New Book Day: Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook

It’s new book day at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. And most people agree that New Book Day is the BEST DAY.

The book is Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook and it’s edited by my colleague Cynthia C. Prescott and Maureen S. Thompson. 

If you want to check the book out, you can download a copy here or purchase it in glorious paperback!

Yesterday, I enjoyed the wide ranging book release panel at the Rural Women’s Studies Association where an number of the authors discussed their contribution to the book and celebrated the hard work of the editors to make this impressive work possible. 

From my perspective as a publisher, this is the most mature book that I have produced so far in terms of design, workflow, and final product. The book is innovative in content and the design embraces that, without taking too many risks.

Below the fold is a blurb for the book and the press release. 

Backstories Cover FINAL SINGLEPAGE

Sharing recipes is a form of intimate conversation that nourishes body and soul, family and community. Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook integrates formal scholarship with informal reflections, analyses of recipe books with heirloom recipes, and text with images to emphasize the ways that economics, politics, and personal meaning come together to shape our changing relationships with food. By embracing elements of history, rural studies, and women’s studies, this volume offers a unique perspective by relating food history with social dynamics. It is sure to inspire eclectic dining and conversations.

Cynthia C. Prescott is Professor of History at the University of North Dakota and an occasional baker. Her research focuses on portrayals of rural women in cultural memory.

Maureen Sherrard Thompson is a Ph.D. candidate at Florida International University. Her dissertation focuses on business, environmental, and gender perspectives associated with the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century seed industry.


Here’s the press release:

For Immediate Release
May 10, 2021
The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, ND

From COVID to Comfort: New Book Explores the Role of Women and the Kitchen in Rural Life

As the COVID pandemic transformed our lives, one thing remained a constant. The kitchen continued to be the center of home life. In fact, social distancing, lockdowns, and other challenges associated with the pandemic made the kitchen even more important as cooking, eating, studying, and above all work, intersect around the kitchen table.

Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook edited by Cynthia C. Prescott and Maureen S. Thompson, concludes with perspectives on the pandemic and situates them amid the long history of cooking, food, and women’s work in the home. The book combines scholarly essays with reflections, recipes, and recollections that bring out the complex history and work around the kitchen table. With over 20 contributors and 60 selections, Backstories takes the reader from the East Coast’s Delmarva Peninsula to the American and Canadian Midwest, the Mexican-American border, to Hawaii and beyond and situate the kitchen across a range of cultural and historical contexts.

Cynthia C. Prescott, Professor of History at the University of North Dakota explained “Our goal was to bring together recipes, interdisciplinary scholarship, oral traditions, and personal memories to explore three centuries of rural foodways and women’s lives. Whether you are a foodie or a gender or food studies researcher, you will find much to savor in this unique volume.”

Maureen S. Thompson, a PhD candidate at Florida International University noted: “Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook is a captivating amalgamation of scholarly articles juxtaposed with heartwarming family memories associated with particular foods, and yes, plenty of recipes. Rural Women’s Studies Association members generously contributed scholarly articles paired with foodways, memories, and reminiscences to create, perhaps, the first academic cookbook.”

The volume was produced in conjunction with the Rural Women’s Studies Association triennial meeting which this year has the theme “Kitchen Table Talk to Global Forum.” Catharine Wilson, Co-Chair of the RWSA and Host of the 2021 Conference, remarks: “Backstories serve up a delicious “taste” of what the RWSA is about: they are international and capture farm and rural women’s/gender studies in historical perspective. Members savored reflecting on their foodways and collecting the recipes, a process that whetted their appetites for our 14th Triennial Conference … Bon appétit!”.

Like all books from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, it is available as a free download and as a low-cost paperback via William Caraher, director of The Digital Press, noted: “It was a pleasure to collaborate with the editors and contributors to produce something genuinely unique. That we can make this book available for free as a download and as an affordable paperback should ensure that it appears in as many kitchens and libraries as possible.”

Cooking in the Scholarly Kitchen

This morning I have the pleasure to attend the Rural Women’s Studies Association Triennial Meeting (via zoom, of course) to offer a few comments on a book that The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota will release tomorrow. The book is Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook and it’s edited by my colleague Cynthia C. Prescott and Maureen S. Thompson. 

If you want to check the book out, you can download a copy here or purchase it in glorious paperback!

I want to keep my remarks focused on the book this morning, but I’m super tempted to talk a bit about academic publishing as well. Backstories emphasizes the role that women play in rural foodways and in the family kitchen. Woman not only provided sustenance for their families and communities, but also communicated cultural and social values, shaped the domestic economy, and offered stability during a time of crisis. The kitchen and cooking took on an even more prominent role during the COVID pandemic when family meals, cooking experiments, and the use of the kitchen table itself as a multipurpose nerve center where family life, work, school, and, of course, eating come together. The book then reveals how contemporary situations shine light on the traditional roles of the kitchen in family life.

A more adventurous talk would fold the story of The Digital Press into the history of the kitchen and point out how publishing is often regarded as the kitchen of the academic process. In fact, one the best known academic publishing blogs is called The Scholarly Kitchen

In this context, it makes sense that publishing industry as a whole is largely operated by women (one recent figure that I saw was >70% of the publishing industry is women). Of course, this doesn’t mean that women are making decisions about who and what to publish. In fact, studies consistently show that men dominate editorial boards and there remains gender disparity in research. Moreover, women are paid less than their male colleagues in the publishing industry. Thus, the kitchen metaphor is more than just a way to describe the back of the house where research (which remains encoded as masculine activity in many contexts) is quietly turned into something consumable. The barrier, then, between research and publishing is not as simple as a kind of technical black box where two different skills abut one another. It is also a barrier that is mapped onto gender divides in academia as a broader industry.

Books like Backstories serve as nice reminders that the kitchen as both a real and metaphorical place remains a gendered space, but also reflects the centrality of women’s role in the process of producing the family, society and culture as well as academic knowledge making. Just as in recent home architecture, the kitchen has move to the center of the home and become public social space situated for both display, gathering, and the preparation of food, the publishing process, pried open by interest in open access and scholar-led publishing, has started what I imagine to be slow pivot toward the center of academic life. 

Previewing Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook

Over the last few months, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota has been working away at a very special project. In collaboration with the Rural Women’s Studies Associate, we are publishing an edited volume of scholarly essays and recipes that celebrate, analyze, and interrogate the relationship between food, women, and rural life. 

The book is edited by Cynthia C. Prescott and Maureen S. Thompson and is titled Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook. One of the book’s reviewers pointed out that this title is a bit of a mouthful, and we decided that this was entirely appropriate for a book about food!

We’ll be ready to release the book during the Rural Women Studies Associate meeting next month. Like all books from The Digital Press, it’ll be available as a high quality, color PDF for free and as a low-cost paperback.

In the meantime, we invite you to bookmark the book’s landing page here and while you’re there, download a preview of the book!

Rwsa2 7x10 fullbleed DP sm

Three Things Thursday: New Book, Teaching, and

It’s a Thursday at the end of the semester and I’m thinking about a new book that is neck deep in production, another book that is getting some good attention, some teaching situations that are amusing me, and …

Thing the First

This weekend, I’m wrapping up final edits on a new book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota: Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook edited by Cynthia C. Prescott and Maureen S. Thompson. The book is due out in “early May” and is published in collaboration with the Rural Women’s Studies Association and will be featured at their meeting next month.

Here’s the blurb:

Sharing recipes is a form of intimate conversation that nourishes body and soul, family and community. Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook integrates formal scholarship with informal reflections, analyses of recipe books with heirloom recipes, and text with images to emphasize the ways that economics, politics, and personal meaning come together to shape our changing relationships with food. By embracing elements of history, rural studies, and women’s studies, this volume offers a unique perspective by relating food history with social dynamics. It is sure to inspire eclectic dining and conversations.  

Stay tuned for a landing page!

Thing the Second

The National Hellenic Research Foundation (Το Εθνικό Ίδρυμα Ερευνών) is hosting a digital conference next week on Mapping settlement desertion in Southeastern Europe from Antiquity to the Modern Era (the program is here and you can register here). The conference starts next Thursday and in the afternoon (8 pm EEST/12 pm CDT), there’ll be a presentation by Rebecca M. Seifried on the most recent title from The Digital Press: Deserted Villages: Perspectives from the Eastern Mediterranean, edited by Seifried and Deborah Brown Stewart.

This will be a great chance for Seifried to bring the amazing work in this volume to a larger audience. I can’t stress enough both how impressed I am by the work in this volume and satisfied with my own contributions. If you haven’t downloaded a copy, you should here! Or, better still, grab a paper copy here.  

Thing the Third

As the semester has wound down, I’ve taken to thinking a bit about end of the semester work in my classes. In my introductory level history class, I use a few assignments to close the loop and to try to get students to reflect critically on the skills that they’ve learned in the class.

The class revolves around a series of group exercises which bring together individual work into more synthetic essays and projects. The best groups have a system in place “to workflow” this process and are now producing consistently high quality work.

My favorite late semester assignment involves asking students to rank the other groups’ work. These rankings are kept private, and there’s an essay required from each student that explains their rankings. The goal of the assignment isn’t so much to rank other students’ work, but to demonstrate that they can read each others’ work critically. 

The upside of this is that the best students who have really understood what I’ve been prattling on about all semester tend to do a nice job.

The downside is that by the end of the semester, so many students are struggling with workloads in other classes, burn out after the full school year, and the temptation of warming weather, summer break, and even graduation. As a result, just when my students are at a stage where they could start to reinforce (or at least demonstrate) how well they’ve understood the methods and approaches that I teach in class, they are also at the point where it’s hard for them to find the time and energy to do it.

The result is unsatisfactory, with the best and the worst students (who often reappear at the end of the semester with heroic promises and struggle mightily) performing to expectation, but the broad middle ground of students presenting a muddled mass which doesn’t really tell me much (and probably does even less to accomplish my pedagogical goals). It’s always frustrating when the best made plans crash against the reality of a complicated classroom.   

Two Things Thursday: Open Access and Data Lords

It’s spring break and I’m focusing on self-care for a few days and trying to build some stamina for the final six weeks of the semester. So instead of a full three things on Thursday, I’m cutting back to two things, but I hope that these two things are cool enough to make up for being one short.

Thing the First

The yuge news in scholarly publishing was that Elsevier and the University of California system reached $10 million+transformative agreement.” This agreement makes it for possible for Elsevier to publish over 4000 articles per year written by University of California faculty under open access licenses. The UC system will also get access to all Elsevier published content for “free.” Authors with grant funding will pay additional fees for their articles to appear in Elsevier journals. The library will support authors without grants. Thus, this agreement reflects a “multi-payer” type arrangement with the university and grant funded researchers sharing the burden of publication fees. This transformative agreement restores access to Elsevier journals interrupted when negotiations broke down in 2019 between the UC system and the publishing company. It also ensures that research from the amazing scholars at the UC system is available in open formats.

To be clear, if I were negotiating on behalf of UC, I would have considered this agreement a “win” for my side. I also have a deep distrust of Elsevier and understand that the company is not giving anything away here, but adopting alternative strategy to generate profits for its stakeholders. 

I have some worries, of course. First, I worry that this will draw more scholars to publish in Elsevier journals. Not only will it attract UC scholars, with the prospect of open access publishing at no or known costs, but it will presumably attract other scholars to these journals which will benefit from appearing in the same pages as prestigious work by UC faculty. This is good for Elsevier.

Second, I also worry that this is a bad deal for journals that are not covered (or likely to be covered) by such transformative agreements. How will independent publications such as Hesperia fair if these kinds of agreements become the norm? How will these agreements shift the landscape for journals published by smaller presses which may not have the massive economies of scale to negotiate transformative agreements that swap subscription fees for publication fees? I can’t help but fear that these kind of agreements are not great for small and mid-sized presses that publish specialized journals. These arrangements risks drawing high quality content away from their pages and making these journals less visible in citations, subscriptions, library use, and increasing important journal rankings. In other words, these kinds of agreements are good for Elsevier journals, but not necessarily good for the wider academic publishing ecosystem. 

They’re also good for UC scholars, of course, by ensuring that scholars from UC have an expansive platform to share their work and their influence. This kind of system, however, serves to amplify the voices of UC faculty in ways that are not open to all scholars at all institutions. While this kind of asymmetry has always existed in higher education, I worry that these agreements further reinforce the division between the haves and the have nots. Multi-payer, open access models connect the reach of one’s scholarship more explicitly to institutional and individual resources. While this parallels access to facilities and grants for scholars in the sciences, for scholars in the humanities where institutional resources are less determining in the quality of scholarship (or I would guess) this will work to the detriment of scholars at institutions unable to negotiate favorable publishing agreements with major presses. Perhaps this is just my paranoia as a scholar at a smaller institution that is unlikely to negotiate such transformative agreement, but also my worry that this might negatively impact scholars at less wealthy institutions that often serve historically underserved communities. (Again, this isn’t to suggest that the UC system represents an especially elite cross section of the academic community or to denigrate the significant scholarly impact of those scholars! I know that folks at UC institutions do amazing and impactful work that makes life better for people from all walks of life).

My final worry is this reflects a shift by Elsevier from publishing as a means to profit directly from the dissemination of knowledge and toward a new role as the aggregator of knowledge. By attracting research from major institutions to their journals, Elsevier expands the quantity of content that they can package, analyze, and interpret. The role of major publishers in tracking the impact factor of journals and individual publications, for example, benefits from this kind of expansive data set. It also positions Elsevier to track trends in research, anticipate new directions, and funnel scholarly inquiry through Elsevier owned properties. While this might seem like a dystopian view of Elsevier’s corporate interest, I worry that it’s not.

Thing the Second

This brings me to Maria Schneider’s Data Lords. Just as the UC system was announcing their transformative agreement, the 63rd annual Grammy Awards was taking place (sort of) in Los Angeles. Schneider’s Data Lords won the Grammy for the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. The album was released on the innovative artist owned and crowd funded label ArtistShare.

The album traces the relationship between our digitally mediated world and what Schneider calls the real world of the human experience of nature. She sees the distinction between the digital and the human as complex with the former being closely tied to corporate interests, oppressive workflows, and bustle. The latter, in contrast, is more peaceful, restorative, and less corporate and capitalized.

My description overly simplifies a complex work and the album is worth a listen. At the same time, the album clearly recognizes the complex landscape of the contemporary music industry where streaming serves reward music that garners millions of clicks and further marginalizes music that tends to attract devoted, but smaller audiences. Data Lords is not available on streaming services and was funded through sponsors who contributed before and during the recording process. In other words, it wasn’t distinct from the digital world it sets out to critique. In fact, it relied upon digitally medicated crowdfunding to come into existence. At the same time, it navigated an independent path, avoided commercial record labels, and metered metrics of the streaming world.  

It seems to me that projects like Data Lords offers one way to critique the kind of transformative agreements negotiated by UC. It reminds us that knowledge is data and when companies control access to data (whether that’s knowledge or publications), they do so for their own benefit. 


Making a New Book: Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook

This week is spring break, and after a few nights of restless sleep verging on insomnia,  I’m taking some time for what the kids call “self care.” In a couple of hours I’m going to head into my office on campus and spend some time trying to get my offprint collection sorted out for our department’s big move. I have hundreds of offprints of books many of which I now have as PDFs and I want to cull my paper collection prior to moving to new, smaller, and more efficient offices.

I’m also trying to spending my “self care” time working on some more creative projects (and putting aside the final grind on my book project and an article with a looming deadline). I spent most of the day yesterday working on typesetting a new book project edited by my colleague Cynthia Prescott and Maureen S. Thompson titled (for now): Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook. Like so many books that land on my desk at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, this one has a somewhat compressed timeline. The book is being published in collaboration with the Rural Women’s Studies Association (RWSA) whose 2021 conference is scheduled for May 11-15, 2021! Our tentative publication date is May 10. 

This book presents some interesting design challenges. First off, it’s not just a conventional edited volume, but it also includes both historic recipes as well as recipes that serve as evidence for scholarly arguments. The editors also solicited both typical scholarly contributions and favorite or historically significant recipes from contributors. This means we have both longer (~6,000 word) chapters with footnotes and the like and short two-page submissions. Finally, the book can be read as either a scholarly work that both samples and interprets recipes as a window into the lives of rural women and their families. OR as an unconventional cookbook offering delicacies such as “brains on toast” and “boiled tongue” as well as an array of more contemporary, sweet and savory dishes.

To make this kind of hybrid book work, I decided to make the pages slightly bigger than the convention 6 x 9 inches and opted for 7 x 10 inches. I added fairly generous margins with produced a narrower text block that gave the book a bit more of a cookbook feel to it and makes it easier to read on tablets.

Backstories Proof 00 pdf  page 9 of 160 2021 03 17 06 25 48

For fonts, I used the fairly buttoned-down Minion Pro for the main text and the rather contemporary Brandon Grotesque for the chapter titles and authors names. The connection between Brandon Grotesque and Walmart is just an unfortunate coincidence, but maybe one that speaks a bit to the role of the megastore in the lives of contemporary rural communities. 

I also used the interplay between the old style Minion Pro (which along with its old style font friends) conveys a kind of seriousness of academic purpose to the book and the sans serif functional legibility of Brandon Text (a version of Brandon Grotesque designed for text blocks) to distinguish interpretative text from recipes. I also indent recipes .5 inches.  I think that this works pretty well. (Note that the page below is far from perfect with the recipe for Coconut Dainties starting a line too low on the page and an extra line before the recipe for Blueberry Cake. These little things will get sorted out before the first set of proofs are circulated.)

Backstories Proof 00 pdf  page 74 of 160 2021 03 17 06 33 55

I’m using page numbers in the outside margins because I think they work a bit better for the digital page (and give the book a 21st-century vibe in print). 

So far, so good as far as typesetting goes. With any luck I’ll have a first set of proofs ready by the end of break and be sufficiently on top of this project to let myself feel restored and energized for the final six weeks of the semester!

Digital Practices, Workflows, and Scholar-Led Publishing

Yesterday I submitted an abstract for the 2021 ASOR annual meeting. It felt like a little expression of hope that things might have returned to a certain kind of normal by next fall. 

I proposed my paper for the third year in a workshop dedicated to “Best Practices for Digital Scholarship” organized by Sarah Kansa and Chuck Jones. It’s in the third year of a three year run and the topic for this year is “perspectives on publishing digital content.”    

My paper is titled “Digital Practices, Workflows, and Scholar-Led Publishing.” It argues that there are three trends that have shaped changes in scholarly publishing: (1) the rise of digital practices in the field which have created both new forms of archaeological information, (2) the decline in library spending and concomitant clamor for more open access resources in archaeology, and (3) the growing precarity and contingency in the archaeological job market. I’d like to argue that changes in both field practices and in the structure of academic labor and institutional priorities are converging and this will encourage new forms of publishing practices. 

I’ve explored many of the ideas that anchor issue (1) in a paper that I submitted last year for a volume edited by Kevin Garstki that emerged from the 2018 IEMA Conference at Buffalo on ““Critical Archaeology in a Digital Age.” You can read it here

It may be that my contribution to the ASOR workshop will focus more on issues (2) and (3). Scholar-led publishing, for example, relies on the willingness of scholars to take on some of the responsibilities traditionally organized or performed by publishers. These range from conducting peer review to copy-editing, book layout and design, and marketing and promotion of published open access books. The reasons for this are complex, of course. I’d contend that some of the shine associated with traditional high value publishers (e.g. Cambridge, Oxford, Chicago, Princeton, et c.) has dulled in some ways because scholars not on the tenure-track no longer feel the need to publish with presses whose prestige is partly tied to their reputation for producing books capable of earning their authors tenure. To go a step further, I’d contend that stagnation of faculty salaries at many institutions and the drift from pay scales anchored in merit to those shaped by a philosophy of austerity has undermined the status of traditional publishers as well. Austerity measures have similarly reduced the purchasing power of libraries, one of the main consumers of traditional academic monographs, and encouraged the rise of open access publishing. This, in turn, has garnered open access publishing its own kind of prestige in academic circles.

Open access publishing is further supported by the continued refinement of publishing software which makes it relatively easy to produce high quality layouts and designs. Print-on-demand technology supported by behemoths like Amazon and Ingram as well as a revolving door of smaller start ups makes it possible to create, sell, and distribute low-cost, decent-quality paperbacks and high-quality hardcover books without investing in massive print runs. For digital books, the rise in both academic and commercial repositories now support an expansive ecosystem of self-archived and open access publications accessible on the web. Social media offers a viable, if sometimes uneven, platform for both targeted and dispersed marketing.

In sum, many of the financial, technological, and professional barriers that have discouraged small-scale academic publishers appear to be diminishing at the same moment when many outwardly successful academic presses are under threat from within their institutions. To be clear, I don’t see scholar-led, open access publishing as replacing traditional academic publishers. Nor do I see this as an either/or situation, but rather as part of the ongoing transformation of both the academic and publishing landscape.

Here’s my abstract:

Digital Practices, Workflows, and Scholar-Led Publishing

Over the past thirty years digital practices have significantly changed archaeological workflows. The distinctive character of digital data now characterizes the processes associated with archaeological knowledge making from the trench or survey unit to the final publication. This shift has coincided with fundamental changes to scholarly publishing which is negotiating the strains of reduced library budgets and challenges linked to the growing pressure and expectation of open access publishing models. At the same time, recent years have seen a shift in the academic job market away from tenured and tenure stream positions and toward a more contingent and precarious workforce. It is hardly surprising, then, that the confluence of these unsettled conditions have provided a critical context for reconsidering the role digital practices play in scholarly publishing. This paper will sketch out the role of small-scale, scholar-led, open access publishing at the amid the increasingly digital character of archaeological publishing, the changing ecosystem of scholarly publishing, and the growing instability and precarity of careers in academic archaeology.


This is obviously new terrain for me and, as always, I’m eager to hear any and all thoughts on my ideas!

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.

Epoiesen 4 is Almost Here

This weekend, I spent some time typesetting the fourth volume of Epoiesen. Epoiesen is a journal for “creative engagement in history and archaeology” edited by Shawn Graham and published by Carleton University in Ottawa. While the journal itself appears digitally when content is ready, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota publishes a paper version each winter that collects all the content that has appeared in the year as single PDF or print-on-demand volume. 

In past issues, there have been some challenging page design issues, but this year’s volume has been pretty straight forward. The only thing that I did was pull apart some of the .gifs and prepare some screen-capture sequences in the place of videos. 

Epoiesen4 Video Given

Epoiesen4 Video Dombrowski

The volume is pretty great with thoughtful and provocative pieces by Michael Given and Erin Thompson and productive responses. It’s rare that I say this about a journal, but I wish there was more material in this issue. So, if you have a creative project that might not work in a traditional publication, send it to Epoiesen

Shawn was lucky enough to get Marcelo Vitores to give us permission to use his piece on the cover of the volume.

Cover Epoiesen4 6X9

Finally, I had planned to send along an article to Epoiesen by the end of the year, but I’m increasingly feeling like this might not happen (but we’ll see, there are at least four days left this year, right?). Typesetting the fine content from last year, however, has only made me more enthusiastic about contributing something in the next few weeks! 

Stay tuned for the download link and the paperback 

Scholarly Publishing and Major Scholarly Presses

Dimitri Nakassis doesn’t post very often on his blog, but when he does, it’s worth reading. Earlier this week, he published an interesting piece on the publication patterns in Aegean Prehistory and argued that most of the significant publications came from specialized rather than major presses. 

There’s a lot to unpack in Dimitri’s post and I’m not necessarily qualified to unpack it all, but his major points are interesting. 

First, it would seem that his definition of significant scholarship involves two thing: (1) new data, and (2) significant new analysis of old or existing data. 

Second, this means that most of the significant publications in the field of Aegean prehistory are either (1) primary publication of archaeological data (particularly articles from journals that specialize in publishing archaeological data) or (2) conference proceedings and book chapters from specialized presses. Dimitri enumerates this in his blog post.

Conspicuous by their absence are books published by major presses. This includes Oxford and Cambridge, as well as their American equivalents, Princeton, California, and Chicago. Of course, one reason for this is that Dimitri’s dataset is mostly drawn for an article in Archaeological Reports that considers new archaeological discoveries and few major presses specialize in primary archaeological publications. They also only rarely publish conference proceedings which likewise represent a major place for the dissemination of new arguments and data.

A lack of interest from major presses in publishing conference proceedings and new archaeological data is understandable. This kind of specialist literature tends to have a small audiences, in the case of conference proceedings, or high costs, in the case of formal archaeological publications (or, as is often the case, both). This also means that this kind of publication tends to require significant subventions from scholarly organizations, grants, or the state.

Most of the top academic presses do not deal with subventions and operate with the expectation that they can sell enough of a particular title to recoup a significant part of their cost. As a result, they tend to publish the kinds of books that are likely to generate a wider readership than a specialized conference proceeding or the primary report on an archaeological site. They also increasingly publish high profit library fodder (e.g. Handbooks and Companions) and lower margin, but higher volume popular and short works that have a wide appeal.

As Dimitri observes, the high profit and high volume publications – especially the Handbook and Companion type volumes – serve as significant secondary conduits that point to the publication of archaeological information in their footnotes and bibliographies. These presses also specialize in the conventional academic monograph, which are often revised dissertations, that also tend to re-examine and synthesize existing bodies of published archaeological data. As a result, these examples of “adaptive reuse” of archaeological knowledge attract a wider audience and achieve a wider distribution than the original, typically more specialized publications.

As academic publishing continues to adapt the changing funding landscape, I suspect that the division between major publishers specializing in work that is more synthetic and interpretative and smaller publishers who rely on subsidies to publish primary data and preliminary analyses will continue to grow.

It’ll be interesting to see how conventional scholarly monographs fit into this landscape. Historically, they have relied on library purchases to offset the cost of publishing. I would guess that at present, as library resources continue to decline, the costs of monograph publishing are increasingly offset by popular and generalist works (e.g. Handbooks and Companions) some of which are made available by digital subscriptions. Whether this model is sustainable is hard to say. 

I suspect more specialized presses will continue to draw on subsidies, subventions, and grants to publish narrowly specialized works. What’s more, as national funding bodies exert greater pressure on researchers to make their data publicly available in open formats, it would appear that presses prepared to lean into subvented publications would find a significant new revenue stream.

This shift is significant as it marks a pivot from a model of publishing that expected the consumer to fund the cost of publication to one that expects the researcher or institution to subvent the publication of their work often with grant funds (or as part of a large funding “scheme”). A couple of years ago, I mused about the relationship between research and publishing narrowing in our digital age, especially with digital publishing venues for, say, archaeological data, and the rise of scholar-led publishing. One wonders whether this tend will continue to shape the character of consumer-driven, more generalist work from major publishers and more-specialized researcher funded work from less historically prominent publishers.

Considering the key role that traditional monographs from major publishers play in (what’s left of) tenure and promotion decisions, these trajectories could curiously invert the typical trajectory of scholarly publishing. Historically rather narrow dissertations produced specialized dissertations and while this mostly continues to be the case, the need the sell books to offset the cost of publishing monographs from major presses might already explain why Dimitri reckons major presses are having less of an impact in the field. Are we seeing a trend in dissertation-based monographs (and dissertations) toward less narrowly focused and therefore somewhat less incisive work?

As grant funding publishing tends to be something that happens in mid-career and later, will we see a trend toward more impactful and specialized scholarship appearing later in a scholars career, at the very point when historically a scholar might decide to address “big picture” problems in the field?