Three Things about Publishing

This is a big week for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. The first in a pair of fall releases happens tomorrow with another on schedule for mid-November. My colleague David Pettegrew and I are also wrapping up page proofs from our Oxford Handbook project.

Because I’ve been thinking about publishing and digital publishing a good bit lately. As I’ve noted before, the work of thinking about how a book is designed, laying out a book, and reviewing proofs, provides ample opportunities to think about how books and publishing work on a practical level.

Lately, I’ve thought about three things:

1. Collaboration. One of the great things about The Digital Press is that I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with some many good people. It is remarkable to me that so many scholars want a more hands-on involvement in the publishing process. The scholar with whom my press has worked are interested in fonts, margins, cover pages, and layouts. More than that, they’re interested in contributing actively to the process of moving a work from an idea, to a document in a word processor to a set of page proofs and to a finished book. 

The willingness and interest in the process of publishing suggests that there is a growing realization that publishing isn’t just what happens to a finished work when the hard work of thinking and writing is done, but extends through the process of designing, presenting, and even marketing the work. The collaborative spirit of the press serves the break down the barrier between author and publisher and not only give authors greater control over their work, but also challenges the idea of publishing as a commercial enterprise that acquires the rights of an author’s work in exchange for the work and risk associated with producing a published object. While I believe that commercial, academic, small, and large publishers should always exist for there to be a healthy publishing ecosystem, readers of this blog know that I’m also committed to models and modes of publishing that hybridize and complicate the current system. 

2. The Digital Page. Over the past year, I’ve thought a good bit about what the digital page looks like. On the one hand, the web page, coded in HTML and laced with hyperlinks, has a long tradition of standing as quintessential digital page. On the other hand, the development of the codex page in the analog book is deeply embedded in our intellectual and cultural world. From our system of academic citation to the prevailing metaphor of the “page” as a tool to present information, the page remains a useful way to think about how we communicate knowledge.

Of course, the digital page has its challenges. My preference remains to use the PDF as the basic way to publish new knowledge. The PDF is not the most elegant or dynamic platform, but it shares the basic structure with paper books and represents the kind of hybrid digital/analog space that allows readers to move seamlessly from digital to print media. This does, however, involve certain sacrifices. For example, the digital page does not like columns or densely spaced text blocks. In my experience, narrower text blocks with generous margins and line spacing work better on screen and across devices. Not all fonts move between the analog and digital with equal grace.

The downside of these compromises is that sometimes the analog page looks a bit simple and brash in order to make the digital page feel comfortable and easy to read.

3. Thinking about Digital Publishing in Archaeology. I’m pretty excited to have been invited to the 2019, Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Buffalo next spring. The topic is Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age and I’ll present a paper titled “Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology: Data, Workflows, and Books in the Age of Logistics.”

I’m not entirely sure what this paper will be about, but my hope is that it extends from the paper that I’ve been toiling on for the European Journal of Archaeology which is playing with post-industrial metaphors in digital archaeological practice. I hope that this can be effectively extended to how we think about the book as the goal of the archaeological workflow and how changes in digital practices has complicated any implicit linearity to the course of archaeological work.

Three Things Thursday

It’s Thursday and the week is racing toward its inevitable conclusion. I have three quick things on my mind as I struggle to get focused enough to push through teaching and a writing day tomorrow before a weekend full of layout for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota

There’s a lot going on in the world, and most of it seems bad (or frankly terrifying). From the Kavanaugh hearings to Presidential alert buzzing my phone yesterday, it feel like all I can do is bury myself in either esoteric nonsense or projects that I feel like I can control. These introduce enough clutter to my brain to keep me from becoming too preoccupied, demoralized, or panicked. Maybe this kind of escapism, when recognized at scale, is part of the problem with society; maybe, for some of us, it’s the only way to stay sane. I worry that my own inability to deal effectively with what’s going on in society today is symptomatic of the problem.   

That being said, I will keep doing even if it looks more and more like I’m fiddling while Rome burns…

1. NDQ Volume 85. I am excited that the first volume of North Dakota Quarterly under my term as “Editor-in-Chief” has gone off to the copy editor. This will be a interstitial volume between NDQ publishing as an independent publisher and as an independent “little magazine” published by the University of Nebraska Press (UNP) (this is an open secret still and there hasn’t been an official announcement yet). In other words, NDQ is out of the publishing business, but still in the content producing business. This is good for us financially and in terms of workload. University of Nebraska Press has production capacity and economies of scale in terms of printing and distribution. It means that I can focus my attention on working with our genre editors on content and with Nebraska to expand our readership, contributors, and subscribers. 

The publication date for this, if we can get it into UNP’s hands by November 1, will be early 2019, which isn’t too far from the 2018 date for the volume.  

2. Digital Ephemera and the Archive. One of the interesting things that has come out of the conversation with University of Nebraska Press is the digital future for NDQ. As a public humanities and literary journal (as if these two things were really different), I always have felt that it was more than ephemera. As such, I pushed for the digital archive of NDQ to be made available via the HathiTrust and had always seen both paper and digital distribution and archiving to be part of the journal’s future. In fact, I had imagined that digital subscriptions, particularly for our institutional subscribers, might be more appealing and easier to manage. In effect, I had imagined that the digital form of NDQ would be the archival format and the paper format would be more ephemeral.

This, of course, represents a pretty significant inversion of how I’ve seen publishing. It used to be that paper versions of books and journals were for the archive because the material nature of paper made it relatively easy to preserve when compared to the changing nature of bits and bytes. Today, however, paper appears more and more as a novelty or for the sake of nostalgia or for reasons completely separate from its traditional place as an archival medium. People discuss the feeling of a book, its scent, and even the way in which paper helps us engage the text in a less distracted way.

The digital form is the archive, which I suppose makes some sense, as most of our publications today are born digital.  

3. Bakken and The Digital Press. One of the little things that have vexed me about Amazon.com (among the many, but this was a little one), is that it never connected my two books on the Bakken through it’s “Frequently bought together” feature. 

It was pleasant surprise this week, then, when I noticed that The Bakken and The Bakken Goes Boom were finally connected. It is now possible to buy both The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape (2017) and The Bakken Goes Boom (2016) together for less then $30. That’s less than ONE DOLLAR a day or less than your favorite coffee at Starbucks.

I was sort of bummed to hear that The Bakken wasn’t selling very well (or it was selling well, but in very low numbers). I think of it as a kind of accessible experiment in understanding complex, industrial landscapes. Even if you aren’t super interested in the Bakken, maybe you’ll be interested in my approach:

IMG A908BF4B5F47 1

 

 

Three Thing Wednesday

It the time of the week (and frankly, semester) where the best I can do is muster three quick thoughts for the ole bloggeroo.

1. Inspiration. In my historical methods class yesterday, we read Michelet and discussed historical writing that sought to convey the emotional power to inspire readers and create the powerful emotional bonds that often define nationalism. My class was singularly unimpressed with Michelet’s project and declared him biased, unprofessional, and (in classic North Dakota style) arrogant. (Reader’s note: In North Dakota, arrogance is a blanket term to describe anyone who does anything in a way that deviates from fairly narrow norms. The assumption is that personal motivations and a sense of individual superiority are the only possible reason to be different. Standing out is the same as standing above and is a moral flaw.)  

This got me thinking about whether I do enough as a teacher (and, here, I’m thinking about UND in particular) to inspire our students. We do well to instill within our students a kind of a sense of confidence in the organization of the university and the curriculum. Students dutifully fulfill requirements, advance through majors, and achieve credentials. In fact, the confidence in the structured experience of credentialing is sufficient that many programs are concocting certificates, minors, and, there’s even talk of “badges” that indicate an individual has fulfilled the requirements for a particular program. The more of these credentials that exist, the more they structure how a student engages with a curriculum and forms expectations of performance and achievement. In such an environment, there is little room for the kind of individual or personal experiences evoked by Michelet, in part, because such experiences fit awkwardly within a curriculum that emphasizes the achievement of certain credentials that have explicit and often quantifiable benchmarks. In this context, experiences like self discovery, inspiration, and, even just chance, are, at best, epiphenomenal to the accomplishment of a common goal, and, at worst, a distraction or complicating factor that requires streamlining. 

In other words, as higher education becomes more formalized, structured, and quantifiable, it also leaves less room for inspiration, contingency, and inspiration. To paraphrase a colleague of mine in music, this song achieves its intended goals because every note is where I learned to put it in class. I need to do more to challenge this view of education in my students. 

2. Open Access. I had a nice chat with a colleague the other day about open access publishing in archaeology. She made the point that many graduate students or early-career academics can’t afford the time (or the risk) to do what I’ve done and start an open access press. In fact, many of them can’t even necessarily afford to publish in open access journals or series because many of these journals rank lower than their limited access counterparts and universities have come to rely more and more on the reputation of journals (some of which are from commercial publishers) to vouch for the quality of academic work. These are understandable and real problems for open access scholarship.

There are, however, some solutions that do not involve taking a risk by publishing in a new, untested, or less well-established, open access publication. Cite open access publications in your work. One of the key metrics for establishing the quality of a journal or publisher is, for better or for worse, citation counts in other quality publications. There are plenty of high quality open access publications that contribute to a wide range of fields. If you want to promote open access publishing, be sure to include these in your footnotes, citations, and bibliographies!  

3. Extended Intelligence. I need to get back to revising the ramshackle paper that I pre-circulated prior to the EAA meeting. It was not terrible, but it had – as the kids say – a lot going on. I would like to develop a bit more fully the sections on “logistics,” “assemblages,” and the archaeological “supply chain.”  In particular, I’d like to tie it a bit more closely to the concept of transhumanism and a transhuman archaeology. 

Yesterday, I stumbled across some of Joichi Ito’s work on extended intelligence and think that it offers an appealing hook for understanding how networked intelligence leverages the rhetoric (and technology) of logistics to transform and expand the very concept of thinking, knowing, and even in some cases feeling and experiencing (check out this rather extensive bibliography of the work of the MIT Affective Computing group). I’m not sure how much of this will make it into the final draft of the paper, but Ito’s reading of Norbert Wiener’s Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (1954). As quoted by Ito, Wiener opined:

Those who uphold the idea of progress as an ethical principle regard this unlimited and quasi-spontaneous process of change as a Good Thing, and as the basis on which they guarantee to future generations a Heaven on Earth. It is possible to believe in progress as a fact without believing in progress as an ethical principle; but in the catechism of many Americans, the one goes with the other.”

 

 

Publishing Hybrids

One of the best parts of book production is that it’s a pretty intensive operation. Once a book going into typesetting, it tends to occupy all of my attention until layout is complete. In my experience, layout does not accommodate multitasking and any interruption (four-legged or otherwise) invariably leads to mistakes, delays, and problems. (And as someone who is not prone to be attentive to details, even the smallest interruption (like searching for a new album or fixing a little problem) can let an error slip into the final text.

In short, the attention required to layout and produce a book is, for me at least, delightfully un-modern, despite the fact that it usually involves sitting in front of a computer rather than setting movable type. This experience got me thinking (once again) about the modern publishing process as a distinctly hybrid process. This hybridity, at least for me, emerges both from my process and from the nature of publishing in a digital world. 

Here are three quick thoughts (before I have to put the final touches on a book!):

1. Publishing as Craft. My colleague down at the NDSU Press takes students in her publishing class to work with a series of letterpresses and movable type presses in Braddock, ND. The point of the trip, from what I gather, is to emphasize the craft aspects of publishing which stem from the deep integration of all aspects of book making from the moment a manuscript comes into our hands as publisher to the moment it leaves as a completed book. Of course, in practice, most publishers outsource various aspects of book making – from copy editing and review to layout and design – but generally this outsourcing happens internally with the publisher maintaining control over the process. 

With the re-emergence in small-scale publishing, like The Digital Press, the publisher – as an individual rather than as a corporate entity – takes on even greater control over the entire production process. Moreover, with digital publishing, even the most frequently outsources function of the publication process – printing – tends to be done in-house. In other words, digital work, despite its tendency to fragment processes into bite (byte!) sized entities also encourages the processes of publishing to be more smoothly integrated with, for example, editing, design, typesetting, and printing all taking place in the same digital environment (and often at the same workstation!). This kind of integration is typical to craft practice and challenges a view (that I myself have spouted) that digital practices tend toward dis-integration and the logic of the assembly line or the supply-chain.

2. Finding Focus. I’ve been playing with various little applications for my phone that encourage me to remain focused. I have a busy fall semester and my attention span, which is fragile in the best of circumstances, is doing me no favors (while I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve checked the football scores, responded to two emails, let the yellow dog in and out twice, had a brief conversation with my wife, and reflected on the absence of interesting “Explorer-type” watches from micro brands). While my writing process, which focuses on sentence level execution, tends to endure my scattered approach to life, integrated workflows like typesetting and layout suffer when I get distracted. (Just forwarded another email to colleague…)

For example, texts have flows. Each section of text has to work with every other section. Chapters start on odd number pages, so each section must have an odd number of pages. The first page of each chapter, should have the same design, which means that the most complicated chapter title and the least complicated chapter title must all work within one’s design parameters. Changing one chapter title, for example, requires that we change ALL the chapter titles. Changing one element of layout must extended to the entire book. A change in one section cascades through the entire production flow. Blank pages must be added or removed to make sure that the spread aligns with the binding (for tightly-perfect bound books, the inner gutters and margins must accommodate the binding) and that chapters begin on odd number pages. 

This process requires sustained attention because any change must be reproduced the same way throughout the book. Modern layout and production software does help streamline this process of course, but since every manuscript, section, and text will be slightly different, there is inevitably small adjustments that must be made by hand. For example, a text block might be extended a few millimeters to prevent an orphan line or a hyphenated word eliminated if it causes confusion or a strange rhythm in the text body.

All this requires focus because each change ripples through the entire manuscript. It is a distinctly un-modern kind of focus that reminds me a bit of archaeological work at the end of a field season when things must be done in a particular order to a particular deadline. Even the most efficient project likely finds that certain tasks must fall to the project directors who are responsible for the field season and its results. 

3. Digital and Print. The main project that I am working on right now is Eric Burin’s Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent and Patriotism in 21st Century America.  This is, on the one hand, an edited volume with over 20 individual contributions. On the other hand, Dr. Burin’s introduction runs to over 80 pages in the book and close to 20,000 words (without citations). This is a mini-monograph. 

Dr. Burin’s introduction also includes over 350 hyperlinks that stand in for footnotes or other citation systems. This is appropriate for the topic, Colin Kaepernick’s protests during NFL games and the subsequent events, that is being reported in the online, mass media and is still pretty lightly covered in traditional printed academic sources.  

Unfortunately, as I have discussed elsewhere, hyperlinks are a less than ideal mode of citation for academic work. First, they only work in online, digital contexts where the reader can click on the link and go to a resource. Second, they tend to be fragile even in a digital context and break down as media-makers disappear or social media accounts are deleted. Third, if the account is deleted or the webpage removed from the live internet, it becomes difficult to identify the author, context, or even topic of the reference from the hyperlink alone. Unlike a traditional citation that is both humanly and machine readable (ideally), hyperlinks send readers to a web address and may or may not offer much information on the nature of the destination. In this context, then, the publisher (and the author) becomes responsible for preserving both the link and the destination as much as is practical. 

For Dr. Burin’s book, we used Harvard’s perma.cc to archive the online sources that he referenced in his article, and converted the 350+ hyperlinks to rather tidy perma.cc links. To make these links available to reader both online and offline we added endnotes throughout his chapter and these endnotes included both the original hyperlink and the perma.cc link (unless we felt pretty good about the nature of the original hyperlink (e.g. wikipedia pages or very well established publishers whose sites tend to be resistant to this kind of archiving (like the failing New York Times)). For the casual reader, the mass of endnotes at the end of the chapter are a dense and probably incomprehensible block of web addresses.

PBK Book Draft0 pdf 2018 09 24 06 28 41

But for anyone looking to dig deeper into Dr. Burin’s arguments or who finds a dead hyperlink in his text, this material is vital to keeping the academic infrastructure of the work alive.

The use of hyperlinks to web resources embraces the dynamism of the ephemeral web and allowed Dr. Burin to build an argument from sources that appear and change as quickly as the situation. The use of endnotes and perma.cc allowed us to create the kind of stability that would give such a 21st-century work persistent value as an interpretation of a situation as it unfolded. 

Publishing as a kind of hybrid process involves a tremendous amount of stress and work over rather short periods of time and echoes the kind of ebb-and-flow of the premodern work week documented by E.P. Thompson in his famous “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism” (Past and Present 38 (1967)). Dr. Burin and I are already discussing a celebration (complete with craft beer, of course) at the conclusion of this hybrid project which will offer just the catharsis necessary for The Digital Press to gear up for the next book on the docket.  

Now, I have to get back to work!

 

Publishing Archaeology

Over the weekend, I read Amara Thorton’s Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People (UCL 2018). The book documents the efforts by late 19th and 20th century archaeologists to publish popular and accessible works on archaeology. She brings together these books with deep dives in the publishers’ and archaeologists’ archives and offers intriguing perspectives on how and why archaeologists worked with publishers to produce accessible, popular books that introduced the public to their sites, outlined the value of scientific practices, and allowed for more thoughtful tourism to the Eastern Mediterranean. 

More than that, it provided important insights into the professionalization of the discipline. Many of the characters of Thorton’s book were full-time, Mediterranean archaeologists who looked to popular publishing to fund their work both directly through the proceeds and by attracting subscribers to support their excavations. At the same time publishers recognized the potential audience for popular works on archaeology. An interest in archaeology paralleled the growing interest in travel and tourism among an expanding and literate middle class. The turn of the 20th century was also the start of a golden age of publishing in the UK where it was possible to produce, distribute, and sell low cost books. In short there existed the infrastructure, the audience and the motivation for popular works in archaeology. 

The book got me thinking about a few things as an archaeologist and a publisher. These are not meant to be critiques of the book, but rather reflections on whether the situation that Thorton documented in the early 20th century might have significance for 21st century academics. 

1. Popularizing Archaeology. Over the last decade, there has been more and more of a call for academics to produce popular works for the general public. While I’m not opposed to this idea, I’ve often thought that the recent pressure on academics – particularly in the humanities – to share their research in popular ways was out of step with the realities of academic work. For example, most academics do not have the time to pursue vigorously both research and popular writing. Both require more than just a casual commitment to the task to be successful. Secondly, producing high quality popular history or archaeology requires the commitment of publishers and editors to work with faculty to produce accessible works that will sell to audiences. Third, there has to be an audience for this work at a scale that is sustainable for the investment from publishers. Finally, such work needs to be institutionally incentivized because writing for the public will detract from our other responsibilities whether those are research or teaching or service.

Finally, and most importantly, calls for humanities scholars to be more engaged with the general public tend to overlook that full-time scholars in the humanities teach (or are in public facing positions at, say, museums or historical sites). In other words, we already make our work accessible on a daily basis to our students.

2. Funding the Future. It was particularly striking that relatively few of the authors in Thorton’s book had regular teaching positions. Some had research positions a museums or universities or other administrative posts to support their travels and work, but few had access to the resources that we have today. The motivation to publish for a popular audience was not, then, the recognition that the public deserved to understand the work of archaeologists, but rather often driven by financial necessity. With the rise of grant and institutionally funded research in the mid-20th century, the need to write for the public declined. 

In the 21st century, funding for research in archaeology and history looks to be an increasing challenge for academics. Not only are the number of tenure-track positions in decline (with their access both to institutional stability and the sustained investment in research), but research dollars from federal coffers (via the NEH and NSF, for example) increasingly scarce and competitive to acquire. On the one hand, this would appear to be the perfect opportunity for a new wave of popular archaeology to support research and scholarly writing. In fact, this kind of market-driven view of academic work seems to inform attitudes at the NEH and among university administrators. At its best, this would seem to suggest a more democratic approach to research.

On the other hand, this approach to funding research – or at least the view that accessibility should be a criteria for funding research – creates an arena where the market drives research as much as research questions and problems. Of course, this already occurs in the sciences, where applied research receives more funding than basic science, and that has shifted the character of university research. It would be intriguing (and to my mind, not entirely positive) to imagine how shifting attention to popular research in the humanities would shape the future discipline.

3. Possibilities of Publishing. Pushing academics to publish popular works may also require a shift in how publishing itself works. There are no lack of publishers looking to monetize the production of scholars and some of the more intriguing passages of Thorton’s work demonstrate that this was the case in the early 20th century as well. In fact, Thorton’s work shows a balance between books commissioned by publishers and works proposed by authors.

In the 21st century, it’s never been easier to publish popular works, but the audience for these works (and the competition to get them recognized) has never been more fierce. Getting a book recognized is harder than just producing good content, but also requires savvy advertising, careful attention to production, and getting access to institutional markets as well individual subscribers. As archaeology looks to the new ways of disseminating knowledge, publishing also goes beyond the traditional print media platforms to codex style books. As Thorton notes, the mid-20th century saw a number of cross media ventures which crossed from print-book popularity to radio and then television. The complexities of these markets in the 21st century – especially in the age of YouTube, streaming audio, podcasts, and social media – puts added pressure on publishers and popularizers to figure out how to get their work into the hands of an appreciative audience. An iconic book cover – like Penguin Books’ famous Pelican covers – isn’t enough (although it doesn’t hurt). 

All this other stuff – from design to marketing and promotion – represents investments of money, time, and expertise. Popular publishing requires more than academic will, but also investment from consumers and publishers needed to develop the infrastructure to accommodate and promote significant works across a range of media platforms. 

If Archaeologists in Print was written to describe popular archaeological publishing in the 21st century, it would be a very different book, even if some of the main contours of the discipline remained the same.

 

 

Random Thoughts on Publishing and The Digital Press

Over the next month or so, I’m going to roll out a new little imprint at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. It’ll be called, The Student Press, and it’ll to focus on student work or class projects that deserve a wider audience. 

The first two volumes that will appear in this series are the small book produced by my graduate seminar last year titled The Graduates’ Manifesto: Defending History. The second volume will come from a class that I’m teaching this semester on the the University of North Dakota budget and be called A Students Guide to the UND Budget

For some reason, I want to create a kind of thematic consistency in the book covers and draw on design cues used in 1960s-1970s book covers. Maybe it’s because these covers evoke my student days. 

I also have this not-so-great idea to publish a series of letters from the Wesley College archive as part of the Wesley College Documentation Project. In the 1930s, Wesley College was in dire financial shape. The regular flow of income from traditional donors, like Frank Lynch and A.J. Sayre, had suffered from the Great Depression and the the drought of the 1920s. Wesley College was in debt and was struggling to pay its bills. In 1931, Charles Wallace took the helm of the struggling institution replacing the first president, Edward Robertson. Roberston was a very hands-on president and have close personal relationships with both donors and creditors. As a result, he took the lead in negotiating forbearance for debts and balancing the generosity of donors with the understanding desire of creditors to be paid in full. 

The idea would be to produce a little book of these letters with a short introduction and to call it something like “A Study in Austerity: Donors and Debt in a Small College.”

Finally, how great are these cover sheets from the one-line drawings of buildings on UND’s campus?  

Buildings and Grounds  Floor Plans  Robertson Sayre Hall  NO 57  dragged

UA75 3 19 19  dragged

Three and a Half Thoughts on Open Access Publishing

This afternoon, I’m moderating a panel titled “Remodeling Academic Publishing: New Tools, New Challenges, and a New Culture” at something called the Grand Challenges Symposium with the Dean of the Libraries, Stephanie Walker, my colleagues David Haeselin (English) and Eric Burin (History).

To kick things off, I’ve asked each participant to prepare 3-5 minutes on some aspect of academic publishing ranging from their experiences to considerations of archiving, advocating, and curating academic publishing.

For my part, and speaking as a historian and archaeologist, as a publisher at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, and as editor of North Dakota Quarterly. I have three and half things to say, in my five minutes. Here they are:

1. Publishing in an Ecosystem. For the publishing enterprise to remain vital and dynamic and to continue to serve the needs of students, faculty, and researchers, we must cultivate the diversity of the ecosystem. This means that there isn’t a single solution or model that will ensure the dissemination and engagement with academic knowledge. Massive commercial publishers, small regional presses, academic publishers, buddy presses, and open access operations all fill niches in this ecosystem and provide opportunities for writers and readers to do what they do.

2. The push for OER, Open Education Resources, is strange. For OER publishing to make a significant impact in academia, universities need to support both their adoption and production. The former is an easy sell, we can save students money by using free books. The latter is a more difficult enterprise, because it involves inverting the prevailing trend in public higher education toward outsourcing key function to the private sector because the market produces both efficiencies and profits that benefit everyone. My feeling is that once folks recognize that OER is free “as in puppies” rather than “free as in beer,” the enthusiasm will wane.

3. Open Access Academic Publishing also involves a change in academic culture. Scholars tend to regard publishing as quite separate from the creative work of research and writing, and the publishing industry has tended to reinforce this. A completed manuscript is sent off to the publisher and it comes back a book which is then sold, reviewed, and celebrated. There are, of course, alternatives to this rather hands-off approach to publishing including closer cooperation between authors and publishers or even the blurring of lines between writing, production, review, and dissemination. After all, authors already collaborate with publishers as reviewers, they can also work as typesetters, copy-editors, cover-designers, marketers, and distributors without compromising the academic or intellectual integrity of publishing. 

And finally, and this is a coda, the changes in the culture of academic publishing can happen on the grass roots level. We don’t have to wait for administrative fiat or the authority of our academic and professional organizations. We can just do stuff and see if it makes our world better. 

 

 

 

Publishing Projects at The Digital Press

I’ve spent a good bit of time this week working on projects for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, and just this morning another project appeared in my inbox. These are interesting times both for The Digital Press and digital and academic publishing.

This post today is more of an update on what’s going on at The Digital Press and some broader – and perhaps speculative – thoughts on digital publishing. For more like this, and other voices, do come to our panel at the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting on Friday, January 

Project One

First, just yesterday I sent off the galley proofs of volume one of Epoiesen to its editor Shawn Graham. Epoiesen is “a journal for creative engagement in history and archaeology” and having spent time with the content of its first volume, I was struck by how there really isn’t anything like it in the contemporary landscape. The articles and their response range in tone from the playful to the polished and professional and captured a wide range of ways of thinking about and engaging the past from public outreach to Twine games. Do check it out here and consider submitting in 2018!

One of the challenges with publishing such a unique journal is getting the tone right in the design and layout. For the pages of the book – as I blogged about last week – I decided to stick with a fairly conservative, if modern, font, but also layout images in such a way that they encroached on the margins and spilled over toward the edge of the page. While this worked well for conventional articles that combine text and images, I’m not sure that I’ve managed to capture the spirit of more complex, hybrid articles that involve Twine games or integrate marginal comments in Hypothes.is into a cohesive critique. Rendering this kind of hybridity on a page and then in paper remains a challenge!

Another challenge is the cover. As my old friend Andrew Reinhard opined on Twitter yesterday, “If I see one more sober journal cover, I will vomit.” To some extent, he was responding to my proposed cover:

Epoiesen 1Cover2 01

In my defense, I designed a relatively conservative cover to communicate the seriousness of the project and to offer a bit of contrast to the sometimes playful (but not unthoughtful) content. Andrew’s take was a bit different and suggested wearing the playfulness of the journal on its sleeve. He offered a few versions, but this one was the most appealing to me, in part, because of Gabe Moshenska’s clever graphic, and in part because it is conventional enough to be recognizable as a journal cover, but also unorthodox enough to be interesting.

Adreinhard 2017 Dec 26

(As an aside, if you haven’t already, you really should download Gabe Moshenska’s free, open access, book, Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, published earlier this year by University College London.)

I’m not entirely sold on the more casual cover, but I’m open to advisement (and the editorial board of Epoiesen has been asked as well!).

Project Two

I’m working with a pair of outstanding editors to publish the papers from a pair of panels from last year’s Archaeological Institute of America meeting on abandoned villages (you can check out the paper here). As part of that panel, my long-time friend and collaborator, David Pettegrew and I gave a paper on the site of Lakka Skoutara in the Corinthia. Richard Rothaus, Bret Weber, and I collaborated on paper focusing on Wheelock, North Dakota in the Bakken. Both papers drew upon a rich photographic archive as the basis for our analysis and as the primary method of documentation. 

Due to changes in hosting policies here at UND, I’ve lost my server space (or, more properly, it became prohibitively expensive), and as a result, our online presentation of Lakka Skoutara images is no longer available. This is a bummer for many reasons, but the extent of it being a bummer was made clear when I investigated my options for producing a comprehensive archive of the Lakka Skoutara material and discovered how expensive it would be. One of the suggestions that Frank McManamon from tDAR made was that I compile the photographs and other documentation in a .pdf (or even a print-on-demand book) and then put that in an archival repository (like tDAR, an institutional repository, or even just the Internet Archive).

While I recognize that this is not an optimal solution for many reasons. PDFs are not machine readable in a proper sense and the images would likely not have all the metadata that individual files in an archive would have. That being said, there’s something important about making a smallish archive (and Lakka Skoutara is fewer than 650 images) accessible to the human eye and compiling that visual data (and any attendant text) together in a single document. At the same time, a PDF can be accessioned by a library, is inherently portable, and is easy enough to produce and archive. So it is a usable solution.

My idea is to include a couple expanded archives as digital downloads with the abandoned villages volume. They’d be set up on a template so fairly easy to design, lay out, and produce.

Project Three

I’m also working with Kyle Conway on a republication of the 1958 Williston Report with expanded content and up-to-date analysis. This is part of the “Bakken Bookshelf” project. 

This project has a few challenges and the largest of these is whether to preserve the original pagination for the Williston Report. And, if I do repaginate it, how do I mark out the original Williston Report text from our updated chapters? Do we use complementary fonts with a serif-ed font marking the Williston Report and a sans serif font marking the newer contributions?

Stay tuned for more on this project over the next few months.

Mdp 39015018443815 9 1514476109

More on Codex: Books, Performance, and Archaeology

I was initially drawn to Micah Bloom’s Codex project because it combined two elements that have become more or less central to my life: books and archaeology. At our book launch event last Friday, I realized that Bloom’s project had even more in common with my interests than I had initially recognized. In a short presentation Bloom unpacked the process of developing both the Codex book and short films that came from his efforts to document the books scattered about the Minot landscape.

If you don’t know Micah Bloom’s Codex, do go and check it out now.

In a brief back-and-forth in Minot, I asked Micah if he was inspired by recent work in “archaeology of the contemporary world.” I was inspired to ask after he discussed the particular care that he and his team took to document the scattered books both in situ and to number, label, preserve, and photograph the collected books systematically. Moreover, his team donned hazmat type as you can see in this clip from his film, and approached each artifact with extraordinary care

He admitted that he wasn’t particular familiar with this frequently theoretical (or at least conceptually ambitious) branch of archaeological work. He was inspired, however, by various manuals and technical literature that he found on for dealing with toxic objects, biological waste (including bodies), and other potentially contaminated (and contaminating) detritus. In other words, he used technical literature as a guide to performing real archaeological fieldwork, not in order to produce a thoroughly and systematically documented record of the 2011 Minot flood, but capture the particular sanctity of the books left behind in its receding waters. Performing archaeological work demonstrated care.

Archaeologists like Michael Shanks have long recognized the confluence of archaeological work and performance, and, indeed, theater. Without delving too deeply into this inspiring, if complex set of ideas, I have always struggled a bit to understand the relationship between the superficiality of theater – that is the concession in theater that the actors and the audience both have to suspend disbelief and recognize the actors as acting their parts – and archaeological methods, which ideally guide actions even when no one is looking. This isn’t meant to denigrate the work of actors and the depth of the characters that they portray or the promote the idea of the archaeologist as a singularly and consistently principled practitioner (but I’m sure most of us say that we try to be). The desire to keep our scarps straight is not just a cosmetic act that reinforces the scientific (scientistical?) precision of our work, but a practical way to make the stratigraphic relationships between various depositional events more visible. An actor may embrace certain aspects of a character off the stage (perhaps as part of an approach inspired by method acting), but this is fundamentally secondary to role played on the stage. There is always a risk, then, in emphasizing the performative in archaeology that we succumb to the artificiality of the aesthetic and as Michael Shanks has realized “abstracted from what is being represented, removed in an escape from social and historical reality, from anonymous popular masses, from the messy vernacular human and natural detail…”

Micah’s work offers an intriguing complication to this risk. Not only did he document his work to bring order to the messy chaos of flood recovery speak to a particular moment in time (and an effort to resolve what must have been a pervasive feeling of disrupted existence), but he also documented the books themselves in ways that are not immediately visible in his published work. For example, he disclosed that he has photographs of hundreds of books in situ and once he and his team collected and documented them. He also has a database (technically a spreadsheet) of close to 800 books recovered, identified, photographed, and documented from his work. Unlike the public facing work of the film and book and installation, these aspects of the Codex project, like the method actors behind the scenes routine, remains out of sight (at least, for now). 

Since Micah’s presentation, I’ve been turning around in my head how to make at least some of this archive available. Whether this archive will produce new archaeological, historical, or cultural knowledge is difficult to say, but it does reveal the depth of Codex as a form of authentic archaeological engagement with the world. 

Open Access Week Announcement: The Digital Press + Epoiesen

Each year, Open Access Week celebrates the work of authors and publishers who make their works available for free and open circulation. From its origins, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota has worked to encourage open access publishing across its entire catalogue and seek out collaboration with likeminded authors and publishers.

For Open Access Week 2017, we are very pleased to announce our collaboration with Epoiesen: A Journal for Creative Engagement in History and Archaeology founded and edited by Shawn Graham at Carleton University in Ottawa. Epoiesen urges its contributors to apply a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license to their works, but also recognizes that each author has the right to set the terms for their contributions.

The journal seeks “to document and valorize the scholarly creativity that underpins our representations of the past. Epoiesen is therefore a kind of witness to the implied knowledge of archaeologists, historians, and other professionals, academics and artists as it intersects with the sources about the past. It encourages engagement with the past that reaches beyond our traditional audience (ourselves).”

Epoiesen 🔊

Recent work in Epoiesen has included video games that explore academic publishing and the destruction of the past, thoughtful, experimental critiques of a weaponized social media, and transmedia engagement with archaeological knowledge making

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota will publish an Epoiesen annual as a downloadable document and in a print-on-demand format for readers and institutions who prefer paper and to make the journal more portable and open to standard citation practices. 

Graham remarks, “The excitement and interest in Epoiesen has been gratifying. Clearly, there’s an appetite for engaging with history and archaeology that traditional venues are able to fill! I’m grateful to the Digital Press for this tremendous vote of confidence and look forward to working with them as Epoiesen continues to grow.”

William Caraher, the founder and publisher of The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, adds, “Working with someone like Shawn, the remarkably diverse content of his journal, and the outstanding editorial board and authors is a great opportunity to expand what the Digital Press does and to learn from a truly innovative project and team. Epoiesen is a great fit for The Digital Press in that it brings together open, academic publishing with new ways of thinking about archaeology, materiality, and the past.”