In Production: Failing Gloriously and Other Essays

It’s International Open Access Week which means it’s a good time to talk a bit about The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. It just so happens that we have a new open access book in production even as we speak: Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays which features a foreword from Eric Kansa and an afterword from Neha Gupta. 

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It’s an intriguing volume that updated the venerable academic memoir for our contemporary situation and, at the same time, offers personal commentary on the digital humanities, archaeology, teaching, and our changing professional landscape.


The table of contents don’t really do it justice, but if you’re interested in an advanced copy and would consider blurbing it, drop me an email! 

Here’s the table of contents:


From a design perspective, I used Miller Text for the body of the book for the first time ever. It’s a “Scotch style” font that often appears in newspaper and periodicals. I thought that it fit the short essays in this book and communicated their contemporaneity and vibrancy. The use of Miller style fonts in magazines like The New Yorker also ensured that it communicated an accessible seriousness of purpose. For the titles, I used a compressed version of Akzidenz-Grotesk because it echoes the balance between the significance of this book in the present (Akzidenz-Grotesk being famously favored in early 20th-century emphemera) but also a kind of historical weight. Despite it’s modest origins, Akzidenz-Grotesk has become a serious font that harkens to a day before the ubiquity of Futura, Helvetica or other mid-century san serif typefaces. Age does that to a font!  

Flow and the Digital Press, Part 2

Last week, I presented part of a final, albeit working, draft based on a paper that I gave last spring at the annual IEMA conference at Buffalo. It’s due at the end of the month, and right now, I’m starting to feel deadline pressure.  

Here’s the final 1000 words or so of the paper, where I try to bring The Digital Press into conversation with the larger conversation about workflow and flow in a digitally mediated environment. It’s starting to take some shape.

As the fluid world of digital archaeology is creating new opportunities and challenges for publishing the results of our work, it also seems likely that it will transform entrenched attitudes toward publishing in our discipline. Digital Press at the University of North Dakota offers one example of how new boundaries between publishing and research emerge from the growing interest in digital workflow and its impact of the social organization of disciplinary practice within the field. To be clear, scholar-led projects such as the Princeton/Stanford Working Papers (Ober 2007) offered models for publishing that depended upon the digital affordance of production and distribution. The emergence of platforms like University of Minnesota Press’s Manifold which supports the transparent and interactive production of academic work likewise relies on the interoperability of digital flows from author’s laptop to the print-on-demand book. The digital affordances of our current scholarly workflow can be as simple as the practice of most academic papers taking shape in word processing software which can be easily converted for distribution on the web. Scholar-led platforms such as Open Context, which publishes peer-reviewed archaeological data, essentially makes artifacts of the digital flow susceptible to review through close attention to metadata and linked data standards.
The Digital Press is a rather more conventional project in comparison, but perhaps the conventional character of its work reflects the maturing of digital practices and a tipping point in how these practices shape professional relations within our discipline. Our current publishing model is 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, we distribute also through PDF downloads on a low cost website running WordPress, and finally, archive our books at UND’s institutional repository and the Internet Archive. Second, we publish mainly under various open access licenses. This eliminates some of the institutional friction that limits the circulation and distribution of our works. Finally and most importantly for this paper, we strive to collaborate closely with authors on all aspects of a publishing process. While none of these things are particularly radical or innovative, we feel like we are harnessing the flow of the the digital world and territorializing it as a conventional and familiar looking book. The involvement of archaeologists in the production of publishable data at the edge of the trench opens the door to a more dynamic model of archaeological publishing.

The Digital Press is almost entirely run by academics who lay out manuscripts, prepare marketing materials, use their own and their colleagues’ social media reach to promote the books, and manage acquisition, peer review, and copy editing. We even try our hand at cover design (with varying results). Our ability to perform these functions is possible largely because the basic publishing tools common to most presses – Adobe InDesign, the PDF format, Adobe illustrator – are available for relatively minor costs and they are increasingly simple to use. It is now possible to link descriptive text to discrete pieces of archaeological data, to create familiar and portable media rich documents, and to produce and archive these digital objects easily. In short, the development of digital infrastructure allows archaeologists to extend their workflow from trench side to final publication while remaining involved in all aspects of knowledge making. To be clear, my work at The Digital Press does not, necessarily, emphasize the creation of standardized, linked data. We leverage the kind of interoperable data the flows freely across the discipline only inasmuch as our works are largely open access and available for disaggregation. Instead, it leverages the breakdown of certain barriers present within the discipline, particularly between research and publishing, to expand the process of knowledge making and complicate the traditional black boxing of the publication process.
In short, we emphasize to our authors the opportunity to see knowledge making as extending from the earliest work in the archive or in the field all the way to its final presentation as a publication. In some cases, the Press is invited to participate as a publisher from the first efforts to conceptualize a project in much the same way that data archiving or publishing is now an expected part of a data management plan for any new research project. This integration allows us to work with authors to understand how best present their research and acknowledges that issues of presentation often have a direct impact on the perceived value of academic work.


To conclude, The Digital Press – and digital publishing practices in archaeology (and I’d propose in academia more broadly) – offers at least one way to think about the tension between the fragmenting of digital archaeological data and social practices at the core of knowledge making. The concept and practice of archaeological workflow in a digital environment has a social impact on our discipline. In publishing, digital tools and practices have contributed to a collaborative environment that is not grounded simply in the relative ease of using mainstream professional design tools and the basic interoperability of digital wordprocessors, but in the concomitant transformation in the social and professional context for creating new archaeological knowledge. Following the fragments of digital knowledge along the rhizomic streams connecting field practices to final publications challenges some of the traditional forms of organization that define archaeological work. The ease with which objects, human remains, and even buildings can move through digital media demonstrates, at some level, how digital workflows can transform the social and disciplinary limits on archaeological practice. This work to reterritorialize the digital workflows goes beyond producing a digital object with the familiar form of a book and extends to attempting to re-create the convivial spaces of premodern craft in an effort to wrest archaeological knowledge from the flow of fragmented data. In the end, the Digital Press aspires to contribute to the creation of new critical models for digital archaeology that both unpack by the black box of publishing and create a new, digitally mediated model for the production and dissemination of archaeological knowlege.

Flow and the Digital Press

For the last few weeks, I’ve been slogging through a revision and expansion of a paper that I gave last spring at the annual IEMA conference at Buffalo. It’s due at the end of the month, and right now, I’m starting to feel deadline pressure. 

Here’s my revised introduction.

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

Over the last two decades, there has been the growing use of the phrase ”digital workflow.” As you might expect, the Google ngram plot for this term looks like the proverbial hockey stick. The term ”workflow” has its roots in the language of early 20th century scientific management, and the notion of “digital workflow” appears to have first emerged at the turn of the 21st century in the field of publishing. In this context, digital workflow spawned a series of “how to” style books that described both the role of computer technology in the production of print media and the new way of organizing practice. Among archaeologists, the concept of digital workflow has emerged in the early 21st century with the widespread use of digital tools, technologies, and practices in the discipline, and, as a result, digital workflow has come to occupy a distinct place within archaeological methodology.

This paper considers the idea of a ”digital workflow” in the context of archaeological publishing. Recent work on archaeological writing and publishing has started to explore the reciprocal relationship between archaeological work and the publication process. Ian Hodder considered how the character and structure of archaeological description and narration shape the kinds of arguments possible in the field (Hodder 1989). This anticipated a growing emphasis on craft in archaeological knowledge production with work on illustration, for example, demonstrating the embodied nature of the processes of translating archaeological knowledge from the field to the published page (Morgan and Wright 2018). This finds ready parallels with recent critiques of archaeological photography that have recognized how media affordances shaped the kind of arguments that archaeologists make from their data (Gartski 2017). With the emergence of digital practices in archaeological field work, scholars have come to understand the data produced through a growing range of digital tools required thoughtful curation and, increasingly, publication under the terms of various federal grants. As a result, archaeologists have started to extend the notion of archaeological workflow from data collection in the field to the archiving and dissemination of data on platforms like Open Context, TiDAR, or the ADS.

This move among archaeologists will have, I propose, wide ranging impacts on the nature of archaeological publishing especially as academic publishing itself has entered a period of considerable change. Most large academic publishers now have digital publishing platforms of various descriptions and have supported various efforts at creating more dynamic and interactive ways to engage with archaeological description, interpretation, analysis and data. The best known and perhaps most innovative of these is the University of Michigan’s recent publication of the Mid-Republican House at Gabii. While this work received some significant criticism from reviewers for the limits of its functionality, the authors have been commendably reflexive in the motivations and processes surrounding its development (Optiz 2018). Publishers have also sought to embrace Open Access publishing models as pressure from authors, libraries, and institutions has sought to make publicly funded research more widely available, remove profit margins from the consideration of academic work, and pushed back against escalating prices for library resources. These initiatives often inform the development of new publishing platforms — like Luminos from the University of California Press, Fulcrum from the University of Michigan Press, and PubPub from MIT. In some cases, such as the Manifold platform from the University of Minnesota Press, these platforms are open to new compositional strategies for authors that expand the character of the academic books as living documents susceptible to revision and to accommodating responses within their fabric. These significant changes to publishing intersect with a growing reflexivity in archaeological workflow to create the potential for new ways of understanding archaeological knowledge making.

This chapter offers my modest contributions to these conversations based on two things. First, I have two slightly unusual points of departure. One is a passage from an article by Michael Given in which he applies Ivan Illich’s idea of conviviality to an understanding of the premodern agricultural landscape of Cyprus (Given 2017, 2018). Illich proposed his idea of conviviality as a way to describe the creativity that arose from the fluid interaction and interdependence between individuals in the premodern world, and he articulated it as a critique of an impoverished modern condition. Toward the end of the article, Given suggested that a convivial collaboration between archaeological specialists from soil scientists to ceramicists, bioarchaeologists, architectural historians, and field archaeologists would produce a deeper understanding of the convivial landscape in which premodern Cypriots lived (Given 2017, 140). My first reading of that passages was relatively uncharitable (Caraher 2019, 374-375). Illich’s notion of conviviality was anti-modern and attempting to reconcile this idea with the assembly line practice of archaeological work and specialization seemed as doomed to fail as the plantation style sugar works established by the Venetian colonizers on Cyprus’s south coast. If convivial relationships mapped the seamless sociability of premodern production, specialization and workflows created Frankenstein creatures which have the superficial appearance of reality, but are, in fact, mottled monsters of recombined fragments (in the vague sense of Freeman 2010).

At the same time that I was thinking about Illich and Given, I read Anna Tsing’s work, The Mushroom at the End of the World (2015) and Deborah Cowen’s work on logistics, The Deadly Life of Logistics (2014). Both books, in their own ways, describe the fluid of movement of people, things, and capital around the world. They explore the tension between the local and the global, places and movement, and the Deluezian “dividual” and the Enlightenment individual (Deleuze 1992). While Cowen’s work is, as the title suggests, practical and pessimistic in tone, Tsing’s work offers the rhizomic world of the matsutake mushroom holding forth the “possibilities of life in capitalist ruins.” She draws freely (and playfully) upon Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas of deterritorialization and flow adding a new conceptual layer to our concept of workflow (Deleuze and Guattari xxxx). While I dread bringing too much theory to this chapter, I do think that Deleuze and Guattari offers a way to understand Given’s use of conviviality as a rather radical way to conceptualize the reterritorialization (perhaps the recoding) of modern archaeological knowledge making. This chapter will swing back and forth between these two poles and offer both an angst-filled critique of archaeological practice as well as some more optimistic reflections on why maybe Michael Given was right (and maybe I knew that all along) and convivial social practices in archaeology are possible, even in our digital age.

The second pillar supporting my arguments in this chapter is my experience founding and operating a small university press, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, which I co-founded about five years ago. At the risk of being solipsistic or self-referential, my experiences talking with authors, book makers, archaeologists, and other publishers has helped me to formulate ways of producing books that bring them closer to the convivial practices associated with archaeological work. To be clear: The Digital Press is small with no permanent staff; our budget is based exclusively on the generosity of donors and a slow drip of paper book sales; and we have no experience in the publishing industry at any level. These things are both features and bugs. On the one hand, we had no expectation for how a press should work other than those that we had acquired as publishing scholars. We have also developed a strong sense of common ownership over the books that we have published with our authors. This has emboldened us to think about the Digital Press as a model for other publishing projects in the digital era. On the other hand, we do rely more heavily on the experiences and energies of our authors than a conventional press and this has not only complicated certain features common to academic publishing, including peer review, but also created a greater professional burden for our authors (and, indeed, our publisher) in an environment already crowded with obligations. In short, this chapter is not offering The Digital Press as the model for the future of publishing, but rather offers our experiences as an example for how the landscape of academic production is changing.

Audience, Expertise, and Professional Development: Notes from the Northern Great Plains History Conference

Last week, I trekked northward to Brandon, Manitoba to participate in a panel on public history at the Northern Great Plains History conference. The drive across the Manitoba prairie was during harvest was scenic, the panel was well-attended, and the audience and fellow historians offered some thought-provoking questions that I’ve been chewing on for the last few days.

In truth, each of these issues probably deserves its own blog post, but since I’m already a bit overstimulated this week, I’ll just set out three of the main themes that intrigued me the most. The panel itself was a round table and rather than consisting of individual papers, participants gave short introductions to their work and its key themes and the rest developed through conversation with the audience. 

1. Audience and Activism. Nikki Berg Burin framed her brief remarks around the idea of audience for work in activist, public history. Berg Burin is involved in the anti-human trafficking and anti-slavery movement and has a long simmering project designed to raise awareness and encourage activism around trafficking in North Dakota. At first, she explain, the idea was to produce a zine-like publication targeted to a wide audience through North Dakota libraries. As this idea developed, however, she began to think that a publication targeted toward groups already interested in related issues might be a more useful way to expand awareness and encourage a more nuanced and sophisticated debate surrounding these pressing issues.

This got me thinking about how the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota understands  audiences for its work. What distinguishes us from conventional academic publishing is that we do very little with academic libraries, which historically provide the largest audience for academic books and generally – at least in the fields of history and archaeology – purchase close to half of the print run of any conventional academic publication. Because we don’t market our books too academic libraries, they tend to get into the hands of individual readers, primarily as downloads, but also as individual purchases via Amazon.  

How these readers find out about Digital Press books is largely through social media and the web rather than conventional catalogues or advertising. This means that most work at our press already has a target audience both developed and made manifest in social media. This isn’t to suggest that conventional publishers don’t also leverage social media and the web to promote and disseminate their work, but rather to suggest that marketing a scholar’s book is often part of the added value associated with conventional publishing. While we all indicate in our proposals (and in some cases follow-up questionnaires) the audience for our works when dealing with conventional publishers, I’ve never encountered a meaningful conversation with a publisher concerning how the relationship between our intended audience, the arguments that we make, and the marketing strategy that we develop to get our book to readers.

This isn’t to say that a press like the Digital Press always gets this right, but Nikki Berg Burin’s remarks this weekend emphasized to me that collaborative publishing models might allow us to develop in more meaningful ways how we understand the relationship between the books that we publish and the audiences that we want to reach and activate.

2. Expertise. During the conversation this past week, we were asked how we asserted our expertise as public facing scholars when dealing with an audience who has become increasingly skeptical of (if not hostile to) the value of expertise and experts in contemporary political and social life.

I have lots of ideas (some good and some not so great) about this, but I suspect that most skepticism toward expertise is part of the long tail of anti-intellectualism in American life and this, in turn, is a product of our own peculiar view of democracy and our growing awareness the the academic-military-industrial complex has been allowed to function unchecked for most of the preceding century with seemingly disastrous results. Those of us in the humanities have also become aware of how claims of expertise (thanks, Foucault, Said, and others!) have served to reinforce social divisions in our society, advance colonial agendas, and to assert political power.

Our scholarship often takes aim at the previous generation of experts in the name of liberation while compromising our own claims to a similar status. Our practical experience as academics, however, constantly shows how our eagerness to defend our status as experts runs belies the superficial character of our own knowledge. Many of us recognize that expertise is less tied to a particular skills, sensitivities, erudition, and accomplishments and more bound up in performative gestures informed as much by gender, race, status, position, and other social and institutional constructs as any measurable degree of academic or professional attainment.

To be blunt: It’s much easier for a white male at Harvard to be an expert than for an African American female from an HBCU. This has nothing to do with our abilities or accomplishments and everything to do with race and gender.

In fact, a good bit of the professionalization process in graduate school revolves around teaching our students how to act like experts. This means showing them how to write the “I got the goods” footnote, reinforcing the methodological, historiographical, and practical foundations of a common disciplinary knowledge, demonstrating the professional reciprocity that supports mutual recognition of academic authority (game recognizing game), and explaining to them that giving a talk at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens as a graduate student with braids may seem awesome, but undermines your cause.

These very same processes, of course, also produce – seemingly by design – the feeling of “impostor syndrome” that wrack most faculty throughout their careers. Indeed, feeling like an impostor is often seen as a crisis of confidence to be mitigated or a “syndrome” that must be treated or suppressed. I tend to see it as the festering of a persistent awareness that academic expertise is not what it seems. The presence of impostors among us is a reminder: expertise is not the unproblematic and even virtuous product of our training and the meritocracy, but a crass assertion of power. The more virtuous among us hope that our assertion of expertise will produce a better world, but for most of us, it also leaves behind the nagging sense that while we were speaking, we weren’t listening, understanding, or collaborating.

We’re left to wonder whether there really is a baby in the bath water. 

3. Professional Recognition and Public Humanities. We had a few questions about how various departments (and our fields in general) recognized our work as public facing scholars. This seemingly anticipated a much tweeted about article from this weekend’s Chronicle of Higher Education that worried that many pre-tenure faculty were not being advised to follow a professional path that leads to tenure. In the context of this article and conversations in our panel, this means writing peer-reviewed, specialist publication for an academic audience rather than outreach and other less conventional practices. 

Considering the theme of the panel, it was easy to juxtapose specialist knowledge produced through academic literature which gains purchase among professionals against public facing work which has a wider audience and ideally more social impact. This juxtaposition, as I’ve framed it here, is a bit lazy and unfair, of course, because most of us hope that our scholarly work can find a wider audience in some way and see outreach beyond academia as really the only criteria by which our work can and should be measured. At the same time, many departments have become dependent on acceptance of original, peer-reviewed scholarship at top-tier journals and presses as a reliable proxy for academic quality and significance. These publication, in turn, become the basis for tenure and promotion decisions.

In contrast, public history and public scholarship tends to exist a more murky space. Critics fret that public facing scholarship sometimes lack peer review. In some cases, useful public  scholarship eschews originality for more accessible synthetic statements. There’s a persistent suspicion that prolific public facing scholars often have distinctive skills that range from understanding the vagaries of public taste to the ability to write in an appealing and accessible way and even personal patronage networks that open-submission and peer-reviewed seek to ignore.

While these concerns are legitimate, they seem to be more on the surface these days because academia is changing. I’d argue that austerity has put particular pressure on the humanities to assert our value to a wider, public audience by reaching out to our communities and looking beyond our disciplinary and professional borders. At the same time, we’re being squeezed in what increasing feels like zero sum game out our institutions. We are expected not only to compete with our colleagues on a level playing field but also to compete across our institutions for access to resources and support. This exposes us to two pressures. On the one hand, public facing scholarship is a remarkably diverse and ranges from personal blogs to popular publications with massive circulations. In contrast to how most universities understand academic scholarship, it is very difficult to understand the impact and quality of public scholarship because these publications often lack both the imprimatur of peer review as well as the kind of quantitative impact factors that institutions are increasingly using to evaluate faculty performance across disciplines. In short, scholars who work in public humanities often are at a disadvantage on their campuses with those who invest in traditional scholarship because the metrics used to understand academic productivity tend to simplify academic output.  

This creates a curious and not entirely innocent paradox, as we’re being pushed to do more public facing scholarship and to justify our place on campus, our institutions are doubling down on practices that at best ignore and at worst devalue such work in the competition for increasingly scarce institutional resources. The practices of assessing impact factors, valuing peer review, and creating quantitative models for mapping productivity across campus are celebrated as efforts to level the playing field, to reinforce the meritocracy, and to protect public investment against deadwood faculty and programs who coast along protected by tenure. At the same time, these systems are profoundly biased against the kind of outward facing work that disciplines and professional organizations have encouraged us to value and pursue. 

This is a catch-22. If we pursue public facing work more vigorously, we might attract the appreciation of our communities and our professional organizations, but we also move outside of the system designed to measure and evaluation productivity. If we double down on professional and scholarly work that will be rewarded at our institutions, we often find ourselves writing specialized work for narrow professional audiences that gets criticized by the wider public and indulgent, irrelevant, navel-gazing. This, in turn, reinforced a view of the humanities as a luxury that should not be supported on the public dime.  

There is no simple solution for this outside large-scale disciplinary and institutional change. This is hard, slow work filled with the risk of unintentional consequences, but as the humanities enter a period of existential crisis, it certainly seems worth pursuing. 

Some Little Notes from The Digital Press

While the release of Dakota Datebook: North Dakota Stories from Prairie Public has gotten most of the attention, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota (and our partners) have been doing a good bit behind the scenes work this month.

First, if you’re a Grand Forkler, be sure to stop by the Prairie Pubic table on the Greenway Takeover this Sunday. I’ve been told they’ll have the Dakota Datebook for sale, and this is the very fancy, glossy-paged, and hefty feeling Prairie Public version. If you like to have read what you’re buying or just want the book without all the festival-ness, go here

[As an side, apparently Everclear is playing the Greenway Takeover on Saturday night. Who knew that they still existed (and with their original line-up!)?]

Second, and perhaps more inside-baseball, we have DOIs for almost all of our books now! These are persistent identifiers for digital documents (digital object identifiers) which resolve to our archive in the University of North Dakota’s digital repository. Ideally, UND and their archive partner will keep the DOIs resolving to whatever URL marks their place in the repository ensuring that our books will always be found.

We recognize that UND’s archive provider is part of a firm that is not always a super awesome partner to higher education (despite their mutual dependency). So, we’ve also archived our books in the Internet Archive. We also are happy to notice that many of our titles are also archived in various other institutional repositories around the web. We feel pretty confident that these books are here to stay.

Finally, we have two books that are ready to head to copy editing. This is pretty exciting for my little press because this year is the first year that we’ve started to stack production consistently. This means that we have books at almost all stages from authors who are just starting to write to books well into production. This not only gives us more confidence in the future of the press, but also allows us to plan, strategize, and adapt our workflow so that the author (and ideally, the reader) experience is better. Working with a scholar-led publisher is always going to be a unique and distinctive experience, and we think that our ability to adapt to different projects and contributors is part of our strength. At the same time, we recognize that our ability to be nimble should be grounded in really solid practices behind the scenes. We’re getting there!

Dakota Datebook Launch Party!

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is excited to announce the launch of Dakota Datebook: North Dakota Stories from Prairie Public edited by David Haeselin. Developed in collaboration with the University of North Dakota’s Writing, Editing, and Publishing program and in cooperation with Prairie Public Broadcasting, Dakota Datebook brings to the printed page some of the most memorably, inspiring, and humorous stories from Prairie Public’s iconic Dakota Datebook radio program. Download a digital copy for free from the Digital Press webpage or pre-order your copy from Prairie Public today!


On Saturday at 8 pm, The Digital Press and Prairie Public are hosting a launch part on board the Lewis and Clark Riverboat on the Missouri River in Bismarck. Various media personalities will be there, as will David Haeselin and some Dakota Datebook contributors. It should be a great time. To get tickets for the boat ride and to come and hang out with us go here.

For more on the boat, the book, and the party, check out Aaron Barth’s interview on Prairie Public’s Main Street on Monday.



A few more things from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota.

1. Busy Year! This will be one of the busiest years yet for The Digital Press with as many as five titles queued up to hit the website over the next 8 to 12 months. Late this fall, we’ll see the arrival of Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays. Stay tuned for a sneak preview of this. A book of essays from last fall’s Digital Approaches to Teaching the Ancient Mediterranean conference at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at NYU and edited by Sebastian Heath should appear by year’s end as well.

In the spring, we’re looking forward to publishing Kyle Conway’s innovative edited volume, Sixty Years of Boom and Bust which juxtaposes the 1958 Williston Report with perspectives on the 21st century boom penned some 60 years later. It’s a fascinating read. There should also be volume 3 of our collaboration with the journal Epoiesen and maybe some previews from our 2020-2021 season.

2. Subscriptions? So far, The Digital Press hasn’t done much to connect personally with our readers. We’d like to change that some. I’ve been tempted to offer a subscription service of sorts through an email list that will distribute our newest publications and occasional news direct to your inbox (as the kids say). I’d run it through MailChimp or some other service that would make it easy enough to unsubscribe or to opt out. I wouldn’t share your emails with anyone (although I might be tempted to use it to plug for my other little publishing venture, North Dakota Quarterly).

3. Promoting Open Access. I’ve been thinking a good bit about the larger mission to promote open access publishing in academia. One thing that I would love to do this year is to pay more attention to open access publishing in general (whether from mainstream academic presses or from more specialized open access publishing houses). I’d love to do an “Open Access Book of the Week” that highlights some of the high quality open access work appearing these days.

I’d also like to start to build another project. It’s called Cite Open Access. It would promote citing open access scholarship across all forms of scholarly publishing. My fantasy idea involves getting various artists to design simply, legible posters that say Cite Open Access on them (and I’d urge folks to use open access fonts and it would go without saying that the posters would be free downloads). Ideally, I could get libraries, open access publishers, “fellow travelers,” and other supporters of open access scholarly work to co-sponsor various posters. I’d then distribute digital copies of these posters and encourage folks to display them prominently on their campuses. Who’s in?

4. Internet Archive. Finally, I’ve uploaded almost all the content from The Digital Press to the Internet Archive this weekend. One of the many great things about the Internet Archive is that it automatically converts our PDFs into multiple formats. The automated system isn’t perfect, but it works well enough to make our content available for text mining or ebook readers!

Taco Terpstra’s Trade in the Ancient Mediterranean: Finished Review

In my effort to clear my plate before the semester gets under way next week, I finished my short review of Terpstra’s Trade in the Ancient Mediterranean for the Ancient History Bulletin. The book was pretty good and engaged ancient trade in a thoughtful and sophisticated way. 

Terpstra argued, in a nutshell, that the parallel rise of ancient states and ancient trade represents the complex interplay between trade and community in the ancient world. States do not so much protect the property rights of merchants and property owners, but create social and political conditions where groups and individuals could create ways to protect their economic interests. He looks at diaspora communities in the Classical Greek world, the messy overlap between political and economic interests among royal administrators in the Hellenistic Egypt, and witness lists on private contracts in the Roman Empire. As I note in my review, Terpstra’s argument gets a bit shaky when he attempts to extend it to the end of the Roman Empire in the 5th to 7th centuries AD. The transformation of the Ancient Mediterranean creates new forms of social and political relationships that both adapt and disrupt long-standing economic relationships. For many parts of the Mediterranean, the emergence of new social and religious groups as well as new states changed the context for economic relationships, but as archaeological evidence from the Eastern Mediterranean increasingly shows, many economic ties between communities persisted even after their political ties dissolved. 

If you’d like to read my entire review, go here.   

Despite these quibbles, this book represented another really impressive volume from Princeton University Press. Last week, I read Kyle Harper’s 2017 book The Fate of Rome (more on that here) which is another well-produced book from Princeton. When you add to their catalogue, Josh Ober’s The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (2015) and Eric Cline’s 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed (2015) Princeton has set the standard for well-produced, broadly accessible, and affordable books on the ancient world. The publisher in me admires their catalogue and the scholar in me wishes he had more time to read. 

Being Digitally Humane

Last week, I wrote a little piece drawing attention to Jeremy Huggett’s recent article in Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology titled “Resilient Scholarship in the Digital Age.” You can read it here. A few colleagues on the NDQ editorial board suggested that I tweak it a bit and post it to the NDQ blog partly because it evokes ideas that I originally started to play with in an essay that I published a few years ago in NDQ. Since I’m a slave to flattery, I worked on it a bit over the last day or so. Here’s a draft. I’ll tidy it up and run it for real at NDQ tomorrow.

In the latest issue of Ploughshares, Viet Thanh Nguyen states “literary change at the structural level will not happen without quantification. We will not be able to see how prejudiced our tastes are if we do not track who we are publishing and who we are hiring.” He recognizes, of course, that qualitative considerations have long held the center of literature and the humanities, but quantitative work allows us to recognize patterns of practice at scale.

Nguyen’s sensibilities feel jarring today (even to me as a scholar who move between qualitative and quantitive work in my own research) because the humanities so often find themselves between the twin pinchers of funding models that privilege STEM programs and the growing reach of the modern assessocracy who seeks to reduce all aspects of campus life to numbers (and then, at the end of the day, dollars). I have heard the subtle grumbles from my own editorial board when it comes to reducing the submissions and contributions to NDQ to numbers. I remain committed to tracking gender and genre across our submissions (race is harder, but national origin is relatively easy). I also recognize that a journal like NDQ needs to have a certain number of subscribers to survive, that the length of the journal is reckoned in the number of characters, and our webpage statistics is important to understand our reach, submission patterns, and popularity. (Facebook and Twitter drive most of the traffic to our site, so you should follow us there!) In most cases, my editors just ignore my quantitative ramblings, but some send snarky little emails. It’s fine. I get it.

Earlier this month one of may favorite scholars, Jeremy Huggett at Glasgow, published a piece in the Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology titled “Resilient Scholarship in the Digital Age.”  In it, he faces head on the tensions between the digital practices that bravely lately come to dominate the quantitative culture of our neoliberal universities and digital practices that we embrace in our academic work (and, in Huggett’s case, digital archaeology, but the broader digital humanities and social science apply here). The same digital tools that I employ to monitor the performance of the NDQ website and the diversity of our authors are used to assess the popularity of majors, rank the performance of faculty research and teaching, and distribute funds to programs. More than that, the blog on which your reading this piece, our digital archive, and even the digital version of NDQ that critiqued the university in this age of austerity, all offer a compromised experience compared to the paper copy of the Quarterly that is set to arrive in your mailbox later this fall. Even as I write this, I’ve been interrupted by emails, tracked down a wayward citation, and checked the time of the Phillies game tonight. My attention is regularly so divided through my digitally mediated work that while many things happen, fewer things get done, despite the ease with which I can communicate with publishing partners, co-authors, and my growing body of “born digital” data. As Huggett notes, the same tools that allow us to connect with our professional lives more easily also contribute to the “always on” culture and professional burn out.

Huggett’s paper doesn’t stop at critique, however. He concludes his article by asking is whether we can use the same tools and practices to build more resilient academic and professional communities. A similar question has haunted us as we have persisted with NDQ even after it seemingly terminal budget cuts. By leaning more heavily on digital tools and their relationship with quantification and, ultimately, the market, we have tried to create space for the journal to continue. In fact, we’ve argued that the persistence of NDQ serves as a kind of statement of resistance to the practices of the 21st century university and contemporary ways of measuring social and cultural value (see my essay in NDQ 85).  The humanities can not only play the commercial, digital, and market-driven game, but we can subvert it even as university administrators and public officials attempt to pull the rug out from under us.

There are risks to this approach, however. As we increasingly use bits, bytes, and digits to mediate our world, I feel increasingly concerned that we not confuse these things with the experiences, people, places, and relationships that the are supposed to represent.   

The Cost of Peer Review (and notes on open access publishing)

This past week there were some excited and interesting buzz about Sarah Bond’s post on open access resources for teaching on her blog. It’s a nice post and makes the point that open access scholarship isn’t just “a movement, but also an ideology.” That’s a great sentiment.

As with all ideologies (and movements), their value is not just in what they represent or the ideas behind them, but in their execution. Open access publishing faces significant economic and structural challenges that will shape the nature of scholarly publishing (open and otherwise) in the future. I’ve proposed that one way to make open access publishing more viable is to recognize the basic economies of small-scale, distributed, scholar-led open publishing are not the same as a commercial (even a non-profit) press. In other words, certain elements of publishing do not scale in a consistent economic way and this provides an opportunity for small presses with limited resources and the focused publishing goals of most scholar-led publishing. The costs of marketing, archival infrastructure, distribution, and production remain, but the growing ecosystem of print-on-demand technology, institutional and collective repositories, targeted social media marketing, and low cost production workflows makes it possible for a micro-press to survive and even thrive without a big budget or sustaining funds. One can even imagine a future where small or mid-sized academic publishing outfits collaborate to promote their collective work. 

The model for small-scale, distributed, scholar-led academic publishing involves rethinking a good bit of what it means to publish in an academic setting. Scholar-led publishing might productively complicate the already blurry lines between research, writing, and publishing. Scholars (and academic departments) used to recognizing high-quality scholarship by the mark of a traditional, high-prestige publisher may have to expand their perspectives to include a wider range of more diverse outlets. We might even have to consider the relative value of certain publishing standards whether it our preference for paper (and its corresponding prestige), the form of the monograph, or the standards of citation, copy editing, and production. In short, the decentralization of publishing that may accompany the rise of open access academic presses will require us to change how we understand both the production and consumption of new knowledge    

This broader conversation almost always turns in some way toward peer review. As publishing has changed, scholars have clung increasingly to peer review as fundamental to the project of academic knowledge making. Historically, this is, of course, true. At the same time, peer review has endured any number of recent critiques, and some valuable efforts to create new standards of transparency. It remains unclear, however, how peer review will work with new publishing models that emphasize collaboration throughout the publishing process or represent visible, iterative approaches to writing and research. Certain approaches to collective and collaborative knowledge making will undoubtedly complicate when and where peer review should or could occur in the process.  

One assumption that has come to the fore recently is that peer review is free at least from the perspective of the reviewing scholar (who are rarely compensated or compensated at a very low rate) and the scholar under review. In fact, some scholars have refused to review for journals published by larger, for-profit, publishing companies (Elsevier or Springer, for example), and, I understand that. Reviewing an article for publication and then realizing that your library doesn’t subscribe to that journal and that you’d have to purchase the article fo $45 feels like a violation of some kind of academic reciprocity. Reviewing a manuscript is a ton of work and it’s hard to perform this kind of academic service while knowing that someone somewhere sees our willingness to do this kind of work for free as part of “shareholder value.” (I review too much and recently I’ve followed the lead of some of my colleagues and decided to review no more than a dozen manuscripts or grant proposals a year. I always ask for a copy of the article or book when it appears and rarely receive one.) 

As a small publisher, however, I’ve started to see peer review a bit differently. It’s not actually free for the press and part of the reciprocal relationship between the reviewer and the publisher  is manifest in the process (rather than simply the outcome). This year my small press has had four manuscripts and two proposals out for review. I’m very fortunate to have generous, thoughtful, and collegial reviewers for all these works despite having very little to offer the reviewer, up front, in exchange for their work.

At the same time, it is naive to think that the peer review process does not have a cost. Since my press deals largely with book length manuscripts and we attempt to limit our publication schedule to four books per year, we do not have the scale to leverage submission management software to streamline our reviews. As a result, the press corresponds with each reviewer individually. We also seek to work with a diverse range of reviewers in terms of academic rank, gender, experience, expertise, and perspective. This means recognizing and understanding the competing obligations that reviewers have in their professional lives, being patient with deadlines, structuring the reviews to prevent the reviewers from doing unnecessary or duplicated work, and keeping tabs on often over-extended reviewers for whom a review can all too easily slip through the cracks of their busy lives. Once we receive the reviews, we also read them carefully for clarity and negotiate different reviewing preferences which range from long-form essays in a single document, to notes in an email, line-by-line commentaries, and comments inserted into the manuscript itself. Because reviewers have distinctive workflows and pressures on their time, we do all we can to respect their style of review. We then compile the reviews into a single document to both ensure that the reviewers remain anonymous and also to smooth redundancy. We also prepare for the authors a summery of the reviewers’ statements in an effort to communicate the press’s perspective on the most significant critiques. Most of our books circulate to three or more reviewers. 

All told, the review process alone accounts for close to 25% of the energy and time that the press puts into a manuscript. Circulating manuscripts for review have other costs to the press as well. First, there’s always a chance that a manuscript is rejected entirely. Since the press works closely with many authors from well before a manuscript goes for review, this entails risk and a commitment of resources that may or may not result in a publication. Secondly, peer review itself is a process that can be very irregular. Peer reviewers have complicated careers and lives and reviews often cannot be completed on a fixed schedule. (It’s interesting that some larger open access now are asking the peer reviews be returned in 7 days in an effort to streamline workflow). Once reviews go to the authors, the revision process will also vary depending upon the reviews and the schedules of the author. All this variability means that things like copy editing, production, and marketing for a new title must remain flexible, but this flexibility entails costs. High quality, reasonably priced copy editors often have tight schedules and getting a manuscript in a queue can be difficult. Marketing, particular at the annual meetings of professional organization, is often arranged months and months in advance so a missed deadline means marketing dollars that don’t align with the appearance of a publication.

None of these challenges diminish the academic or intellectual value of peer review, but I wonder if it changes the equation a bit when thinking about peer review as reciprocal practice. From the perspective of a small press, peer review is not something that we take for granted from our reviewers because it’s not free for us. The book, on the other hand, will be free. This expanded view of reciprocity reflects the kind of change in thinking that new publishing models will require. It is unlikely to make everyone happy —as the kidz say, “reciprocity doesn’t pay the rent” — but some shifts in both expectation and the structural understanding of the publication process seems necessary to produce a successful and sustainable open access model.

Sneak Peek: The Dakota Datebook Project

For the last six months, David Haeselin, his students, the folks at Prairie Public Broadcasting, and the folks at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota have been working on creating a book version of the popular Prairie Public radio program, Dakota Datebook.

Dakota Datebook WRC Draft8 Final6x9 3 01

The students in David Haeselin’s Writing, Editing, and Publishing class identified and copy edited the 365 of over 3000 potential essays available to include in the book-length version of Dakota Datebook. They copy-edited these texts, standardized the language, and made sure that the book version reflected the diversity of the radio program. The Digital Press did layout and design and worked with local artist Jessie Thorson for cover art. 

The book is finally done and we really want to share it with everyone. In fact, we’re so excited about the release of this book and the collaboration that produced it, we’re inviting everyone to a book release party aboard the Lewis and Clark Riverboat in Bismarck on August 24th at 8 pm. Register to attend the book launch or preorder the book from this website. For more on the book go here.

If you want a sneak peek of the book, click here, but don’t tell anyone because the book doesn’t drop officially until late August!