A Facebook Live Event: Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is continuing to experiment with digital and new media by hosting a Facebook Live event with Eric Burin. He’ll discuss his recent edited book, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College which brought together over a dozen scholars from across the disciplines to discuss this history of the Electoral College and how it worked in the most recent election. Dr. Burin will be on Facebook Live to talk discuss the book and to take general questions and comments about the history and significance of the Electoral College in American politics.

To make this happen, we’re teaming up with our friends at the North Dakota Humanities Council. They suggested it, I’m working on figuring out how to do it, and we’re both going to promote it. A little prodding by the NDHC folks in Bismarck, and we’re moving into the social media world. Check it out, Picking the President has its own Facebook page now!

If it’s me, the Humanities Council, Eric Burin, and The Digital Press, then you definitely should participate, and here’s how:

First, go and download Picking the President for free at The Digital Press or if you really want it a paper copy, ordering on via Amazon.

We’ll be broadcasting on Picking the President’s Facebook page starting a 1 pm (CST) February 21st. To ask questions, use the hashtag #PickingthePres on Twitter or Facebook or comment here on this blog or over the blog post on this event on the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota web site.  

Here’s Dr. Burin with Abe Lincoln:

Burin and Licnoln

Convergence: Punk, Slow, and Care in a Digital World

Every now and then I start to worry that my interests are diverging and running away in every direction and leaving me adrift. With budget cuts, possible changing in our teaching/research balance, a shift away from graduate education, and many of my field archaeology projects entire their final seasons, I find myself like many “mid-career” faculty bereft of morale, motivation, and, frankly, direction. So I get to thinking about convergence.

Every now and then, I read something or turn an idea around enough in my creaking, void-filled, mind that I get what other people have often described as an “idea.” This weekend, I had a glimpse of how several tracks in my academic and intellectual development might actually be converging around a theme (or two maybe?) that a few blog posts this weekend helped me to recognize more fully.

I’m going to try to trace these out this morning and to make sense of what my various projects are trying to do and say.

Over the last few years, my colleagues and I have had some entertaining, and I hope useful, conversations centered on three concepts in archaeological research:

1. Punk Archaeology
2. Slow Archaeology
3. Archaeology of Care

I can’t take credit, really, for any of these, but I probably am as responsible as anyone for coining terms to describe them, and promoting the use of these terms.

Punk Archaeology celebrates the performative, DIY, and improvised aspects of archaeological field work and thinking. It has tended to focus a bit more on the archaeology of the contemporary world because this is where archaeological methods and practices have tend to break down when confronted with challenges such as modern abundance leading archaeologists to innovate on the fly, our work is less bound by the formal limits of the site and more publicly accessible, and contemporary observers are more willing to offer dissonant, alternative, and conflicting perspectives. As a result, punk archaeology – at its best – defamiliarized the familiar in everyday life (much like punk takes the basic structure of pop song and makes it something else) and familiarizes the unfamiliar in archaeological practice by putting it on display. In short, it can turn archaeology inside out.

Slow Archaeology is a critique of the role of technology in archaeological practice. I’ve argued that the Taylorist drive for efficiency has produced field practices that tend to fragment both how we describe material culture but also our experiences. At its most perverse, field work is reduced to “data collection” and digital tools are celebrated as ways to make the harvesting of “raw data” more efficient. There is no doubt that field work should be efficient and that technology will improve not only what we collect from the field, but also how we collect archaeological information. Slow archaeology, however, calls for us to maintain a space in archaeological field practice for analysis and interpretation and to be patient with these processes. Moving forward, I’d like to see slow archaeology celebrate integrative practices in archaeological field work that both bring together our fragmented techniques in the field and the information that these techniques produce.

Archaeology of Care. The archaeology of care is a term coined by my colleague Richard Rothaus and, like slow and punk archaeology, it offers a critical reflection on the practice and performance of archaeology. It stemmed from the observation that people who we encountered in the Bakken were genuinely moved by our archaeological and archaeological interest in their world and lives. While neither Richard nor I conceived of our project as a gesture to the people (or objects) that we studied, it became pretty obvious that archaeological work became a medium through which shared understanding of the past and the present are formed. For us at least, the archaeology of care was de-theorized and reflected our very practical experiences doing archaeology of and in the contemporary world.

It has taken me a while to recognize that these three moves in my archaeological thinking have focused on a number of shared themes centered largely on our practices in the field: (1) a focus on archaeology as performance and experience, (2) a tendency to recognize these experiences a bringing together people, data, and objects, and (3) a preference for DIY and an aversion to “technological solutionism” in its various forms.

These ideas have started to come together with another couple of “projects” that I’ve been slowly working on over the last few years. As readers of this blog know, I’ve invested a good bit of time and energy into The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. This emerged directly from my interest in punk archaeology (which became the first book from the press). It started as an experiment in DIY publishing and has slowly expanded into a project designed to the traditional fragmentation of the publishing process that separates the authors from the publishers. At my little press, we create an environment where authors, editors, and publishers work together to produce books at a lower cost than traditional commercial publishing, but with opportunities for more experimentation and control for the authors.

I’m pretty upfront with my authors that I am not a conventional publisher. As my more critical colleagues point out, my books tend to be a bit rough around the edges, my distribution channels remain a bit uncertain, and everything is essentially experimental. But for my authors and editors, this seems to work. If anything, I have more than enough books to keep my enterprise afloat, to hold my interest, and to keep me feeling that this is a meaningful extension of my approach to archaeology and archaeological knowledge production.

What prompted this sudden bout of introspection was a little article titled “Ed-Tech in a Time of Trump” by Audrey Waters. Go read it (and comment if you want; there is the start of a little Hypothes.is comment thread). To summarize a complex argument, trends in Ed-Tech data collection are troubling for a number of reasons. First, Waters critiques the basic philosophy that if we collect enough data on our students we can customize our educational practices to produce particular outcomes. Most thoughtful educators realize that this is not how teaching or learning works just as most thoughtful archaeologists do not think that intensified scrutiny and technologies in how we collect “all of the datas” will produce better archaeological knowledge more efficiently. (Do check out Dimitri Nakassis’s refinement of my critiques of data at his blog especially here and here and here.)

At the same time, we are lured by the temptation of easy digital data collection especially in online courses or in courses with substantial online components. Universities have developed sophisticated data collection schemes as their infrastructure has become digital and student interactions with almost all services is mediated by tools that collect data to produce increasingly comprehensive digital profiles of students. Even with the protections offered by FERPA, universities have vast quantities of data on students that can be leveraged internally to encourage practices that “better” serve students. Students are consumers and the university has indulged in all the conceits of online consumer culture. In place of a culture of care grounded in complex experiences of teaching and learning, the university as an institution has fragmented students into bundles and clusters of data that can be arranged to anticipate and serve student and administrative expectations. This has particularly toxic potential as calls to “reinvent education” often look to technologies to create the appearance of doing more with less, while obscuring the reality that less almost always means less in education.

What is more troubling for Waters is that the calls to “reinvent education” or to “innovate” almost always rest on the assumption that current practices are flawed. The temptation is to identify the problems with education through scrutiny of “big data” rather than attention to small, daily practices. With the lure of big fixes residing in big data issues of security and privacy abound. What is more terrifying still is that for public universities, this data could easily fall into the hands of politically motivated leaders either on campus or at the state or local levels who could use students and faculty data for purposes that run counter to many of our values as educators, scholars, and public servants. Waters evokes the always chilling specter of Nazi data collection as an example for how the state can mine “big data” for nefarious purposes.

To be clear, I don’t see slow archaeology, punk archaeology, the archaeology of care, or The Digital Press as a bulwark against Nazism or as explicitly political statements, but I would like to think that the common aspects of these projects represent a kind of resistance to some of the more troubling trends in academic practices and higher education these days. Calling for greater scrutiny of practice in a time of big data, promoting DIY among students and colleagues, and demonstrating how integration, and care, rather than fragmentation and “analysis” can produce meaningful and significant results. 

Picking the President in Paper and Other Press News

I’m happy to announce that sixth (or seventh) book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, Eric Burin’s Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College, is now available in glorious, durable paper from Amazon.com. It’s $8. That’s less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks or a six-pack of “craft beer.” 

The paper version of Picking the President is based on the slightly updated version (version 1.3 for those of you keeping track at home!) which was a general tidying up of the text. It is the same version that the individual offprints are based on just with a slightly different cover.

So head on over to The Digital Press now and download a copy or, if the intoxicating smell of the paper book is your thing, pop on over to Amazon and buy one

Ec project cover2 02cropped

If you’ve had about enough of the Electoral College and its consequences these days, then perhaps digital archaeology is more to your taste. If so, please check out Jody Gordon’s paper at the American Schools of Oriental Research Annual Meeting.

Jody provides a sweeping overview of the contents of a book that he edited with Erin Walcek Averett and Derek Counts, Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology. The book has achieved almost 1000 downloads. If you want the paper version, you can grab it for $20 on Amazon

 

Mtp cover 3dirt

Finally, here is a sneak peak at a project that The Digital Press is assisting with. It’s an open access textbook on the History of Applied Science and Technology being developed by one of our Ph.D. Students Danielle Mead Skjelver and our historian of science here at the University of North Dakota, Hans Broedel. While the exact role for the Digital Press is not entirely clear, they are partnering with the Rebus Foundation to make this happen, and their process got a little positive attention this week. Check it out here.

More on Picking the President

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota’s most recent book, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College edited by Eric Burin is getting some positive attention both around campus and in the local media. 

If you haven’t downloaded the book, do it today! 

Check out Eric Burin’s interview with Prairie Public Radio’s Main Street here.

Our friend Jack Russel Weinstein has posted it to his blog, PQED, which I’m sure gets far more readers than this little outfit!

The book and some brilliant words from me and Eric also appeared today in the local campus outlet UNDToday. 

This weekend, I’ll get it all set for paper publication and with any luck it’ll be available on Amazon by the end of the month.

Announcing Picking the President

It is my pleasure to announce the publication of Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College edited by Eric Burin by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota.

This The Digital Press’s first effort at a “quick book” that draws together essay from over a dozen authors on the Electoral College. Some were published before and some were written for this book. We combined these essays with historical documents and hope that they provide a platform for thoughtful engagement. The entire project took less than a month from start to finish owing largely to the hard work of my colleague and the book’s editor Eric Burin and the willingness of the contributors to move quickly over the winter break! It was a real rush to get the entire book together this quickly and aside from a few little glitches – like the first page of the table of contents on an even numbered page (which will be ironed out before the book is printed on paper). 

We also collaborated with North Dakota Quarterly to extend the reach of the Digital Press to new readers and a new audience, pushing the book out late yesterday afternoon on the NDQ website

Finally, working on this book was such a welcome respite from winter writing grind. I’ve spent the last few weeks hacking through a long term writing project, and the rush of producing a book in a deeply collaborative way was exactly the tonic that saved me from a total implosion into my own mind. 

Picking the President Cover

Here’s the blurb:

Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College. Edited by Eric Burin

The 2016 presidential election has sparked an unprecedented interest in the Electoral College. In response to Donald Trump winning the presidency despite losing the popular vote, numerous individuals have weighed in with letters-to-the-editor, op-eds, blog posts, videos, and the like, and thanks to the revolution in digital communications, these items have reached an exceptionally wide audience. In short, never before have so many people had so much to say about the Electoral College.

To facilitate and expand the conversation, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College offers brief essays that examine the Electoral College from different disciplinary perspectives, including philosophy, mathematics, political science, history, and pedagogy. Along the way, the essays address a variety of questions about the Electoral College: Why was it created? How has it changed over time? Who benefits from it? Is it just? How will future demographic patterns affect it? Should we alter or abolish the Electoral College, and if so, what should replace it? In exploring these matters, Picking the President enhances our understanding of one of America’s most high-profile, momentous issues.

With contributions by Eric Burin, Brad Austin, Bill Caraher, Allen C. Guelzo and James H. Hulme, Mark Stephen Jendrysik, Donald F. Johnson, Benjamin J. Kassow, Andrew Meyer, Cynthia Culver Prescott, Timothy Prescott, Patrick Rael, Andrew Shankman, Manisha Sinha, Mark Trahant, and Jack Weinstein.

~

As you all know, the Digital Press relies on friends and supporters to get our books into the hands of interested readers. We think this book brings together over a dozen short essays and significant historical document in an effort to understand in a more nuanced way the history and arguments for and against the Electoral College in the immediate context of the 2016 presidential election. We also hope that this book will find its way into classrooms both on campus and beyond. It’s concise form, open access status, perspective and provocative essays, and the inclusion of historical documents make a platform for informed discussion.

Here’s a link to the book: https://thedigitalpress.org/picking-the-president/

Here’s (my version of the) official press release for the book:

Announcing the Newest Title from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota:
Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College. Edited by Eric Burin. 

No matter where one stands in American politics, the 2016 presidential elections were momentous. After a long and contentious campaign, it seemed somehow fitting that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and Donald Trump won the electoral vote. This touched off another round in the long running debate over the role of the Electoral College in American presidential elections.

The wide range of views on the Electoral College in the state and national media prompted Prof. Eric Burin of the Department of History to team up with North Dakota Quarterly and the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota to publish Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College. This volume brings together scholars from across campus, the state, and the US to discuss the history and the future of the Electoral College.

For Prof. Burin, “the Electoral College may be the most momentous and contentious feature of American life. It determines who will be president, the most powerful office in the world. The stakes couldn’t be higher.  That’s why people feel so strongly about it.  That’s also why we need to study it so carefully.”

While all the contributors prepared their essays in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, their perspectives span from the world of antiquity to Early Modern Europe, 19th century America, and the present day. Drawing on disciplines as diverse as math, philosophy, communications, and political science, Burin notes: “Picking the President aims to enrich the public conservation about the Electoral College. The book’s collection of brief, engaging, and insightful essays are not intended to be the final word on the Electoral College. Rather, the goal is to make our discussions on the subject even more wide-ranging, thoughtful, and rewarding.”

The book also includes a series of important documents in the history of the Electoral College including both well-known texts like Article II of the U.S. Constitution which established the Electoral College and documents that might be less familiar to the general public like James Madison’s correspondence with John Hillhouse and George Hay on the issue.

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota leverages a new ecosystem of digital publishing tools, social media distribution, and print-on-demand printing to produce high quality digital publication.  These digital tools allow the Digital Press to bringing together scholars from campus, the state, and the nation to engage thoughtfully in a conversation of immediate relevance. Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Debbie Storrs remarks: “The scholars in this volume represent multiple perspectives and demonstrate in their responsiveness and urgency an innovative deployment, made possible by digital technology and committed scholarship, of disciplinary expertise to engage public discussion, democracy and citizenship. The continued relevance of the liberal arts is revealed in the thoughtful analysis of the Electoral College by scholars.”

The book is available as a free download here.

And will be available at the end of the month as a low-cost paperback on Amazon.com.

 

 

 

Book Making Day: Picking the President

Today is book making day, and, as anyone who has ever worked with The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota knows, this is my favorite day. Today, I’m going to put the finishing touches on Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College, edited by Eric Burin

It’s an exciting project for a number of reasons. First, it’s timely and is a good read! It brings together a nice combination of new works and previously published articles on the Electoral College. It is also well-balanced between UND contributors and contributors of national status, and I think the perspectives offered reflect a range of perspectives. I’m not sure the book is comprehensive, in terms of views on the Electoral College, but I think there is plenty of room for a reader to challenge the perspectives offered in the book and come to their own conclusions on its role in the American republic.

I enjoyed working closely with a colleague in the Department of History to produce something that, with any luck, should offer both our department and the University of North Dakota some visibility at a time when the fate of higher education in the state is being actively debated. 

Finally, and most importantly, this is the first time The Digital Press produced a “quick book.” That is a book length treatment of an issue of pressing and historic significance. Generally speaking conventional academic publishing is a slow process. Publishers queue books up for production and design, copy-editing, correspondence, printing, and distribution all take place on a carefully managed schedule of deadlines. The Digital Press is a very, very small and as a result, we have great flexibility. We also work so closely with our authors and contributors who almost all appreciated the pressing deadlines (particularly the editor of this book, Eric Burin) and got things done on time and to spec.

So stay tuned! With any luck, this book will appear in the next 12 hours.

Here’s a little sneak peek.

 

Picking the President Jan 8 Draft

 

Picking the President Jan 8 DraftTOC

Picking the President Jan 8 DraftTOC2

Picking the President Jan 8 DraftTOC3

Picking the President Jan 8 WRC

Another Book by its Cover

This week I’ve spent some of my free thinking about the cover for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota’s newest book: Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College edited by Eric Burin. In most cases I fuss with book covers and chat with more designer-ly friends or even contract with someone to produce it. Since Picking the President is a “quick book” designed to provoke questions, conversation, and debate about the electoral college in light of the recent presidential election, I don’t really have the luxury of a protracted design process (nor do I feel pushing someone to produce a cover quickly over the holidays is a very nice thing to do). So, I’m doing this on my own! 

I wanted to do two things in my cover design. First, I wanted to use blue and red which are colors now closely associated with the Democratic and Republican parties. Second, I wanted to use an old style font evocative of that used on such 18th century publication. I really like the font Caslon (and its slightly weightier modern variants) because they were historically common and remain recognizable as “olde tyme” fonts.

My first effort set the works “Picking the President” against an outline of the U.S. and bands of blue and red. 

EC Project Cover 01

This cover is decent, I guess, although I thought the text was hard to read against the blue so I made the blue and red a bit opaque. Unfortunately that made the colors look faded and a bit like a bad color photocopy. And the bands of red and blue look a bit like the French flag. The font is Didot which is fine, but a bit contemporary for what I was after.

I messed with a few other designs with more and with less color and finally figured out what the outline of the U.S. needed. It needed a flag!

EC Project Cover2 2 01

I like the Caslon font on this cover too, although I’m never entirely happy with how “P”s work with small caps. There is always some kind of kerning issue. That being said, I think this works a good bit better both in terms of legibility and style. Barring an overwhelming desire to mess with this more or I get some good suggestions from readers!

Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College

One of the real benefits of the collaborative and cooperative publishing model at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is that ideas can mature very quickly because the author and the production team work together to frame the project. Last week, my colleague Eric Burin approached me with an idea for a short and quick book on the Electoral College. The goal was for us to prepare a slim volume and have it available by the inauguration.

The book would feature essays the both consider the current utility and significance of the Electoral College and its historical roots in both the early American Republic and its historical inspirations and predecessors. Fueled by the good will and enthusiasm of our contributors, we are now ready to announce the forthcoming publication of Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College.

The book will feature contributions by Eric Burin, Brad Austin, Bill Caraher, Mark Jendrysik, Don Johnson, Benjamin Kassow, Timothy Prescott, Patrick Rael, Andrew Shankman, Mark Trahan, and Jack Weinstein.

To whet your appetite, Eric Burin has prepared a little book trailer for us here.

Here’s our quickly produced and provisional cover. As per usual design tips and suggestions are always appreciated! 

EC Project Cover 01

In Praise of Pointless Publishing

This past couple weeks, I’ve begun working on the next book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. The book is a field manual for a major archaeological excavation and once we have the final permissions cleared, we’re get the book into production. As I’ve talked bout this book with various people on my editorial board and some cooperative reviewers, many have responded “what’s the point”” 

On a practical level, I appreciate the question. We all have limited reserves of energy and any activity – whether scholarly, academic, or simply recreational – should have a goal, a point, or some value. After all, our ability to do for a reason is what separates humans from my two dogs. At the same time, I’ve begun to think about books and publishing outside the immediate reward of a clearly articulated, receptive audience. 

I’ve enjoyed in particular the recent trend toward publishing design and standards manuals for various public entities. Standards Manual in New York has revived the 1975 NASA graphics standards manual, the 1976 Bicentennial Symbol guide, and the 1970 NYCTA standards manual. I’ve also enjoyed the 1965 British Rail Corporate Identity Manual. These books no longer serve their purpose as design and standards manuals, but nevertheless offer an intriguing perspective on how institutions implemented complex design programs. The purpose of these books is unclear. On the one hand, they aren’t archival copies of rare editions. They aren’t particularly useful guides – unless you’re researching an institution that is as expansive as NASA or British Rail. They don’t reflect contemporary digital practices or corporate standards. They’re monuments to design, to be sure, but design situated in a particular time and place.

This week, I got a lightly used copy of Bill Dever and and Darrell Lance’s A Manual of Field Excavation: Handbook for Field Archaeologists (Cincinnati 1978).  The book originated as the field manual for their dig at Gezer in Israel. The guide is dated, in as much as it doesn’t feature the latest elements of digital practice, but at the same time is utterly charming. It circulated widely enough that it isn’t difficult to find an inexpensive copy in good condition. Field manuals are like graphic design and standards manuals. They typically have a limited life-span, a particular purpose, and a very specific context. Their utility as field manuals is limited except perhaps as general guides to other projects and they’re usually common enough in project archives or on the web that publishing them offers little in terms of access or circulation.

Despite that, there is still something about making a book and presenting these manuals formally even if our intended audience remains a bit vague. 

More on Mobilizing the Past

Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology is the most recent book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota continues to produce downloads, sales, and page views. 

If you feel like the prospect of a free download or a $20 book is just too much of a commitment, then check out editor Jody Gordon’s summary of the book’s scope and perspective. He presented this paper at the recent American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting and released it to the world under a CC-By license. So rather than read something blather I’ve hacked out, go and read Jody’s summary.

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(And if you’re still hungry for more, go and check out the next book from The Digital Press, Micah Bloom’s Codex. We’re doing a very quiet little conversation and preview here.)

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