark on a rather ambitious new project: a book series. While we’re still trying to work out some of the details, our current plan is for the books to be published under their own imprint from The Digital Press and distributed by the University of Nebraska Press, the publisher of NDQ. The Digital Press will support production and the proceeds will contribute to the financial viability of both NDQ and The Digital Press.  

Of course, the best way to support NDQ is to subscribe, but if you’re looking for a less serious commitment with a historical flavor, grab a copy of the University of North Dakota and the Great War. If you looking for something more poetic, consider buying a copy of Snichimal Vayuchil, which is an experimental poetry workshop in bats’i k’op, or Tsotsil Maya, where writers create poetry in their own mother language and Spanish, sharing their work as a form of what they call relational poetry. 

Download it here or buy it in paperback here.

UND and The Great War COVER SINGLE FINAL 01

NDQ 87.1/2 By the Numbers

I’ve been thinking a good bit about how what we write, publish, edit, and read reflects how we think about the world. Over the weekend, I read Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein’s Data Feminism (which will be “soon” be available open access here). They include in an appendix some statistics on how well their work fulfilled their goals of producing a diverse perspective on data science in keeping with the central theme of their work. They admit that in many cases they fell short of their goals, but this transparency allowed the authors to show their aspirations and come to terms with the limits of their field, their research, and their writing. I was deeply impressed.

I’ve been trying to do a similar thing with each issue of North Dakota Quarterly. We receive thousands of submissions each year and accept far less than 10% of them. This means that our editors exert a significant influence over the shape and character of the issue. At the same time, the world of creative writing and little magazines is a small one, and our contributors influence our readers and ultimately who submits to the Quarterly. In other words, what we publish exerts an influence on who submits and our pool of potential contributors.

Anyway, here’s what I posted today over on the NDQ blog: 

We’ve been thrilled to see that North Dakota Quarterly 87.1/2 has been downloaded over 770 times over the last few weeks! We hope that some of those downloaders like what they read and will consider becoming contributors, subscribers, or at very least regular visitors to our blog.

If you want to download our most recent issue, go here. No strings attached!

In the tradition of little magazines, our contributors tend to subscribe and our subscribers tend to contribute. This reciprocal relationship ensures that the Quarterly reflects our readers and gives our authors and editors an opportunity to create the kind of magazine that they want to read. Each issue, then sits at the intersection of our editors’ and contributors’ tastes. It also means that as editors we can move the needle on the character of NDQ which we also hope attracts new readers and subscribers.

Recent conversation among academic authors concerning the impact of  COVID-19 has given the relationship between readers and contributors in scholarly journals a new sense of urgency. According to reports from across disciplines, there’s been a steep decrease in the number of articles submitted by women to academic journals, or, alternately, there’s been a steep rise in the number of articles submitted by men. The argument is that with stay-at-home orders and the closing of most schools, women’s roles as care-givers in the family have increased, and this has cut into their research and writing time. Limited access to home work space, the increased burden of emotional labor as classes and colleagues deal with pandemic related stress, and the greater number of women who carry heavy teaching loads made all the heavier with the requirement to teach classes online likely also contributed to a decline in submission from women. The COVID-related social changes continue into the foreseeable future, the decline in submissions from women may have long-term significance especially if it’s multiplied by declining number of women who have the time to serve as peer-reviewers, participate actively on editorial boards, and other behind the scenes academic work that shapes the content and quality of scholarly journals.

Our submission data at NDQ can be a bit messy. For example, it’s not too unusual for authors to submit revised manuscripts resulting in multiple submissions by the same author over a period of time. Our poetry and non-fiction editors accept submissions over two designated reading periods per year meaning that some authors may hold their work and the date of submission may not represent the date of composition. Our poetry editor allows for up to 5 poems in a single submission which complicates acceptance rates, for example. Finally, each of our editors deals with their archive of submitted material differently.

Despite these vagaries, we can detect an uptick in submission since the start of the COVID period between March 15 and May 12, which was largely driven by a substantial increase in poetry submission. Fiction and non-fiction submissions appear to have remained relatively stable over the same period in 2019 and 2020.    

Because of differences in archiving practices, our best data comes from our Fiction submissions that remained relatively stable in number between 2019 and 2020. Between March 15 and May 2, 2019, 60% of the submissions came from authors with male names and 33% came from authors with female names. Over that same period in 2020, 70% of the submissions came from authors with male names and 25% from authors with female names. This suggests, with a bit of fuzziness, that there are hints of the larger trend of women submitting less during the “Time of COVID-19.”  Since we accept fiction, essays, and poetry often a year in advance of publication and because we sometimes accept more than we can publish in a single issue, we tend to blend material submitted over a long period of time. It may be that this will help mitigate the impact of any trend in submissions during the pandemic.

NDQ 87.1/2, our numbers reflect, to some extent, the character of our submissions. About 56% of our contributors have men’s names and 43% have women’s names. This more or less holds across all genres with the number of published pieces (poets often have more than one poem published) 53% by authors with men’s names and 47% from authors with women’s names. 

While the gender of our author’s names don’t come close to telling the whole story concerning the content of any volume of NDQ, it does give us one perspective on who reads and submits to the Quarterly. We could add that we published material from authors who live in 26 states and 8 foreign countries. We don’t collect data on the age, race, or background of our authors.  

It would be possible to perform a more subtle quantitative reading of the issue that could map topics, the gender, race, class, age, and ethnicity of characters, their sexual orientation, the identity of speakers, and other meaningful markers of diversity, but, at some point, the best way to understand the scope of our magazine and its contributors is to simply read an issue. I hope you’ll find something that speaks to you in it.

We also recognize, of course, that we still have work to do to create issues that reflect the diversity of creative voices in the world today. 

Have I mentioned that you can download it for free?

We’re also offering a discount on subscriptions with the coupon code on this page.

We’re always reading fiction, and will continue to read essays and poetry at least until the end of the month (and maybe longer in response to the chaos and confusion of the COVID-19 pandemic). It’s always free to submit to the Quarterly.

Being Digitally Humane

Last week, I wrote a little piece drawing attention to Jeremy Huggett’s recent article in Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology titled “Resilient Scholarship in the Digital Age.” You can read it here. A few colleagues on the NDQ editorial board suggested that I tweak it a bit and post it to the NDQ blog partly because it evokes ideas that I originally started to play with in an essay that I published a few years ago in NDQ. Since I’m a slave to flattery, I worked on it a bit over the last day or so. Here’s a draft. I’ll tidy it up and run it for real at NDQ tomorrow.

In the latest issue of Ploughshares, Viet Thanh Nguyen states “literary change at the structural level will not happen without quantification. We will not be able to see how prejudiced our tastes are if we do not track who we are publishing and who we are hiring.” He recognizes, of course, that qualitative considerations have long held the center of literature and the humanities, but quantitative work allows us to recognize patterns of practice at scale.

Nguyen’s sensibilities feel jarring today (even to me as a scholar who move between qualitative and quantitive work in my own research) because the humanities so often find themselves between the twin pinchers of funding models that privilege STEM programs and the growing reach of the modern assessocracy who seeks to reduce all aspects of campus life to numbers (and then, at the end of the day, dollars). I have heard the subtle grumbles from my own editorial board when it comes to reducing the submissions and contributions to NDQ to numbers. I remain committed to tracking gender and genre across our submissions (race is harder, but national origin is relatively easy). I also recognize that a journal like NDQ needs to have a certain number of subscribers to survive, that the length of the journal is reckoned in the number of characters, and our webpage statistics is important to understand our reach, submission patterns, and popularity. (Facebook and Twitter drive most of the traffic to our site, so you should follow us there!) In most cases, my editors just ignore my quantitative ramblings, but some send snarky little emails. It’s fine. I get it.

Earlier this month one of may favorite scholars, Jeremy Huggett at Glasgow, published a piece in the Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology titled “Resilient Scholarship in the Digital Age.”  In it, he faces head on the tensions between the digital practices that bravely lately come to dominate the quantitative culture of our neoliberal universities and digital practices that we embrace in our academic work (and, in Huggett’s case, digital archaeology, but the broader digital humanities and social science apply here). The same digital tools that I employ to monitor the performance of the NDQ website and the diversity of our authors are used to assess the popularity of majors, rank the performance of faculty research and teaching, and distribute funds to programs. More than that, the blog on which your reading this piece, our digital archive, and even the digital version of NDQ that critiqued the university in this age of austerity, all offer a compromised experience compared to the paper copy of the Quarterly that is set to arrive in your mailbox later this fall. Even as I write this, I’ve been interrupted by emails, tracked down a wayward citation, and checked the time of the Phillies game tonight. My attention is regularly so divided through my digitally mediated work that while many things happen, fewer things get done, despite the ease with which I can communicate with publishing partners, co-authors, and my growing body of “born digital” data. As Huggett notes, the same tools that allow us to connect with our professional lives more easily also contribute to the “always on” culture and professional burn out.

Huggett’s paper doesn’t stop at critique, however. He concludes his article by asking is whether we can use the same tools and practices to build more resilient academic and professional communities. A similar question has haunted us as we have persisted with NDQ even after it seemingly terminal budget cuts. By leaning more heavily on digital tools and their relationship with quantification and, ultimately, the market, we have tried to create space for the journal to continue. In fact, we’ve argued that the persistence of NDQ serves as a kind of statement of resistance to the practices of the 21st century university and contemporary ways of measuring social and cultural value (see my essay in NDQ 85).  The humanities can not only play the commercial, digital, and market-driven game, but we can subvert it even as university administrators and public officials attempt to pull the rug out from under us.

There are risks to this approach, however. As we increasingly use bits, bytes, and digits to mediate our world, I feel increasingly concerned that we not confuse these things with the experiences, people, places, and relationships that the are supposed to represent.   

The Page

I had an interesting conversation with a contributor to the next issue of North Dakota Quarterly. We accepted some poems with really long lines and the author asked whether we could find a way to publish them without breaking them. There are, of course, printing conventions for interrupting lines in poetry that must be broken because of the page width rather than for poetic effect. Generally publishers use indentation to show that a line has been terminated prior to a line break in the poem.

This poses a problem, of course, because line breaks of any kind impact the shape of the poem which is one way that an author communicates meaning. Our standard page width (NDQ publishes as 6 x 9) and font size (I think it’s published at 11 point font), however, produces certain limits. There’s a temptation to see page limits, then, as artificial or outside of the intent of the poet. In some (perhaps even many) cases, the page size is the product of the commercial goals of the publisher which leverage the economy of standardized sizes, designs, and layouts. On the other hand, most art encounters practical (and in many cases economic) limits that shape its expression. In fact, the practical limits of say, a modern piano or the printed page, are coincident with the way music and prose create meaning. 

Digital publishing challenges some of the conventions of the page. The width of a website produced through standard responsive or adaptive design varies with the width of browser and the screen of the device. In other words, line breaks and page width are dynamic.

In contrast, a PDF maintains the integrity of the page as the frame for a text. Anyone who has tried to read a PDF on a mobile device recognizes the limits to this kind of publication. But, the PDF also allows for a publication to maintain certain conventions associated with pagination including page numbers (for references), line structure, and other visual cues that assist with recall, organization, and traditional practices. For example, I tend to remember key ideas or arguments based in part on where they appear on the page even if I’ve read these pages on a digital device like an iPad or laptop. 

The interplay between the digital page and line is pretty interesting. I’ve thought a bit about publishing a book of poetry and prose where every page is a different size and designed to accommodate a particular work. It would undermine a bit of the commercial character of the traditional printed page while also maintaining the integrity of the page as a stable space for the presentation of text. 

Who’s in?