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.

Unlocking the Commons: Tim Carmody, NDQ, Amazon, and the Digital Press

There is a ton of tech writing on the internet these days and some of it is really good. None is better, I think than Tim Carmody who wrote really great pieces for The Verge and Wired back in the day, and now partners with one of the original bloggers, Jason Kottke, to produce a regular newsletter called Noticing that blends content from Kottke.org and the rest of the web. He also has a Ph.D. in Comparative literature from Penn.

What’s more interesting to me lately is his interest in the economics of good writing on the web. As a writer, editor, and a publisher, I have long relaxed in the relatively luxury of academia which has given me the security to do creative work — whether through my professional writing, my blog, my editorial role at North Dakota Quarterly, or my work as publisher at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota — without having to get too far into the weeds of funding and finance. At the same time, I do realize that if these projects are going to have a life beyond my own energies and attention, some kind of sustainable model will have to exist to support them.

Carmody has proposed and developed a model that he calls “unlocking the commons.” It is predicated on the idea that a project – like his new newsletter on Amazon – needs a certain amount of support to exist. Carmody is a freelance writer and, from what I gather, he earns his income from his writing. At the same time, Carmody is aware that locking content behind a paywall or the like makes it difficult to demonstrate the value of the content and difficult for supporters and authors to share their work. In fact, it actually reduces the impact of any content produced by making it less visible and less likely to influence a larger community. In this way, Carmody is following arguments long held by the open access community who see the value of creative work not in its narrow and immediate monetary value realized through subscribers, but in its expansive potential to inspire and influence a wide range of audiences. By unlocking the commons, subscriber support allows Carmody to develop his ideas, write, and produce his work, and once it is supported, the work is available freely to anyone who wants to read it. He and Jason Kottke modeled this approach with Kottke.org’s membership program, which apparently worked.

For his new newsletter on Amazon, the threshold for unlocking the commons and making supporting Carmody to produce one newsletter per week was 200 subscribers at $5 per month. If he manages 400 subscribers at $5 per month, he’ll write two articles per week. You can subscribe and support the newsletter here.

This project is interesting to me for two reasons.

First, NDQ has a money problem. Right now, it’s not existential, but it is limiting. We have a great publishing partner in the University of Nebraska Press, and moving forward, they will handle subscriptions and most production for the Quarterly. The goal is that as we rebuild our subscriber base, we can break even for UNP and, then, with a little help from our community, generate some revenue. In the meantime, we rely on three sources of revenue: a small endowment that provides us with enough to copy edit the journal, a funding “backstop” provided by donors and income generated by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, and surplus energy provided by our editors and editorial board. This is enough to keep our head above water and to survive the occasional emergency, but isn’t really enough to innovate in a sustainable way. 

Recently, several editorial board members suggested that we install a reading fee for submissions. Other members of the editorial board pushed back arguing that the submitters and contributors MAKE the journal and they shouldn’t be charged for that privilege. While I’m not entirely convinced by this argument, I share its broad sentiment that submissions should remain free as a way to encourage the widest possible range of potential contributors. Moreover, ideologically, there’s something democratic about allowing anyone to contribute and, practically, I think even a modest reading fee might discourage contributions from marginal writers especially in the global south.

What if instead of a reading fee, we included a link to a Patreon or Memberful account or created a formal NDQ newsletter using Substack subscription. To be clear, these wouldn’t be subscriptions in a formal sense — that is money provided in exchange for a product — but they’d unlock the commons and make more of the same creative content that typifies NDQ. More than that, the synergy between a funded newsletter and the regular publication of NDQ will be complementary. After all, the print version of NDQ is what makes us NDQ.

The second interest that I have in Carmody’s new project is that we built The Digital Press, in part, on Amazon’s print-on-demand infrastructure. Whether we like it or not, the world still loves paper books, and the ability to distribute our paper books from the nearly global Amazon marketplace is a massive advantage to a small press like ours.

At the same time, we realize that using Amazon is problematic. First, it limits our reach to small book sellers in the region who have not really warmed to Amazon’s direct sales to retailers. Second, Amazon’s labor practices and corporate culture are in many ways antithetical to the values that we have at The Digital Press. Thirdly, our relationship with Amazon’s production system, platform, and marketplace is completely outside of our control. Of course, as our catalogue expands, we will likely have other opportunities to partner with distributors, but at present, we’re stuck with Amazon whether we like it or not.

Carmody’s regular columns exploring Amazon as a company will offer us insights into both the present and future of the current distribution model for The Digital Press. 

Open Education Resources (OER) and the Modern University

Over the last couple of years, the University of North Dakota and the North Dakota University System has invested significant resources in promoting the adoption of open educational resources (OER). As a small, open access publisher this makes me very happy because it incentivized the use open access works that aren’t exactly like those published by my press (we haven’t done much in the way of textbook publishing), but are at least share the same spirit.

In response to this policy, the NDUS has received some positive press in the higher education media and now regularly trumpets how much they’ve saved students. This demonstrates a recognition that higher education is expensive and that not all of the expenses are associated with tuition and that the university could do more to manage some of these other costs. The OER push is also unique, it seems to me, in that it understands that the private sector – in this case  textbook publishing companies – is not always going to keep costs down and, in some cases, it is developing a public alternative that effectively competes in terms of quality and cost with the private sector. This runs counter to most of the major trends in higher education in the 21st century, which, Christopher Newfield so expertly unpacks in The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How we can Fix Them. (2016). As our largely Republican legislature looks to renew and even increase funding for the adoption of OER in North Dakota, it seems like a good time to urge them (and our student and university leaders) to take the next step and to put into place policies that not only support, but will also sustain the use and production of OER and open access material into the future.

Here are some observations along these lines.

1. OER Ecosystem. OER don’t just hang out in the ether waiting to be adopted by faculty. They are produced – usually at significant expense – by faculty and publishers across the U.S. In general, these costs are distributed between institutions, grants, donors, as well as investments of faculty time. For the OER ecosystem to flourish and for the number and quality of OER textbooks to continue to expand and diversify, the entire system requires resources, not just the adoption of books. It seems to me that the desire to fund adoption alone as is the current situation in North Dakota, rests on the assumption that by incentivizing demand, these funds will stimulate supply. It may be that there is a hope that the increase in supply will stimulate competition and improve quality (or, at very least, access to and distribution of these kinds of resources). 

I’m not sure that this way of thinking should apply to open access publishing. First, while there is always a market for resources – more successful and influential open access publisher surely have access to more funds – this is only indirectly related to the adoption of open access resources. In other words, while most open access publishers, I assume, want their books to be used, most of us do not directly benefit from a book that is adopted more frequently and widely because there are no profit margins on open access books. It also doesn’t directly increase our capacity to produce high quality open access books. It might indirectly, though success in grant applications or attracting better quality manuscripts, but the path from a successful adoption to increased resources is not the same as in a market driven industry which assumes that the sale of a product will produce capital. As a result, there needs to be attention to the entire network which supports OERs and this includes ensuring that competitive funding exists for their production as well as for their adoption.

Moreover, most OERs require not just energy to adopt and to produce (see below), but energy to maintain. The best open resources exists with a system that encourages collective modification, versioning (forking and otherwise), and sharing to keep textbooks up-to-date. In commercial publishing, the need to maintain textbooks as current fuels, in part, the constant arrival of new editions with new features and information. This process is expensive and the cost is passed on to consumers (while also recognizing that textbook companies iterate textbooks also to fuel a cycle of obsolesce that generates increased profits). OERs also require updating, but it won’t be directly monetized through textbook sales. What is necessary to feed the OER ecosystem and ensure that OERs remain up to date is the willingness to support their maintenance. Otherwise, classes that rely on outdates OERs will either suffer a lack of a quality textbook or simply revert to commercially available ones.  

The production of OERs can be accelerated (and the costs managed and dynamic potential of digital platforms maximized) through the use of various open publishing platforms (MIT’s PubPub, PressBooks, annotation software like Hypothes.is, University of Minnesota’s Manifold). These platforms, however, require digital infrastructure, maintenance, and mentoring for faculty to create dynamic open content and engages students.  

2. Incentivizing at Home. At UND, there’s an interest in evaluating the quality of scholarship produced through any number of ranking schemes of publishers and journals. Needless to say, rather few of these outlets are open access. While this isn’t unusual in higher education, it certainly sends a mixed message concerning the value of open access publishing. On the one hand, we receive incentives for publishing in journals that are then sold back to our universities at considerable costs means that universities are effectively double billed for the cost of scholarly production. Moreover, UND incentivizes this approach to knowledge making which reinforces the idea that open publishing is not as good as traditional publishing (and, at worst, the larger message that somehow quality costs more).

In a more direct way, I’m skeptical that UND incentivizes textbook publishing at all. Some faculty might do this if they sign a remunerative contract with a publisher or see producing a textbook a long-term gain in efficiency for how they teach and prepare their classes. Most faculty, however, follow local incentives and dedicate their writing time to peer-reviewed articles in top tier scholarly journals. Writing an open access textbook means that there will be no paying contract with a publisher or royalties, there’s unlikely to be support baked into existing on campus incentives (in fact, the program that supports adoption of OERs excludes requests to support the production of OERs), and writing a successful grant to support the writing of an OER effectively doubles the energy necessary to pursue this outcome on campus.  

3. The lessons from MOOCs. The current enthusiasm for OERs feels a good bit like the enthusiasm for Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCs). These were initially seen as an opportunity to expand the impact of university teaching at no cost to students and to allow a vast new audience to learn from the best teachers and scholars in the world. While it is clear that MOOCs never quite lived up to their educational potential. (For a discussion of this entire topic go here.)

It didn’t take long for folks to look to monetize MOOCs through various certificate programs that rewarded paying students for their performance. More than that, many place realized that MOOCs were expensive to produce and to keep up to date and to operate. Private companies that arose to produce and manage MOOCs for universities struggled to make a profit and, invariably, passed some of their expenses back to universities. In the end, it would appear that the MOOC, despite its utopian promise, failed because, to oversimplify greatly, few successfully anticipated its cost. I worry that the current trend toward OERs will run into a similar problem. When confronted by the costs of developing, supporting, and maintaining an open access ecosystem, university administrators, legislators, and faculty will balk and either try to pass the costs back to faculty in the form of unfunded mandate to develop OERs or simply let the program quietly die.

In sum, a successful OER initiative requires more than incentivizing adoption. I propose these things:

  1. Establish funds to support the production of at least 3 OER projects per year (approximately $60,000-$80,000 total).
  2. Establish funds to support the maintenance, updating, or “forking” of existing OERs (say, $30,000 per year for up to 3-6 projects).
  3. Establish funds to support OER publishing platforms on campus with local experts and local installations (here for a recent list).
  4. Incentivize open publishing across the university through recognition of OER scholarship during annual reviews and at the departmental and college level.
  5. Support regular fora where faculty who use and produce dynamic open access content (not just OER) across campus.  




New Book Day: Epoiesen Volume 2

The best day at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is always New Book Day.

The Digital Press is very pleased to announce the publication of Epoiesen, volume 2. Epoiesen is exactly what it says on the box: a journal for creative engagement in history and archaeology. It is edited by Shawn Graham at Carleton University in Ottawa in collaboration with  an impressive editorial board. The library at Carleton hosts digital side of the journal and The Digital Press publishes an annual paper and pdf version of articles.

Cover Epoiesen2 DigitalFinal

This issue includes a model for creating interactive, immersive historical texts using twine, an experiment in interactive mapping, and a graphic novella that explores the experience of 17th century witch trials in East Anglia. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this volume includes an editorial essay by Shawn Graham titled “Citation as an Act of Enchantment” which reminds us that citation isn’t simply a professional responsibility or stylistic formality in academic writing, but a form of engagement that can “broaden the possibility space for what our research and engagement could be.”  Or, as the volume says on Katherine Cook‘s cover image: who you cite matters. This is important and very much in keeping with the spirit of Epoiesen.

Shawn reflects:

“After two years, I am excited by the range and variety of creative engagement we’ve seen in Epoiesen; but I’m more excited by the range and variety of voices we’ve heard. Nevertheless, we have work to do. We have to make it a daily, ordinary, occurrence to make space for others. As I say inside, ‘let our citation be a gift. Let it be an act of enchantment. Find the wonderful work, the uplifting work. Cite it. Build on it. Let your creative engagement with history and archaeology echo with voices you haven’t heard before.’”

We’re proud to partner with Epoiesen to make their content available in paperback form and as free downloadable pdf. Check out both volumes for free and their website.

Also, check out our new catalogue page!

Monographs and Publishing in the Digital Age

There’s been some interesting buzz at both the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting and the Modern Language Association annual meeting about the monograph and publishing in an increasing digital world. I’m not sure that I have anything profound to add to this, but as a way of keeping track of the conversation and taking some notes, I do have a few thoughts. Some of this was prompted by the excellent post at the Society for Classical Studies blog on how to pitch your book to a publisher at the annual meetings. 

First, the monograph. Across various twitter chains this past week, people have commented that the monograph continues to be the standard for tenure in Mediterranean archaeology and Classics (and a similar idea prevails, I think, in history and, I would guess, in English). As a Mediterraneanist who neither had a monograph before tenure, nor has one now, the idea that the monograph plays this key role in our discipline, strikes me as a bit foreign and possibly outdated. This isn’t to suggest that I don’t venerate the monograph as much as the next person! In fact, writing a monograph remains a “bucket list” thing for me, and, as someone who often struggles to sustain an argument over the course of an email, writing a monograph is something that I only admire. In fact, some of my favorite books are monographs and I spend as much time reading monographs as anything else.

That all being said, I’m fairly certain that most academic positions in the U.S. do not require a monograph for tenure since most tenure-track academic positions in the U.S. are at second tier state schools, junior colleges, or small colleges and universities that have rather heavy teaching and service loads, do not reward or support research consistently, and generally welcome active engaged faculty, but also recognize a wide range of scholarly activity. This isn’t a value judgement on folks who write and love monographs. The other trend, of course, is that there are fewer and fewer tenure track positions in the U.S. Of course, contingent, adjunct, and term faculty can and do produce meaningful research and monographs, this is only rarely part of their formal obligations for their faculty position. In other words, most people working these days in the academy do not have to write monographs. 

Second, publishing monographs – from the publishers’ perspective at least – is very expensive. A typical monograph runs $100 per page (around $30,000) according to a famous Ithaka report. This expense, of course, includes staff, marketing, design, editing, production, and various other necessary work to develop, publish, and promote a monograph. As another twitter thread pointed out, if a monograph doesn’t sell ~450 copies (or so) a publisher often takes a loss (although I would suspect this varies over the publishing landscape) and this loss increases the cost of future monographs, I would guess. 

To be clear, a well-produced, edited, and designed monograph is a beautiful thing and often plays a role in my decision to buy it. At the same time, I probably only buy 10-15 monographs per year. While I recognize that individuals are rarely the target audience of a bound academic book these days, I think it speaks to changing ways of engaging with academic writing.

I would also estimate that 90% of my professional reading in any given year is done digitally. Digital reading, for me at least, is a bit different from analogue reading. I tend to be much less likely to be sucked into the linear argument offered by the monograph and much more likely to mine the book for references, for supporting arguments, and for particular insights on more narrow topics. The ability to digitally search a book for references or topics and to skim a book more efficiently tempts me to find what I need and move on. This may not be a good thing (and at times I feel bad for the authors who I know spent years weaving an intricate argument over multiple chapters), but I think that the growing popularity of edited volumes, “companions” and “handbooks,” and collection which are designed to be easily disaggregated and tend to offer focuses studies addressing particular issues rather than sweeping arguments, speaks to changing reading and research habits among academics as well as an approach to publishing that sees such volumes as a way to manage risk, create subscription-based service for well-known collections, and generate revenue from individuals who might be inclined to purchase a single article from a larger collection.

The changes in how what we produce as scholars and how we read and research brings me to the issue digital, open access publishing in academia. Open access academic publishing has a few challenges. First, since publishing a monograph is expensive, publishing an open access monograph for which the opportunities to recoup costs are minimal, requires either a subvention or a publishing process that is significantly less costly. Most like, open access publishing will require both of these things. Open access publishing also faces an uphill battle in terms of credibility. Between predatory publishers who primarily exist to harvest subventions to issues with quality control, distribution, and marketing, the standard metrics by which we evaluate the quality of academic publications remain difficult to reconcile with the open access landscape as it currently stands. In other words, open access publishing in general has problems that are significant enough to it from standing shoulder-to-shoulder with traditional academic houses in the publishing ecosystem. Finally, open access publishing almost always means digital publishing. As the digital environment tends to support different forms of reading and writing, digital monographs remains in a distinct minority of open access works (although some presses and platforms are working to change this!). If the monograph is perceived as a gold standard in academia, then the lack of prestige among open access publishers and the disjunction between digital reading practices and the kinds of arguments present in traditional monographs, will reinforce each other. Digital open access monographs seem to me to be a hard sell in the current academic environment. 

Moreover, to manage the expense of open access publishing, more cooperative and collaborative models between authors and publisher come into play. At my press, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, we work more closely with our authors and often share responsibility for various parts of the production process that a traditional press might take out of a scholar’s hands. This is neither a good or a bad thing as many scholar’s appreciate the hands-on approach to publishing their work, but at the same time, it is different from the conventional publishing experience and scholars who are already being pushed to maximize every minute of their professional lives, might find the craft approach to publishing incompatible with assembly line expectations.    


As a bit of a coda, there are some things that we as scholars can to do to help fortify the open access publishing. While open access publishers will always welcome good quality and appropriate manuscripts, I, at least, can understand why scholars might chose to take a conventional manuscript to a conventional publisher especially if tenure, promotion, or performance incentives depend on these publications.

This does not stop anyone from CITING open access works. In an era of metrics, citations form one of the key ways that an open access publisher earns prestige. In traditional academic practices, however, citing open access ensures that your readers can access your references. 


A Book by its Cover: Epoiesen Volume 2

We’re getting pretty close to having Epoiesen 2 ready for publication. Followers of The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota may remember that we published Epoiesen 1 in early 2018. It’s a collaboration between The Digital Press and Shawn Graham and colleagues who publish Epoiesen: A Journal for Creative Engagement in History and Archaeology. If you haven’t checked out Epoiesen 1, you really should. It really showcases the range of creative ways that thoughtful and critical folks are engaging with the past. You can even buy a paper copy for $6.

The process of publishing Epoiesen has been a particularly fun challenge for The Digital Press because it involves transforming content published in a digital format into paper. In some sense, the act of mediating between the born digital and the paper (or the ersatz paper in the case of the PDF) is an example of creatively engaging with the past. 

There are just a few tweaks to the text and a quick scan of the paper galley proofs, and it’ll be released into the wilds. While are plan was to make it available for everybody’s Christmas wish lists, the end of the semester and some delays caught up with use and now it should be available in early 2019.

That being said, we do have the cover ready, though! Katherine Cook provided the cover image, and we continued with Andrew Reinhard’s basic cover design. Katherine Cook’s illustration evokes Shawn Graham’s editorial in the volume, “Citation as an Act of Enchantment,” which discusses the role that citation plays in I stuck with bright, non-primary colors and decided to go with this rather pastel purple.

Stay tuned both here and to The Digital Press page for publication!

Cover Epoiesen2 DigitalFinal

Three Things Thursday: Epoiesen, The Bakken, and NDQ Supplements

It’s the end of the semester and that means a time to look back, but also to look ahead to the break and beyond to various little projects on my slate for the next couple months (and beyond!).

While I have a good many odds and ends of my own to wrap up in the near future – including a peer review, an article draft, and the first words of a new book – I’m also looking forward to doing some work with projects from The Digital Press. 

Here’s what’s going on in that department. 

1. Epoiesen 2. Last year, I had the privilege of publishing a paper version of the first volume of Shawn Graham (and co.)’s journal Epoiesen. I thought of it as the Epoiesen annual and it is a total gem of a volume. (Download it here or buy it for $10 here). Over the next month or so, we’ll complete layout of Epoiesen 2 which will include this brilliant comic, Sympathy for the Devil, by H. Laurel Rowe.  It’ll also push us to continue to explore the relationship between print media and digital media in how we think about academic and artistic content and to consider the work of mediation to be part of the creative engagement with the content as well as the field of publishing archaeology and art in a digital/analogue hybrid world. We already have a great piece of art for the cover of the volume thanks to Katherine Cook

2. Sixty Years of Boom and Bust: The Impact of Oil in North Dakota, 1958–2018. Kyle Conway and an impressive gaggle of scholars are working in this project right now. It is a republication of the 1958 Williston Report, a relatively obscure, but nevertheless significant report on the impact of the first Bakken oil boom on communities, the economy, and infrastructure across western North Dakota. The book itself will interleave chapters from the Williston Report and updated chapter from a range of authors on related topics recontextualized in light of the 21st century boom.

3. North Dakota Quarterly Supplement 2. I’ve started to think a bit more seriously about the North Dakota Quarterly supplement series. 2018 saw the publication of a small poetry collection call Snichimal Vayuchil as the first NDQ supplement. For 2019, we’ll have another small volume of translated Maya poetry thanks to Paul Worley connections in the region and tireless energies. This should appear in early 2019 as NDQ Supplement 2. 

This past week, I received an email from an author inquiring whether I might be interested in publishing a collection of short stores. This got me thinking about whether I should formalize the NDQ Supplement series as annual volumes that either expand or focuses in some way what the Quarterly already does. I’m sketching a plan out in my head that could include collections of stories, essays, poems, or even complete novels or non-fiction works that are available in a range of different (and varying) formats from open access to more limited, print-on-demand formats. 

Hopefully, I’ll be able to share more on all these projects over the next few weeks as I get some momentum. I can’t promise that any of them will be available for the holiday season, but there’s always a chance a few of those industrious elves can help me get more done than I expect!

Accessing the Annual of ASOR

This past month, I was named editor of the Annual of ASOR. It’s a book series organized into annual volumes on various archaeological topics. Historically, it would appear that the Annual began as an outlet for research from the various members of the schools of Oriental research. How it differed from the contemporary Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research is a bit unclear except that the Annual was in its early years more substantial and included longer, more lavishly illustrated articles. These two publications of ASOR represented the technical and professional output of the American Schools in distinction to Biblical Archaeologist (now Near Eastern Archaeology) founded in 1938 and dedicated to more accessible and popular writing about archaeology in the Middle East.

Today, the function and scope of AASOR is a bit less clear. Work on contemporary sites has increasingly appeared in the Archaeological Report Series which began in 1991 or in BASOR which is a modern and well-edited professional journal. As a result, AASOR has become the outlet for legacy projects and edited collections of articles that deal with topics broadly of interest to ASOR members. I find this eclecticism appealing especially in a world of increasingly specialized publications in our field, but I also recognize that this eclecticism might be confusing to scholars who are looking for an outlet for their work. It seems like the 100th anniversary of the AASOR in 2020 might be an opportunity to make the series more visible and to reflect on its history, contributions and potential for the future.

Along similar lines, the eclecticism of AASOR has made it a bit of a challenge to make the series more available in open digital forms. ASOR has been fortunately to benefit from the efforts of Chuck Jones who led the committee on publications for over a decade and worked to release back ASOR content in relatively open, digital forms. 

The first 20-some volumes of AASOR are available for free download various places (with some obviously in the public domain):

The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1919/1920, vol. 1 (jstor, Hathi Trust, Google books).
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1921/1922, vol 2/3 (jstor)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1922/1923, vol. 4 (jstor, Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1923/1924, vol. 5 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1924/1925, vol. 6 (Hathi Trust)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1925/1926, vol. 7 (Hathi Trust)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1926/1927, vol. 8 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1927/1928, vol. 9 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1927/1928, vol. 10 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1929/1930, vol. 11 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1930/1931, vol. 12 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1931/1932, vol. 13 (Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1933/1934, vol. 14 (Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1934/1935, vol. 15 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1935/1936, vol. 16 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1936/1937, vol. 17 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
Explorations in Eastern Palestine, III, vol. 18/19 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
Introduction to Hurrian, vol. 20 (Hathi Trust)
The Excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim. Vol. III: The Iron Age 1941 – 1943, vol. 21/22 (Not Available)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1943/1944, vol. 23 (Hathi Trust)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1944/1945, vol. 24 (Hathi Trust

After volume 24, things get a bit more irregular, with the exception of volume 32/33:

The excavation at Herodian Jericho, 1951, vol. 32/33 (Hathi Trust)

Things get better again, however, after volume 55:

Preliminary excavation reports and other archaeological investigations : Tell Qarqur, Iron I sites in the North-Central highlands of Palestine, vol. 56 (Hathi Trust)
Across the Anatolian plateau : readings in the archaeology of ancient Turkey, vol. 57 (Not Available)
The Near East in the southwest : essays in honor of William G. Dever, vol. 58 (Hathi Trust)
Results of the 2001 Kerak Plateau Early Bronze Age survey AND Two early alphabetic inscriptions from the Wadi el-Ḥôl: new evidence for the origin of the alphabet from the western desert of Egypt, vol. 59 (Hathi Trust)
The archaeology of difference : gender, ethnicity, class and the “other” in antiquity : studies in honor of Eric M. Meyers, vol. 60/61 (Hathi Trust)
The middle Bronze Age IIA cemetery at Gesher : final report, vol. 62 (Hathi Trust
Views from Phlamoudhi, Cyprus, vol. 63 (Hathi Trust)

The three most recent volumes (64, 65, and 68) are only available via Jstor with a subscription. All in all, 27 of the 66 published volumes are available for free download (and a few more can be viewed at Hathi Trust, but not downloaded). This is something that should be easy enough to sort out and it would be outstanding to try to get all 66 volumes of AASOR available for free download by 2020 (or at least those still not generating some income for ASOR).

The existing content available from AASOR offers an intriguing body of data that could, for example, be analyzed for the history of the publication or the discipline, mined for spatial data and plotted on a map, or queried for references and citations. While the earliest volumes have entered the public domain making them available for all sort of remixing and classroom use, the latter volumes are often under a CC By-NC-ND license making them a bit harder to play with. 

(If you notice a mistake in this list, please drop me a line in the comments. I’ll post a list of AASOR volumes and their accessibility to Google Sheets when I tidy up my own spreadsheet.)

I’m also scheming up some ideas for new AASOR volumes, but I’ll share that with the ole blog when they begin to get a bit more focus (and when I have a better sense for whether people will be interested!).

New Book Day: The Beast

Over the past year, I’ve been collaborating with a Nicole Burton and Hugh Goldring from Ad Astra Comix, Patrick McCurdy from the University of Ottawa, David Haeselin from the UND Department of English and The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, and some remarkable contributors to produce an expanded, digital version of The Beast: Making a Living on a Dying Planet.

The book has been available as a comic for the over a year (and you can buy it, in the U.S. from AK Press and in Canada from Ad Astra), but our expanded digital edition offers a good bit more content putting this remarkable comic in a wider context.

THE BEAST digital edition cover 1

Here’s the media release:

Ad Astra Comix Partners with the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota on an Expanded Digital Version of The Beast: Making a Living on a Dying Planet.

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is thrilled to announce a collaboration with Ontario-based Ad Astra Comix to release a new expanded version of the provocative graphic novel, The Beast: Making a Living on a Dying Planet.

The Beast takes a critical look at the media war over the tar/oil sands debate and the endless struggle for the public’s imagination. The original, paper version launched on Earth Day, April 22, 2018, and emerged from a collaboration between Patrick McCurdy, Associate Professor in Communication at the University of Ottawa, Ad Astra’s writer, Hugh Goldring, and illustrator, Nicole Burton. The project brought together McCurdy’s academic research on environmental communication with the genre of comics.

The Beast seeks to stoke a public debate on the incessant role of public relations campaigns on shaping the public perception of the tar/oil sands. These campaigns discourage thoughtful and nuanced discussion of the cost of tar/oil sans and, instead, for the public is forced to “pick sides”: the environment or the economy; protestors or industry; live with or without oil. The Beast cultivates a more ambiguous and ambivalent middle ground through what David Haeselin, UND English and contributor describes as, “A compelling investigation into the people behind the media messages that shape how we think about energy.”

It tells the story of two recent college graduates, Callum and Mary, who find themselves negotiating a muddy path between environmental activism and having to live and work in a world driven by the resource-extractive industry. “The Beast is a reminder that if we are going to save the planet, we need to be honest with each other, and ourselves,” said Goldring.

The Expanded Digital Edition includes the original published comic as well as four new critical essays by Patrick McCurdy, Kyle Conway, Tommy Wall and Chris Russill, and Benjamin Woo along with an interview with Hugh Goldring and Patrick McCurdy.

McCurdy says, “The academic edition brings together a collection of scholarly essays intended to further conversation and reflection about how energy resources and environmental resources are talked about and understood. While the comic focuses on Alberta’s oil sands, The Beast addresses issues which are equally relevant to the oil fields of Texas and California to the Bakken shale which sees how these energy sources and the future of these resources are framed in the media matter.”

“The Digital Press is excited to partner with Patrick McCurdy and Ad Astra Comix to publish this expanded version of The Beast. This book has already attracted international attention for taking on a difficult topic and expanding the debate beyond academia and specialized media”, said publisher, Bill Caraher. “The free, expanded, open-access version of the The Beast puts the project in a critical context and opens this work to new audiences, including in North Dakota, who struggle with tensions around ‘making a living on a dying planet.’”

The newly released The Beast is available for free as a download at https://thedigitalpress.org/thebeast.

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota serves “to publish timely works in the digital humanities, broadly conceived. Whenever possible, we produce open access, digital publications, that can attract local and global audiences”.

For further insight, read the LA Review of Books August review of The Beast: Making a Living on a Dying Planet.

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An Abstract for 12th IEMA Conference: Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age

I’m behind with everything including finishing my abstract for the 12th annual IEMA Conference at the University of Buffalo. The conference is titled: Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age and from the looks of the preliminary program, it should be fantastic! 

My paper will be an effort to weave together my evolving thoughts on publishing and my interest in how digital approaches to both fieldwork and data dissemination are challenging the fundamental paradigms that shape how archaeology is practiced. Hopefully, some of my stuttering and stammering paper for the European Journal of Archaeology staggers its way into this paper.

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

Historically, the culmination of archaeological work was a final report or definitive monograph. In fact, publication has become an ethical imperative for our discipline and major excavations became known as much by their neatly arranged series of publications as monumental remains. For most of the 20th century, the expertise, care, and funds necessary to produce these publications represented a separate phase of knowledge making shaped by its own technical, economic, and practical limits.

In the 21st century, digital practices are transforming both archaeological practices in the field and the concept publication. The fragmentation of archaeological knowledge as digital data produces portable, sharable, remixable, and transformable publications that are less stable and less definitive than their predecessors in print. As a result, while final publications continue to appear, they are joined by published data of various kinds – from GPS and total station coordinates to digitally generated point clouds, photographs and videos, and XRF results. Project are also more invested than ever in creating unique ways to understand, interpret, and engage their site. These collaborations have eroded the conceptual and disciplinary barriers between field work, analysis and publication. It is possible, for example, to publish from the trenchside or survey unit and to create definitive digital publications that are modular and open to revision. The growing permeability between the processes of field work, analysis, and publishing, has both the potential to transform the concept of publication in archaeology (as well as across the humanities) and marks the rise of a new intellectual model for the production of knowledge. If 20th century archaeology followed the linear logic of the assembly line and culminated in the final publication, 21st century archaeology draws on the disperse efficiency sought in the contemporary focus on logistics. Logistics, with its emphasis on streamlining the movement of goods, data, and people, offers a useful, if problematic paradigm, for a discipline increasingly committed to finding new ways to make archaeological knowledge accessible and usable to a broader constituency.