On Short Books

This weekend, I have a pair of short books on my reading list. One is Sheila Liming’s Office, a contribution to the Bloomsbury’s Object Lesson series, and the other is Kevin Garstki’s Digital Innovations in European Archaeology in the Cambridge Elements series. Both books are short, with Liming’s book officially listed at 152 pages and Garstki’s at about 90. My guess is that neither book is over 30,000 words.

These two slim volumes got me thinking once again about the sudden increase in the number of short book series. I remember when Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 Series appeared in 2003 and thinking that the idea of short books dedicated to iconic albums was brilliant. I’ve probably read four or five of them and at $10-15 a pop, I never feel like there’s too much of a commitment of time or money to take a risk on one. Like the Object Lesson series, the 33 1/3 books came in such a nice size (approximately 4.5 x 6.5), shared common design elements, and were typeset for easy and comfortable reading in a single sitting.

The convenience and elegance of small books notwithstanding, I’ve started to think a bit more about the place of small books in academic publishing (and whether publishing small book series might be a fun thing for The Digital Press). 

The Long Article

As editor of the Annual of ASOR, I annual book series dedicated to archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean, Levant, and Middle East, I often receive inquiries from authors with manuscripts that are too long to be an article and too short to be a stand alone volume. Historically, we have found ways to bring together manuscripts on similar topics and publish them together even if they’re not strictly speaking related. This is a generally unsatisfactory compromise. 

Despite the proliferation of journals, it would seem that the basic form factor of the article (8,000-15,000 words) remains more or less the same. A few journals, notably in my field Hesperia, the journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, will publish longer articles especially if they are site reports. Many other journals, however, will not. I suppose the interest is in allowing room for a range of contributions in each issue or volume. This makes sense, I suppose, if we live in a strange world where readers consume issues of volumes front to back. In reality, articles tend to travel on their own in digital form or consumed without much attention to the rest of the issue. From the viewpoint of the consumer accustomed to disaggregation, the length of the article doesn’t really matter. It might, then, have more to do with preserving space for multiple contributors in each volume and avoiding backlogs of articles and the like. This makes sense only inasmuch as journals exist to serve their contributors (and advance their careers and the like) more than their readers who I suspect care more about the quality and relevance of an article than its length. Provided that a journal didn’t start to publishing on a few very long articles in a year (and thereby undermine the diversity of content), there doesn’t seem any real reason why journals could not publish 20,000 or even 30,000 word articles that meet their standards. In fact, it’s sort of appealing to imagine an academic journal that would publish longer and shorter (say <5,000 word pieces) each volume in much the same way that a literary magazine might publish a novella, a 3-page essay, and a 10-line poem. I could even imagine that longer articles would offer some efficiencies in review, editing, and production. 

Edited volumes likewise tend to favor shorter (5,000-8,000 word articles) or at very least a kind of uniformity in length. This decision seems arbitrary to me, but I do appreciate the aesthetic interest in a kind of symmetry of content.

As a result of these standards, long articles many of which would be nice, small books, find themselves without an appropriate venue. I suspect many long article find themselves inelegantly compressed to meet length standards or worse still blown up into marginal monographs. The academic monograph can be as short, I suppose, as 50,000 words, but, as a friend once told me, most serious monographs are over 80,000 (or 250 odd page of text). In other words, there is a vast chasm between the longest article likely to appear in a typical journal and the shortest academic book.

Reading Habits

I also wonder whether our reading habits have changed significantly over the last 20 years. In my life, I have room for about one long book (>400 pages) per year. It’s not that I don’t find some long books compelling. I often do, but I rarely have time to commit four or five sittings to a single volume on a single topic. Like most scholars my research time is limited and my interests are diverse. Reading a long book is risky. It takes time away from reading other scholar’s work, exploring diverse perspectives, and writing. This isn’t to suggest that no long books would reward the risk of sustained engagement, but as most academics find more and more pressure on their time, it is hard to find the potential of a long book appealing.

It seems likely that the pressures of academic life has also led most scholars to focus more narrowly and spend less time worrying about “big picture” issues that longer book tend to explore. In other words, the era of the long book might well be over. 

Publisher Economics

The struggles of the academic monograph are well known. They’re expensive to produce, generally have small print runs, and reduced library budgets have cut deeply into their typical market. To make up for declining sales and tight margins on academic monographs, many larger publishers have invested in more commercial book series. The most common examples of this is the proliferation of “Companion” and “Handbook” volumes designed for libraries, but also suitable for disaggregation and sale through online subscriptions. 

Short books would seem to be the opposite of these larger projects, but in some ways, they may be their complement. If large companion and handbook volumes are meant for generalist collections at libraries and digital subscription, small books sold at low prices are clearly intended for individual readers to consume in paper rather than digital form.

The economies come from presumably greater sales volume, standardized production workflow, and series wide marketing campaigns. That these bite-sized books fit into our hectic reading lives is a bonus. Most of these books, however, have not really found a place within the academic ecosystem yet. Of course, short books that appeal to a general audience are much more likely to find a market among the interested reader than, say, a short book that is a long article on a specialized topic. At the same time, these volumes might share some of the efficiencies in production and marketing.


Maybe we’re not on the verge of a new wave of short academic books, but if someone were to propose a series of short specialized volumes, I’d want to have that conversation.


New Book Day: Visualizing Votive Practice

It’s my favorite day at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota: NEW BOOK DAY.

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is excited to announce the publication of Visualizing Votive Practice: Exploring Limestone and Terracotta Sculpture from Athienou-Malloura through 3DModels by Derek B. Counts, Erin Walcek Averett, Kevin Garstki, and Michael Toumazou.

You can download the book for free here.

This book is particularly meaningful to me not only because it was the most complex and ambitious book that The Digital Press has published, but because it has a connection with my earliest days doing archaeology on Cyprus (nearly 20 years ago!). 

When I was fresh out of graduate school and working with Scott Moore and David Pettegrew to get the Pyla-Koutospetria Archaeological Project started on Cyprus, we were trying to understand the practical and political realities of doing work on the island. The team that helped us the most was from the Athienou Archaeological Project. In our first year of field work they showed genuine interest in our work, lent us tables and equipment, and gave us good advice on navigating the political side of doing work on Cyprus. While generosity isn’t uncommon among archaeologists working on the island, their collegiality, good cheer, and support made my transition from field work in Greece to work on Cyprus immeasurably easier.

Of course, this book stands on its own as a significant and innovative work of scholarship. It went through rigorous peer review, received high quality professional copy editing, and abundant, sustained attention from its authors. In some small way, it is also  a gesture of appreciation for the support that I received years ago when I was just starting out on Cyprus.

Here’s the press release and download link. It’s free, open access, and pretty great.

VVP banner rev

Visualizing Votive Practice uses 3D images embedded directly in the PDF to present a significant new group of terracotta and limestone sculpture from the sanctuary of Malloura on Cyprus. By combining traditional features of an archaeological artifact catalogue with the dynamic possibilities of a digital book, these fascinating objects come alive on the page. The book also includes thousands of hyperlinks that invite the reader to engage with objects at the world’s greatest museums, explore previous scholarship, and engage the content in new ways. Visualizing Votive Practice provides an important discussion of the theory, methods, and practices that produced the 3D images in archaeology. It is available as a free, open access, download.

Derek B. Counts, Professor and Chair of Art History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, describes the thinking behind the book “we wanted to challenge traditional approaches to publication and leverage open, digital platforms to provide better access to our research but also connect that research with a wider network of information.”

As Kevin Garstki, Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, Global Religions, and Cultures at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, explains, “The book builds upon the available platforms for sharing 3D models and combines them with important archaeological context that makes them more than just “pretty” models on a computer screen but actual research tools.”

VVP cover final rev

The site of Malloura on the Mesaoria Plain on Cyprus is significant in its own right. Erin Walcek Averett, Associate Professor of Art History and Classical & Near Eastern Studies at Creighton University, notes “this sanctuary is one of the few religious sites to be excavated scientifically and provides a wealth of information on changing Cypriot religious practices from the Cypro-Geometric through Roman periods (ca. 8th c. BCE to at least the 4th c. CE). From terracotta warrior figurines to limestone statues of Cypriot Herakles, this  votive assemblage enriches our understanding of the cult and ritual habit at  the site.”

The book also relies on the Alexandria Archive’s Open Context digital, archaeological publishing platform. Each object in the book is linked to a permanent digital version on the web allowing future researches to link to a specific artifact and for the catalogue to expand and develop in the future. Eric Kansa, Open Context’s Program Director explains that the digital publication of these artifacts “allows for continued expansion of the collection, as well as the addition and association of other related archaeological materials—such as the ceramic vessels, coins, and animal bones– facilitating exploration and reuse of the ever-growing collection, even for purposes not currently recognized in the context of the Visualizing Votive Practice publication.”

William Caraher, the director at the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, remarks “Open access books such as Visualizing Votive Practice shows the potential to combine rigorous peer review and innovative collaborative publishing practices. Scholar-led publishing is not the only future for academic publishing, but works such as this are starting to make the case for it being a viable and significant alternative to traditional academic and commercial publishers.”

VVP cover final face light

Three Things from NDQ and The Digital Press

Publishing tends to be a case of “gradually, then suddenly” to appropriate Hemingway memorable line in The Sun Also Rises. One project has been gradually wending its way through production over the last 18 months and the other has been building for about 6 months and suddenly both are almost ready for release!

Thing The First

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is very happy to provide a preview of our next publication: Visualizing Votive Practice: Exploring Limestone and Terracotta Sculpture from Athienou-Malloura through 3D Models by Derek B. Counts, Erin Walcek Averett, Kevin Garstki, and Michael Toumazou.

VVP banner rev

As the dramatic cover suggests, this isn’t an ordinary book. The authors combine a thoughtful analysis of votive limestone and terracotta sculpture from the sanctuary of Malloura on Cyprus, a select catalogue of these objects, and integrated 3D images both embedded in the PDF and linked to Open Context, an dynamic (and archival) linked-data digital publishing platform. 

In other words, this book provides a window in the ancient sanctuary, votive practice, and a collection of sculpture documented through structured light scanning and made available as linked-open data. It will be available as a free, open access, peer-reviewed, monograph.

I know this is a mouthful, so perhaps the best way to understand this project is to go and download the introduction and a preview of the catalogue. To make full use of the 3D PDF technology, which allows you to interact with the 3D scan right on the page, you’ll need to download (for free) Adobe Acrobat Reader.

VVP cover final rev

Thing The Second

As readers of this blog know, I’m editor of the century-old literary journal, North Dakota Quarterly. Mostly, this involves corresponding with authors and making sure everything is ready for our publishing partner at the University of Nebraska Press. It’s tedious work most of the time, but I do get to hang out (via email) with inspiring and creative poets, writers, and artists which is its own kind of reward.  

The great thing about a journal with as much history at North Dakota Quarterly is that its past is a constant inspiration. For the cover 87.3/4, our designer at UNP decided to kick it olde skool with a design that would have looked at home on a cover of NDQ from the 1980s or 1990s.

The artwork on the cover is by Marco Hernandez, and it’s called Regando el Maiz y el Nopal. Issue 87.3/4 will also feature ten more prints from Hernandez as well as work from over 100 contributors.  

NDQ 87 3 4 cover

Page proofs are circulating now and are due back to my desk before the holidays and the issue will go to print in early December. With any luck, subscribers will have their copies before the holidays!

Thing the Third

One of the coolest things about being a publisher and editor is watching work that I’ve shepherded through the publication process get recognized in one way or another. Mostly, this comes in the form of citation or positive reviews. 

Sometimes, it comes in the way of downloads or sales. The forces that have to conspire to lead a book to sell well AND in significant quantities are complicated, and I suspect it mostly has to do with chance. One of the odd quirks of the current election is that all sorts of people are trying to understand the US Electoral College more clearly. This has resulted in a sharp spike in sales for Eric Burin’s edited volume, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College (2017). Earlier this week, it made it into the top-25 books in the category of Historical Essays. This is quite an achievement for a small press like ours with a limited marketing budget.

124470736 804136980368632 9152977103336719607 n

If you want your copy, it’s on $8 on Amazon or from an independent bookseller.

Three Things Thursday: Fiction, Archaeology, and Reading

It’s a Thursday and just after the mid-point of the semester. Most years, the wheels start to come off about now, and I’m certainly feeling a greater sense of general urgency than I usually do. 

As a gesture to a rather frantic time, it feels right to do a little “Three Things Thursday” to clear the deck of wandering blog material that is bound to get caught up in the machinery of daily life and bring everything to a stop.

Thing The First

Last weekend, I read Don DeLillo’s new novel, The Silence. It’s short and like so much “Late DeLillo” atmospheric. It describes a world when all digital technology simply stops working and five people are forced to encounter life in a fundamentally different way. 

For archaeologists interested in issues of ontology, the book is short enough to be a “must read.”  As the five individuals lose their digital tools (and the digital tools that make the contemporary world possible), they lose part of themselves. The loss of their digital prosthetics leave them with phantom memories that bubble up through their consciousness suggesting that the disruption of digital technology is not enough to entirely divest ourselves of the imprint of our digital tools.

The book also engages with time in interesting ways (and here it seems to pick up where Point Omega, his 2010 novel leaves off. In Point Omega time alternately slows down and speeds up as the characters encounter existence through various modalities including the vastness of the desert, a slowed-down version of the film Psycho, and the structure of a haiku (which apparently give the novel its structure). In The Silence, time appears to stutter, lurch, and double back on itself. One character begins to recite Einstein, the other the fractured commentary on the Super Bowl, while another attempts to understand how they arrived in New York after crossing the Atlantic on a flight when all technology stopped. The staccato stratigraphy presented through DeLillo’s dialogue will be immediately recognizable to the archaeologist who is asked to make sense of the sequence of events (which are so often non-linear) as well as the definition of each object.

Thing the Second

I also enjoyed Anton Bonnier and Martin Finné’s recent article in Antiquity, “Climate variability and landscape dynamics in the Late Hellenistic and Roman north-eastern Peloponnese.” As readers of this blog know, I’ve become increasingly interested in historical climate change and they way in which changes in climate shaped past societies and their archaeological remains. Bonnier and Finné’s article consider climate proxies from three caves in the Peloponnesus and attempt to correlate this data with evidence from intensive pedestrian surveys in the Argolid and the Corinthia. Needless to say this is a messy project, but the results are suggestive.

They propose that a shift is visible away from land on hill slopes during the Late Hellenistic and Roman periods. They then suggest that there exist the political and economic explanations for this: the shift away from diversified agricultural strategies associated with the “family farm” toward less diverse practices associated with the supplying of urban centers with grain. They add to this explanation the possibility that the Late Hellenistic and Roman period was also notably drier than the Classical and Hellenistic era. As a result, more marginal fields on hill slopes with thinner soils that were less likely to retain moisture, for example, were abandoned for better and more erosionally stable fields on the valley bottoms. They make clear that climate change was not the primary driver of this putative shift, but could have been a contributing factor.   

Thing The Third

I’ve been thinking a bit about how we read in the 21st century. In my introductory level World History class, I’ve asked the students to engage in non-linear reading of the class’s open access history textbook. Instead of moving chapter to chapter, region to region, I’ve suggested that student use the search function and read across certain themes, ideas, phenomena, and situations. Searching for topics such as “joy,” “love,” and “anger” connects Confucius’s quip on the joys of a contemplative life, the joy of Buddhist nirvana, and the joy of a Classical Greek religious festival. Love brings together Chinese and ancient Egyptian love poetry. Anger connects the fate of kings, the wrath of deities, and daily life in the Levant. For me, this kind of reading is exciting and disorienting, but for my students, it’s frustrating. Without the coherence and context of narrative (preferably supported by a strong sense of progress!), history becomes a cacophony of unrelated events.

I spend far more time working as an editor and publisher these days than I do as a conventional researcher and writer. As a result, I often find my day defined by oddly juxtaposed texts. Snippets of emails, poetry, typeset text, and academic prose jostle with each other more attention. On some days, it’s deeply fatiguing mostly because like my students, I want to encounter some kind of pattern. I want to find that rhythm of meaning that comes from sustained reading of a single or related texts. In its place, I find jostling voices and snippets of conversation overheard at a crowded bar. On my best days, this feels more real than a tidy narrative or a scholarly argument. The orderly style, tone, and forensic detachment feel inadequate to represent the chaotic realities of everyday life. 

Some Little Publishing Notes from The Digital Press

This fall has been a hectic and exciting one for The Digital Press. We not only published two books, Calobe Jackson, Jr., Katie Wingert McArdle, David Pettegrew’s, One Hundred Voices, Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920 and Kyle Conway’s Sixty Years of Boom and Bust: The Impact of Oil in North Dakota, 1958-2018, but we have a busy production queue which promises an exciting winter.

The most exciting project simmering right now on The Digital Press’s stove is Derek Counts, Erin Averett, Kevin Garstki, and Michael Toumazou’s Visualizing Votive Practice. Yesterday while I took my mid-morning stroll, I received the marked up copy of the first page proofs from the books authorial trio. I now have weekend plans and we’re on target for a mid-November publication date.

To celebrate this milestone, it seems a good time to release the book’s cover (which we’ve been eager to do since mid September!). Dan Coslett is responsible for the outstanding cover design.

VVP cover final rev

The bold colors and dynamic design challenges age old conventions that the appearance of catalogues should be staid and formal affairs of interest largely to specialists. For this volume, we tried to capture a bit of the interactive spirit of the 3D models contained in the book and the faceted sculptural face underscores the authors’ attention to practice, both in terms of the votive rituals explored by the book as well as their attention to the production of the 3D scans of the terracotta and limestone sculpture.

Momentum begets momentum or so it would appear. It may be that social distancing begets monument, if I’m to be honest. Whatever the case, the Digital Press was also happy enough to help out with a couple of other “Digital Press Adjacent” projects this fall.

Sometime in the next couple of weeks, the Western Argolid Research Project will upload its survey manual to the tDAR archive where it can be downloaded, modified, and referenced. I typeset the contents to give it just a tiny bit of polish and created a cover for it that probably benefits more from the nice photo than any graphic design acumen on  my part. 

WARP Manual 03  dragged

We also learned that Patrick Henry, a colleague (and regular contributor to NDQ), will be teaching a course of World War I literature this spring semester. He had plans to use a little volume of NDQ Reprints that I put together to highlight some early 20th century content from the Quarterly and to typeset something in Doves Type. The book was initially meant as a digital download only, but for whatever reason never got much traffic (even as we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Great War), and for a while the download link was broken. This was not a great look for us. Here’s the download link if you’re curious!

NDQ The Great War Reprint  dragged

Patrick asked if we could perhaps produce a print version of the book, and I happily agreed! We’ll being making the little book available via Amazon heading into the Holiday Season and donating a little stack of copies to Patrick’s class. Stay tuned for more on this little project over the next month or so. 

Three Things Thursday: Ruins, Books, and the Quarterly

Things are a bit busier than usual these days, so I thought I’d share some of the stuff rattling in my office with a little Three Things Thursday.

Thing the First

I’m pretty sure that I won’t write it, but someone should really pull together a review essay on recent books about ruins. I’m hoping to finish a short review of Martin Devecka’s Broken Cities (2020), which I’ve drafted here, and a few weeks ago, I read and enjoyed Filipe Rojas’s The Pasts of Roman Anatolia (2019). I read and found useful parts of Simon Murray’s 2020 book, Performing Ruins, which stands at the intersection of archaeology, drama, and social critique. It wouldn’t be difficult to add Rodney Harrison and Colin Sterling new edited volume Deterritorializing the Future: Heritage in, of and after the Anthropocene (2020) or the massively collaborative Heritage Futures: Comparative Approaches to Natural and Cultural Heritage Practices (2020) volume to the list. Lynn Meskel’s  A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace (2018) fits the theme on the basis of its title alone (I’ve blogged about it here) and Francisco Martínez’s and Patrick Laviolette’s book Repair, Brokenness, Breakthrough: Ethnographic Responses (Berghahn 2019) would fit into a larger conversation about ruins and ruination as well. Finally, Susan Stewart’s book, Ruin Lessons (2020) has been languishing on my “to read pile” for most of the year and I just need to suck it up and read it.

Obviously not all of these books consider ruins in the same way which perhaps makes a kind of comparative review a bit awkward. On the other hand, the range of different approaches to ruins could make a kind of oddly compelling essay in the right hands. 

Things the Second

It’s always great to get some media coverage for a book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. This week the Williston Herald published a nice interview with Kyle Conway about Sixty Years of Boom and Bust: The Impact of Oil in North Dakota, 1958-2018. One thing that struck me about this article is that not only did it do more than just rely on the book’s press release, but it also — and perhaps more importantly — drove traffic to the book’s webpage. More than that, this traffic resulted in downloads. For an open access press like mine, downloads are a pretty precious commodity because they mean books are getting into people’s hands.

The Digital Press is also excited to announce that One Hundred Voices: Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920 is now available from The Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Proceeds from the books sold there will go to support the maintenance of the Commonwealth Monument. If you’re thinking about buying this remarkable little book, now is a great opportunity to buy it and make a difference.

Finally, over the past six months, Eric Burin’s edited volume, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College (2018) has become a surprise best seller for The Digital Press. Following on this success, Dr. Burin was invited to host one of Humanities ND’s “Brave Conversations” about the electoral college. The event is online and, frankly, a bit pricey at $50 for a non Humanities ND member, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it! You can check it out here.

Thing the Third

This time of year is, for the foreseeable future, NDQ time. This means I spend hours processing contributions to the Quarterly, organizing paperwork, and putting the volume into some semblance of order. I detailed my process here.

What makes this all tolerable is that I also get a chance to spend time again with our accepted submissions. This means re-reading the poetry, fiction, and essays that make their way into each issue of the Quarterly.

My excitement usually gets the better of me and I begin to share some of the content from the issue on the NDQ blog. This morning, I shared two of John Sibley Williams’ poems. Go and check them out here.

New Book Day! One Hundred Voices: Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920

It’s new book day at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota!

We’re very proud and excited to announce the publication of One Hundred Voices: Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920 edited by Calobe Jackson, Jr., Katie Wingert McArdle, David Pettegrew with a forward by Lenwood Sloan. You can download the book for free or purchase it via Amazon.

This book is a companion to the new Commonwealth Monument in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania which will be dedicated on August 26, 2020. This monument is dedicated to the significant African American community in Pennsylvania’s capital and its historic struggle for the vote. The monument consists of a bronze pedestal that will feature the names of one hundred change agents who pursued the power of suffrage and citizenship between 1850 and 1920 in Harrisburg. This book tells the story of their unique and lasting contributions to the standing and life of African Americans—and, indeed, the political power of all Americans—within their local communities and across the country.

This book emerged at the intersection of the Commonwealth Monument Project (for more on that go here) and the Digital Harrisburg project (for more on that go here). This work is continuing. For example, check out the work of the Digital Harrisburg team discussing the region’s difficult history of racial injustice.


On a more personal note, I was really honored to be asked to help make this remarkable book possible. As readers of this blog know, David Pettegrew and I have been collaborating for over two decades now on various archaeological projects in the Eastern Mediterranean. Over this time, we’ve also developed our own interests and commitments to our local communities as well. It was really fun to be able to work on a project related to these non-Mediterranean projects especially this summer when it wasn’t possible to travel and do field work. 

I really hope that you take the time to download and check out this book. It is a remarkable document situated at the intersection of community activism and academic historical research. But more than that, so many of the stories in the book are really engrossing and paint a rich picture of the African American community in Harrisburg over the course of the 19th and 20th century.

One Hundred Voices Cover FINAL ONEPAGE SM 

Some More Thoughts on Book Layout

The next few weeks will be particularly exciting ones for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. We have a book release tomorrow and then another on September 1. 

But over the last week or so, I’ve been focused on a book that will come out on November 1. I’ve just started design work and layout and have had the fun of working closely with authors who have clear ideas of how they want their book to work. It was also my first opportunity to produce an archaeological catalogue, which has turned out to be a bit of a learning experience. 

As a result, the basic page design went through a few iterations that I thought that I’d share.

The initial page design was set in 11 point Miller Text which the authors felt was just a bit too big. The also felt like the catalogue organization was not hierarchical enough and that the indent after the various subheadings made the text too narrow.

Test Template Chapter 3 2Conc pdf  page 6 of 37 2020 08 17 07 27 33

Test Template Chapter 3 2Conc pdf  page 8 of 37 2020 08 17 07 28 03

I didn’t disagree with this and thought maybe that they’d prefer a text set in Chaparral rather than the more open Miller Text.

Test Template Chapter 3 2Chap pdf  page 6 of 26 2020 08 17 07 30 56

Test Template Chapter 3 2Chap pdf  page 8 of 26 2020 08 17 07 31 16

I really like Chaparral and thought that it gave the text block a bit more of a buttoned down and traditional feeling. Alas, my authors did not feel the same way and still felt that the catalogue lacked a bit of visual ordering.

I went back to Miller but dropped the size to 10 point and carried the style of headings from the rest of the text into the catalogue to create more clear divisions between the various parts of the catalogue entries. I also made the line spacing a bit denser to make the text feel a bit more serious.

Test Template Chapter 3 2 10Miller pdf  page 6 of 10 2020 08 17 07 35 07

Test Template Chapter 3 2 10Miller pdf  page 8 of 10 2020 08 17 07 35 27

I also added one of the 3D models to the catalogue so it would be a bit more clear how this would look. I also made the hyperlinks a dark, royal blue largely because I hate the “hyperlink blue.” It makes them a bit less obvious in the book, but to my mind, that’s fine. They’re visible if you’re looking for them and not obtrusive if you’re not.

Most of the hyperlinks will be joined by an endnote that will include permanent urls for each link in the text.

While I’m up to my eyeballs in design and layout, my cover designer, Dan Coslett (get his new book!) has prepared an almost final draft of the cover which I’ll share here.

VVP cover final

Thinking a Bit about Publishing and ASOR

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking a bit about publishing and ASOR. I serve as editor of the Annual of ASOR (AASOR) which is the organization’s longest running book series. It stands alongside ASOR’s Archaeological Report Series (ARS) as the two book series published by ASOR. The ARS is currently looking for a new editor and once the new editor is named, we hope to have some conversations about how to distinguish the AASOR from ARS a bit more clearly.

Traditionally, the ARS features volumes dedicated to recent field work. For example, my survey on Cyprus, the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project, published in the ARS. For some historical reasons, the CAARI Monograph series also appears as part of the ARS. The AASOR, in contrast, tends to consist of the results of legacy excavations (variously defined), edited volumes, and festschrifts. The blurry division between the ARS’s role in publishing current field work and the AASOR’s role in publishing legacy projects is something that we’d do well to define more clearly. But the work of defining the purpose and scope of the AASOR is also an opportunity to think more clearly about ASOR’s priorities in academic publishing more broadly.

Instead of firing off a long email, I decided to write a blog post and see what people think before burdening my colleagues with my half-baked ideas. To be clear, these are just my musings and they don’t reflect anything official! 

It goes without saying that the landscape of academic publishing is changing very rapidly these days. At the same time, we are encountering rapid changes in the professional and academic landscape in our disciplines (e.g. rise of contingent faculty) and at our institutions (e.g. the decline of research libraries, reduction in research funding). As a result, it feels like this might be a good time to think critically and carefully about the needs of our authors (and prospective author), our readers, and our institutions.

First, I got to wondering what kind of books ASOR members want to and are expected to publish?

I know that the edited volumes are received a bit ambivalently by most academics these days. They can be easily derided as grab-bags of vaguely related content brought together mostly through common social ties or a shared desperation to expand one’s CV. I’ve heard more than one scholar boldly assert on social media that they will NEVER edit another edited volume again. Having worked in a few of these in my life as editor, contributor, and publisher, I can confirm that they’re often really difficult volumes to bring together, and, at least by some accounts, they have limited value for tenure and promotion committees. 

On the other hand, there must be a market for them because any walk around the ASOR or AIA book room shows that they continue to be published in large numbers by every publisher from Oxford and Cambridge to Eisenbrauns, Cotsen, Routledge, Oxbow, Bloomsbury, and so on. Indeed, AASOR and ARS have published their share of such books over the last five years. (Curiously University of Chicago Press, which is ASOR’s publishing partner for journals, doesn’t seem particularly keen on edited volumes, as far as I can discern.)

My sense is that edited volumes are popular among publishers, in part, because of the ability to disaggregate content, and this allows for the sale of single chapters to individuals who might not want to buy the entire book. The current vogue of “Handbooks” and “Companions” is a good example for how books that are effectively edited volumes can be disaggregated so that chapters can be sold to individuals at prices cheaper than the often-expensive entire volume but at prices higher than chapter’s share of the volume’s total price. 

It’s notable here that while AASOR often published edited volumes, JSTOR does not present its content in such a way that an individual could download or purchase one article from a volume.

Second, in the past, ASOR published monographs (1978-1981), dissertations (1975-1994), and books (1999-2005). You can get a sense for the range of ASOR book series here

I do wonder how our membership would see a kind of dissertation series (of the kind that existed years ago) or a book/monograph series? Would this fulfill a need in the field especially for early career scholars who might struggle to find a press for specialized research? Or would be redundant with what Eisenbrauns, Brill, Brepols, and various other specialized presses already offer? 

Third, I started to think a bit more about Eric Cline and his arguments for writing and publishing for a general audience.

My guess is that places like Princeton pay the bills with books like Cline’s 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (2016). I was at an AIA panel last year and two of the panelists (Cline and Jodi Magness) were talking about writing for wider public audiences and their NEH Public Scholar grants. Their various publications intended for a general audience obviously overlapped with “ASOR Territory.” Moreover, it seems like many presses have figured out that these books make money. The various “short introductions,” “what everyone needs to know about,” “quintessence series,” “critical thinkers” all follow a similar template. They’re short (<40,000 words), they tend to be prepared for a general audience, and they tend not to feature much original research. They’re published as low-cost paperbacks and presumably meant to be sold at volume to individuals (and students) rather than libraries. These books are the opposite of the Oxford Handbook, Cambridge Companion, et c. series which are clearly designed mainly for libraries (including via digital subscription).

I wonder whether this is a game that ASOR would want to get into to generate revenue for ASOR and maybe for more “serious” publishing? Would this dovetail with what NEA is doing in terms of outreach?

Fourth, I’ve been looking at what Eidolon is doing with their course packets. These are digital bundles of largely repackaged content from Eidolon stitched together with some added commentary. They’re pretty nice if what you’re teaching happens to align neatly with what Eidolon has to offer.

It seems to me that ASOR has content – via BASOR, NEA, ARS, AASOR, Ancient Near East Today, and even LCP – and we have experts. I wonder whether there would be value to producing digital course packets that could be purchased (by students, presumably) for a relatively low cost (but at ideally, a relatively high volume). They could combine material which ASOR owns with commentary, new content, and maybe even digital gewgaws (photos, video, audio).

This would obviously require a more than just a casual operation to work, but it would be interesting to know if this would appeal to our audience.

In many ways, there is a single question behind all these suggestions: what would our members like and support both in terms of producing and purchasing content?

Along these lines, I can’t help but wonder about the following:

1. How will the growing number of precarious and non-tenure track ASOR scholars impact the landscape of academic publishing? What do these scholars need and want?

2. How will the rise in Open Access publishing shape both the expectations of our authors and our readers? How will the global nature of ASOR publishing impact our attitudes toward Open Access?

3. How will the growth of online teaching shape the kind of content that our members want and produce?

4. How will the market for academic books change as library funding declines and new strategies arise for institutional content management? How can we increase the number of individuals who buy ASOR books to compensate for a likely decline in institutional purchases?  

Three Things Thursday

Back-to-back weeks with Three Things Thursday! How crazy can it be here at the Archaeology of the Mediterranean World? 

With the semester looming and outstanding project piling up, I wanted to write some shorter things over the next few week, but when I sat down to 

Thing The First

Here’s a little piece that I wrote for NDQ’s blog that darts and dodges between the past and the present: 

Yesterday, I sent the last pieces for issue 87.3/4 out for copy editing ahead to get a bit of a jump on what will likely be a hectic fall semester here in North Dakota Quarterly-land. 

To celebrate, I had planned to make a short announcement that we would be observing the great European tradition of taking some time off in August to recharge and enjoy the last of the “frog days” of summer. Instead, I found myself reading back issue of North Dakota Quarterly and writing up a short blog post.

Last fall, we were really happy to publish a piece by Jim Sallis not only because it was a good story, but also because Sallis was a long-time contributor to NDQ from the early 1980s and had returned to the journal’s pages after over a decade away. We posted his story here with links to his other pieces in NDQ.

Issue 87.3/4 will include another such contributor, Priscilla Long. We’ve just accepted her short essay “Holy Shit!” and I can’t wait to share it with our readers in a few months. In the meantime, check out these past contributions by Long to the Quarterly starting in the mid-1980s. 

Her works not only touched me personally, but they also are more than just a little prescient. The first piece she published in NDQ 55.1 (1987). It’s listed in the table of contents as a story, but it clearly draws deeply on Long’s childhood on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It’s called: “Snapshots: The Eastern Shore of Maryland. Having grown up in Delaware, the Eastern Shore has always fascinated me. It was so rural compared to the suburban bustle of northern Delaware and so remote, but it also seemed so close. It was a reminder, maybe, that our past wasn’t really that far away. She alludes again to her childhood on an Eastern Shore farm in a 2002 essay from NDQ 69.1 (2002) titled “Writing as Farming” and, it’s hard to escape Long’s interest in character in her own work as motivating her essay in NDQ 59.3 (1991). Here she critiques Mavis Gallant’s “Overhead in a Balloon” through the lens of Chekhov’s “The Darling.”

In issue 56.1 (1986), she published a poem titled “The Return,” which could serve as an epigram to this post. The opening lines are lovely: 

This sleep will wash me back
to where I used to dream

In issue, 57.3 (1989), she published an essay (or maybe a story) called “Solitude” which speaks so obviously to our current condition that I’ll simply link to it. And in the next issue, published a story called “Old Man.” 

When an author returns to the Quarterly, it reminds me that people submit multiple pieces to the same journal over time (and with each piece endure the risk of rejection) because they feel a connection. And this makes literary journals more than just little magazines. At their best, journals like NDQ create a sense of community (or maybe even family) among their contributors and readers through a shared past that shapes a common present.

As Long wrote in “The Return”:

So I wait to wake
I hardly feel the coldness
of the deep. This night is not
as long as childhood was
As then, so now,

the earth is dreaming darkness
towards the blazing sun.

Thing The Second

I’ve never been a huge Truman Capote fan, but I can’t deny that he represents one of the most fascinating individuals of the 20th century literary scene and he is a key instigator of our 21st-century interest in true crime stories, podcasts, and television.

Capote appeared at the 1976 UND Writers Conference and read from his then recent work, but the long shadow of In Cold Blood still followed Capote and he inevitable responded to questions concerning its influence and morality.

The great thing is that you can watch Capote’s reading and his response to the audience in this digitized and newly released video from the UND Writers Conference archives. 

Check it out here.   

And special credit goes to current UND Writers Conference director, Crystal Alberts, who managed to get these videos digitized and, more importantly, did the footwork needed to get permission to release these videos. I can only imagine how much energy and persistence is necessary to get an author’s estate to approve the release of material like this.

Thing The Third

Over the last week, I’ve been working on some design and layout for book scheduled to appear this fall titled Visualizing Votive Practice edited by Derek Counts, Erin Averett, and Kevin Garstki. It is the first book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota that emphasizes “The Digital” over the traditional form of publishing and will bring together text and 3D images in a fairly convention PDF package that is nevertheless linked extensively to open data from around the web.

A key component (and partner) of this project is Open Context who integrated the ability to view and manipulate 3D images into their linked open data publishing platform. Linking to individual records in Open Context allowed the authors to have stable and persistent URLs for each artifact that they discuss in the book. Check it out here

Individuals seeking to reference these artifacts will be able to cite either the rather more conventional catalogue entry in the book or the stable URI provided by Open Context. It will also allow the reader to move from the linear presentation and arguments offered in the book to a more non-linear movement through the data through integrated hyperlinks.

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