Open Access, Digital Archaeology, and the Future of Publishing at ASOR 2019

Academic conferences remain one of the trickiest problems in our disciplinary practice. Not only are conferences expensive to attend (and this alone makes them potentially exclusionary for our contingent, alt-ac, and precarious colleagues),  bad for the environment, and physically and mentally exhausting, but they also reinforce the complex web of personal, institutional and professional connections that forms the “deep structure” of academia. In fact, so much of what goes on at an academic conferences happens over the course of casual conversation at the ends of panels, at committee meetings, at things overheard in the crowded hotel bar and lobby, and on various social media feeds. 

The future of archaeological publishing emerged as on of the most interesting conversations that traced its way from the Thursday meeting of the ASOR Committee on Publications, the Friday morning panel on best (or at least pretty good) practices, and in various planned and chance encounters throughout the meeting. Several things emerged from these conversations:

1. Archaeological publishing has a pretty significant “value add” to the knowledge making process. Putting together an archaeological publication, and particularly one that presents new archaeological “data,” is not a simple process. Ensuring that figures, photos, illustrations, tables, and catalogues consistently involves a high degree of editorial attention, a significant amount of design and production work, and almost continual correspondence with authors. This is time consuming, technical, and specialized work and that tends to make it very expensive.

The cost of high quality archaeological publishing even in the digital realm creates a distinct – if not unique – challenge to funding archaeological publications. This, in turn, requires that any open access model for archaeology include provisions for significant and sustained funding.  

2. Publishing and Revenue. Another challenge facing open access publishing in archaeology is that many non profit publishers (to say nothing of for profit publishers) and organizations see publications as a source of significant revenue. The revenue for journal subscriptions and book sales allows organizations – like ASOR – to fulfill their mission in other areas. As a result, there is a very cautious approach to providing any content for free. 

At the same time, the cautious approach may make organizations like ASOR particularly vulnerable to the growing pressure to make publications available via open access. My concern for ASOR is that in the next decade, whether they like it or not, revenue from publishing will change and likely decline as more and more scholars expect to be able to publish their works in open ways. As editor of the ASOR Annual, I’m already hearing that authors and editors want their work to be open access. We need to find ways to accommodate this. Plan S is looming and it’s going to have different impacts on different disciplines and institutions

3. Distributed versus Centralized Distribution. A key component to current models of open access publishing is “green” open access. In practice, green open access often takes the form of archived pre-prints or off prints. The former have the advantage of separating the scholarly work for the final value adds of the publisher (see my first point). The latter can often be negotiated by scholars as part of the publication agreement. 

The downside of this kind of open access practice is that it tends to be highly distributed across various repositories (archival and otherwise) with publications following scholars rather than following the organization brought together by publishers and editors. The downside of this practice is that it tends to link discoverability to some familiarity with an author (or at least their home institution). At present, there is a much greater investment (on any number of levels) in ensuring that limited access works are discoverable than the distributed array of open access works housed in institutional repositories. 

4. Open Access, the State and Colonialism. Archaeologists have long been aware of the colonial aspects of our practice. Open access publishing has positioned itself as one way to make sure that the communities in which we do archaeological work have access to our findings and results. To my mind, this is only good.

At the same time, this line of reasoning as a justification for open access publishing is easily anticipated by those who argue that open access publishing is a radical solution to a relatively simple problem. Many of the large for profit (and non profit) publishers already accommodate this critique by having policies that make content available at deeply discounted prices (or even for free) to “markets” in the so-called global south.     

This argument overlays usefully with the critique that by limiting access to publicly funded scholarship we’re forcing public institutions to pay twice: once for the research and again to have access. Of course, the response to this from traditional publishers is to find ways to ensure that constituencies responsible for funding certain research have access and that other audiences remain available for monetization. Such geoblocking is already fairly standard practices for online content.

In other words, while I don’t disagree with the two lines of critique, the outcomes hardly require open access as a solution. The responses available for non open access publishers are well established and unlikely to make the situation better.   

5. Skepticism, Confusion, and Analytics. One fo the most painful responses that I encountered this weekend to our efforts to develop open access models is a kind of skepticism based on the argument that impact factors and other forms of “advanced analytics” used by universities will continue to favor limited access journals. This, of course, conflates limited access with impact factors in a way that is unhelpful. It parallels a tendency to confuse the issue of open access with that of peer review by needlessly questioning whether open access publications CAN be peer reviewed. It also has similarities to the tiresome assertion that open access somehow is antithetical to print. Somehow open access has come to mean exclusively digital. This is crazy. It is entirely possible to publish an open access publication in print form. It also assumes that you can’t charge for open access publications. This is also not any truer than the idea that all free publications are open access. 

This persistent confusion — and not just among “senior” scholars, I might add — demonstrates how much work we still need to do to make sure that our disciplines embrace open access scholarship in a systematic and thoughtful way. 


Short Writing: A Book Cover, a Class Description, and a Random Thought

This week, I’m grinding away on a conference paper that I have to give next week. I’m also trying to wrap up a few odds and ends as the end of the semester and the holiday conference season approaches. These little odds and ends, tend to be short writing projects mostly (aside from the usual administrative trivia that goes along with publishing, editing North Dakota Quarterly, serving as my department’s director of graduate studies, and being a generally good doobie around campus.

Here are two short writing projects and some editorializing:

First, I’m trying to teach a little 1-credit class on Montgomery Hall. The course will be called Making Montgomery Hall. Here’s the blurb:

Making Montgomery Hall is a 1-credit class focusing on the now-abandoned building on the UND Campus. This will be the last class held in one of the oldest standing buildings on campus before it is demolished next year.

This class will support a wide range of engagements with the building from archival work, to the study of archaeology, material culture, campus history, and architecture. The class will also encourage students to consider opportunities for creative approaches to an abandoned building on campus. The goal of the class is to think together about how we remember, preserve, and mark campus history while simultaneously celebrating innovation, progress, and change.

NOTE: Because we have to get special access to this building, we do not have a scheduled meeting time. Once students enroll in the class, we’ll work out a meeting time or times that work for everyone.

Second, I’m putting the final touches on Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays which is due to drop on December 1. One the hardest things to do (and one of the things that I never feel very good about) is writing the back cover description of the book. I think this one is pretty decent:

Please, you gotta help me. I’ve nuked the university.

Failing Gloriously and Other Essays documents Shawn Graham’s odyssey through the digital humanities and digital archaeology against the backdrop of the 21st-century university. At turns hilarious, depressing, and inspiring, Graham’s book presents a contemporary take on the academic memoir, but rather than celebrating the victories, he reflects on the failures and considers their impact on his intellectual and professional development. These aren’t heroic tales of overcoming odds or paeans to failure as evidence for a macho willingness to take risks. They’re honest lessons laced with a genuine humility that encourages us to think about making it safer for ourselves and others to fail.

A foreword from Eric Kansa and an afterword by Neha Gupta engage the lessons of Failing Gloriously and consider the role of failure in digital archaeology, the humanities, and social sciences.

Here’s the cover:

Failing Gloriously Cover Draft 2 01

Finally, I’ve been thinking a bit about some of the recent vogue for “short work week” movements and the persistent buzz about work-life balance. A recent report from Microsoft Japan suggested that a four-day week improved productivity by 40%. While not doubting Microsoft’s research based on anything substantial, I often wonder how much the miracle of the short work week rests on the years of long work weeks that helped employees discover the efficiencies, processes, and practices that made shorter work weeks possible. In other words, short work weeks are great for employees who focus on well-established processes (which make measuring productivity meaningful) and perhaps those who do work in a highly modular way. They probably are not as ideal for folks whose work is more episodic, unpredictable, and irregular.    

Collaborative Publishing in Archaeology: Data, Workflows, and Books in the Age of Logistics

Just a quick blog post this morning! This week, I’ll submit my first timid foray into the scholarship of publishing archaeology. It’s mostly a position paper that frames my work at The Digital Press. This short piece originated as a paper delivered at the 12 annual IEMA conference at the University at Buffalo last year titled “Critical Archaeology in a Digital Age.” It’s due in revised and updated form at the end of this week.

You can download the more or less final version of the paper here: Collaborative Digital
Publishing in Archaeology: Data, Workflows, and Books in the Age of Logistics

As always, I’d appreciate any feedback on this and I continue to think about writing a longer, more developed version of these ideas for a journal article. In many ways, changes in how we think about publishing and its relationship to archaeological work more broadly are already well underway in archaeology as a discipline. Not only do experienced field archaeologists direct several major (and several smaller) presses that specialize in archaeological publications, but platforms designed to disseminate reviewed data sets have emerged to bridge the gap between field work and final publication. At the same time, the various professional barriers between archaeological work and publishing work continued to exist and, to my mind, these barriers are relatively under-theorized as part of the larger continuum of archaeological practice and knowledge making. Even as scholars have become more invested in the social construction of archaeological fields work, reflexive critique of methods, and the relationship between practice and the structure of the discipline more broadly, they rarely extend this critique to publishing practices despite a growing dissatisfaction with many of the financial and professional models that exist in academic publishing today.

Hopefully this paper provides a framework for this discussion which I suspect can be more ably developed by others in our field.   

In Production: Failing Gloriously and Other Essays

It’s International Open Access Week which means it’s a good time to talk a bit about The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. It just so happens that we have a new open access book in production even as we speak: Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays which features a foreword from Eric Kansa and an afterword from Neha Gupta. 

IMG 4395

It’s an intriguing volume that updated the venerable academic memoir for our contemporary situation and, at the same time, offers personal commentary on the digital humanities, archaeology, teaching, and our changing professional landscape.


The table of contents don’t really do it justice, but if you’re interested in an advanced copy and would consider blurbing it, drop me an email! 

Here’s the table of contents:


From a design perspective, I used Miller Text for the body of the book for the first time ever. It’s a “Scotch style” font that often appears in newspaper and periodicals. I thought that it fit the short essays in this book and communicated their contemporaneity and vibrancy. The use of Miller style fonts in magazines like The New Yorker also ensured that it communicated an accessible seriousness of purpose. For the titles, I used a compressed version of Akzidenz-Grotesk because it echoes the balance between the significance of this book in the present (Akzidenz-Grotesk being famously favored in early 20th-century emphemera) but also a kind of historical weight. Despite it’s modest origins, Akzidenz-Grotesk has become a serious font that harkens to a day before the ubiquity of Futura, Helvetica or other mid-century san serif typefaces. Age does that to a font!  

Flow and the Digital Press, Part 2

Last week, I presented part of a final, albeit working, draft based on a paper that I gave last spring at the annual IEMA conference at Buffalo. It’s due at the end of the month, and right now, I’m starting to feel deadline pressure.  

Here’s the final 1000 words or so of the paper, where I try to bring The Digital Press into conversation with the larger conversation about workflow and flow in a digitally mediated environment. It’s starting to take some shape.

As the fluid world of digital archaeology is creating new opportunities and challenges for publishing the results of our work, it also seems likely that it will transform entrenched attitudes toward publishing in our discipline. Digital Press at the University of North Dakota offers one example of how new boundaries between publishing and research emerge from the growing interest in digital workflow and its impact of the social organization of disciplinary practice within the field. To be clear, scholar-led projects such as the Princeton/Stanford Working Papers (Ober 2007) offered models for publishing that depended upon the digital affordance of production and distribution. The emergence of platforms like University of Minnesota Press’s Manifold which supports the transparent and interactive production of academic work likewise relies on the interoperability of digital flows from author’s laptop to the print-on-demand book. The digital affordances of our current scholarly workflow can be as simple as the practice of most academic papers taking shape in word processing software which can be easily converted for distribution on the web. Scholar-led platforms such as Open Context, which publishes peer-reviewed archaeological data, essentially makes artifacts of the digital flow susceptible to review through close attention to metadata and linked data standards.
The Digital Press is a rather more conventional project in comparison, but perhaps the conventional character of its work reflects the maturing of digital practices and a tipping point in how these practices shape professional relations within our discipline. Our current publishing model is fluid, but follows certain relatively consistent conventions. First, we use digital tools to produce and distribute our books at a low cost using print-on-demand printing for paper books, we distribute also through PDF downloads on a low cost website running WordPress, and finally, archive our books at UND’s institutional repository and the Internet Archive. Second, we publish mainly under various open access licenses. This eliminates some of the institutional friction that limits the circulation and distribution of our works. Finally and most importantly for this paper, we strive to collaborate closely with authors on all aspects of a publishing process. While none of these things are particularly radical or innovative, we feel like we are harnessing the flow of the the digital world and territorializing it as a conventional and familiar looking book. The involvement of archaeologists in the production of publishable data at the edge of the trench opens the door to a more dynamic model of archaeological publishing.

The Digital Press is almost entirely run by academics who lay out manuscripts, prepare marketing materials, use their own and their colleagues’ social media reach to promote the books, and manage acquisition, peer review, and copy editing. We even try our hand at cover design (with varying results). Our ability to perform these functions is possible largely because the basic publishing tools common to most presses – Adobe InDesign, the PDF format, Adobe illustrator – are available for relatively minor costs and they are increasingly simple to use. It is now possible to link descriptive text to discrete pieces of archaeological data, to create familiar and portable media rich documents, and to produce and archive these digital objects easily. In short, the development of digital infrastructure allows archaeologists to extend their workflow from trench side to final publication while remaining involved in all aspects of knowledge making. To be clear, my work at The Digital Press does not, necessarily, emphasize the creation of standardized, linked data. We leverage the kind of interoperable data the flows freely across the discipline only inasmuch as our works are largely open access and available for disaggregation. Instead, it leverages the breakdown of certain barriers present within the discipline, particularly between research and publishing, to expand the process of knowledge making and complicate the traditional black boxing of the publication process.
In short, we emphasize to our authors the opportunity to see knowledge making as extending from the earliest work in the archive or in the field all the way to its final presentation as a publication. In some cases, the Press is invited to participate as a publisher from the first efforts to conceptualize a project in much the same way that data archiving or publishing is now an expected part of a data management plan for any new research project. This integration allows us to work with authors to understand how best present their research and acknowledges that issues of presentation often have a direct impact on the perceived value of academic work.


To conclude, The Digital Press – and digital publishing practices in archaeology (and I’d propose in academia more broadly) – offers at least one way to think about the tension between the fragmenting of digital archaeological data and social practices at the core of knowledge making. The concept and practice of archaeological workflow in a digital environment has a social impact on our discipline. In publishing, digital tools and practices have contributed to a collaborative environment that is not grounded simply in the relative ease of using mainstream professional design tools and the basic interoperability of digital wordprocessors, but in the concomitant transformation in the social and professional context for creating new archaeological knowledge. Following the fragments of digital knowledge along the rhizomic streams connecting field practices to final publications challenges some of the traditional forms of organization that define archaeological work. The ease with which objects, human remains, and even buildings can move through digital media demonstrates, at some level, how digital workflows can transform the social and disciplinary limits on archaeological practice. This work to reterritorialize the digital workflows goes beyond producing a digital object with the familiar form of a book and extends to attempting to re-create the convivial spaces of premodern craft in an effort to wrest archaeological knowledge from the flow of fragmented data. In the end, the Digital Press aspires to contribute to the creation of new critical models for digital archaeology that both unpack by the black box of publishing and create a new, digitally mediated model for the production and dissemination of archaeological knowlege.

Flow and the Digital Press

For the last few weeks, I’ve been slogging through a revision and expansion of a paper that I gave last spring at the annual IEMA conference at Buffalo. It’s due at the end of the month, and right now, I’m starting to feel deadline pressure. 

Here’s my revised introduction.

Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology: Data, Workflows, and Books in the Age of Logistics

Over the last two decades, there has been the growing use of the phrase ”digital workflow.” As you might expect, the Google ngram plot for this term looks like the proverbial hockey stick. The term ”workflow” has its roots in the language of early 20th century scientific management, and the notion of “digital workflow” appears to have first emerged at the turn of the 21st century in the field of publishing. In this context, digital workflow spawned a series of “how to” style books that described both the role of computer technology in the production of print media and the new way of organizing practice. Among archaeologists, the concept of digital workflow has emerged in the early 21st century with the widespread use of digital tools, technologies, and practices in the discipline, and, as a result, digital workflow has come to occupy a distinct place within archaeological methodology.

This paper considers the idea of a ”digital workflow” in the context of archaeological publishing. Recent work on archaeological writing and publishing has started to explore the reciprocal relationship between archaeological work and the publication process. Ian Hodder considered how the character and structure of archaeological description and narration shape the kinds of arguments possible in the field (Hodder 1989). This anticipated a growing emphasis on craft in archaeological knowledge production with work on illustration, for example, demonstrating the embodied nature of the processes of translating archaeological knowledge from the field to the published page (Morgan and Wright 2018). This finds ready parallels with recent critiques of archaeological photography that have recognized how media affordances shaped the kind of arguments that archaeologists make from their data (Gartski 2017). With the emergence of digital practices in archaeological field work, scholars have come to understand the data produced through a growing range of digital tools required thoughtful curation and, increasingly, publication under the terms of various federal grants. As a result, archaeologists have started to extend the notion of archaeological workflow from data collection in the field to the archiving and dissemination of data on platforms like Open Context, TiDAR, or the ADS.

This move among archaeologists will have, I propose, wide ranging impacts on the nature of archaeological publishing especially as academic publishing itself has entered a period of considerable change. Most large academic publishers now have digital publishing platforms of various descriptions and have supported various efforts at creating more dynamic and interactive ways to engage with archaeological description, interpretation, analysis and data. The best known and perhaps most innovative of these is the University of Michigan’s recent publication of the Mid-Republican House at Gabii. While this work received some significant criticism from reviewers for the limits of its functionality, the authors have been commendably reflexive in the motivations and processes surrounding its development (Optiz 2018). Publishers have also sought to embrace Open Access publishing models as pressure from authors, libraries, and institutions has sought to make publicly funded research more widely available, remove profit margins from the consideration of academic work, and pushed back against escalating prices for library resources. These initiatives often inform the development of new publishing platforms — like Luminos from the University of California Press, Fulcrum from the University of Michigan Press, and PubPub from MIT. In some cases, such as the Manifold platform from the University of Minnesota Press, these platforms are open to new compositional strategies for authors that expand the character of the academic books as living documents susceptible to revision and to accommodating responses within their fabric. These significant changes to publishing intersect with a growing reflexivity in archaeological workflow to create the potential for new ways of understanding archaeological knowledge making.

This chapter offers my modest contributions to these conversations based on two things. First, I have two slightly unusual points of departure. One is a passage from an article by Michael Given in which he applies Ivan Illich’s idea of conviviality to an understanding of the premodern agricultural landscape of Cyprus (Given 2017, 2018). Illich proposed his idea of conviviality as a way to describe the creativity that arose from the fluid interaction and interdependence between individuals in the premodern world, and he articulated it as a critique of an impoverished modern condition. Toward the end of the article, Given suggested that a convivial collaboration between archaeological specialists from soil scientists to ceramicists, bioarchaeologists, architectural historians, and field archaeologists would produce a deeper understanding of the convivial landscape in which premodern Cypriots lived (Given 2017, 140). My first reading of that passages was relatively uncharitable (Caraher 2019, 374-375). Illich’s notion of conviviality was anti-modern and attempting to reconcile this idea with the assembly line practice of archaeological work and specialization seemed as doomed to fail as the plantation style sugar works established by the Venetian colonizers on Cyprus’s south coast. If convivial relationships mapped the seamless sociability of premodern production, specialization and workflows created Frankenstein creatures which have the superficial appearance of reality, but are, in fact, mottled monsters of recombined fragments (in the vague sense of Freeman 2010).

At the same time that I was thinking about Illich and Given, I read Anna Tsing’s work, The Mushroom at the End of the World (2015) and Deborah Cowen’s work on logistics, The Deadly Life of Logistics (2014). Both books, in their own ways, describe the fluid of movement of people, things, and capital around the world. They explore the tension between the local and the global, places and movement, and the Deluezian “dividual” and the Enlightenment individual (Deleuze 1992). While Cowen’s work is, as the title suggests, practical and pessimistic in tone, Tsing’s work offers the rhizomic world of the matsutake mushroom holding forth the “possibilities of life in capitalist ruins.” She draws freely (and playfully) upon Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas of deterritorialization and flow adding a new conceptual layer to our concept of workflow (Deleuze and Guattari xxxx). While I dread bringing too much theory to this chapter, I do think that Deleuze and Guattari offers a way to understand Given’s use of conviviality as a rather radical way to conceptualize the reterritorialization (perhaps the recoding) of modern archaeological knowledge making. This chapter will swing back and forth between these two poles and offer both an angst-filled critique of archaeological practice as well as some more optimistic reflections on why maybe Michael Given was right (and maybe I knew that all along) and convivial social practices in archaeology are possible, even in our digital age.

The second pillar supporting my arguments in this chapter is my experience founding and operating a small university press, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, which I co-founded about five years ago. At the risk of being solipsistic or self-referential, my experiences talking with authors, book makers, archaeologists, and other publishers has helped me to formulate ways of producing books that bring them closer to the convivial practices associated with archaeological work. To be clear: The Digital Press is small with no permanent staff; our budget is based exclusively on the generosity of donors and a slow drip of paper book sales; and we have no experience in the publishing industry at any level. These things are both features and bugs. On the one hand, we had no expectation for how a press should work other than those that we had acquired as publishing scholars. We have also developed a strong sense of common ownership over the books that we have published with our authors. This has emboldened us to think about the Digital Press as a model for other publishing projects in the digital era. On the other hand, we do rely more heavily on the experiences and energies of our authors than a conventional press and this has not only complicated certain features common to academic publishing, including peer review, but also created a greater professional burden for our authors (and, indeed, our publisher) in an environment already crowded with obligations. In short, this chapter is not offering The Digital Press as the model for the future of publishing, but rather offers our experiences as an example for how the landscape of academic production is changing.

Audience, Expertise, and Professional Development: Notes from the Northern Great Plains History Conference

Last week, I trekked northward to Brandon, Manitoba to participate in a panel on public history at the Northern Great Plains History conference. The drive across the Manitoba prairie was during harvest was scenic, the panel was well-attended, and the audience and fellow historians offered some thought-provoking questions that I’ve been chewing on for the last few days.

In truth, each of these issues probably deserves its own blog post, but since I’m already a bit overstimulated this week, I’ll just set out three of the main themes that intrigued me the most. The panel itself was a round table and rather than consisting of individual papers, participants gave short introductions to their work and its key themes and the rest developed through conversation with the audience. 

1. Audience and Activism. Nikki Berg Burin framed her brief remarks around the idea of audience for work in activist, public history. Berg Burin is involved in the anti-human trafficking and anti-slavery movement and has a long simmering project designed to raise awareness and encourage activism around trafficking in North Dakota. At first, she explain, the idea was to produce a zine-like publication targeted to a wide audience through North Dakota libraries. As this idea developed, however, she began to think that a publication targeted toward groups already interested in related issues might be a more useful way to expand awareness and encourage a more nuanced and sophisticated debate surrounding these pressing issues.

This got me thinking about how the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota understands  audiences for its work. What distinguishes us from conventional academic publishing is that we do very little with academic libraries, which historically provide the largest audience for academic books and generally – at least in the fields of history and archaeology – purchase close to half of the print run of any conventional academic publication. Because we don’t market our books too academic libraries, they tend to get into the hands of individual readers, primarily as downloads, but also as individual purchases via Amazon.  

How these readers find out about Digital Press books is largely through social media and the web rather than conventional catalogues or advertising. This means that most work at our press already has a target audience both developed and made manifest in social media. This isn’t to suggest that conventional publishers don’t also leverage social media and the web to promote and disseminate their work, but rather to suggest that marketing a scholar’s book is often part of the added value associated with conventional publishing. While we all indicate in our proposals (and in some cases follow-up questionnaires) the audience for our works when dealing with conventional publishers, I’ve never encountered a meaningful conversation with a publisher concerning how the relationship between our intended audience, the arguments that we make, and the marketing strategy that we develop to get our book to readers.

This isn’t to say that a press like the Digital Press always gets this right, but Nikki Berg Burin’s remarks this weekend emphasized to me that collaborative publishing models might allow us to develop in more meaningful ways how we understand the relationship between the books that we publish and the audiences that we want to reach and activate.

2. Expertise. During the conversation this past week, we were asked how we asserted our expertise as public facing scholars when dealing with an audience who has become increasingly skeptical of (if not hostile to) the value of expertise and experts in contemporary political and social life.

I have lots of ideas (some good and some not so great) about this, but I suspect that most skepticism toward expertise is part of the long tail of anti-intellectualism in American life and this, in turn, is a product of our own peculiar view of democracy and our growing awareness the the academic-military-industrial complex has been allowed to function unchecked for most of the preceding century with seemingly disastrous results. Those of us in the humanities have also become aware of how claims of expertise (thanks, Foucault, Said, and others!) have served to reinforce social divisions in our society, advance colonial agendas, and to assert political power.

Our scholarship often takes aim at the previous generation of experts in the name of liberation while compromising our own claims to a similar status. Our practical experience as academics, however, constantly shows how our eagerness to defend our status as experts runs belies the superficial character of our own knowledge. Many of us recognize that expertise is less tied to a particular skills, sensitivities, erudition, and accomplishments and more bound up in performative gestures informed as much by gender, race, status, position, and other social and institutional constructs as any measurable degree of academic or professional attainment.

To be blunt: It’s much easier for a white male at Harvard to be an expert than for an African American female from an HBCU. This has nothing to do with our abilities or accomplishments and everything to do with race and gender.

In fact, a good bit of the professionalization process in graduate school revolves around teaching our students how to act like experts. This means showing them how to write the “I got the goods” footnote, reinforcing the methodological, historiographical, and practical foundations of a common disciplinary knowledge, demonstrating the professional reciprocity that supports mutual recognition of academic authority (game recognizing game), and explaining to them that giving a talk at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens as a graduate student with braids may seem awesome, but undermines your cause.

These very same processes, of course, also produce – seemingly by design – the feeling of “impostor syndrome” that wrack most faculty throughout their careers. Indeed, feeling like an impostor is often seen as a crisis of confidence to be mitigated or a “syndrome” that must be treated or suppressed. I tend to see it as the festering of a persistent awareness that academic expertise is not what it seems. The presence of impostors among us is a reminder: expertise is not the unproblematic and even virtuous product of our training and the meritocracy, but a crass assertion of power. The more virtuous among us hope that our assertion of expertise will produce a better world, but for most of us, it also leaves behind the nagging sense that while we were speaking, we weren’t listening, understanding, or collaborating.

We’re left to wonder whether there really is a baby in the bath water. 

3. Professional Recognition and Public Humanities. We had a few questions about how various departments (and our fields in general) recognized our work as public facing scholars. This seemingly anticipated a much tweeted about article from this weekend’s Chronicle of Higher Education that worried that many pre-tenure faculty were not being advised to follow a professional path that leads to tenure. In the context of this article and conversations in our panel, this means writing peer-reviewed, specialist publication for an academic audience rather than outreach and other less conventional practices. 

Considering the theme of the panel, it was easy to juxtapose specialist knowledge produced through academic literature which gains purchase among professionals against public facing work which has a wider audience and ideally more social impact. This juxtaposition, as I’ve framed it here, is a bit lazy and unfair, of course, because most of us hope that our scholarly work can find a wider audience in some way and see outreach beyond academia as really the only criteria by which our work can and should be measured. At the same time, many departments have become dependent on acceptance of original, peer-reviewed scholarship at top-tier journals and presses as a reliable proxy for academic quality and significance. These publication, in turn, become the basis for tenure and promotion decisions.

In contrast, public history and public scholarship tends to exist a more murky space. Critics fret that public facing scholarship sometimes lack peer review. In some cases, useful public  scholarship eschews originality for more accessible synthetic statements. There’s a persistent suspicion that prolific public facing scholars often have distinctive skills that range from understanding the vagaries of public taste to the ability to write in an appealing and accessible way and even personal patronage networks that open-submission and peer-reviewed seek to ignore.

While these concerns are legitimate, they seem to be more on the surface these days because academia is changing. I’d argue that austerity has put particular pressure on the humanities to assert our value to a wider, public audience by reaching out to our communities and looking beyond our disciplinary and professional borders. At the same time, we’re being squeezed in what increasing feels like zero sum game out our institutions. We are expected not only to compete with our colleagues on a level playing field but also to compete across our institutions for access to resources and support. This exposes us to two pressures. On the one hand, public facing scholarship is a remarkably diverse and ranges from personal blogs to popular publications with massive circulations. In contrast to how most universities understand academic scholarship, it is very difficult to understand the impact and quality of public scholarship because these publications often lack both the imprimatur of peer review as well as the kind of quantitative impact factors that institutions are increasingly using to evaluate faculty performance across disciplines. In short, scholars who work in public humanities often are at a disadvantage on their campuses with those who invest in traditional scholarship because the metrics used to understand academic productivity tend to simplify academic output.  

This creates a curious and not entirely innocent paradox, as we’re being pushed to do more public facing scholarship and to justify our place on campus, our institutions are doubling down on practices that at best ignore and at worst devalue such work in the competition for increasingly scarce institutional resources. The practices of assessing impact factors, valuing peer review, and creating quantitative models for mapping productivity across campus are celebrated as efforts to level the playing field, to reinforce the meritocracy, and to protect public investment against deadwood faculty and programs who coast along protected by tenure. At the same time, these systems are profoundly biased against the kind of outward facing work that disciplines and professional organizations have encouraged us to value and pursue. 

This is a catch-22. If we pursue public facing work more vigorously, we might attract the appreciation of our communities and our professional organizations, but we also move outside of the system designed to measure and evaluation productivity. If we double down on professional and scholarly work that will be rewarded at our institutions, we often find ourselves writing specialized work for narrow professional audiences that gets criticized by the wider public and indulgent, irrelevant, navel-gazing. This, in turn, reinforced a view of the humanities as a luxury that should not be supported on the public dime.  

There is no simple solution for this outside large-scale disciplinary and institutional change. This is hard, slow work filled with the risk of unintentional consequences, but as the humanities enter a period of existential crisis, it certainly seems worth pursuing. 

Some Little Notes from The Digital Press

While the release of Dakota Datebook: North Dakota Stories from Prairie Public has gotten most of the attention, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota (and our partners) have been doing a good bit behind the scenes work this month.

First, if you’re a Grand Forkler, be sure to stop by the Prairie Pubic table on the Greenway Takeover this Sunday. I’ve been told they’ll have the Dakota Datebook for sale, and this is the very fancy, glossy-paged, and hefty feeling Prairie Public version. If you like to have read what you’re buying or just want the book without all the festival-ness, go here

[As an side, apparently Everclear is playing the Greenway Takeover on Saturday night. Who knew that they still existed (and with their original line-up!)?]

Second, and perhaps more inside-baseball, we have DOIs for almost all of our books now! These are persistent identifiers for digital documents (digital object identifiers) which resolve to our archive in the University of North Dakota’s digital repository. Ideally, UND and their archive partner will keep the DOIs resolving to whatever URL marks their place in the repository ensuring that our books will always be found.

We recognize that UND’s archive provider is part of a firm that is not always a super awesome partner to higher education (despite their mutual dependency). So, we’ve also archived our books in the Internet Archive. We also are happy to notice that many of our titles are also archived in various other institutional repositories around the web. We feel pretty confident that these books are here to stay.

Finally, we have two books that are ready to head to copy editing. This is pretty exciting for my little press because this year is the first year that we’ve started to stack production consistently. This means that we have books at almost all stages from authors who are just starting to write to books well into production. This not only gives us more confidence in the future of the press, but also allows us to plan, strategize, and adapt our workflow so that the author (and ideally, the reader) experience is better. Working with a scholar-led publisher is always going to be a unique and distinctive experience, and we think that our ability to adapt to different projects and contributors is part of our strength. At the same time, we recognize that our ability to be nimble should be grounded in really solid practices behind the scenes. We’re getting there!

Dakota Datebook Launch Party!

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is excited to announce the launch of Dakota Datebook: North Dakota Stories from Prairie Public edited by David Haeselin. Developed in collaboration with the University of North Dakota’s Writing, Editing, and Publishing program and in cooperation with Prairie Public Broadcasting, Dakota Datebook brings to the printed page some of the most memorably, inspiring, and humorous stories from Prairie Public’s iconic Dakota Datebook radio program. Download a digital copy for free from the Digital Press webpage or pre-order your copy from Prairie Public today!


On Saturday at 8 pm, The Digital Press and Prairie Public are hosting a launch part on board the Lewis and Clark Riverboat on the Missouri River in Bismarck. Various media personalities will be there, as will David Haeselin and some Dakota Datebook contributors. It should be a great time. To get tickets for the boat ride and to come and hang out with us go here.

For more on the boat, the book, and the party, check out Aaron Barth’s interview on Prairie Public’s Main Street on Monday.



A few more things from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota.

1. Busy Year! This will be one of the busiest years yet for The Digital Press with as many as five titles queued up to hit the website over the next 8 to 12 months. Late this fall, we’ll see the arrival of Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays. Stay tuned for a sneak preview of this. A book of essays from last fall’s Digital Approaches to Teaching the Ancient Mediterranean conference at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at NYU and edited by Sebastian Heath should appear by year’s end as well.

In the spring, we’re looking forward to publishing Kyle Conway’s innovative edited volume, Sixty Years of Boom and Bust which juxtaposes the 1958 Williston Report with perspectives on the 21st century boom penned some 60 years later. It’s a fascinating read. There should also be volume 3 of our collaboration with the journal Epoiesen and maybe some previews from our 2020-2021 season.

2. Subscriptions? So far, The Digital Press hasn’t done much to connect personally with our readers. We’d like to change that some. I’ve been tempted to offer a subscription service of sorts through an email list that will distribute our newest publications and occasional news direct to your inbox (as the kids say). I’d run it through MailChimp or some other service that would make it easy enough to unsubscribe or to opt out. I wouldn’t share your emails with anyone (although I might be tempted to use it to plug for my other little publishing venture, North Dakota Quarterly).

3. Promoting Open Access. I’ve been thinking a good bit about the larger mission to promote open access publishing in academia. One thing that I would love to do this year is to pay more attention to open access publishing in general (whether from mainstream academic presses or from more specialized open access publishing houses). I’d love to do an “Open Access Book of the Week” that highlights some of the high quality open access work appearing these days.

I’d also like to start to build another project. It’s called Cite Open Access. It would promote citing open access scholarship across all forms of scholarly publishing. My fantasy idea involves getting various artists to design simply, legible posters that say Cite Open Access on them (and I’d urge folks to use open access fonts and it would go without saying that the posters would be free downloads). Ideally, I could get libraries, open access publishers, “fellow travelers,” and other supporters of open access scholarly work to co-sponsor various posters. I’d then distribute digital copies of these posters and encourage folks to display them prominently on their campuses. Who’s in?

4. Internet Archive. Finally, I’ve uploaded almost all the content from The Digital Press to the Internet Archive this weekend. One of the many great things about the Internet Archive is that it automatically converts our PDFs into multiple formats. The automated system isn’t perfect, but it works well enough to make our content available for text mining or ebook readers!

Taco Terpstra’s Trade in the Ancient Mediterranean: Finished Review

In my effort to clear my plate before the semester gets under way next week, I finished my short review of Terpstra’s Trade in the Ancient Mediterranean for the Ancient History Bulletin. The book was pretty good and engaged ancient trade in a thoughtful and sophisticated way. 

Terpstra argued, in a nutshell, that the parallel rise of ancient states and ancient trade represents the complex interplay between trade and community in the ancient world. States do not so much protect the property rights of merchants and property owners, but create social and political conditions where groups and individuals could create ways to protect their economic interests. He looks at diaspora communities in the Classical Greek world, the messy overlap between political and economic interests among royal administrators in the Hellenistic Egypt, and witness lists on private contracts in the Roman Empire. As I note in my review, Terpstra’s argument gets a bit shaky when he attempts to extend it to the end of the Roman Empire in the 5th to 7th centuries AD. The transformation of the Ancient Mediterranean creates new forms of social and political relationships that both adapt and disrupt long-standing economic relationships. For many parts of the Mediterranean, the emergence of new social and religious groups as well as new states changed the context for economic relationships, but as archaeological evidence from the Eastern Mediterranean increasingly shows, many economic ties between communities persisted even after their political ties dissolved. 

If you’d like to read my entire review, go here.   

Despite these quibbles, this book represented another really impressive volume from Princeton University Press. Last week, I read Kyle Harper’s 2017 book The Fate of Rome (more on that here) which is another well-produced book from Princeton. When you add to their catalogue, Josh Ober’s The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (2015) and Eric Cline’s 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed (2015) Princeton has set the standard for well-produced, broadly accessible, and affordable books on the ancient world. The publisher in me admires their catalogue and the scholar in me wishes he had more time to read.