Coda: Flow in Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology:

I’m in friendly, if grey, Buffalo, New York this morning at the 12th annual IEMA conference, “Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age.” On Thursday, I posted a draft of my paper, “Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology,” and since then I’ve received some really useful feedback on it. So I’m going to add a coda to my paper.

Here’s that coda (or a draft of it):


There’s a coda to this paper.

My presentation here suggests, in some ways, that workflows – or flow in general – is uni-directional. Flow somehow starts in the field and concludes in publication. I worry that this linear view of workflow suggests that conviviality can serve progress.

This has practical and intellectual implications, of course. We know, for example, that data gains meaning from context and contexts and relationships between data sets constantly change as new data is introduced. Our interest in workflow produces a fluid data that pools but briefly in any one place. Academically, we understand that a book or report is never really the final word on a site or a project, but rather just a stage in the movement of archaeological knowledge. At the same time, we continue to regard the final report as a stable, complete entity and the culmination of the archaeological assembly line. 

The linear progress of archaeological work supports the modern and progressive foundations of archaeological knowledge making, but as data and work become increasingly fluid, there is no reason why our idea of publication should not represent the eddying, recursive flow of knowledge. The untethering of work, data, analysis, and meaning from the linear narrative offers new models representing the dividualted and always tentative character of archaeological knowledge.

In this model, the publisher does more than just usher the manuscript through the final stage of the knowledge making process, but works alongside the archaeologist from the very start of a project and continues to share responsibility for the archaeological knowledge that the project continues to produce into the future.  

Of course, realizing this kind of collaboration in practice is difficult to imagine and fraught with practical concerns from sustainable economic models to redefining areas of expertise and responsibility in production, dissemination, and curation (not to mention area and subject knowledge). For the dividuated 21st century academic, this process is already taking place with a range of positive and problematic consequences that range from the “uberfication” of academic life to our increasingly connected and dynamic transnational networks. I remain hopeful, however, that a convivial approach to knowledge making remains possible.

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

This weekend I’m off to the Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology’s annual conference. This year, the conference is “Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age,” and my paper is on collaborative publishing in archaeology. The conference line up looks great and if my last IEMA conference was any indication, I expect that the event will be first class all the way around.  

This is essentially the first time that I’ve formally presented a paper on publishing archaeology from my perspective as a publisher. The paper will focus on the work of the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and continue with some of the ideas that I started to develop in my paper that will appear in the European Journal of Archaeology later this year

It’s kind of nerve-wracking to slowly feel my way forward in this area. Not only is the bibliography vast and largely unfamiliar to me, but I feel like much of what I say is either fairly familiar to folks who think consistently about digital practices broadly or just sort of slightly off. My hope is that presenting some of my first thoughts will sharpen how I understand the relationship between publishing and archaeology in an age increasingly shaped by the social and professional expectations of digital practice. 

Here’s a link to download the paper.

IEMA TALK 2019 FirstSlide

Fragmentation and Publication in Digital Archaeology 2

It happens sometimes. I’m swamped by a painfully slow going paper, “Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology” for the IEMA conference at the University of Buffalo next month.

I wrote this today; it’s not very good, but it is what it is. I’m blaming the bomb cyclone.

Historically archaeologists have modeled their work on industrial practices with authority typically following a clear hierarchy. In an overly simplified form, archaeological responsibilities and tasks define the roles of project directors, field directors, trench or team leaders, and diggers. This division of labor is designed, at least on one level, to facilitate efficient archaeological work and to produce specialized and precise data. This form of organization allowed for control over a project’s outcomes and the knowledge making process. The formal definition of the site and the recognition that archaeological work involved embodied knowledge reinforced the spatiality of archaeological knowledge making. The long-standing concern for provenience, for example, and the location of the physical archives of a site in a dig house or storeroom near the site’s location further reinforce the connection between space and archaeological work. The connection between the hierarchy of archaeological knowledge making and the spatiality of archaeological place evokes the factory floor (or the prison) and the processes of enclosure that defined regimes of control of the modern ara.

Of course, this conceptualization of archaeological work has seen compelling challenges over the past 30 years. Shanks and McGuire argued that archaeology should return to its roots in craft practices as a way to challenge the industrial modes of archaeological knowledge making. McGuire’s radical efforts to create more a egalitarian and democratized archaeological project demonstrated the potential of such an approach in practice. A few radical projects in the U.K. have likewise sought to introduce democratic processes to field work (the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project (Faulkner 2000, 2009) cited by Morgan and Eddisford 2018). While these projects remain outliers, they demonstrate that the social organization of archaeological practice remains a topic of discussion and, to a lesser extent, experimentation for archaeologists. At the same time, Mary Leighton adopted an STS approach to understanding field work and argued that a certain amount of “black boxing” in archaeological practice masks a diversity of practices that are both more and less hierarchical than the formally reported results might suggest. Morgan and Eddisford (2018) have suggested that single context recording represents a far more decentralized and even anarchic method for producing archaeological knowledge.

The critical attention that field practices (including methods, but also more mundane procedures and unspoken conventions) has shaped how scholars have approached the growing use of digital tools in archaeological knowledge making and their practical, disciplinary, and ideological significance of these changes. My interest in workflow and the rise of logistics in archaeological knowlege making traces a scholarly trajectory that understands the movement, use, and reuse of data in a digital medium as a key element to transforming the institutional landscape of archaeology. The ability to disseminate data from the field, for example, and to repurpose that data for online publication through platforms like OpenContext demonstrates how the fluidity of the contemporary workflow is already challenging the barriers between fieldwork and publishing.

In 2014, a colleague and I founded the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. The goal of this project involved leverage digital tools enter into the world of academic publishing and to experiment with the potential for these digital tools to challenge the structure of the publishing process. Our current publishing model is extremely fluid, but follows certain relatively consistent conventions. First, we use digital tools to produce and distribute our books at a low cost using print-on-demand printing for paper books and PDF downloads on a low cost website running WordPress. Second, We publish mainly under various open access licenses. Finally, we collaborate closely with authors on all aspects of a publishing process.

AJP and AHR: Decolonizing and Diversifying

In the last couple of months both the American Historical Review and, most recently, the American Journal of Philology issued statements declaring their intent to diversify and decolonize. Here’s the AHR’s and here’s the AJP’s. They both reference their own historic lack of diversity and admit that their own procedures both reflect and produce their disciplines and communities. I won’t dwell too much on the differences between the two, but the AJP’s is shorter on specifics and this likely speaks to basic structural differences between the two organizations and how comfortable they are in this particular cultural moment.

I’ve been thinking a good bit about the issues facing these journals and the little magazine that I edit, North Dakota Quarterly. While NDQ is substantially different in every way from these flagship academic publications, I suspect that, in some ways, our challenges are the same. Our content is not as diverse as we’d like because our submissions are not as diverse as we’d like. More than that there is a tension between content that reflects the character of the community – warts and all – and our responsibilities to serve as a guide to our community of readers and take the imprimatur of our respective publications seriously as both a mark of quality and representations of what we want our community to value.

I think this tension between reflecting a community and challenging it to change is the most interesting tension in academic publishing. Without wading into the specifics of these two journals, neither of which I read with any regularity, it seems to me that these two statements open up a few interesting areas for reflection.

1. What Diversity?

Without in any way denying the need for gender and racial diversity at the highest levels of academic publishing, I wonder whether other kinds of diversity in, say, the editorial boards of these journals is also important. For example, both boards seem to be largely comprised of full professors at traditional “R1” institutions. The AHR’s board shows a bit more diversity with faculty from Fordham and Western Washington, but there is only one person from, say, a small liberal arts (Hamilton College on the AJP’s board). Moreover, there are no representatives from the massive number of public institutions with teaching missions, HBCUs, junior colleges or two year schools, institutions with religious affiliations (of various kinds), and, perhaps most importantly, avocational scholars.

There’s also a lack of diversity in the scholarly ranks represented is also a bit disappointing. Perhaps I’m missing something both board have only full professors and emeriti (with a couple research fellows and faculty at European universities with slightly different ranks). There are no associate professors, assistant professors, visiting lecturers, adjunct professors, or unaffiliated scholars. These faculty ranks make up the vast majority of individuals who teach, research, and invest in the field. There are ideas there. Their absence on the editorial board is not a super great thing.

UPDATE: Do note the comments which point out that at least two of the AJP board members were appointed as early career faculty and represent urban universities with serious missions of outreach and diverse student populations.

2. Review and Disciplinarity.

The AHR offers the most spirited defense of peer review which I don’t mind entirely. I wish they said more about how they identified reviewers for their journal and what constituted the “usual suspects” verses their typical reviewers. The editor also see the democratizing potential in scholars who are willing to persevere through the constructive, if extensive review process. On the one hand, this is a good way of articulating the value of high-quality and sustained peer review in the process of knowledge making. On the other hand, it is naive to suggest that the ability to persevere isn’t a mark of privilege. In an academic world defined, in part, by “publish-or-perish” persevering on a single article through multiple steps of review can be a luxury. More than that, it assumes a scholar has the time and opportunity to commit to a sustained review process. While there is no doubt that time and energy can make a paper better, a review process that explicitly emphasizes perseverance (and presumably “hard work”) is as likely to reinforce the existing academic hierarchy (disguised as a meritocracy) as it is to serve as a platform for diversification.

I also started to wonder about the diversity of reviewers. While I suspect that the AHR does seek to find a range of reviews with different identities, ranks, and perspectives, I wish they’d have articulated this (if for no other reason than to model their review process for others). More than that, I’m curious about how disciplinary boundaries shape their pool of reviewers. For a discipline like Classics, for example, the edges of disciplinary identity are in no way clear. On the one hand, reviewing an article in Classics requires some basic expertise with the languages and the texts, but the broader theoretical frame work for understanding these texts could easily draw from many areas far afield from the traditional core of Classics (or, in the case of the AHR, history).

3. Citations, Soliciting, and Community

I’ve been thinking a good bit about the role in which citations serve to mark one as member of a particular conversation or community, fueled in part by this nice little editorial in Shawn Graham’s Epoiesen. I attended a panel in the falls that used a “progressive stack” method for fielding questions to ensure that individuals who are overlooked in the male and senior scholar dominated bloviation sessions at academic conferences get a chance to have their voices heard. It seems to me that journals like the AHR and AJP could embrace practices and expectations that don’t just allow for marginal voices to speak, but require that they have a place at the table.

Whether they do this by demanding diversity in citation, by soliciting and prioritizing articles by voices who have been historically marginalized, or by using their platform to make their respective communities aware of how individual decisions and actions serve to create barriers to participation in the professional discourse. What if there was a 20% decline in the number of submissions by tenure-track male faculty members to both journals? Would that negatively impact the quality of these publications? I suspect not. To my mind, this kind of deliberate choice by individuals of certain status and privilege would help diversify the content of these journals by creating room for other voices.

At the same time, these journals – all journals, in fact – could force open their pages through supporting forums that highlight scholarship from historically marginalized groups. They could make more transparent and reflective their own efforts to diversify their pages. The AHR statement is great (and I’ll accept the piety of the AJP’s statement despite its lack of details), but the follow up over the next few years will be more useful and revealing.

To be clear, I’m not doubting the commitment from either publication. In fact, as an editor and publisher myself, I’m desperate to understand how and whether the steps they take work to create a more inclusive publication. These two journals provide influential and high profile laboratories for creating a better field and a better, more dynamic, inclusive, and representative past. I want to know how what they do works (and what doesn’t work). This means continued transparency of even “trade secrets” like peer review and honest reckoning whether the changes occurred.

I’m watching not to pounce on them if they don’t succeed, but to understand how they do!

Fragmentation and Publication in Digital Archaeology

This weekend, I spent some quality time with Isto Huvila’s book, Archaeology and Archaeological Information in the Digital Society (2018), some of Costis Dallas (and colleagues) work on digital infrastructure and practice in archaeology, and the recent Journal of Field Archaeology supplement. I’m working on my paper, “Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology” for the IEMA conference at the University of Buffalo next month.

Last week, I wrote an introductory section the foregrounded the concept of workflow in digital publishing and archaeology. It suggests that there is a growing fluidity in how digital data of all kinds move through our academic ecosystem. As such, barriers between one stage of the process of knowledge making and the next have eroded. 

This creates a tension that I’m particularly interested in exploring. On the one hand, the creation of fragmented data facilitates the movement of information between individuals, teams, and projects. It also reflects the specialized nature of archaeological knowledge making with area specialists producing discrete data sets. Digital technology increasingly produces and mediates the relationship between these data sets. The work of the authors who I read this weekend emphasizes the social and technological infrastructure for production and curation of digitally mediated archaeological knowledge. They recognized that digital tools and practice interact to produce new forms of knowledge. 

Efforts to understand the interaction of tools and practices – the digital habitus of archaeological work – involves a range of auto-ethnographic reflections and observations sometimes framed as methodological interventions, sometimes framed as reflexive practice and something simply description of procedure, as well as a small, but growing body of systematic ethnographic studies of behavior conducted by Huvila’s team in Sweden, the Sarah and Eric Kansa (and team), and Costis Dallas in various contexts (as well as the work by Matt Edgeworth on the ethnography of archaeological practice). My approach will be more auto-ethnographic (at best) or reflexive and instead of looking at the trowel’s edge, as I have elsewhere, look toward the publishing as a key node in the production of archaeological knowledge. 

As I’ve tried to argue elsewhere, workflows look to erode obstacles to their path. The entire conceptual framework of logistics involves removing obstacles to movement and the distributed production of value. Efforts to promote this in an archaeological context involves standardization, for example, that ensures that archaeological tools and data can relate to each other in consistent and predictable ways. These standardization practices also promote a kind of modularity of archaeological knowledge that supports reuse of various ways and ensures. In the best scenarios, that self-contained pieces of archaeological information complete with contextualizing metadata move freely between devices, individuals, and locations via the web (or whatever other digital protocols are appropriate).

As the Kansas’ have worked to demonstrate, the reuse of archaeological data between projects, is, at present, less of a technological barrier than a social and professional one. Grants, professional organizations, and institutions have only recent come to regard the work to archive, much less publish, archaeological data as a key responsibility in the discipline. The growing insistence on archaeological data plans for major grants and the recognition of digital work and publications by professional organizations demonstrates that a shift is taking place, but it’s difficult to anticipate the rate at which these top down protocols will shape practice in the field.

Complementing these top down policies are more organic changes that both attempt to leverage the flow of archaeological knowledge as well as to offer critiques of the barriers that remain in the seamless movement of information archaeological logistics. To use one particular case study, there’s been some interesting recent work concerning the dissemination of 3D models and data from broadly archaeological contexts.  Recent work, for example, on the publication of 3D scans of fossils has shown that the willingness to make this data publicly available remains relatively rare with two-thirds of articles that relied upon 3D scans not making the data available for various reasons with mostly involve the desire to use this proprietary research for future work or the lack of requirements to share. In contrast, the ethical concerns shape the willingness of bioarchaeologists to share the scanned remains of humans as a recent special issue of Archaeologies has brought to the fore. The concerns surrounding the 3D printing of a scale replica of the Arch of Triumph from Palmyra revolved around the context of its display, the accuracy of the scale model, and the motives for the presentation. Practical concerns likewise exist for the publication of 3D data and images with projects like relatively recent digital monograph on Gabii demonstrating both the potential and challenges associated with sustainable, dynamic, and expansive data rich publications.

The publishing of archaeological information, whether it’s 3D data or more dynamic and immersive digital environments, reflects a more expansive realization that publishing information, analysis, and interpretation are explicit parts of an archaeological workflow that continues beyond any notion of “final publication.”  To my mind, over time, this will transform the relationship between the disciplinary work often associated with field work, interpretation, and writing and the notion of publishing, which is often presented as the culmination of archaeological work rather than as a part of a longer process of engagement with a fluid archaeological workflow. 

Starting to Write: Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology

Next week, I have to get stuck into down and get a draft of my paper from this year’s IEMA conference at the University of Buffalo.  My paper is titled: “Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology: Data, Workflows, and Books in the Age of Logistics” and I have to admit that it’s more of a concept or even idea than an argument at this point. 

Right now my paper will start with workflow and fragmentation, and then talk about various models of aggregation and publication, before concluding with something on attribution in digital media. (My sections are a vague hat tip to Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy.) 

Here’s the first bit of it. 

Over the last two decades, there has been the growing use of the phrase ”digital workflow.” As you might expect, the Google ngram plot looks like the proverbial hockey stick. While workflow has its roots in the language of early 20th century scientific management, the specific application to digital practices appears to have emerged at the turn of the 21st century in the field of publishing. In this context, the use of computer technology in the production of print media required a new way of organizing practice. It is hardly surprising then that as digital tools, technologies, and practices have become more common in the early 21st century archaeology, archaeologists have found themselves preoccupied with issues of digital workflow.

Today, I’d like to think a bit about workflow in the context of digital archaeology with special attention to archaeological publishing. Over the last five years or so, I’ve also started a small press called The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. Part of the goal of starting this press was to think about the role of publishing in the larger academic and intellectual process. Our first book was, appropriately, Punk Archaeology (2014) and as much as a test case in DIY (digital) book making, under the watchful eye of the experienced publisher Andrew Reinhard, as it was a kind of anti-manifesto of punk practice in an archaeological context. Since that time, my little press has published over a dozen other books on topics ranging from digital practices in archaeological field work to the historical and cultural significance of Colin Kaepernick’s protests. At present, we have in various stages of production, a 21st century archaeological autobiography, a 3D catalogue of digitally scanned votive objects from Athienou on Cyprus, and the republication with critical updates of a 1958 report on the social conditions in the Bakken oil patch in North Dakota. Each of these books have a discrete workflow that begins with a field work, library work, and an idea and culminates in book. Historically, we have divided this workflow in various ways, perhaps distinguishing between fieldwork and lab work, data collecting and analysis, research and writing, and, of course, submitting a manuscript and publication. The final division between the manuscript and the published volume tends to be among the most formal with the publishing process neat separated from the writing process by professional standards, credentials, and methods. The professionalization of publishing has led, in part, to its development as a multi-billion dollar industry as well as the its key role as a mediator in the hiring, tenure, and promotion processes on many campuses.

My experiences as an archaeologists, author, and publisher have led me to become interested in the way in which our increasingly digital workflow has come to shape the relationship between the various stages of archaeological knowledge making. I am not the first to think about these things, of course, but I’m hoping that my focus on workflow can show how digital culture and practices can change the structure of academic work for better and, perhaps, for worse.

NDQ in Review

The penultimate thing that I do before submitting an issue of North Dakota Quarterly to our publisher, the University of Nebraska Press, is write my editor’s notes. Since I’ve only done this twice, I don’t have a very firm grasp of the genre, and I’m never sure whether I should be lyrical and poetic or matter of fact. As a result, I tend to be awkward, but in some ways this is how I roll.

Here’s my Editor’s notes for NDQ 86.1/2.

Editor’s Note

Projects like North Dakota Quarterly depend on their community to survive. The members of the NDQ community offers us their writing, and they give us their time by reading what we write, edit, and produce. In some case, they even give us material support by subscribing to the journal.

In 2017, we decided to suspend accepting new individual subscriptions to NDQ. We were worried that budget shortfalls would make it difficult to service new individual subscriptions while still maintaining our longstanding institutional subscribers. It was a tough to decide to continue to accept institutional subscription, but we felt that each volume in a library might reach more readers than those in individual hands and, in this age of austerity, that it would be hard to convince libraries to renew a dropped subscription. We also hoped that our individuals subscribers would come back to the Quarterly when we regained our financial footing.

With issue 86.1/2, we once again welcome individual and institutional subscribers. At the same time, we recognize that not all of our readers can afford to subscribe to NDQ or haven’t decided whether to support our remarkable community in a material way. As a result, we’ll do all we can to make the content of NDQ available to everyone on our website. If you like what we do, however, and can afford an NDQ subscription, we ask that you do subscribe to support the community of readers, writers, and editors who make NDQ what it is. At the same time, if you like what you read, we encourage you to submit your creative work. Finally, let us know what you think of the Quarterly, whenever the spirt moves you, by dropping me a line at

Finally, we hope you enjoy this double-issue’s remarkably diverse content which includes five stories and five essays as well as over 50 poems. The final section of the issue is a tribute to the late Bill Gass edited by Crystal Alberts. The range of moods, styles, and themes present in this issue of the Quarterly traces the contours of our community, and I look forward to continuing to do my part to ensure that it thrives.


The final thing that I do before sending an issue of NDQ to our press is to review our content to get a sense for how the volume breaks down.

Volume 85, which is out at the printers looked like this:

UNP measures the length of a volume by character counts. Volume 85 was 430,000 characters. So, by character, NDQ 85 was 52% non-fiction largely owing to the special section on the Humanities in the Age of Austerity. 29% fiction and 18% poetry. By number of contributions, it was an even 12% for non-fiction and fiction and 76% poetry. Men wrote 75% of the content, which is too high, but basically representative of our pool of submissions. This is something that we need to fix.

The first double issue of volume 86, numbers 1/2, will clock in at around 425,000 characters (whatever that means) and include 5 short stories (32% by character count), 6 non-fiction pieces (21%), and 51 poems (20% which is probably inflated a bit since even a short poem counts as a page or 1700 characters), plus a section guest edited by Crystal Alberts on Bill Gass (26%). There are 48 authors (71% by men), and 76 submissions (68% by men).

Publishing Dakota Datebook

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota has a pretty exciting collaboration to announce. We’re partnering once again with David Haeselin from UND’s Writing, Editing, and Publishing (WEP) program who worked with The Digital Press to publish Haunted by Waters: The Future of Memory and the Red River Flood of 1997 (2017) and, for the first time, Prairie Public Radio to produce a book version of their venerable Dakota Datebook radio program.

We chose to announce this today (although keen readers of the Prairie Public’s newsletter probably caught a little notice there), because February 28th marks the 60th anniversary of the death of UND English’s most famous alum, Maxwell Anderson (Sorry, Chuck Klosterman). What’s a bit newer, however, is UND English training editors in the WEP program. Students editors in David Haeselin’s WEP practicum are currently working to assemble an edited collection from the thousands of entries that have appeared on the Prairie Public radio’s Dakota Datebook radio show. 
The daily history segment is now its seventeenth year, so the first step was picking the best 365 entries. Luckily for us, there are sixteen students enrolled in the class, so, first, each student read through a randomly assigned year. The next step was deciding what exactly constituted the “best.” This is where the students’ more traditional analytical and interpretative training came in handy. After a series of freewheeling and impassioned discussions, the students agreed that our book should showcase the lesser-known, if not entirely forgotten, moments in North Dakota history. Lewis, Clark, and Teddy Roosevelt are the OG badasses, sure, but they passed through North Dakota. We wanted to showcase the stories of those who have made the state into what it is today by living here. And we think we accomplished just that. 

We recently finalized the table of contents and are confident that our selections highlight the state’s diversity, variety, and uniqueness. In it, you’ll find all kinds of stories: tough as permafrost homesteaders who lived through the worst winters on the continent without down feather coats or even walls made from something better than dirt blobs, proud women demanding their right to vote, the family who built the first mosque on American soil, and even how Grand Forks was founded because of a keg of beer. 

As the students have worked to select and organize content, we have also worked to produce an appealing page that captures a bit of a traditional “datebook” style with the bold day and month in Futura font. The text itself is set in the more traditional Janson-style font which we decided was appropriate buttoned-down for history. We tucked the page numbers on the outside margin to give us a bit more space on the page for text and to accommodate the varying length of Date Book entries. 

DD Feb28 MaxwellAnderson 

You can download the Maxwell Anderson page here.

Keep your eyes open for more updates. We plan for a  May release, with events across North Dakota. And, in the meantime, be sure to listen to Dakota Datebook on Prairie Public

Thinking about Publishing at NDQ and The Digital Press

As my post yesterday probably suggested, I’m thinking a good bit about the practice and theory of academic publishing these days. In particular, I’m interested in how digital media shapes workflow, logistics, and the character of both archaeological and more broadly academic knowledge making. My work with The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota Quarterly have increasingly become central to this research in ways that I had not anticipated.

So this little update today is both an effort to get my thoughts in order about how publishing and editing really works and to keep people interested in both NDQ and The Digital Press in the loop on what’s been going on with these projects.

1. Proposals. Recently I’ve received a couple of pretty exciting proposals to review and we’ve been able to give some pretty positive feedback to the proposers. There has been some pretty interesting recent conversation about book proposals in the field of ClassicsandClassical Archaeology (co-authored by a pair of Digital Press authors!). This got me thinking about the current way that publishers acquire manuscripts and the role of publishers, editors, and authors. I’ve resisted producing a standard questionnaire for prospective authors and, instead, have asked my individuals proposing to The Digital Press to produce “a 3-5 page document that outlines the book’s content, as well as its length, format, audience, relationship to existing publications. It’s also helpful to present the qualifications of the authors (or contributors) and a prospective timeline.” I’m not sure that this slightly more free-form proposal process necessarily produces better proposals, but I like to think that it introduces the relationship between press and the authors as more familiar and a bit less structured by a set of fixed expectations that dictate the value of a project.    

2. From Proposal to Manuscript. In particular, I’ve thought a good bit about the liminal zone between when a proposal is accepted and a manuscript is delivered. As an author currently navigating that zone with my own book, I can attest to the feeling of being unmoored and adrift, but still in the harbor. There’s an expectation that the book “will happen” but at the same time, the anxieties of producing something that the publisher, reviewers, and community finds valuable.

This is a pretty stressful place and judging by conversations with my colleagues, I recognize that any number of book projects find themselves smashed against the shoals long before the final manuscript can be delivered. I wonder whether the structural division between the publisher and the author have something to do with this ambivalent space. I’ve marveled at the generosity, for example, of my editors at North Dakota Quarterly who often work closely with authors during the revision process for articles and stories and feel extraordinary gratitude toward Paul Mullins and Chris Matthews at Historical Archaeology who shepherded my first effort to write an article on North American archaeology through the revision and publication process. My hope is that my press can be aware of the risks of the post-proposal, pre-manuscript experience and work – somehow – to make it easier to navigate. 

3. Peer Review. One of the most exciting things at present is that The Digital Press has three books currently circulating for peer review: two books and one edited volume. All three works represent significant investment on the parts of two authors and the editor as well as the press. As a result, peer review is less about whether the piece should be accepted or rejects, but rather how we can work to improve the manuscript to make into the strongest book possible for the author and the publisher. The reviews continue to be anonymous (or at least the reviewers are not known to the authors), but the review process becomes a chance to develop, improve, and nuance the manuscript.

4. Workflow. I’m completely invested in a publishing workflow these days, particularly for North Dakota Quarterly. The movement of an accepted manuscript through the pre-production process is neither completely automated or completely person. The accepted manuscript hits my desk, goes out to my copy editor (at least for non-fiction and poetry, our fiction editor handles his own copy editing as part of the revision process). While manuscripts are out at copy editing, I produce publication agreements – by hand – for each contribution. This can take a few hours. When I get the copy edited manuscripts back, I return them with a publication agreement to authors and  for a short (<50 word) bio and the mailing address for their author copy of the Quarterly. With any luck, I get both of those documents, but in about 30% of the cases, I don’t. I have to ask (again and again) for a bio, negotiate challenges associated with signing a digital document, and beg for mailing addresses to send author’s copies.

Because we won’t run a piece without a contract and a bio, I can’t finalize the order of the issue. The entire issue gets sent to our publisher, University of Nebraska Press, with all the finalized author agreements. They do layout and then return the proofs to me to circulate back to my authors for final approval. I compile any edits on the proofs and return it to the publisher. Then the volume goes to print.

The process of publishing involves constantly reinforcing the roles of publisher and author through our separate roles and the different timelines in which our work proceeds. The biggest challenge for me, for example, is managing the rapid progress from final manuscripts to final proofs. The different times of engagement and expectations complicate and humanize the workflow. Authors have delays associated with travel, internet and email access, challenging editing issues, and the need to arrange the content in the issue in a way that makes sense. It goes without saying that a small number of contributions take the most time.

5. Sales and Subscriptions. I’m incredibly fortunately to have a bit of cushion for both The Digital Press and NDQ. It’s not enough to allow me to ignore sales and subscriptions, but it means that they aren’t a daily worry. That being said, I’m excited whenever The Digital Press makes a sale (or two) or ticks over a particular benchmark for the number of downloads. Right now, for example, we’re chasing 500 downloads for Eric Burin’s Protesting on Bended Knee, and we’re doing all we can to maintain a steady stream of sales. The goal there is one book per day. 

With NDQ, we simply have to have subscribers. The subscribers will fund production, and with any luck, will eventually generate revenue that will help the Quarterly expand and innovate. We’re coordinating some email blasts, a subscription drive (particularly to ensure that folks who have historically subscribed to the journal renew their subscriptions, and also looking to some other ways to generate revenue

Yesterday, I thought a bit about how the commercialization of digital creative content can become exploitative, but how it is also a strategy toward sustainability in a world with fewer resources for the humanities and more and more competition. Considering new models for publishing that combine new ways to work with authors, contributors, and publishers might be the way toward a more sustainable future.    



Teaching Thursday: Publishing as Craft

One of the coolest things that I’ve had a chance to do over the last few years is work with my colleague David Haeselin and his students on some books that The Digital Press has published. The first book that one of his class produced was Haunted by Waters: The Future of Memory and the Red River Flood of 1997 which came out in 2017. This semester, Dave’s class is working on a still “top sekrit” project that will hopefully be released this spring.  

For my part, I was invited to visit the class and play the role of publisher and talk to Dave’s editing students about the publication process. This is great fun because I get to situate our work to publish a book within their experience as students.

Here were my notes for my mini-lecture.

One of the key things for which a university prepares students is life within the modern economy. The regimented schedule of classes, the order progress of curricula, and the emphasis on deadlines and accountability serve as an introduction to the demands of the modern work force.

At the same time, we’re aware that the workforce is changing and hardly the unified experience once anticipated by leaders in higher education. The growing prevalence of the “gig economy” has challenged some of the traditional social expectations of the workforce and redefined, to some extent, the definition of professional practices. In certain ways, the gig economy evokes the irregular work rhythms of craft work, although much of the gig economy relies on rather unskilled labor rather than the deeply embodied knowledge associated with craft work. Publishing is situated in an odd place in the contemporary economy. While it requires a basic set of competencies, it also tends to expect a certain set of “soft skills” that range from communicating expectations to working with creative types in a sensitive way.

These are some of the basic aspects of the publishing process that I tried to reinforce among the students: 

1. We work with creative folks and creative means respecting the work-rhythms of creative time. This may mean things are on-time and to spec, but it also may mean that things are late or are different from what you expected. 

2. Publishing itself is like a craft. This means that its does not adhere to 9-5 (or semester-based) work schedules and rhythms. There are stretches when there isn’t much going on. There are times when you have to juggle multiple tasks at once. And there are times when deadlines seems to creep closer even as the final product slips further away.

3. Whatever the informality of publishing work, publishing is also a business with stakeholders and collaborators and deadlines and schedules. This means that sometimes, we have to get stuff done when it doesn’t seem possible to make other people satisfied.

4. Despite its toxic connotations, publishing demands attention to workflow. And the workflow for every project is a bit different. Despite that, there are few things common to almost every workflow that I’ve designed: 

  1. Communicate early and throughout the process.
  2. Remember that everything takes longer than it seems like it should.
  3. Design with workflow in mind and embrace the elegance of simplicity. 
  4. Know when to divide complex tasks and when to group them.
  5. Realize that the smallest problems cause biggest delays.