This is a big week for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. The first in a pair of fall releases happens tomorrow with another on schedule for mid-November. My colleague David Pettegrew and I are also wrapping up page proofs from our Oxford Handbook project.
Because I’ve been thinking about publishing and digital publishing a good bit lately. As I’ve noted before, the work of thinking about how a book is designed, laying out a book, and reviewing proofs, provides ample opportunities to think about how books and publishing work on a practical level.
Lately, I’ve thought about three things:
1. Collaboration. One of the great things about The Digital Press is that I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with some many good people. It is remarkable to me that so many scholars want a more hands-on involvement in the publishing process. The scholar with whom my press has worked are interested in fonts, margins, cover pages, and layouts. More than that, they’re interested in contributing actively to the process of moving a work from an idea, to a document in a word processor to a set of page proofs and to a finished book.
The willingness and interest in the process of publishing suggests that there is a growing realization that publishing isn’t just what happens to a finished work when the hard work of thinking and writing is done, but extends through the process of designing, presenting, and even marketing the work. The collaborative spirit of the press serves the break down the barrier between author and publisher and not only give authors greater control over their work, but also challenges the idea of publishing as a commercial enterprise that acquires the rights of an author’s work in exchange for the work and risk associated with producing a published object. While I believe that commercial, academic, small, and large publishers should always exist for there to be a healthy publishing ecosystem, readers of this blog know that I’m also committed to models and modes of publishing that hybridize and complicate the current system.
2. The Digital Page. Over the past year, I’ve thought a good bit about what the digital page looks like. On the one hand, the web page, coded in HTML and laced with hyperlinks, has a long tradition of standing as quintessential digital page. On the other hand, the development of the codex page in the analog book is deeply embedded in our intellectual and cultural world. From our system of academic citation to the prevailing metaphor of the “page” as a tool to present information, the page remains a useful way to think about how we communicate knowledge.
Of course, the digital page has its challenges. My preference remains to use the PDF as the basic way to publish new knowledge. The PDF is not the most elegant or dynamic platform, but it shares the basic structure with paper books and represents the kind of hybrid digital/analog space that allows readers to move seamlessly from digital to print media. This does, however, involve certain sacrifices. For example, the digital page does not like columns or densely spaced text blocks. In my experience, narrower text blocks with generous margins and line spacing work better on screen and across devices. Not all fonts move between the analog and digital with equal grace.
The downside of these compromises is that sometimes the analog page looks a bit simple and brash in order to make the digital page feel comfortable and easy to read.
3. Thinking about Digital Publishing in Archaeology. I’m pretty excited to have been invited to the 2019, Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Buffalo next spring. The topic is Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age and I’ll present a paper titled “Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology: Data, Workflows, and Books in the Age of Logistics.”
I’m not entirely sure what this paper will be about, but my hope is that it extends from the paper that I’ve been toiling on for the European Journal of Archaeology which is playing with post-industrial metaphors in digital archaeological practice. I hope that this can be effectively extended to how we think about the book as the goal of the archaeological workflow and how changes in digital practices has complicated any implicit linearity to the course of archaeological work.