Three Things Thursday

Thursday mornings have become exceedingly hectic with me teaching a class in old Montgomery Hall at 8 am and it also being the customary day for NDQ to post its weekly blog.

That being said, I always can find time for a few things on a Thursday morning.

Thing One

One of the coolest things about Montgomery Hall on the UND campus is its impressive vaulted plaster and wood framed ceiling. The vaulted ceiling stood two storeys about the dining room in the original configuration of Montgomery Hall and when this room became the main reading room on campus, it conveyed a certain monumentality to the space.

Final edits 01 13 2020 UND HABS Narrative Outline pdf  page 22 of 25 2020 02 06 11 14 39

Final edits 01 13 2020 UND HABS Narrative Outline pdf  page 22 of 25 2020 02 06 11 16 14

Today, the acoustic tiles obscure the ceiling and a floor level divides the open expanse of the reading room and the dining hall. It nevertheless peaks through in places.

IMG 4642

IMG 4644

Thing Two

For the first time in my teaching career, I’m assigning something that I wrote for a class. Needless to say, I’m nervous. When I first got to UND, the university was preparing to celebrate its 125thaversary (which they oddly called something like there quinquasexatecentennial or some such pretentious nonsense). At this time, a decree went out from the President of the university that all the world … or every department should update their history. I offered to write the history of our department and now, after years of sort of hiding from it, I’m asking students to download and read two chapters to understand the early history of our program.

You can read it here, if you’d like, and I think that the early history of history at UND is pretty interesting. It speaks not only to the emergence of history as a professional discipline outside of the major universities (Johns Hopkins, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ivy League) as well as the first efforts to study the history of the state of North Dakota in the early 20th century and the organization of archives and seminars on the history of the state. It also gives an idea of how professors negotiated their place among the small town bourgeois of Grand Forks.

Thing Three

I really want to talk about some projects and make some updates concerning The Digital Press, but nothing is quite ready to announce. For example, Kyle Conway’s edited volume, Sixty Years of Boom and Bust: The Impact of Oil in North Dakota, 1958–2018 is in page proofs.
Sebastian Heath’s DATAM: Digital Approaches to Teaching the Ancient Mediterranean is almost through layout. Derek Counts, Erin Averett, and Kevin Gartski’s Visualizing Votive Practice: Exploring Limestone and Terracotta Sculpture from Athienou-Malloura through 3D Models is in final pre-production review and will go to the copy editor this spring. Rebecca Seifried and Deb Brown’s Deserted Villages: Perspectives from the Eastern Mediterranean is back from positive peer reviews and out to authors for revisions.

I’d love to announce a new collaboration with North Dakota Quarterly that involves two translated books which will appear under a new imprint (possibly something like the North Dakota Quarterly Press).

I’m also dying to talk about Sun Ra.

But nothing is ready to announce yet, but stay tuned. Stuff is in the works and I hope people will like it.

Publishing as An Ecosystem

This weekend, I read with a good bit of excitement Lars Fogelin’s short article in the SAA Archaeological Record, titled “What I Learned Writing an Irreverent Archaeological Theory Book and Giving it Away for Free.” Not to give away the punchline, but he learned that writing and even publishing an free, open access book isn’t really that hard. Moreover, there is a kind of freedom that comes with avoiding a traditional (or even non-traditional!) publisher and writing the book you want to write, in the way that you want to write it. 

His short article reminded me so much of the spirit that moved me, Kostis Kourelis, and Andrew Reinhard to publish Punk Archaeology in 2014, and judging by the citation, it seems like Fogelin recognized that kinship. I still feel pretty proud of that book, and, I can sense a similar pride throughout Fogelin’s open access book, An Unauthorized Companion To American Archaeological Theory. In fact, liked Fogelin’s book so much that I naively reached out to the author (whom I don’t know) and offered to publish the book with The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota if he ever felt like releasing a revised edition or thought there was some value to a university press imprimatur or wanted it available in paper. He didn’t respond to my email [revision: actually, he reached out to me and he did respond, but I didn’t receive the email for some reason! So take the rest of this paragraph with a grain of salt!], and, now, after reading his piece in the SAA Archaeological Record, I understand why. First, he decided that no university press would publish his book, and I suppose it would be a bit awkward if a lightly revised version was published by a university press. More than that, though, the book was as much about preparing a free book as it was proposing a new model for publishing in the discipline. The ease with which he publishing this book allowed him to conclude that “much of the discussion about open-access publishing is overwrought.”

That assertion made me uncomfortable as an open access publisher, but not because I never had those exact same thoughts. On the one hand, it is easy to publish an open access book or even just a self-published book. Indeed, Amazon’s Kindle Direct print-on-demand service supports a wide range of self-published authors. Moreover, tenured folks like me and Fogelin have the luxury to experiment with alternative publishing models. Most of use have had a range of experiences with publishers to draw upon and we usually have developed social networks necessary to distribute our books. I still get excited when someone who I haven’t ever met (in person or virtually) cites the early work from The Digital Press like Punk Archaeology or Visions of Substance because it proves to me that these books escaped my personal and professional orbit. At the same time, I know when I write something (like, say, this blog) and Tweet or Facebookle it, there will be an audience. 

On the other hand, over the past few years, I’ve started to think more and more about the role of networks in archaeological practices and the place of publishers in the larger scheme of knowledge making. (I wrote something about that here.) If I was a bit more confident and thoughtful, I’d love to publish a follow up to Gavin Lucas’s recent book on writing in archaeology and show how editing, production, and distribution of archaeological publications also plays a key role in creating knowledge. To be clear, I’m not trying to challenge Fogelin’s proposed model as much as complicate it. I think his general idea of a far more decentralized academic publishing universe is a good one, and I have advocated for our discipline to recognize a wider range of books as making contributions to our discipline. This involves celebrating high quality self-published books, books from small presses, as well as more conventional publications. 

Part of how I’d complicate Fogelin’s perspective on open access publishing is by first pointing out that a book like his carries a good bit of surplus value (to use the old Marxist term rather loosely). For example, as a platform harvests data from users who have to sign in to download the book. This user data which likely includes IP address, institutional affiliations, user interests, and the like, is then resold or repurposed to generate income for the service. By posting his book on, he’s turning over some of the value of the book to that service. A more charitable reading would also note that makes his work more visible by connecting it with other similar works based on metrics developed from collected user data. I’m using this example not to criticize Fogelin’s choice to host his book at, but to show how his work creates value for other interests. It is safe to say that Fogelin decided to use rather than, say, a hosted site at Reclaim Hosting, uploading his book to the Internet Archive, or any number of the academic hosting sites like Humanities Commons or Zenodo or at his institution’s repository and as a result, gave some of the value of his book. 

If he had published his book with an open access press, it might be that this press also collects data from folks who download books. In fact, his proposal that the SAAs create a space on their site for open access and self-published work recognizes not only the value of the SAA name to attract users, but also books like Fogelin’s would attract users to the SAA site. This could be great for the SAAs especially if they don’t require membership to access content, but my experiences with ASOR, for example, and distributing a digitally enhanced version of my first book on their site, suggests that scholarly societies will want to find ways at very least to collect user data, if not monetize access. ASOR, for example, required individuals who wanted to download our book to provide their emails and to become a “friend of ASOR” (it’s also useful to note that the link for this download option is now broken; if you want it, you can grab it here). Moreover, the SAAs will also want to manage content in some way, I’d assume, to avoid books that violate their ethics policies, academic standards, and best (or at least good) practices. The notion that archaeologists can self police the site through open reviews strikes me – as a Mediterranean archaeologist – as optimistic verging on naive. In my field, unwarranted and unjustified bad reviews are used regularly in turf wars in the discipline. “Punching down” remains a nefarious practice all too visible at our academic meetings. That being said, Fogelin’s heart is in the right place and it demonstrates books like his could be used to promote the mission of the SAAs and vice versa. 

As a smart publisher once told me, “the front of the catalogue sells the back of the catalogue.” In other words, your most recent books bring attention to earlier books. There are variations on this as well: big name authors help sell less known authors, big books help sell small books, acclaim is contagious, and so on. The point is that a book like Fogelin’s, if it was published by an open access press, would draw attention to that press’s catalogue. Fogelin’s name, professional and social network, and the work’s widespread usefulness in upper level and graduate classes would make a press’s catalogue visible to a particularly appealing target audience. I know that when I read a book that I find useful or interesting, I often surf that publisher’s catalogue to see what else they have done. So, it’s not just a one way street.

At a recent meeting with the director of a sizable university press, she admitted that open access distribution did not seem to impact print sales. I’m not sure that this is the communis opinio, at least in public, but I do think that it shows how traditional print publishers are beginning to embrace open access works as complementary to print sales. As a result, if Fogelin had published his book with an accommodating academic publisher, it likely would have generated sales. His article reports that the book say over 700 downloads in the first month. This is pretty good and for a book like his with the potential for use in the classroom, one can imagine a steady, seasonal, download spike at the start of semester. Moreover, one could also imagine the possibility of a stead stream of seasonal sales. In my catalogue, I often see a little bump in sales for the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual in the fall and at the start of the summer field season. 

Let’s say Fogelin sent his book to an open access publisher who has a ratio of open access downloads to paper sales is about 20:1. It may be that over a few years the publisher sells something like 100 copies, perhaps mainly to libraries but also to some people who “love the smell of books” or just “love the feeling of a book in their hand.” Because the book is already formatted as a PDF, this would involve relatively little additional work. Moreover, because the book is available as a free download, the press is free to mark the book up a bit.

An aside: It’s worth noting that some books in my press’s catalogue, like Picking the President, for example, sell on Amazon at a steady clip long after downloads have declined reminding me that paper copies have their own network of sales and distribution that is independent from downloads and digital distributions. I expect there are quite a few people who have purchased copies of Picking the President but don’t know that it can be downloaded for free. At $8 a book this doesn’t trouble me much

Anyway, let’s say that a publisher charges $20 for the book and there is a $15 profit on each copy sold. That’s $1500 that the press could use for whatever they want. That money might go to marketing Fogelin’s volume more widely with an advertisement in, say, the SAA and EAA programs. Some of it might go to a snazzier cover (although I like the cover well enough). More importantly, though, that $1500 might go to supporting the open access publication of another book that won’t generate as much in sales. Maybe it’s a bilingual book of poetry by Maya speakers, maybe it’s a book that requires more technical aspects of production or can’t be sold in paper, or maybe it’s a first-time author who needs more attention in publishing and production. More importantly, $1500 would go a long way to supporting the work needed to administer peer review, which Fogelin rightly observes is “free” but only inasmuch as the reviewer is rarely compensated. As I have argued elsewhere, peer review does have a cost for the publisher. In other words, the surplus value of Fogelin’s work might ripple through the publishing ecosystem bringing benefit to other people’s works without losing anything of what made his book unique, useful, and open. By releasing it via, he is, at worst, allowing that commercial enterprise to use his work for its own commercial ends, and, at best, leaving value for a press, for other scholars, for the discipline, and even for his own work on the table. 

Another aside: One of the more nefarious recent trends in higher education is the rather uncritical push for Open Educational Resources. Don’t get me wrong: I think textbook prices are too damn high, but I also think that the current push for OERs is a wolf dressed in a sheep’s clothing. The amount of money being pushed into OERs will not consistently produce books of the same quality as commercial textbooks. Moreover, textbooks make money for publishers and there surely is a sweet spot between exploitative pricing and free that would benefit publishers and students equally. To put this in perspective: the push for OERs is the only major initiative in higher education that is advocating for the superiority of the public sector over the private sector. Making textbooks free is reflects the devaluing of academic work as much as a genuine concern for the cost of education. At current funding levels, the quality of OER books will only rarely reach the level of commercial textbooks without massive amounts of largely uncompensated time from faculty. Is this how we want to make up for cuts to public support to higher education? 

To conclude this rambling post, I love the spirt of Fogelin’s piece and the quality and character of his book. I also respect his motives and perspective.

I also hope that this post complicates his ideas a bit by suggesting that rejecting the academic publishing ecosystem may not be the best way to fix it. Instead, we need to embrace more critically the role of publishing in the larger academic enterprise. Publishing and publishers play a key role in the knowledge making process and recognizing the way in which the publishing ecosystem functions allows us to make better decisions as consumer and producers of scholarship. I think that by recognizing the contribution of academic publishing to the network of knowledge making, we can approach purchasing a $60 monograph or advocate for open access publishing with a more critical perspective. As with any ecosystem, it’s easy enough to agree to control a weed or a predator and much harder to understand the consequences.  

New Book Day! Epoiesen 3

It’s new book day over at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota as the third installment of the Epoiesen Annual drops in a paginated-pdf and as a print-on-demand paper volume from Amazon

As readers of this blog know, Epoiesen is a digital journal published at Carleton University in Ottawa and edited by Shawn Graham. Three years ago, he asked whether my press might be interested in publishing a paginated and paper version of the journal. Without hesitation, I agreed and this is the third installment in that series. 

To my mind, this is the strongest Epoiesen annual yet. It features a series of interactive meditations on the Melian Dialogue touched off by a Twine game developed by Neville Morley, an album of assemblages concocted in Andrew Reinhard’s laboratory, an exploration of the concept of the “phrygital” from Digital Archaeology heavy-weights Ian Dawson and Paul Reilly and in the fantastic papercraft of Alyssa Loyless. Each of these contributes have compelling response (including one from me!) which challenge, expand, and critique the work. A concise introduction by Shawn Graham brings this work together and a reflexive commentary on a visually compelling Twitter essay by Katy Whitaker provides a nice anchor to the volume. The cover art from Jens Notroff makes the cover an essay.  

If you haven’t checked out Epoiesen you should. And, if you have a creative project or genre defying article that is lingering in your mind and looking good home, consider submitting to Epoiesen!  

To celebrate the appearance of Epoiesen 3 and Shawn’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays last month, he agreed to answer 7 questions about his work, failure, and future project. We’ve published this interview at The Digital Press blog.

Books by their Cover from the AIA/SCS Book Room

There was a day when I wandered the book room at the annual joint meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and Society for Classical Studies looking for the latest publication. These days, my shelves overflow with books that I don’t have time to read and grabbing the latest word in Late Antiquity or Mediterranean archaeology, while always exciting, is probably too ambitious for my current station in life.

Now, I tend to wander the book room on the look out for the snazziest book covers. There were some really great covers (and many of them were so distracting that I didn’t bother to look when the book was published, so some of these books are probably not new).

The first book that grabbed my eye was Andrew Miller’s new translation of Pindar’s Odes and Charles Martin’s translation of Euripides Media. As with most black covers, these are showing signs of handling, which is always unfortunate, but the stylized letters are just too great a design to not set against a matte black background. 

IMG 4570

I love when presses have a great design that extends easily over an entire series. University of Texas Press’s series The Oratory of Classical Greece uses a similarly restrained color palette  and consistent graphics and fonts to produce an appealing and recognizable identity.

IMG 4579

Bloomsbury’s Classical Languages series also produces a distinct and recognizable (and appealing) gaggle of books:

IMG 4585

I found myself stopped at the University of Chicago Press tables less because of their consistently interesting content and more because their little swarm of books on editing, writing, and publishing used bold colors and designs to show off their family relationship without using a template.

IMG 4590

Single books offer a less constrained design vocabulary and I’m always surprised by the range of designs that simply work to create an arresting and interesting cover. For example, I’ve often been caught looking at Owen P. Doonan’s Sinop Landscapes: Exploring Connection in a Black Sea Hinterland which appeared in 2004 (!). Maybe it’s understated design speaks to a slightly less crowded or graphically ambitious book market? Or maybe it just works?

IMG 4573

It goes without saying the use of a black and white photo and a black cover does nothing to hide its dated vibe, but in the right hands, a vintage aesthetic really can work. For example, I love the cover of Herodotus and the Question Why by Christopher Pelling from University of Texas Press. The use of blue and orange creates just enough chromostereopsis to make the book pop. Plus that color way is really hip these days (and to me, it evokes the vintage color of Gulf as seen in this watch and on this car.)

IMG 4577

Texas has long done cool stuff with vintage style covers. Deborah Lyons’s Dangerous Gifts (2012) almost always catches my eye even when surrounded by more recent titles.

IMG 4578

The cover of Laura Pfuntner’s book, Urbanism and Empire in Roman Sicily, is just great as well. I love the floor plans in the colored blocks. 

IMG 4575

As an aside, Texas also really did a nice job with the cover of Hanif Abdurraqib’s book, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to the Tribe Called Quest even if the “This is a book by…” thing is a bit tired (where did this start? I remember it on the Black Keys’ album Brothers, but it must be from something else?).

Princeton has used a similarly paired down and graphically bold aesthetic for the cover of Walter Scheidel’s edited volume, The Science of Roman History, that came out last year. I like it.

IMG 4591

There’s something to be said for less minimalist covers too, of course. I love the cover to Frankenstein and Its Classics The Modern Prometheus from Antiquity to Science Fiction edited by Jesse Weiner, Benjamin Eldon Stevens, Brett M. Rogers from Bloomsbury.

IMG 4582

I’m guessing the same designer did the cover to Brett M. Rogers’s and Benjamin Eldon Stevens’s Once and Future Antiquities in Science Fiction and Fantasy

IMG 4584

The cover of the ISAW Monograph, An Oasis City edited by Roger S. Bagnall , Nicola Aravecchia , Raffaella Cribiore , Paola Davoli , Olaf E. Kaper and Susanna McFadden and published in conjunction with NYU Press combines business with black and white to create a cover that has caught my eye for several years now. 

IMG 4588

For more conventional covers, University of Wisconsin Press created a show stopper with their cover of Sarah Rous’s Reset in Stone.  The cover not only grabbed my attention but also made me stop and think about how the contrast between white marble and saturated blue skies create a kind of trope for Hellenism (and this led me to think about how these kinds of images are used and reused over time).

IMG 4586

I assume that the same designer produced the cover to Spear-Won Land: Sardis from the King’s Peace to the Peace of Apamea edited by Andrea M. Berlin and Paul J. Kosmin.

IMG 4587

Finally, the coolest cover that I saw last week had to be Thelma Thomas’s Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity. This book came out in 2016 in association with an exhibit at NYU’s ISAW. I had heard of the book and maybe even read a review of it, but for whatever reason hadn’t seen it in the paper. The cover is distractingly great. 

IMG 4589

Over the past few years, I’ve been struck by how hard it has become to find the time (or even a method) to keep atop the incredible output of books in archaeology, Classics, and ancient history. I’ve also heard more than one colleague mutter, usually in frustration more than anything, “everybody has a book these days,” and this certainly feels like it might be true. Despite the seemingly overwhelming output of publications, it’s nice to see presses committed to such amazing cover designs. It makes the numbing guilt of not being able to read everything that I want to read worth a trip throughs the book room! 


Five Thoughts from the Archaeological Institute of America’s Annual Meeting

I spent two hectic days in Washington, DC on the weekend attending the AIA/SCS annual meeting. I try to go every other year and despite my griping about having to attend and my general feeling of being an impostor, I still very much view it as “my annual meeting.” In other words, the AIA feels like my disciplinary and institutional home.

 I attended a handful of panels at this years meeting and mostly knew what was going on (which was pretty good for me) and on uneventful flights home, I had six thoughts.

1. Legacy Data. I gave a paper in a panel on legacy data organized by Jon Frey and Fotini Kondyli. To my great surprise, the room was packed with an engaged and enthusiastic audience. The papers walked the intriguing line between the practical and the conceptual demonstrating not only the pressing need to discuss the challenging realities associated with working on legacy data and the potential for work on legacy data to inform the larger methodological and theoretical framework of archaeology. 

I left the panel realizing that most of the challenges that archaeologists encounter when dealing with legacy data are conceptually consistent with the challenges that archaeologists encounter in the field. They involve issues of context, classification, documentation, workflow, and historical and historiographical analysis. Perhaps this is why the panel attracted so much interest. You can read my paper here.

2. The Future of Publishing in the Humanities. I also attended a roundtable discussion on the future of publishing in the humanities with representatives of two presses, a pair of librarians, and a couple hybrid scholars who work between publishing, scholarship, and information science. 

Three things emerged from that discussion. First, the monolithic notion of “publishing a book” or “publishing an article,” belies a very diverse range of processes, possibilities, and publishers who range from very conventional academic presses to smaller “scholar-led” operations. Moreover, even among these groups, there are a range of different approaches and priorities for an author to consider. Second, a significant part of this diversity comes from the challenge of digital practices in both knowledge making and in its dissemination. Libraries, scholars, and publishers are all working hard to figure out how to distribute books across digital channels, preserve digital data, and support opportunities for scholars working not just on the bleeding edge of their fields, but close to the center of our hybrid analog-digital scholars practice. 

Finally, open access is coming and we don’t really understand how it will impact the landscape of scholarly publishing yet. My impression is that most presses do not have sustainable models for open access publishing and they don’t necessarily have models for the large scale dissemination of open access books, data sets, and content. The big change across the entire landscape of academic publishing is still on the horizon.

Here’s what I had planned to say in this panel

3. Survey Archaeology. About 10 years ago, I was up to my eyeballs in articles and papers on the analysis of survey data and, in particular, discussions of survey method. The methodological consequences of “third wave” siteless survey had outstripped, to some extent, our interpretative paradigms for understanding the data that we had produced in historically significant ways. It felt like survey archaeology might be at an impasse. Our desperate need to convince excavators that our work was rigorous, thoughtful, and sophisticated, had pushed us to develop the methodological context for our practices to the detriment of analysis.

This past meeting, it feels like that stage in survey archaeology has finally passed. None of the papers that discussed survey included an apologia nor did they drag the audience through a kind of pseudo-apologetic methodological digression designed to reassure the listen that this wasn’t just a bunch of students picking up random pottery in the countryside. Instead, the papers focused on the potential for survey to inform current debates concerning Romanization, rural land use, connectivity between places, and even seasonal patterns and taskscapes in countryside. Survey archaeology felt very grown up. 

4. Archaeology for the General Reader. This was an 8 am round table of very distinguished scholars who discuss their experiences writing for a general audience and receiving funding from an NEH Public Scholar Program Grant. The participants on the panel were gracious and open about their writing processes and their achievements. They did not waste time arguing for the value of this kind of work. 

At the same time, I struggled to understand how they envisioned a “general reader.” Over the course of the panel I began to realize that the general reader was not really a person, but rather a proxy useful to describe a work that could be marketed to a wide audience. The general reader is actually some who can and will buy these books. In fact, the model for most of the books seemed unapologetically commercial with their emphasis on characters, action, and authority. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not disputing necessarily the viability and even importance of this model of writing and publishing, but it causes me worries. First, it equates the general reader as a book buyer rather than a content consumer, and this seems out of step with the diverse ways in which most of us consumer knowledge across a wide range of media in our daily lives.

Second, this panel assumes that the general reader exists rather than is created by the way in which we market, structure, and distribute our works. While so much important scholarship today is focused on recognizing, creating, and elevating diversity in both the past and the present, this panel seemed to imagine its audience as somehow monolithic. As writers for a non-academic audiences, I was expecting a greater sensitivity toward the kinds of audiences that their works sought to reach and how their writing responded to the needs of groups or sought to produce new communities of readers.   

Most painfully for me was the dismissive attitude toward significant emerging forms of writing like creative non-fiction that seek to challenge how non-fiction works in crucial ways. Creative-non-fiction can encourage the reader to question the authority of the text, can open up new and important spaces to critique how knowledge is made, and push readers out of their emotional and intellectual comfort zones. Even if we limit our view of significant public scholarship to works that have engaged a broad audience, it is impossible to deny the impact of works like Natalie Zemon Davis’s Return of Martin Martin Guerre (1983), Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1966), and Roxanne Gay’s Hunger (2017) (not to mention Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s Undocmented (2016)). That the NEH Public Scholars Program was uninterested in publishing this kind of work seems more than just a missed opportunity. It appears to have conflated the existence of a general reader with the ability of compelling works both to speak to and create  communities. 

To be clear, I have no beef with the authors on the panel and their works —many of which I have read—are both good and, in the right light, compelling, but there is so much more to writing to a broad audiences than this panel presented.  

5. The Value of Conferences. As per usual there was discussion about the value of meetings like the AIA/SCS conference. It was great to see graduate students presenting their work — sometimes for the first time, to engage with mid-career scholars writing at the edge of their comfort zones to a supportive and critical audience, and to celebrate with the community the work and wisdom of senior scholars. It was also nice to see old friends and to meet folks from social media for the first time, face-to-face. I made plans with colleagues and discussed professional opportunities and challenges. 

At the same time, attending the conference was expensive and exhausting. As a scholar at a relatively poorly funded mid- to lower-tier university, it also felt decadent and there was the palpable sense from quite a number of attendees that these kinds of events were unwise and inefficient in the current culture of austerity. If nothing else the optics of events like these were not good because they not only made clear the racial, gender, and class inequalities at the core of our disciplines, but also created a venue for any number of cringe-worthy displays of public and professional power which seems increasingly Byzantine as our fields of study fight for survival in the changing landscape of higher education. I don’t really have an answer for whether the good that comes from these kinds of conferences continues to outweigh the bad, and I obviously realize that this kind of annual event is likely to continue into the future long after it has outlived its usefulness. I think, however, that attending the conference every couple years does push us to reflect on their continued value to our fields.

Finally, there’s this amazing advertisement from the SCS program. I spent a good bit of time admiring book covers in the exhibition hall, but none have created the buzz of this advertisement:

2020SCSProgram 2 3 pdf 2020 01 06 08 23 55

The text on features a quote from Edith Hall: “I’ve never been asked by a reputable journal [TLS] to review such a bad book as Jeffrey Duban’s The Lesbian Lyre.” 

I’ve always considered Edith Hall, the Lester Bangs’ of Classics world, so it’s fitting that the quote from her review of Duban’s book evokes (obliquely) the rock critic’s famous liner notes for the Mekons’ album, The Mekons’ Story:

“The Mekons may now assume their proper place in the highest bowers in the hallowed halls of Rocque (co-leased by Wolfman Jack and Sid Bernstein). THEY ARE BETTER THAN THE BEATLES. They are better than Budgie and REO Speedwagon combined, they gave me $1500 for writing these notes. They come not to bury rock but to gourmandize it. All their Daddies are rich which is why they get to keep putting out this swill.”

I only wish that I had thought of this marketing strategy first.

Talking about Humanities Publishing in Transition at the AIAs

On Saturday morning (at 8 am!), I’m on a panel at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America organized by Deb Stewart to discuss humanities publishing in transition. The panel is intimidating to say the least and will also include Bethany Wasik of Cornell University Press, Rebecca Stuhr of the University of Pennsylvania’s libraries, Catherine Goldstead, Johns Hopkins University Press, and David Ratzan from NYU’s ISAW library.  

This panel is workshop so we won’t be giving papers. Instead, Deb has helpfully sent along a few prompts to get us thinking about what we might contribute to what we all hope is a conversation between the panelists and the audience.

I’ve been trying to give a bit of though to how I present myself on this panel. In particular, Deb has asked us to introduce ourself and offer a bit of insight into humanities publishing. This, of course, is terrifying as I’m neither an especially accomplished publisher or scholar. I’m also not a very consistent or observer of publishing trends in the humanities. That all being said, I am on this panel, and I can’t really say “I dunno.” Moreover, it’s sometimes been helpful for me to put some words down on the screen before showing up at 8 am to say something.

As for introductions, I think I’ll likely emphasize three phases of my career in humanities publishing. First, I remember when it was a thing to be an archaeological blogger. Now, it’s different. The most compelling web personalities in our field are more than just bloggers; they maintain robust and consistent social media presences, they appear across a range of popular and professional media, and they are savvy about cultivating audiences, staying on message, and engaging with their readers. While blogging away in my little office in North Dakota offers a window into my academic and professional life as a historian, archaeologist, editor, and publisher, it never had the impact or reach of social media celebrities of the 21st century who have tens of thousands of followers and are legitimately shaping the field. In fact, I think that my group of bloggers almost always saw ourselves as more of a ragged garage band than a well rehearsed indy rock band with a global following.  

This tendency to see what we do as marginal or alternative practices — explicitly and self consciously DIY — rather than as part of our core responsibility as academics and writers, inspired my move into publishing and the founding of The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota with my friend Joel Jonientz. Our first book, Punk Archaeology, embodied this casual, garage band approach to writing and publishing. 

Over time, however, our approach to publishing changed. On the one hand, we became more formal in our work, our work flows, and our books have become somewhat more conventional. Maybe this happened because of the relative success of Punk Archaeology, the advice of colleagues in publishing, or the experience of being responsible for other people’s words and ideas (rather than just our own).  I’d like to think that my little press remains open to alternative works on a range of topics, but some of our most popular and successful books are pretty conventional. If my blog remains a bit obscure and more likely to contain any number of typographical and grammatical errors than any particular insight, my press at least looks more like a solid indy band than a scrappy punk outfit. 

The other thing that changed my perspective on publishing the humanities was working on a literary journal, North Dakota Quarterly. Working on NDQ has opened my eyes to the really wide range of passionate, dynamic, and vibrant publishing centered around creative and critical writers. Not only is there tremendous diversity in how publications are organized – NDQ is published by the University of Nebraska Press after over a century of being published in-house – but there are publishers who work as collectives, whose editors are accomplished writers, who have diverse and expansive editorial boards, who are driven by a single creative vision, who specialize in regional literature, particular voices, or – like NDQ – have a national and global audience and contributors.

My experience with NDQ occurred at the same time that I started to pay more attention to the rise in open access publishers, the proliferation of scholarly and non-scholarly digital humanities projects, and the maturing of technological and social frameworks support a wide range of publishing from archival quality repositories to global print-on-demand services, ubiquitous user-friendly design software, and a social media networks primed for the efficient circulation of new works. My work with NDQ has also helped me to understand the economic aspects of publishing. While I remain a staunch advocate for open access, I’ve come to recognize the need for a diverse ecosystem of publishers some of whom have the scale, resources, or workflow to make open access happen and others, for various reasons ranging from ideological to the practical, do not. I’d love NDQ to be open access, but I want to to exist more and right now, for NDQ to continue to attract submissions (without a reading fee), contributions from a wide range of writers (without article processing fees), and subscriptions, we have to charge.    

Deb also primed me to respond to a question about which publishing venues an early career scholars should prioritize. While my introduction almost begs for a kind of polite self-mythologizing, this question more difficult, if for no other reason that early career scholars might be listening to me and it requires a kind of realistic answer.

My gut feeling is that high value, high profile, and traditional academic publishing remains the gold standard for early career scholars. They also offer — in most cases — a model experience in terms of review, editing, and production for early career scholars. 

At the same time, if the individual is interested in understanding how publishing works or can work, I’d urge them to publish in as wide a range of venues as possible. Consider more than just the top tier journals. Publish with regional journals and publishers, journals that have creative or distinctive mandates – like Shawn Graham’s Epoiesen or Internet Archaeology, open access publishers, and in outfits that prioritize outreach like Eidolon or Near Eastern Archaeology. I’m also intrigued about the future of peer review in academic publishing. While I understand the theoretical value of peer review, I’ve also started to question whether its practical application aligns with its potential. All this is to say: consider submitting to new publications and working in new forms, whenever possible support innovation, find outlets where you’re comfortable, and, if the spirit moves you, look to create new platforms to promote the work of others.

As importantly, read and cite widely. Whether we like it or not, we live in a world where metrics matter and citing outside the typical canon of academic publications is an effective way of supporting innovative, creative, and open access work. 

Finally, Deb asked me to talk a bit about how scholars can use online media to build a profile, receive feedback on works-in-progress, and share their scholarly work.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I feel like the scholarly landscape is shifting so quickly anything that I’m likely to say may well be obsolete or irrelevant in a matter of months. The shifting algorithms behind Facebook and Google, for example, have the potential to radically change how online sharing works and the visibility and constitution of online communities and work. 

At the same time, it seems like finding your tribe on Twitter remains a solid option for any scholar looking to develop a community and audience for their work. The Digital Press, for example, relies heavily on Twitter to promote the work of our authors and I now make this explicit in marketing plans with authors. The growing prominence of Twitter threads allows for somewhat longer form writing on the platform and, for now, the Twitter timeline remains relatively free from algorithmic manipulation. The biggest downside of Twitter is probably pretty well known. There are trolls and bots (and it’s become difficult to tell the difference between them). There are politics and posturing and it remains a challenge to develop a following in a medium saturated with smart, insightful, and witty folks. Fortunately, there are people willing to help with that especially if you bring a fresh, significant, and consistent content to the platform. 

I still like the idea that blogging has a place in scholarly communication, but as any number of bloggers have discussed over the past few years, the number of page views and visitors on blogs seems generally to be in decline. My blog has probably only ever been read by a pretty small and specialized audience and to some extent this has protected by blog from a drop in readership, but it does seem like readers engage less frequently with my posts. This is fine with me, but it means that I rarely get feedback on ideas or comments on works in progress. 

At present, it seems like podcasts are enjoying their time in the limelight. For scholars, podcasts have certain appeal. Not only do they resist fragmentation, but they also require a kind of attention that online reading does not seem to encourage (and I say this as flip back and forth between this blog post and my other AIA paper!). At the same time, I haven’t seen a podcast cited in scholarship (although I’m sure that it has occurred), and they don’t encourage the kind of conversation with the audience that a blog or social media thread allows. They’re also time consuming to produce and promote.

Once the panel has said their piece, the floor will be open for conversation and I am hopeful that the real value of this workshop will emerge from the dialogue. I’m looking forward to hearing what my fellow panelists think about new directions in scholarly publishing and what the audience wants to know.

Epoiesen Season!

For the last few years, the end of the fall semester has become Epoiesen season! Depending on my late semester rhythms, I’ve occupied myself with laying out and tweaking the design of the annual paginated version of the journal for creative engagement in history and archaeology.

This year’s Epoiesen annual will be the third volume in the collaboration between Epoiesen and The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, and by my reckoning, it is the intellectually strongest yet (and that’s not just because I wrote for it!).

It will also the the longest, despite my decision to do a little redesign to clean up the appearance a bit. I switched the font from Tisa, which I still really like, to Miller Text and dropped the font size from 11 to 10 point. This is just minor stuff, though. 

Reinhard response2 EP3

Reinhard response2 EP3 2

The bigger change came in a redesign of the cover page for each article. I got rid of the lines and grid that I used in the first two volumes (and that you can see here) and opted for a cleaner design.

Graham Note EP3

I think it looks better.

One of the really interesting challenges that I have to face when laying out Epoiesen is accommodating the freedom inherent in the internet page within the standard text block of the printed page. For certain articles in this issue, like Rachel Opitz response to Dawson and Reilly’s “Messy Assemblages, Residuality, and Recursion within a Phygital Nexus.” Her text, designed to imitate the fluid ordering of an assemblage, worked well on the digital screen, but not as well on the page.  I adapted it.

Messy response1 EP3 1

Messy response1 EP3

The cover, as it has the last few years, almost steals the show. We’re lucky to have a really cool graphic essay from Jens Notroff.

Cover Epoiesen3 DigitalFinal 01

The plan is for this to drop sometime around mid-January. Stay tuned!

Politics, Utopias, Heritage, and Publishing

This weekend I read and really enjoyed Lynn Meskell’s recent-ish book, A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace (2018). The book argues, in remarkable detail, that UNESCOs origins in a modern post-war view of the world instilled with an irrepressible faith in progress has created an organization that not only has failed to use culture, sincere, and heritage to bring peace, but also become a tool in political and economic conflicts. The rise of a bureaucratized technocracy within UNESCO reinforced its status as an institution committed to reinforcing the colonial relationship between European states and their former colonial possessions. In short, the book is a sophisticated indictment of the UNESCO project laced with the subtle suggestion that some of the issues associated with UNESCO in the late 20th and 21st century emerged from the marginalization of archaeology (and anthropology more broadly) from an increasingly politicized UNESCO mission.       

Meskell’s work focused in particular on the rise of the World Heritage sites as a kind of brand that countries sought to acquire for a range of political and economic reasons. In many ways, the inclusion of a site on the World Heritage list was a kind of virtue signaling that marked the site, a particular kind of heritage, and the nation as part of an official past that could then be leveraged for outcomes ranging from tourism and development to border disputes.

Meskell’s book reminded me a good bit of Richard Poynder’s recent critique of the Open Access movement in publishing. Like UNESCO, the open access movement emerged from the the giddy triumphalism of the first decade of the internet. Budapest Open Access Initiative document offers the same utopian perspective that Meskell traced in the early years of UNESCO. For the Budapest group, the idea that the internet would provide the basis for the free and unfettered flow of scientific knowledge, offers eerie parallels with the optimism that shaped the potential for international collaboration in the early post-war years when UNESCO managed the massive archaeological and heritage projects associated with the Aswan Dam project on the Nile. In subsequent decades, both the open access movement and UNESCO became pawns of national and corporate interests who seek to manipulate the status of these increasingly powerful brands for their own goals.

For UNESCO, Meskell documents any number of projects saturated with political intrigue. The inscription of the Preah Vihear temple complex in northern Thailand, for example, revealed the close connection between U.S. interests, oil companies, and the disputed border between Cambodia and Thailand in the vicinity of UNESCO World Heritage Site. The refusal to designate the old town of Panama City, Panama as in danger despite the encroachment of development demonstrated the willingness of nations and developers to collaborate in the diplomacy of heritage and blatantly overlook the risks facing sites. In effect, the successes and failures of UNESCO trace the currents of diplomacy in the post colonial world with the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) often working together as a counterweight to the European powers in efforts to advance diplomatic goals.     

It’s hard not to expect the battles over Open Access publishing to see similar political and corporate contours. Already, as Poynder has identified, China has seen the value in open science initiatives and used it to accelerate their technological development in certain fields. At the same time, there is real concern over whether China will be willing to reciprocate and provide open access to their own research and literature. Communities in the “Global South,” who often depend disproportionately on publishers located in the “Global North” who are rapidly working to align themselves with open access publishing initiatives. As a result, the strategies of these publishers (including the problematic Plan S) look poised to make it more difficult for authors and communities in the Global South to protect and monetize their labor and to create situations where North American and European publishers profit from their work. The power of major publishing houses (both non-profit and, more predictably, for profit) to aggregate open access content, manage its distribution, and to continue in a gatekeeper role makes it possible that the open access utopia envisioned by the Budapest Initiative could metastasize into a publishing world even more heavily shaped by corporate interests.  

Of course, this isn’t the only scenario possible for open access publishing, just as there exists a potential for heritage that while never unpolitical is at least more diverse, more responsive to communities, and less technocratic and colonial. The incisive critiques of Meskell and Poynder serve as a useful reminder that politics of capital are constantly adapting to transform our world.

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.