Some Updates from The Digital Press

For the first time in the history of The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, I have multiple books in multiple stages of production. It would be pretty intense if I didn’t have a great group of collaborators helping to keep all the balls in the air. The magic of a cooperative press is that many hands make light work. 

The project that I’m most immediately invested in at present is preparing the publication of an excavation manual. As several of my trusted advisors have pointed out to me, publishing an excavation manual is not something that happens very frequently. Usually, manuals are in-house documents circulated on a project to maintain consistency and rigor and, if they are made available to the public, it is without the trappings of formal publication. This is a fine and practical approach to making a project’s methodological assumptions available to the people most deeply involved in work, but it falls short of the level of disciplinary transparency that archaeology has come to embrace in recent decades. Certain, particularly thorough, manuals deserve publication as benchmarks against which changes in the field can be measured. 

In any event, publishing a field manual is tricky for lots of technical reasons. First and foremost, there is a demand for legibility both in paper and digital formats. I image this kind of document being read on phones, tablets, and in ratty paper copies strewn about workrooms. I decided to set the book in Lucida Bright at 10 points with headings being san serif Lucida Sans. Technical terms that refer to specific fields in databases or on various forms are in Lucida Small Caps. The font is BIG for clarity and the margins are generous to accommodate sweaty and dirty hands and notes. They also allow for me to put section numbers in the margins to allow a reader to find a reference section quickly without flipping back and forth to find where one is in the book.

CEM 3 12 1 01

CEM 3 12 2 01

The fussiest part about this kind of publication are the various illustrations and tables and the absence of long text blocks. I’ve been struggling to balance the need for variation in font sizes. Below is a draft of a very busy page. I’m not sure that I have it all right, but I think it’s headed in the right direction.

CEM 6 1

 As per usual, feedback of any kind is much appreciated.

As for the other two projects at The Press right now, I’ve blogged about one before. This is Micah Bloom’s Codex. You can get to know this project here. Right now we have eight short, but incisive essays in copy editing and two more on the way. The book design is being handled by Micah Bloom himself and some students at Minot State University, and I’ve been told its well underway. This project is complicated because rather than being just one book, it’s actually three. An archival, color, print copy, reproduced at a very high level and for very limited circulation, a free digital download, and a trade paperback which will be different from the color print copy but a more affordable and accessible way to get into the wondrous world of Codex.

Codex covers i copy

Codex cover digital press no micah

The final project is perhaps the most exciting and the most rapidly approaching (like a run-away freight train!). As local readers of this blog know, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the catastrophic Red River flood of 1997. This flood wrecked Grand Forks and prior to Hurricane Katrina required the largest peace-time evacuation in U.S. history. The memories of the flood remains quite vivid and raw for many in the community, and, despite the resurgence of Grand Forks in the two decades since the water retreated, there remains an ambivalence about the memory of the flood. This year a group of advanced students in the writing, editing, and publishing program here at UND have been putting together a book that brings new material and documents together about the flood under the guidance of David Haeselin. Dave and his students are doing great work so far and we’re looking forward to presenting a teaser for the book early in April.

In the meantime, I’ll put up a couple of cover mock ups and provisional titles just to keep you curious:


Haunted by Waters


Reflection on High Water 2

Three Things Wednesday

I’ve been writing a bit frantically lately, and this morning, I don’t really feel it. So instead of some (in)coherent blogpost rant, I’ll offer three quick things that occupied my mind on my drive to campus this morning.

Forty Book February

This month was the first month in the history of The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota that we sold 40 books (actually 41)! Selling paper books has always been a rather small part of what I do at The Digital Press, but as recent, middling figures for the sale for ebooks have shown, people love paper. (That being said, downloads of our books outpaced sales by about 10:1).

The strong February sales were driven in part by Eric Burin’s edited volume, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College, but almost every book in our catalogue got some love this month. 

What is more interesting (at least to me) is that Visions of Substance: 3D Imaging in Mediterranean Archaeology edited by myself and Brandon Olson is the only book that did not sell a copy, despite being the most widely cited book in The Digital Press catalogue with close to 10 citations in a wide range of books and journals (Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, Antiquity, Journal of Field Archaeology, Studies in Ancient Art and Civilization). I suspect the price ($24) has something to do with it and this was an unavoidable consequence of the color printing. Maybe the topic of the book, which was meant to capture a particular moment in time, made the book easily dated?

Immigrants and Emerson 

Here in the Northland, we’ve heard an alarming number of stories about immigrants crossing the rural border between the U.S. and Canada out of fear of deportation. Crossing the border by foot in the winter has cost some of these individuals fingers and toes and nearly their lives. This terrifying new reality has put a profoundly human and local face on the global refugee crisis and got me and my colleagues, Richard Rothaus and Kostis Kourelis, thinking about whether an archaeology of these crossings could help us (and our communities) understand what we need to do to help people so desperate and afraid that they’d risk their lives to be free. Taking a page from Jason De León’s Undocumented Migration Project and our own experience working on the archaeology of the contemporary world, we’ve just begun to imagine ways in which we could realize an archaeology of care here in North Dakota.

We don’t have plans yet and recognize the need for collaboration on both sides of the border and the time and space to develop a thoughtful, humane, and systematic approach to the local side of a global problem. I’m looking forward to the forthcoming forum in the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology that will help frame archaeology’s role in the ongoing crisis.

Threshold Concepts

The next big thing in pedagogy (at least here in North Dakota) seems to be threshold concepts. While I won’t pretend to understand the theoretical or conceptual underpinnings of the idea, it seems to have something to with the idea or concept in a class (or even a discipline) that pushes a student from superficial bafflement to deep understanding. I like the idea because it so neatly describes the breakthrough point that most of us have experienced when studying, say, an language or a particularly tricky text that allows us almost suddenly to wrap our heads around what an author or even a culture is saying. The idea behind threshold concepts, from what I gather, is to recognize and foreground the understanding that creates this breakthrough experience.

A colleague got me thinking about the threshold concepts for history and how students think about arguments, facts, evidence, and theory. For many – even some of our M.A. students – history is about combining “facts” into arguments. This is a fine basic understanding, but runs the risk of essentializing historical evidence as static facts and viewing arguments as self-contained entities that do not rely on larger (and more complex) standards for their validity. After all, an argument is only as good within a particular regime of authority, style, discourse, and even political standing. 

Data, Interpretation, Publishing

I’ve been chewing on a blog post for a few days now and it just so happens that it coincides with the third installment of Dimitri Nakassis’s Archaeological Futures series over at his blog “Aegean Prehistory.” One of his more compelling points (and one that he has made several times in his blog) is that there persists a rhetorical divide between data collection and interpretation. Data collection continues to attract a particular kind of attention that generally focuses on issues of accuracy, efficiency, and productivity. In many ways, it represents a meaningful fork from a larger discussion of methodology prompted in large part by the emergence of New Archaeology in the 1960s and 1970s. The concern is that this emphasis on data collection as digital practice fragments how we talk about archaeological knowledge production and separates collecting datas in the field from analyzing them. If you’ve read my blog and some of my recent publications, you know my critical of this: slow archaeology.    

It is probably valuable to stress that this division between data collection and interpretation is artificial and represents a divide in how we talk about archaeological practice and not archaeological practice in the field. The most eloquent advocates for sophisticated, more accurate, and more efficient data collection methods are generally fine field archaeologists who continuously draw on embodied knowledge, best practices, and their own data to make decisions on the fly at trench side or during survey. 

The problem, then, becomes an issue of presentation. The generic divide between archaeological methods as an area of study and the analysis and interpretation of archaeological data has fostered what appears to be a divergent interests in the field. In practice, these interests deeply intertwined, of course, but on paper (so to speak!) they are not.

Last week, I excitedly touted the release of a digital version of our bookPyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coast Town. It’s free. Download it today

The chief asset of the digital version (aside from it being free and digital) is that a reader can “drill down” into the archaeological data upon which our arguments are based. This data was published by Open Context on their platform and was open and free. Earlier this week, Sarah Bond, introduced the Gabii projects remarkable 3D publication to a wide audience. University of Michigan’s press published the 3D book, which retails for $150, but the data on which the book is based is available for free. In other words, publishing practice has largely followed the scholarly conversation that separated data collection (and data itself) from analysis. The analysis in these cases, will run you about $150 for Gabii, and before we released our book for free, $75. To be clear, my point here isn’t to disparage either of these efforts or Open Context or Michigan. The material reality of archaeological publishing is such that the tools, skills, and infrastructure used to publish data remains distinct from those required to publish a traditional book. As a result, these two aspect of publishing have remained separate. While one could argue that archaeological publications long separated “data” which tended to appear in the form of catalogues as either separate volumes or in separate sections, digital publishing practices have seemingly expanded that divide. 

I’ve just started working on a pilot project to publish a 3D dataset that would require – in its current formulation – at least three and perhaps four different platforms ranging from a archaeological data publishing platform (like Open Context) to platforms best suited to publish 3D data, a portable digital version of the data and analysis that does not require a internet connection, and, perhaps, a paper version that – like we did with Mobilizing the Past – that offers a way for a read more at ease with conventional paper publications to access the digital elements of the project. To my way of thinking, this distributed form of publishing provides someone interested in this project with multiple avenues to access the data and the analysis and interpretation.

At the same time (and as some of my collaborators in this project have pointed out), this distributed model of publishing exacerbates the distinction between various forms of archaeological knowledge. The traditional codex (and page) represents the most familiar way to present linear arguments that move systematically from point to point to build their case. Data, however, is never as neat and linear as an argument, but the further it stands apart from the argument (whether through format, platform, or media) the less reciprocal or “entangled” the relationship between data and argument will appear. 

So as I look toward the future of archaeology, I’m simultaneously excited about the impact of technology on how archaeology is practiced and published and completely humbled by my inability to think about how an entangled discipline that preserves both the linearity of archaeological arguments and the non-linearity of archaeological practice would appear. 

Picking the President on Facebook Live

I’m excited for the first Facebook Live event hosted by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. It happens at 1 pm CST today and will feature Eric Burin, editor of Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College

The event is free and open to everyone to watch on Picking the President’s Facebook page.

First, if you haven’t already, download the book for free. If you haven’t had a chance to read it all, that’s ok, there won’t be a quiz.

Then, show up at 1 pm CST.

If you have a question or a comment, use the hashtag #PickingthePres on Twitter or Facebook or comment directly on the Facebook feed. 

It will be fun! 

Picking the President Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ARS 21  PKAP Linked SM Page 003

A Facebook Live Event: Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is continuing to experiment with digital and new media by hosting a Facebook Live event with Eric Burin. He’ll discuss his recent edited book, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College which brought together over a dozen scholars from across the disciplines to discuss this history of the Electoral College and how it worked in the most recent election. Dr. Burin will be on Facebook Live to talk discuss the book and to take general questions and comments about the history and significance of the Electoral College in American politics.

To make this happen, we’re teaming up with our friends at the North Dakota Humanities Council. They suggested it, I’m working on figuring out how to do it, and we’re both going to promote it. A little prodding by the NDHC folks in Bismarck, and we’re moving into the social media world. Check it out, Picking the President has its own Facebook page now!

If it’s me, the Humanities Council, Eric Burin, and The Digital Press, then you definitely should participate, and here’s how:

First, go and download Picking the President for free at The Digital Press or if you really want it a paper copy, ordering on via Amazon.

We’ll be broadcasting on Picking the President’s Facebook page starting a 1 pm (CST) February 21st. To ask questions, use the hashtag #PickingthePres on Twitter or Facebook or comment here on this blog or over the blog post on this event on the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota web site.  

Here’s Dr. Burin with Abe Lincoln:

Burin and Licnoln

Convergence: Punk, Slow, and Care in a Digital World

Every now and then I start to worry that my interests are diverging and running away in every direction and leaving me adrift. With budget cuts, possible changing in our teaching/research balance, a shift away from graduate education, and many of my field archaeology projects entire their final seasons, I find myself like many “mid-career” faculty bereft of morale, motivation, and, frankly, direction. So I get to thinking about convergence.

Every now and then, I read something or turn an idea around enough in my creaking, void-filled, mind that I get what other people have often described as an “idea.” This weekend, I had a glimpse of how several tracks in my academic and intellectual development might actually be converging around a theme (or two maybe?) that a few blog posts this weekend helped me to recognize more fully.

I’m going to try to trace these out this morning and to make sense of what my various projects are trying to do and say.

Over the last few years, my colleagues and I have had some entertaining, and I hope useful, conversations centered on three concepts in archaeological research:

1. Punk Archaeology
2. Slow Archaeology
3. Archaeology of Care

I can’t take credit, really, for any of these, but I probably am as responsible as anyone for coining terms to describe them, and promoting the use of these terms.

Punk Archaeology celebrates the performative, DIY, and improvised aspects of archaeological field work and thinking. It has tended to focus a bit more on the archaeology of the contemporary world because this is where archaeological methods and practices have tend to break down when confronted with challenges such as modern abundance leading archaeologists to innovate on the fly, our work is less bound by the formal limits of the site and more publicly accessible, and contemporary observers are more willing to offer dissonant, alternative, and conflicting perspectives. As a result, punk archaeology – at its best – defamiliarized the familiar in everyday life (much like punk takes the basic structure of pop song and makes it something else) and familiarizes the unfamiliar in archaeological practice by putting it on display. In short, it can turn archaeology inside out.

Slow Archaeology is a critique of the role of technology in archaeological practice. I’ve argued that the Taylorist drive for efficiency has produced field practices that tend to fragment both how we describe material culture but also our experiences. At its most perverse, field work is reduced to “data collection” and digital tools are celebrated as ways to make the harvesting of “raw data” more efficient. There is no doubt that field work should be efficient and that technology will improve not only what we collect from the field, but also how we collect archaeological information. Slow archaeology, however, calls for us to maintain a space in archaeological field practice for analysis and interpretation and to be patient with these processes. Moving forward, I’d like to see slow archaeology celebrate integrative practices in archaeological field work that both bring together our fragmented techniques in the field and the information that these techniques produce.

Archaeology of Care. The archaeology of care is a term coined by my colleague Richard Rothaus and, like slow and punk archaeology, it offers a critical reflection on the practice and performance of archaeology. It stemmed from the observation that people who we encountered in the Bakken were genuinely moved by our archaeological and archaeological interest in their world and lives. While neither Richard nor I conceived of our project as a gesture to the people (or objects) that we studied, it became pretty obvious that archaeological work became a medium through which shared understanding of the past and the present are formed. For us at least, the archaeology of care was de-theorized and reflected our very practical experiences doing archaeology of and in the contemporary world.

It has taken me a while to recognize that these three moves in my archaeological thinking have focused on a number of shared themes centered largely on our practices in the field: (1) a focus on archaeology as performance and experience, (2) a tendency to recognize these experiences a bringing together people, data, and objects, and (3) a preference for DIY and an aversion to “technological solutionism” in its various forms.

These ideas have started to come together with another couple of “projects” that I’ve been slowly working on over the last few years. As readers of this blog know, I’ve invested a good bit of time and energy into The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. This emerged directly from my interest in punk archaeology (which became the first book from the press). It started as an experiment in DIY publishing and has slowly expanded into a project designed to the traditional fragmentation of the publishing process that separates the authors from the publishers. At my little press, we create an environment where authors, editors, and publishers work together to produce books at a lower cost than traditional commercial publishing, but with opportunities for more experimentation and control for the authors.

I’m pretty upfront with my authors that I am not a conventional publisher. As my more critical colleagues point out, my books tend to be a bit rough around the edges, my distribution channels remain a bit uncertain, and everything is essentially experimental. But for my authors and editors, this seems to work. If anything, I have more than enough books to keep my enterprise afloat, to hold my interest, and to keep me feeling that this is a meaningful extension of my approach to archaeology and archaeological knowledge production.

What prompted this sudden bout of introspection was a little article titled “Ed-Tech in a Time of Trump” by Audrey Waters. Go read it (and comment if you want; there is the start of a little comment thread). To summarize a complex argument, trends in Ed-Tech data collection are troubling for a number of reasons. First, Waters critiques the basic philosophy that if we collect enough data on our students we can customize our educational practices to produce particular outcomes. Most thoughtful educators realize that this is not how teaching or learning works just as most thoughtful archaeologists do not think that intensified scrutiny and technologies in how we collect “all of the datas” will produce better archaeological knowledge more efficiently. (Do check out Dimitri Nakassis’s refinement of my critiques of data at his blog especially here and here and here.)

At the same time, we are lured by the temptation of easy digital data collection especially in online courses or in courses with substantial online components. Universities have developed sophisticated data collection schemes as their infrastructure has become digital and student interactions with almost all services is mediated by tools that collect data to produce increasingly comprehensive digital profiles of students. Even with the protections offered by FERPA, universities have vast quantities of data on students that can be leveraged internally to encourage practices that “better” serve students. Students are consumers and the university has indulged in all the conceits of online consumer culture. In place of a culture of care grounded in complex experiences of teaching and learning, the university as an institution has fragmented students into bundles and clusters of data that can be arranged to anticipate and serve student and administrative expectations. This has particularly toxic potential as calls to “reinvent education” often look to technologies to create the appearance of doing more with less, while obscuring the reality that less almost always means less in education.

What is more troubling for Waters is that the calls to “reinvent education” or to “innovate” almost always rest on the assumption that current practices are flawed. The temptation is to identify the problems with education through scrutiny of “big data” rather than attention to small, daily practices. With the lure of big fixes residing in big data issues of security and privacy abound. What is more terrifying still is that for public universities, this data could easily fall into the hands of politically motivated leaders either on campus or at the state or local levels who could use students and faculty data for purposes that run counter to many of our values as educators, scholars, and public servants. Waters evokes the always chilling specter of Nazi data collection as an example for how the state can mine “big data” for nefarious purposes.

To be clear, I don’t see slow archaeology, punk archaeology, the archaeology of care, or The Digital Press as a bulwark against Nazism or as explicitly political statements, but I would like to think that the common aspects of these projects represent a kind of resistance to some of the more troubling trends in academic practices and higher education these days. Calling for greater scrutiny of practice in a time of big data, promoting DIY among students and colleagues, and demonstrating how integration, and care, rather than fragmentation and “analysis” can produce meaningful and significant results. 

Picking the President in Paper and Other Press News

I’m happy to announce that sixth (or seventh) book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, Eric Burin’s Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College, is now available in glorious, durable paper from It’s $8. That’s less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks or a six-pack of “craft beer.” 

The paper version of Picking the President is based on the slightly updated version (version 1.3 for those of you keeping track at home!) which was a general tidying up of the text. It is the same version that the individual offprints are based on just with a slightly different cover.

So head on over to The Digital Press now and download a copy or, if the intoxicating smell of the paper book is your thing, pop on over to Amazon and buy one

Ec project cover2 02cropped

If you’ve had about enough of the Electoral College and its consequences these days, then perhaps digital archaeology is more to your taste. If so, please check out Jody Gordon’s paper at the American Schools of Oriental Research Annual Meeting.

Jody provides a sweeping overview of the contents of a book that he edited with Erin Walcek Averett and Derek Counts, Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology. The book has achieved almost 1000 downloads. If you want the paper version, you can grab it for $20 on Amazon


Mtp cover 3dirt

Finally, here is a sneak peak at a project that The Digital Press is assisting with. It’s an open access textbook on the History of Applied Science and Technology being developed by one of our Ph.D. Students Danielle Mead Skjelver and our historian of science here at the University of North Dakota, Hans Broedel. While the exact role for the Digital Press is not entirely clear, they are partnering with the Rebus Foundation to make this happen, and their process got a little positive attention this week. Check it out here.


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

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

That being said, it seems to me that the pros and cons of break down like this: is good at what it provides at present: an easy to use and highly discoverable outlet for scholars to share research. They seem to have very little interest in interfering with what people upload to their site making it a useful back-channel for acquiring articles that would otherwise be trapped behind paywalls. They don’t charge fees for posting content or downloading content. 

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

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

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

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

More on Digital and Paper Picking the President

I spent a little time this weekend doing some finishing touches on the paper version of the most recent book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota: Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College edited by Eric Burin. With any luck, the paper version of the book should be out by the end of the week.

As readers of this blog know, Picking the President was produced very quickly and as a result, some little infelicities slipped through our editing. Over the past week we were able to tidy up the text and have released an updated version here: Picking the President (v1.2).

We also created offprints of each contribution to make the text just a bit more accessible useful in the classroom where you might want to assign, for example, Eric Burin’s introduction and Allen Guelzo and James H. Hulme’s article arguing for the ongoing importance of the Electoral College. We also made the “Documents” section available as a stand alone download.

So far, we are pleased with the number of downloads of the book with over 170 in its first week. While this is probably not quite enough to secure a major motion picture deal or an eager international translator, we expect book downloads to have a tail over the next 18 months if for no other reason than debates about the Electoral College are a bit evergreen. 

We’re also interested in experimenting a bit with ways to generate digital conversation around this (and other) book projects from the Digital Press. I served on the North Dakota Humanities Council board for nearly 5 years, and we regularly discussed whether digital projects were truly interactive. Those of you know the NDHC recognize that they tend to favor face-to-face events – book clubs, lectures, workshops and the like – to publishing or digital projects arguing that their primary goal is to stimulate conversation. That’s fair enough, I think, but it also pushed me to think about how to make a book or a webpage more interactive.

On Friday I had an intriguing meeting with some of the folks from is an application that allows you to comment and mark up anything on the web including pdf files. You have to create a free account to use, but that’s relatively painless. Once you get an account, you can join the conversation by using either a Google Chrome browser plug-in or going to a designated link that allows to run natively in your web browser.

So, I’ve opened up my contribution to the Picking the President book for commenting here and added a “comment” link on the Picking the President download page (although anyone could have done the same thing by dropping the link to the pdf download into the little box on the Hypothesis webpage). I’d love to get some feedback on my paper.

For something perhaps a bit more fun for long-time readers of this blog, I’ve also created an annotatable version of my “Slow Archaeology” article in Mobilizing the Past.

The good thing about is that it’s easy to use and pretty fun. It allows for comments on both the page level and for comments tied to specific passages in the text as well as highlighting that can be seen by anyone who either visits the page or has the plug-in installed in their browser. It allows for private groups, which would make it appealing for a teaching environment where a class would mark up a text. I’ve already floated the idea to Eric Burin, the editor of Picking the President, that maybe he could set up a group for his class and they could comment on the book.

I also have a simmering project where we imagine using a private group to produce an annotated version of a book. We would then collate these annotations into an expanded edition that we’d publish both as a digital book and print-on-demand. In other words, we’d take the annotations and make it part of the “permanent record” of the book. This fits into some of the ideas that Andrew Reinhard and I bandied about in our article in Internet Archaeology last year: “From Blogs to Books: Blogging as Community, Practice, and Platform.” In this article, we envisioned publishing as not a separate species of work from blogging or even social media posts, but as a part of the same continuum that begins with professional conversations at (say) an academic meeting and (one fork at least) culminates in traditional publishing. By opening up the final “published” product to annotation and comment we both leverage digital technologies to take the book beyond the limits of the page but also look back to the earliest days of publishing when printed books circulated within far more circumscribed communities and were often reprinted to reflect the conversations and annotations offered within the communities. 

So please check out my experiments with more interactive publishing. More important than that, though, let me know what you think about my contribution to Picking the President and the most recent version of “Slow Archaeology”