Making a New Book: Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook

This week is spring break, and after a few nights of restless sleep verging on insomnia,  I’m taking some time for what the kids call “self care.” In a couple of hours I’m going to head into my office on campus and spend some time trying to get my offprint collection sorted out for our department’s big move. I have hundreds of offprints of books many of which I now have as PDFs and I want to cull my paper collection prior to moving to new, smaller, and more efficient offices.

I’m also trying to spending my “self care” time working on some more creative projects (and putting aside the final grind on my book project and an article with a looming deadline). I spent most of the day yesterday working on typesetting a new book project edited by my colleague Cynthia Prescott and Maureen S. Thompson titled (for now): Backstories: The Kitchen Table Talk Cookbook. Like so many books that land on my desk at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, this one has a somewhat compressed timeline. The book is being published in collaboration with the Rural Women’s Studies Association (RWSA) whose 2021 conference is scheduled for May 11-15, 2021! Our tentative publication date is May 10. 

This book presents some interesting design challenges. First off, it’s not just a conventional edited volume, but it also includes both historic recipes as well as recipes that serve as evidence for scholarly arguments. The editors also solicited both typical scholarly contributions and favorite or historically significant recipes from contributors. This means we have both longer (~6,000 word) chapters with footnotes and the like and short two-page submissions. Finally, the book can be read as either a scholarly work that both samples and interprets recipes as a window into the lives of rural women and their families. OR as an unconventional cookbook offering delicacies such as “brains on toast” and “boiled tongue” as well as an array of more contemporary, sweet and savory dishes.

To make this kind of hybrid book work, I decided to make the pages slightly bigger than the convention 6 x 9 inches and opted for 7 x 10 inches. I added fairly generous margins with produced a narrower text block that gave the book a bit more of a cookbook feel to it and makes it easier to read on tablets.

Backstories Proof 00 pdf  page 9 of 160 2021 03 17 06 25 48

For fonts, I used the fairly buttoned-down Minion Pro for the main text and the rather contemporary Brandon Grotesque for the chapter titles and authors names. The connection between Brandon Grotesque and Walmart is just an unfortunate coincidence, but maybe one that speaks a bit to the role of the megastore in the lives of contemporary rural communities. 

I also used the interplay between the old style Minion Pro (which along with its old style font friends) conveys a kind of seriousness of academic purpose to the book and the sans serif functional legibility of Brandon Text (a version of Brandon Grotesque designed for text blocks) to distinguish interpretative text from recipes. I also indent recipes .5 inches.  I think that this works pretty well. (Note that the page below is far from perfect with the recipe for Coconut Dainties starting a line too low on the page and an extra line before the recipe for Blueberry Cake. These little things will get sorted out before the first set of proofs are circulated.)

Backstories Proof 00 pdf  page 74 of 160 2021 03 17 06 33 55

I’m using page numbers in the outside margins because I think they work a bit better for the digital page (and give the book a 21st-century vibe in print). 

So far, so good as far as typesetting goes. With any luck I’ll have a first set of proofs ready by the end of break and be sufficiently on top of this project to let myself feel restored and energized for the final six weeks of the semester!

Digital Practices, Workflows, and Scholar-Led Publishing

Yesterday I submitted an abstract for the 2021 ASOR annual meeting. It felt like a little expression of hope that things might have returned to a certain kind of normal by next fall. 

I proposed my paper for the third year in a workshop dedicated to “Best Practices for Digital Scholarship” organized by Sarah Kansa and Chuck Jones. It’s in the third year of a three year run and the topic for this year is “perspectives on publishing digital content.”    

My paper is titled “Digital Practices, Workflows, and Scholar-Led Publishing.” It argues that there are three trends that have shaped changes in scholarly publishing: (1) the rise of digital practices in the field which have created both new forms of archaeological information, (2) the decline in library spending and concomitant clamor for more open access resources in archaeology, and (3) the growing precarity and contingency in the archaeological job market. I’d like to argue that changes in both field practices and in the structure of academic labor and institutional priorities are converging and this will encourage new forms of publishing practices. 

I’ve explored many of the ideas that anchor issue (1) in a paper that I submitted last year for a volume edited by Kevin Garstki that emerged from the 2018 IEMA Conference at Buffalo on ““Critical Archaeology in a Digital Age.” You can read it here

It may be that my contribution to the ASOR workshop will focus more on issues (2) and (3). Scholar-led publishing, for example, relies on the willingness of scholars to take on some of the responsibilities traditionally organized or performed by publishers. These range from conducting peer review to copy-editing, book layout and design, and marketing and promotion of published open access books. The reasons for this are complex, of course. I’d contend that some of the shine associated with traditional high value publishers (e.g. Cambridge, Oxford, Chicago, Princeton, et c.) has dulled in some ways because scholars not on the tenure-track no longer feel the need to publish with presses whose prestige is partly tied to their reputation for producing books capable of earning their authors tenure. To go a step further, I’d contend that stagnation of faculty salaries at many institutions and the drift from pay scales anchored in merit to those shaped by a philosophy of austerity has undermined the status of traditional publishers as well. Austerity measures have similarly reduced the purchasing power of libraries, one of the main consumers of traditional academic monographs, and encouraged the rise of open access publishing. This, in turn, has garnered open access publishing its own kind of prestige in academic circles.

Open access publishing is further supported by the continued refinement of publishing software which makes it relatively easy to produce high quality layouts and designs. Print-on-demand technology supported by behemoths like Amazon and Ingram as well as a revolving door of smaller start ups makes it possible to create, sell, and distribute low-cost, decent-quality paperbacks and high-quality hardcover books without investing in massive print runs. For digital books, the rise in both academic and commercial repositories now support an expansive ecosystem of self-archived and open access publications accessible on the web. Social media offers a viable, if sometimes uneven, platform for both targeted and dispersed marketing.

In sum, many of the financial, technological, and professional barriers that have discouraged small-scale academic publishers appear to be diminishing at the same moment when many outwardly successful academic presses are under threat from within their institutions. To be clear, I don’t see scholar-led, open access publishing as replacing traditional academic publishers. Nor do I see this as an either/or situation, but rather as part of the ongoing transformation of both the academic and publishing landscape.

Here’s my abstract:

Digital Practices, Workflows, and Scholar-Led Publishing

Over the past thirty years digital practices have significantly changed archaeological workflows. The distinctive character of digital data now characterizes the processes associated with archaeological knowledge making from the trench or survey unit to the final publication. This shift has coincided with fundamental changes to scholarly publishing which is negotiating the strains of reduced library budgets and challenges linked to the growing pressure and expectation of open access publishing models. At the same time, recent years have seen a shift in the academic job market away from tenured and tenure stream positions and toward a more contingent and precarious workforce. It is hardly surprising, then, that the confluence of these unsettled conditions have provided a critical context for reconsidering the role digital practices play in scholarly publishing. This paper will sketch out the role of small-scale, scholar-led, open access publishing at the amid the increasingly digital character of archaeological publishing, the changing ecosystem of scholarly publishing, and the growing instability and precarity of careers in academic archaeology.

~

This is obviously new terrain for me and, as always, I’m eager to hear any and all thoughts on my ideas!

Public Domain Day NDQ Style

This year’s Public Domain Day was pretty exciting. It featured, among other things, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby which was published in 1925 and therefore entered the public domain on January 1. Hemingway’s In Our Time, John Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer and Edith Wharton’s The Writing of Fiction join a rather distinguished slate of new books. Jennifer Jenkins provides an expansive list here.

This annual injection of new material into the public domain impacts North Dakota Quarterly which produced four issues in 1925 that are now free from any copyright restrictions. This is particularly significant for the Quarterly because we don’t have individual author agreements dating to those years so have only been able to release the material via rather more restrictive “no derivatives” licenses for entire volumes.

In the 1920s, NDQ was edited by E.T. Towne who was dean of the business school at the University of North Dakota. The magazine mostly featured UND faculty contributions, but nevertheless took on issues of both regional and national interests. Most of the articles are non-fiction or reviews, but there was occasional poetry and fiction.

A quick scan of the 1925 issues reveals some interesting contributions.

The January 1925 (15.2) issue featured a survey of American magazines by UND librarian Alfred D. Keator. It is revealing how much the publishing landscape has changed, but also, in some odd ways, remained the same. While we’ve lost most of the high-volume, popular periodicals and lower volume “little magazines” such as NDQ always experienced significant turn over, it would seem that many of the mid-range, quality periodicals have held on over the last century.

The April 1925 (15.3) issue features a group of articles close to my own interest relating to the religious history of the state of North Dakota. Prominent among them is a piece by Edward P. Robertson which offers a retrospect on 20 years of the unique relationship between UND and Wesley College. Robertson was the president of Wesley College and together with Webster Merrifield negotiated the landmark agreement between the two institutions. If you want to learn more about my interest in this arrangement, check out this article that I just submitted. Another article with a disarmingly contemporary feel is the physicist Karl H. Fussler’s piece titled “The Oneness of Nature,” which was delivered as a convocation address at the University of Manitoba. Fussler departs UND several years later for the University of North Carolina. The Wikipedias tells me what his son, Herman H. Fussler, was a pathbreaking librarian primarily at the University of Chicago.

The May 1925 (15.4) issue includes at article by Lauriz Vold titled “The Supreme Court, Congress, and the Constitution” which sounds like it could appear in any number of quality publications these days. E.D. Schonberger’s poem “Fortitude,” written amid the Agricultural Depression of the 1920s, likewise resonates with our current situation. Since it’s in the public domain, I can publish it here without fear of legal action by Schonberger’s heirs or his ghost.

The Quarterly journal  University of North Dakota  v 15 1924 1925  Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust D 2021 01 05 07 49 57

The final issue of 1925 is 16.1, which appeared in the November of that year. Like the previous years, there are quite a few articles the feel contemporary. For example H.E. French, Dean of the UND Medical School, wrote on “The Number and Distribution of Physicians in North Dakota.” His colleague John Sinclair, who taught anatomy, wrote on “Evolution—Fact or Theory” which must have had some significant currency in the aftermath of Scopes Trial. Finally, the issue included a short travelogue penned by Orin G. Libby who joined the “The Upper Missouri Historical Expedition of 1925” sponsored by the “Great Northern Railroad” (sic) and visited historical landmarks across the state.

Epoiesen 4 is Almost Here

This weekend, I spent some time typesetting the fourth volume of Epoiesen. Epoiesen is a journal for “creative engagement in history and archaeology” edited by Shawn Graham and published by Carleton University in Ottawa. While the journal itself appears digitally when content is ready, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota publishes a paper version each winter that collects all the content that has appeared in the year as single PDF or print-on-demand volume. 

In past issues, there have been some challenging page design issues, but this year’s volume has been pretty straight forward. The only thing that I did was pull apart some of the .gifs and prepare some screen-capture sequences in the place of videos. 

Epoiesen4 Video Given

Epoiesen4 Video Dombrowski

The volume is pretty great with thoughtful and provocative pieces by Michael Given and Erin Thompson and productive responses. It’s rare that I say this about a journal, but I wish there was more material in this issue. So, if you have a creative project that might not work in a traditional publication, send it to Epoiesen

Shawn was lucky enough to get Marcelo Vitores to give us permission to use his piece on the cover of the volume.

Cover Epoiesen4 6X9

Finally, I had planned to send along an article to Epoiesen by the end of the year, but I’m increasingly feeling like this might not happen (but we’ll see, there are at least four days left this year, right?). Typesetting the fine content from last year, however, has only made me more enthusiastic about contributing something in the next few weeks! 

Stay tuned for the download link and the paperback 

Scholarly Publishing and Major Scholarly Presses

Dimitri Nakassis doesn’t post very often on his blog, but when he does, it’s worth reading. Earlier this week, he published an interesting piece on the publication patterns in Aegean Prehistory and argued that most of the significant publications came from specialized rather than major presses. 

There’s a lot to unpack in Dimitri’s post and I’m not necessarily qualified to unpack it all, but his major points are interesting. 

First, it would seem that his definition of significant scholarship involves two thing: (1) new data, and (2) significant new analysis of old or existing data. 

Second, this means that most of the significant publications in the field of Aegean prehistory are either (1) primary publication of archaeological data (particularly articles from journals that specialize in publishing archaeological data) or (2) conference proceedings and book chapters from specialized presses. Dimitri enumerates this in his blog post.

Conspicuous by their absence are books published by major presses. This includes Oxford and Cambridge, as well as their American equivalents, Princeton, California, and Chicago. Of course, one reason for this is that Dimitri’s dataset is mostly drawn for an article in Archaeological Reports that considers new archaeological discoveries and few major presses specialize in primary archaeological publications. They also only rarely publish conference proceedings which likewise represent a major place for the dissemination of new arguments and data.

A lack of interest from major presses in publishing conference proceedings and new archaeological data is understandable. This kind of specialist literature tends to have a small audiences, in the case of conference proceedings, or high costs, in the case of formal archaeological publications (or, as is often the case, both). This also means that this kind of publication tends to require significant subventions from scholarly organizations, grants, or the state.

Most of the top academic presses do not deal with subventions and operate with the expectation that they can sell enough of a particular title to recoup a significant part of their cost. As a result, they tend to publish the kinds of books that are likely to generate a wider readership than a specialized conference proceeding or the primary report on an archaeological site. They also increasingly publish high profit library fodder (e.g. Handbooks and Companions) and lower margin, but higher volume popular and short works that have a wide appeal.

As Dimitri observes, the high profit and high volume publications – especially the Handbook and Companion type volumes – serve as significant secondary conduits that point to the publication of archaeological information in their footnotes and bibliographies. These presses also specialize in the conventional academic monograph, which are often revised dissertations, that also tend to re-examine and synthesize existing bodies of published archaeological data. As a result, these examples of “adaptive reuse” of archaeological knowledge attract a wider audience and achieve a wider distribution than the original, typically more specialized publications.

As academic publishing continues to adapt the changing funding landscape, I suspect that the division between major publishers specializing in work that is more synthetic and interpretative and smaller publishers who rely on subsidies to publish primary data and preliminary analyses will continue to grow.

It’ll be interesting to see how conventional scholarly monographs fit into this landscape. Historically, they have relied on library purchases to offset the cost of publishing. I would guess that at present, as library resources continue to decline, the costs of monograph publishing are increasingly offset by popular and generalist works (e.g. Handbooks and Companions) some of which are made available by digital subscriptions. Whether this model is sustainable is hard to say. 

I suspect more specialized presses will continue to draw on subsidies, subventions, and grants to publish narrowly specialized works. What’s more, as national funding bodies exert greater pressure on researchers to make their data publicly available in open formats, it would appear that presses prepared to lean into subvented publications would find a significant new revenue stream.

This shift is significant as it marks a pivot from a model of publishing that expected the consumer to fund the cost of publication to one that expects the researcher or institution to subvent the publication of their work often with grant funds (or as part of a large funding “scheme”). A couple of years ago, I mused about the relationship between research and publishing narrowing in our digital age, especially with digital publishing venues for, say, archaeological data, and the rise of scholar-led publishing. One wonders whether this tend will continue to shape the character of consumer-driven, more generalist work from major publishers and more-specialized researcher funded work from less historically prominent publishers.

Considering the key role that traditional monographs from major publishers play in (what’s left of) tenure and promotion decisions, these trajectories could curiously invert the typical trajectory of scholarly publishing. Historically rather narrow dissertations produced specialized dissertations and while this mostly continues to be the case, the need the sell books to offset the cost of publishing monographs from major presses might already explain why Dimitri reckons major presses are having less of an impact in the field. Are we seeing a trend in dissertation-based monographs (and dissertations) toward less narrowly focused and therefore somewhat less incisive work?

As grant funding publishing tends to be something that happens in mid-career and later, will we see a trend toward more impactful and specialized scholarship appearing later in a scholars career, at the very point when historically a scholar might decide to address “big picture” problems in the field?

Deserted Villages: Perspectives from the Eastern Mediterranean

I spent this weekend typesetting a new book for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota: Deserted Villages: Perspectives from the Eastern Mediterranean edited by Rebecca Seifried and Deborah Brown Stewart. It should be out in early 2021. 

I’m excited about this book for quite a few reasons. First, this book is the third publication based on the work of the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology Interest Group of the Archaeological Institute of America. This book is a heavily revised selection of papers from a panel titled “Deserted Villages” held at the 117th Annual Meeting of the AIA in 2016. This has significant personal meaning as a number of us founded this group 15 years ago to support and encourage the growing interest in Medieval archaeology present at the AIA. It’s exciting to see that the group continues to have momentum and has expanded its reach. 

Next, and more substantively, the chapters in the book are really, really good. These are not warmed-over conference papers, but carefully peer-reviewed, substantial, and engaged works of archaeological interpretation. In fact, almost every chapter in the book involves the publication of new archaeological material, analysis, and interpretation. Most run to over 40 pages in length. The introduction blends theoretical and regional perspectives to set up the volume. 

Finally, on a more personal note, the volume includes a paper that David Pettegrew and I have book working on for almost 20 years. The chapter publishes for the first time our longitudinal study of the houses and landscape of a site called Lakka Skoutara in the southeastern Corinthia.This is a settlement site that we happened upon in (I’m guessing here) 2001 as part of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey and started to document as, what we then called, a “formation process playground.” Around 20 abandoned Balkan-style long-houses stood in a broad valley in various states of abandonment and collapse. Over the past 20 years, we witnessed some of them collapse, others be refurbished, and some continue to dissipate into the insect-infested olive groves. I can’t wait for people to finally read our work.

The book is also a model of how a collaborative, scholar-led, press can work. The peer reviewers offered meaningful and incisive feedback on all of the manuscripts most of which went through at least two rounds of substantive revision. The manuscript itself have been copy edited by Rebecca Seifried, who is an archaeologist, librarian, and copy editor (who has copy edited other books for the Press in the past). Her attention to detail combine with the editors concern for length and tone to give the volume a cohesive and polished character.

The editors have also contributed to the overall look of the volume. They suggested that we typeset the book in the open-source Cardo font. I’ve added chapter titles and author names in Proxima Nova (to give the book a little continuity with other Digital Press titles). The main text block is 10 point which might look a little on the large side on the paper page, but will make the book more easy to read on tablets and computer screens.   

Deserted Villages PROOF 1

The editors have also enthusiastically contributed book cover ideas which makes my life much easier and is really fun.

Here are a few of the ideas that we’ve been bandying about:

Cover 1: I’m partial to the image here and sort of like the funky font, but it might not be as legible as I would want it when it’s reduced to a grainy little thumbnail on the Amazon page.

Book cover ex2

Cover 2: I like the “olde tyme” or Medieval font and the image, but the sky feels too washed out to me. 

Book cover ex1 v2

Cover 2.1: This uses a slightly different font on the same cover. On the whole, I think the more “manuscripty” font works better than this typewritten one, but I still like it!

Book cover ex1 v3

Cover 3: This cover may be my favorite (although I really like Cover 1 as well). There’s something really archaeological about it and the black text box makes the title pop. I wonder if it would look good with the more Medieval font in Cover 2? I also love the dark clouds in the sky behind the wall. 

Book cover ex3 v2

As always, feedback on these cover is welcome and encouraged!

Three Things Thursday: Medieval Pottery, Weird Reviews, and a New Book

It’s the last Thursday of the semester and I feel like I’m at the point where I’m almost done, but there’s also so much left to do! This is exhausting and exhilarating in turn and also vaguely distracting as I try to balance between starting something new and wrapping up the odds and ends from the semester. New things always sound more fun, but there’s nothing more satisfying than checking something off my to-do list.

All this is to say that today is a three things Thursday:

Thing the First

If you have time this weekend, do read “Thebes at the Time of the Catalans: A Deposit between the Ismenion Hill and the Elektra Gate” by Fotini Kondyli and colleagues in the latest issue of Hesperia (89.4 (2020) for those of you with a score card!). It’s a fantastic study of 13th and 14th century (AD!) pottery for Thebes. 

Thebes is one of those places that folks interested in Medieval Greece think about more than we know about. It was clearly a major center in the Middle Byzantine and Frankish period and we understand its place in the political and to the economic history of the region (via the earlier Cadaster of Thebes, various Medieval towers, as well as other sources). At the same time, it seems like we knew a good bit less about the everyday material culture of the city especially when compared to Corinth or Athens.

Kondyli’s article is a good step toward rectifying this. Her study (with her colleagues) focused on a stratified deposit of pottery from a bothros that appears to represent daily life in the city. As such, the published material featured more than just the usually “fancy wares” (i.e. glazed fine table wares) and included a substantial selection of cooking pots and other household coarse wares (jugs, table amphora et c.). 

The meticulous typological study of the ceramics complements a more preliminary study of their fabrics based on petrography. This allowed the authors to begin to sort local wares produced around Thebes from imports from outside the region. Among the more interesting revelations is that despite the political tensions between Catalan Thebes and its Venetian rival on Euboea (Negroponte), goods continued to move between those regions as well as between Thebes and Athens which were both under Catalan control for most of the 14th century.

Needless to say, this kind of detailed and careful work has significant implications for our understanding of the Medieval economy of Greece more broadly. It has particular significance for intensive pedestrian survey where Medieval coarse ware often goes unrecognized even by experienced ceramicists. Consequently, absence of carefully dated Medieval coarse ware typologies has led to the Medieval landscape of Greece being comparatively under represented in survey analysis, and this has tended to support a view that post-Classical Greece, particularly during the Frankish period, endured a period of economic, political, and cultural decline. Efforts to revise this perception begin, in some ways, with our ability to recognize the material culture of this period and to document its distribution more carefully. This article is a start.

Thing the Second

There’s been quite a kerfuffle over a review that was posted yesterday in the BMCR. The BMCR is free site for academic reviews of books related to Classics, ancient history, and Mediterranean archaeology. Typically the reviews, at best, useful and, at worst, boring (with the very worst being almost unreadably dull). Occasionally, they publish reviews that are exceedingly critical, misunderstands or misrepresents a book, or, like this week, are very weird. 

As someone who appreciates weirdness for weirdness sake, I mostly find opportunities for even inoffensive weirdness a welcome distraction from the incredibly banal character of academic life and provocative weirdness — even when it gets it wrong — usually makes me smile. 

At the same time, I do understand and appreciate that there is a time and place for weirdness. Judging by the outcry on the interwebs, this review was maybe out of place or at the wrong time. The issue then becomes, what should BMCR or the scholarly community do about it?

Some have suggested that BMCR apologize to the authors of the book (which by all accounts is a very fine book) for allowing this review to appear. This has the benefit, I suppose, of protecting the author of the review — who provided that they reviewed the book in good faith — prepared the review, had it accepted and published, while also taking the blame for allowing such a review to appear.

It’s interesting to think about the social contract between book authors, publishers, journal editors, reviewers, and readers. It seems to me that book authors and publishers hope that their work to be reviewed fairly, but once it is released to the public, they lose any right to expect that. Readers and journal editors, however, have the right to expect that reviews were done in good faith. It seems to me that an authors hope for a book and the editors and readers expectations for a review need not align perfectly. For example, an unfair review that comes about because of a misunderstanding of the book may well be done in good faith and lead to fruitful discussion of the book and its merits. 

What rights, then, do reviewers have? For most of us, writing a book review is a service to the discipline. It is uncompensated and only rarely counts for anything at our home institutions. We hope that our review encourages academic discussion of the book under review and adds value to the venue where it is published. It would be a difficult pill to swallow if a good faith review appropriately vetted by the editors of a journal led to an apology by the journal to the author of the book. 

Thing the Third   

With any luck, I’ll start on book production today (or maybe tomorrow, but certainly by the weekend) on the first book that the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota will publish in 2021. It’s a volumed edited by Rebecca M. Seifried and Deborah Brown Stewart titled Deserted Villages: Perspectives from the Eastern Mediterranean.

Stay tuned for more on this book over the next few weeks!!

Old Wine in New Skins: The University of North Dakota and the Great War

A few years ago, when The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota was just starting and when I was feeling my way forward as the editor of North Dakota Quarterly, I produced a little book as much as a design study as anything: The University of North Dakota and the Great War. The book was a reprint of nine articles published in North Dakota Quarterly between 1916 and 1919 that deal with the Great War. I set the book in Doves type which has just been re-released at around the same time. 

This past fall a colleague in the Department of English here at UND asked me whether we had ever produced a print version of the book. I admitted that we had not. He then wondered whether it would be possible to do this for a class he’s teaching on the literature of World War I. 

Six weeks later, we’ve prepared a print version of the book. I’ll release it over at the NDQ blog later this week and cross post with The Digital Press then as well. 

To be honest, it’s not my best work. There are some inconsistencies in the table of contents that will haunt me for a while (O.G. Libby versus Orin G. Libby?). I decided this morning that these reflect the historical place of the book in my development as a designer and publisher. I don’t have as clever an explanation for why I had to quickly upload a corrected cover to Amazon and revise the Amazon product description yesterday afternoon (ideally this will be live by noon-ish today).  

Anyway, warts and all, it’s here and available for anyone who wants it for the low, low price of $7.

As a little inducement to purchase this little book, the money raised by this little volume will support both the mission of The Digital Press and it’s role as the financial and production backstop for North Dakota Quarterly. In 2021, NDQ will embark on a rather ambitious new project: a book series. While we’re still trying to work out some of the details, our current plan is for the books to be published under their own imprint from The Digital Press and distributed by the University of Nebraska Press, the publisher of NDQ. The Digital Press will support production and the proceeds will contribute to the financial viability of both NDQ and The Digital Press.  

Of course, the best way to support NDQ is to subscribe, but if you’re looking for a less serious commitment with a historical flavor, grab a copy of the University of North Dakota and the Great War. If you looking for something more poetic, consider buying a copy of Snichimal Vayuchil, which is an experimental poetry workshop in bats’i k’op, or Tsotsil Maya, where writers create poetry in their own mother language and Spanish, sharing their work as a form of what they call relational poetry. 

Download it here or buy it in paperback here.

UND and The Great War COVER SINGLE FINAL 01

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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