Three Things Thursday: Blogging, Archaeology and Climate, and Poetry

I’ve reached the point of the summer when all my projects seem to melt together into chaotic ball of deadlines, half-met expectations, and long bikes rides. Needless to say, it has not been very productive.

At the same time, I am having fun thinking about things to blog about and then stretching my morning blogging time well into my second cup of coffee. So this morning, I have three things that might, someday, mature into full blog posts.

Thing the First

Years ago (let’s say 2008), I wrote a piece on the archaeology of blogging (and blogging archaeology) for Archaeology magazine’s website. I returned to some of the ideas in that article with a piece co-written by Andrew Reinhard for Internet Archaeology which considered the place of blogs in the academic ecosystem.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how blogging has changed over the past five years. When I started blogging, I imagined an audience who would be interested in understanding how the [academic] sausage was made. Along those lines, my blog would serve as part idea box, part academic scratch pad, and part preview channel for my various research interests. At my most optimistic, I considered it to be living supplement to my academic CV (with occasional dog photo!) and as a way to move back the veil on how academics produce new knowledge. In any event, it may be that this was an optimistic program from the start, but I continue to think that it has relevance. I suspect that this is even more true for today as the general public has become increasingly invested in understanding how scientific knowledge forms the basis for public policy, authority, and expertise.

That said, I can completely understand how my blog is not to everyone’s taste. Indeed, it seems like public scholarship has two main areas of emphasis. One is works that approach historical problems with a journalistic flair for narrative, description, and analysis. Ed Watt’s recent book on the fall of the Roman Republic fits this category as do works by the likes of Eric Cline or my colleague Eric Burin. These works have the potential to attract the elusive crossover audience that includes both academics and the general public and have emerged as a revenue stream for publishers and scholars alike. This is important at a time when library purchasing power is in decline and faculty salaries have tended to stagnate.

The other major strain in public scholarship, and one that has particular prominence in the blogging community, is politically engaged outreach. This involves writing — often for blogs, but also in more established publications — on both academic issues that have an impact on contemporary society and in efforts to demonstrate how the contemporary political discourse has had an impact on what we do as researchers. I find the work of folks like Sarah Bond, Rebecca Futo-Kennedy, and the folks who blog at places like Everyday Orientalism (and previously Eidolon) compelling and important voices. At the same time, I recognize that this kind of public outreach often puts you in the crosshairs of the political outrage machine on social media. On the other hand, their work also attracts significant positive attention from readers within and outside the academy and if the goal of public outreach is actually reaching the public, then these authors have succeeded in spades. 

That said, it is a very different kind of blogging than what I envisioned when I started my blog and one wonders whether the changing political and cultural economy of academia has fundamentally transformed the character of outreach and public oriented scholarship? 

Thing the Second

I really enjoyed this article in the Journal of Field Archaeology by Karim Alizadeh, M. Rouhollah Mohammadi, Sepideh Maziar, and Mohmmad Feizkhah titled: “The Islamic Conquest or Flooding? Sasanian Settlements and Irrigation Systems Collapse in Mughan, Iranian Azerbaijan.” It is another in the recent gaggle of articles interested in considering the role of climate change in the transformation of settlement and activity in the ancient Mediterranean (broadly construed) landscape. Alizadeh and colleagues look at evidence for fortifications and irrigation systems in the Mughan Steppe region of the Azerbaijan-Iranian borderland.

They argue that the Sassanians constructed a complex network of irrigation canals throughout the region that only faltered as a result of two major flooding events in the 7th century. These floods cut down the Aras River bed making disrupting its relationship to the steppe’s irrigation network. These flooding events may well be connected to changes in climate and hydrology precipitated by the Late Antique Little Ice Age. The subsequent abandonment of settlement in the Mughan Steppe in the late 7th century, then, may not be related to the Muslim Conquests and the arrival of Muslim military forces in the world. Or, alternately, the faltering irrigation may have made the regional less resilient in the face of political and military challenges. 

This kind of work has had me thinking more carefully about the settlement change in Greece in the 7th century and the relationship between climate change, changes in economic structures, and the evident reorganization of Greek rural settlement. While the data that we have for the environmental conditions at the local level remains fragmentary and inconclusive, comparisons with other regions of the Mediterranean give us another reason to resist assuming that political and military events precipitated changes in the settlement and economy.   

Thing the Third

Do go and check out the North Dakota Quarterly blog today. I’ve posted a poem by John Walser titled “Chronoscope 181: And that spot.” It’s a great example of how poetry (and music!) can do things with time that we struggle to accomplish in the more linear world of academic prose. Plus, it’s a perfect poem to read heading into midsummer and thinking about how long days can slow down time and make even the chaotic disorganization of summer feel like something significant… 

Year End Blogging Review

It’s been a strange year for blogging. On the one hand, it feels like the blog is more of an outdated platform than ever before. Social media to occupy the center of our online consciousness more than ever before as the COVID pandemic has pushed us to engage with our professional colleagues in new ways, to find digital opportunities to defy social distancing restriction, and to navigate the high speed news cycle. Frankly, who has time to find much less read blogs which more and more feel like clunky and anti-social hermitage in comparison to the riotous conviviality of Twitter and Facebook. 

On the other hand, it is clear that people still read my blog. In fact, I’ve had more positive and encouraging comments about my blog this year than any of the past few. Moreover, it continues to get around 70 page views per day, which is more or less consistent with the last five years, but down for the more heady days of 2013, 2014, and 2015 when the blog averaged over 100. Most of the traffic come from search engines, as one would expect, but social media send a significant number of referrals my way. It would appear that the “blog list” is probably dead with only the faintest trickle of referrals from this once central hub for directing traffic on the internet. As always, I know when David Meadows links to my blog from Rogue Classicism.  

I’ve posted 257 times this year (including this post) and will likely post something on tomorrow and Thursday. This makes this year the second busiest year on record (while I’ve been blogging since 2007 (and you can read my past posts on The Archive). This year will be the first year that I have written more than 200,000 words for the blog and averaged about 780 words per post. This is significant to me mostly because I started this blog, in part, as a way to encourage my own writing habit as well as to make the inner workings of academic production more visible. In some ways, having readers was then a bit secondary to my own desire to present my academic life in a bit more public way. 

Finally, here are the 12 most popular blog posts that I’ve written this year. I decided that a post had to get at least .5 of a view per day to be eligible for the list and at least 50 page views total.

1. Good Practice in Survey Archaeology
2. Writing Clearly
3. COVID in North Dakota as Structural Violence
4. Online in a Hurry
5. A Quick Note on Creating a Podcast Lecture
6. Performative Informality in Archaeology
7. Genealogy of Mediterranean Survey Archaeology
8. Plague and Famine in Late Antiquity and Byzantium
9. Archaeology without Antiquity
10. Some More ASOR Books Available as Open Access
11. Excavations at Corinth in Hesperia
12. The Mystery of the Missing Building.

I like this list in part because I think it embodies the range of topics that I tend to write about on my blog. 5 of the 12 are engagements with recent published scholarship (1, 6, 7, 9, 11); 2 of the 12 reflect my situation here in Grand Forks, North Dakota (3, 12); two are about teaching (4 and 5); 1 is about academic life (2); 1 is about my work as an editor and publisher (10); and 1 is about my own scholarship (8). If I were to extend this list to the top 25 most read posts, the pattern would be largely the same.

As readers of this blog know, I worry a good bit about blogging particularly in an increasingly toxic online environment. Some of this is the standard kind of worry that we all face as academics: “what if I’m just writing into the void?” and “what if my blog is keeping from writing proper, substantive, and significant scholarship?” 

Some of this is the typical worry about doing anything online: “what if someone is offended by what I write?”, “what if I’m attacked by trolls?”, and “what if I say something that is wrong or hurtful?”

But most of my worry is that with a limited amount of time, energy, and attention in the world, the existence of my blog represents another mid-career, white, male, tenured, professional using his ill-gotten time and resources to influence scholarly and public conversation. My hope is that I continue to remember to amplify the voices of others (and their research) on my blog and it continues to be a place where I celebrate all the cool stuff happening in the world. 

Along those lines, I was happy to see that the most clicked links on my blog were to WorldCat and JSTOR as well as academia.edudoi.org, and HathiTrust. Of course, I also was happy to see links to The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota Quarterly being high on the list.

It would not offend me in the least if you found yourself coming to my blog mostly just to find more interesting, significant, worthwhile, and meaningful things to read elsewhere. 

In any event, for everyone who has stopped by over the last 12 months (or 12 years!), thanks for reading and clicking and commenting and tweeting, facebookling, and sharing my posts. Despite my efforts to stop blogging, I probably won’t, but I hope that no one feels like this is just another thing that you should read.

New Book Day! Epoiesen 3

It’s new book day over at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota as the third installment of the Epoiesen Annual drops in a paginated-pdf and as a print-on-demand paper volume from Amazon

As readers of this blog know, Epoiesen is a digital journal published at Carleton University in Ottawa and edited by Shawn Graham. Three years ago, he asked whether my press might be interested in publishing a paginated and paper version of the journal. Without hesitation, I agreed and this is the third installment in that series. 

To my mind, this is the strongest Epoiesen annual yet. It features a series of interactive meditations on the Melian Dialogue touched off by a Twine game developed by Neville Morley, an album of assemblages concocted in Andrew Reinhard’s laboratory, an exploration of the concept of the “phrygital” from Digital Archaeology heavy-weights Ian Dawson and Paul Reilly and in the fantastic papercraft of Alyssa Loyless. Each of these contributes have compelling response (including one from me!) which challenge, expand, and critique the work. A concise introduction by Shawn Graham brings this work together and a reflexive commentary on a visually compelling Twitter essay by Katy Whitaker provides a nice anchor to the volume. The cover art from Jens Notroff makes the cover an essay.  

If you haven’t checked out Epoiesen you should. And, if you have a creative project or genre defying article that is lingering in your mind and looking good home, consider submitting to Epoiesen!  

To celebrate the appearance of Epoiesen 3 and Shawn’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays last month, he agreed to answer 7 questions about his work, failure, and future project. We’ve published this interview at The Digital Press blog.

A Decade of Blogging in Review

I guess everyone is doing year’s and decade’s end lists (even if there is a good bit of confusion whether decades should start with the “0” or with the “1”). I was really flattered to be included on Neville Morley’s “Blogs of the Year” list at his Sphinx Blog

One of the general feelings over the past year (and Morley prompted some reflection on my part) is that interests in blogs have declined over the past few years. While my blog has tended to hang pretty steady in terms of page views over the past year — with as many months showing increases over the past year as declines — I can’t help but think that web reading habits have changed a good bit over the past decade and academic bloggers could do more to change with the times.

One idea that I floated was a monthly newsletter highlighting archaeology, Classics, and Ancient History blogs. I even, in a moment of weakness, volunteered to coordinate these efforts. As someone how spends as much time reading the dozen or so newsletters and accessing a good bit of academic and literary content via email, I wondered if a newsletter would bring attention not only to individual blog posts, but also to individual bloggers. As the long-time veteran David Meadow of Rogue Classicism noted, it would be like a blog carnival for the 21st century. 

This is a new project for the new year, I think. I’ll put out a general solicitation via social media and the blog in January.

I also reflected a bit on my own blog over the past decade. I don’t usually pay much attention to statistics, but when I do, they always tell a story. For example, over the past decade I have written somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.2 million words on my blog. The average post length is about 600 words for slightly over 2200 posts. 

Earlier this year, a colleague suggested a formula in our department that awarded 2 points for every 20 blog posts. For context, an article in this formula was worth 10 points. Whatever the merits of such quantification, my blog would have been worth 22 articles over the past decade.  Needless to say, our department did not adopt this policy.

In terms of the most frequently viewed posts, the maths are slightly more difficult when reckoned over the duration of a decade. The longer a post is up on the internets, the greater a chance that people might click on it, find it via a search engine, or find it linked in an academic citation. As a result, there’s reason to suspect that total page views might not reflect the prominence of a blog post. 

The following graph shows the number of views per day on the vertical axis and the number of overall views on the horizontal axis for the top 100 posts per total views from my blog. As you can see, the very general trend is that top performing posts overall, also tend to be the top performing posts per day with a few notable exceptions forming the periodic spikes.

NewImage

Of the top ten performing posts per day, only 7 garnered more than 1 view per day. Of the top ten, only 5 are from more recent than 2016. 

Here’s the list, in case you’re interested. Stars mark posts from 2019:

1. Joel Jonientz.
2. Punk Archaeology: The Book.
3. SCS, SAA, CAMWS, and the End of the Big Tent Professional Organization.*
4. Transumanism and Archaeology.
5. Teaching Graduate Historiography: A Final Syllabus.
6. Roman Temples and Christian Churches.
7. Five Notes on Classics.*
8. An Archaeology of Care.
9. Man Camps in May: Some More Observations.
10. My University is Dying.

Have a great holidays and all the best in the new year. And, as always, thanks for reading my blog.

End of Blogs?

Last week Neville Morley wrote a little piece on his declining blog statistics over at his Sphinx blog and has since followed it up with a new podcast. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast yet and I should have commented on his blog post when he asked other bloggers to chime in on their statistics. I feel like I let the community down.

If I look closely, I can tell that my visitor and page view numbers are down. At the same time, my monthly averages appear steady (or even slightly improved) over the past five or six years. My March numbers, for example, were 106 page views per day which is the highest since 2015 and the fourth highest total in the last 9 years. Two very popular posts, however, in the first half of the month drove a good bit of the traffic. These posts circulated rather widely (for me) on Twitter and Facebook, and social media platforms accounted for over 500 page views (or about 18% of the traffic). In an ordinary month, Twitter and Facebook account for 5%-8% of views. Despite my erratic use of social media to promote my blog, it is notable that for 10 of the last 12 months, my page views have been high than the previous year and for 8 of the last 12 months, they’ve been the strongest since 2015.

It is worth noting, however, that my 2014 and 2015 page views were also buoyed by a series of very prominent posts that led to spikes in traffic. Most of these spikes, like the publication of Punk Archaeology or Visions of Substance, tended to have a much longer tale and while they were abrupt, they attracted readers to my blog for months.

It may be that the shorter term spikes in my blog’s page views reflects the function of blogs within at least American academia has changed. When I started my blog I wanted both to draw the public into my research and give them a bit of a perspective on how scholars (and, in particular, archaeologists) build their arguments. In fact, I celebrated the fuzziness of the knowledge making the process and the ragged edges of what we know. This seemed like a good thing to do at the time when fetishization of “facts” was undermining the careful work of scholars in the humanities to present a world where structures, power, and practice matter more than black and white judgements. Today, this mission seems more problematic and my audience, perhaps, less interested and sympathetic.

Today, my most popular posts serve as open letters which attempt to address issues that face my discipline and academia more broadly. The audience is more academic, more engaged with social, political, and economic situation within academia, and less curious about how knowledge is made in my little corner of the discipline. This isn’t meant as a critique or even criticism of my readers, blogging, or academia, but speaks to the shifting landscape of blogging as practice. Instead of blogs maturing into a less-formal and more intimate complement to the scholarly discourse, blogs have become places where we negotiate the social conscience of our fields. This is not a bad thing, but it creates a different rhythm of blog viewing.

Ephemera

I’ve been thinking a good bit about ephemera lately and how to distinguish between things that should be kept and cherished and things that have value in the moment, but there’s no particular reason to keep them in our lives and world. I always think of newspapers and magazines as ephemera. They are useful to read on a lazy Sunday, but are best kept (and slowly altered and recombined and sifted) in our memories than on the end table in the living room or in a stack near the most comfortable chair in the house.

A few things promoted me to think about the ephemeral.

First, one my goals for North Dakota Quarterly was to make the entire run of the journal available on various online platforms. The idea is that people could delve back into the Quarterly and find overlooked gems or return to reflect on an essay or story. To that end, I’ve linked to a bunch of the NDQ archive online and made it available via the HathiTrust, the archives has seen a good flow of traffic, which is heartening, but only about 5% of the visitors click through. 

One of the things that I’ve come to realize about little magazines is that they have an ephemeral quality to them. The desire among some members of my editorial board to produce NDQ in paper was grounded not in the persistence of the medium, but, in someways, in its ephemerality, in parallel with magazines and newspapers, compared to the easy persistence of digital formats. 

Second, I read a few posts lately about the carbon footprint of websites and the emerging low-tech green web. I’ve toyed with the idea refashioning my blog as a static site. This is partly because static sites are lightweight, quick to load, and widely compatible with even the most simple devices and use less energy. I also wonder whether I a very lightweight static site would complement a version of my blog where I produce a single post per day and that post to overwrites the previous days post. This would create a more ephemeral quality to my web writing. The ideas and text would be accessible for a day and then vanish (or move onto a more permanent home in an article or a conference paper or something else).  

An experiment like this would both be liberating for me (as I could be more provocative when I am less worried about the archive of my site being easily accessible forever), but I also could write more in the moment with less responsibility to trace some kind of coherent arc of thought.

Less selfishly, it would also celebrate the vibrancy of media ephemerality not as producing idea that don’t persist, but as a way to create ideas that only persist within the person who reads them and are not burdened by reference to a particular text. 

Finally, I started think more about the tension between possessions and things. The idea that we possess a thing implies its persistence. An embrace of the ephemeral, on the other hand, privileges the momentary utility of an object. As various popular voices have urged us to minimize our possessions and maintain a trim and tidy personal space, it seems to me that they’ve drawn greater attention to the value of ephemeral objects that are useful and then passed on or discarded once they’ve served their immediate purpose. On the one hand, this might create a world where there are fewer things encroaching on our space. On the other hand, personal austerity rarely is possible without access to a wide range of services and objects that are ready to use, but also at arm’s length. Useful and ephemeral things appear in our lives and disappear back into the margins when their purpose is fulfilled. (I’ve argued, playfully, that pickup trucks are like that. Despite being a symbol of bourgeois excess, they are often useful, and truck owners often share their vehicles with a community of friends and neighbors who, for various reasons, do not want to burdens of truck ownership.)   

A New Golden Age of Blogging Antiquity

2019 is an important year for bloggers. It marks the 20th anniversary of the Blogger platform which appeared in August of 1999. Four years later, Typepad and WordPress appeared and the Blogosphere emerged as a significant space for politics, creativity, and academic expression.  

In 2008, I wrote a little piece on the “Blogging Archaeology and the Archaeology of Blogging” for the now-defunct AIA blog. I followed this up in 2015 with a piece co-authored with Andrew Reinhard in Internet Archaeology: “From Blogs to Books: Blogging as Community, Practice and Platform.” In both of these pieces, I imagined a world where blogging would complement or at least slowly encroach on traditional scholarly practices (a view shared by several other bloggers). Blogs would not only reveal how the sausage of academic knowledge was made by being an outlet for preliminary drafts, rough and raw ideas, and fragments that have value, but don’t fit the argument of the moment. I also thought blogging would provide a place for academic conversations, critique, and comment that would lead to formation of new communities unconstrained distance or academic affiliation or rank. Finally, I thought that the gap between informed readers in the general public and academic readers was relatively small. This view of blogging has largely informed what I write on my blog. 

I also think that it’s probably wrong. I didn’t really anticipate the growing impact of social media. I probably underestimated how deeply entrenched traditional writing, publishing, and knowledge making practices were. Blogs continued to be fairly marginal spaces for serious scholarship in archaeology with a few notable exceptions (like Andrew Reinhard’s Archaeogaming blog , Colleen Morgan’s blogJeremy Hugget at Introspective Digital Archaeology, or Shawn Graham at Electric Archaeologist). More than that, I think I misread the interest by the general public in how academic knowledge was made.

What I missed in my narrow interpretation of academic blogging is that this practice also provided space for sustained and meaningful critiques of institutional practices in archaeology and related fields. To be clear, I don’t see academic work and institutional or disciplinary critiques as mutually exclusive, but when I consider the impact of academic bloggers over the last few years, I see their incisive and thoughtful criticism of academic practices far more valuable than the smattering of academic or popular citations that my blog has seen (as just one example).

The online work of Sarah Bond, for example, while taking nothing away at her steadfast effort to engage a diverse audience, has offered brilliant and distinctive commentary on the political and institutional character of ancient history (and her work with the SCS blog likewise highlights recent debates in the discipline of Classics). Rebecca Futo-Kennedy’s blog is another remarkable space for disciplinary critique in matters of race, gender, and civilization. Dimitri Nakassis’s blog has also provided insights and offered arguments along similar lines and Andre Costopoulos’s blog has consistently critiqued academic publishing and recently the character of field work projects.  Larger projects like Eidolon or Sententiae Antiquae provide remarkable platforms for conversations about the future, past, and present of the discipline. Eidolon’s commitment to a wide range of often-marginalized voices represents an important expression of the egalitarian spirit present among some of the earliest academic bloggers who wrote as the “Invisible Adjunct” or BitchPhD. 

What is more, it is pretty clear that there is an audience for this kind of commentary and critique. Even my modest efforts along those lines saw a 50% increase in page views, but also comments both on the blog and across social media. My more academic posts don’t get nearly as much attention. In other words, there’s an audience for this kind of work among academics. 

In particular, this new Golden Age of Blogging (in caps!) is backed by a robust and consistent social media presence and a willingness to engage with readers in near realtime (rather than occasionally as commenters).  It shows that while blogging may not have toppled traditional publishing practices or provided an outlet for a wider audience to engage with scholarly practices, methods, and knowledge making at a provisional stage, it nevertheless has played a key roll in challenging academic orthodoxies through direct critique of institutional and academic practices. I’m pretty happy to have a venue to contribute my little part to making academia better (or at least trying), and while I probably still want to believe that there is an audience for the academic process, I’m also not disappointed that a new Golden Age is doing something quite different with the venerable old blog.

Unlocking the Commons: Tim Carmody, NDQ, Amazon, and the Digital Press

There is a ton of tech writing on the internet these days and some of it is really good. None is better, I think than Tim Carmody who wrote really great pieces for The Verge and Wired back in the day, and now partners with one of the original bloggers, Jason Kottke, to produce a regular newsletter called Noticing that blends content from Kottke.org and the rest of the web. He also has a Ph.D. in Comparative literature from Penn.

What’s more interesting to me lately is his interest in the economics of good writing on the web. As a writer, editor, and a publisher, I have long relaxed in the relatively luxury of academia which has given me the security to do creative work — whether through my professional writing, my blog, my editorial role at North Dakota Quarterly, or my work as publisher at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota — without having to get too far into the weeds of funding and finance. At the same time, I do realize that if these projects are going to have a life beyond my own energies and attention, some kind of sustainable model will have to exist to support them.

Carmody has proposed and developed a model that he calls “unlocking the commons.” It is predicated on the idea that a project – like his new newsletter on Amazon – needs a certain amount of support to exist. Carmody is a freelance writer and, from what I gather, he earns his income from his writing. At the same time, Carmody is aware that locking content behind a paywall or the like makes it difficult to demonstrate the value of the content and difficult for supporters and authors to share their work. In fact, it actually reduces the impact of any content produced by making it less visible and less likely to influence a larger community. In this way, Carmody is following arguments long held by the open access community who see the value of creative work not in its narrow and immediate monetary value realized through subscribers, but in its expansive potential to inspire and influence a wide range of audiences. By unlocking the commons, subscriber support allows Carmody to develop his ideas, write, and produce his work, and once it is supported, the work is available freely to anyone who wants to read it. He and Jason Kottke modeled this approach with Kottke.org’s membership program, which apparently worked.

For his new newsletter on Amazon, the threshold for unlocking the commons and making supporting Carmody to produce one newsletter per week was 200 subscribers at $5 per month. If he manages 400 subscribers at $5 per month, he’ll write two articles per week. You can subscribe and support the newsletter here.

This project is interesting to me for two reasons.

First, NDQ has a money problem. Right now, it’s not existential, but it is limiting. We have a great publishing partner in the University of Nebraska Press, and moving forward, they will handle subscriptions and most production for the Quarterly. The goal is that as we rebuild our subscriber base, we can break even for UNP and, then, with a little help from our community, generate some revenue. In the meantime, we rely on three sources of revenue: a small endowment that provides us with enough to copy edit the journal, a funding “backstop” provided by donors and income generated by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, and surplus energy provided by our editors and editorial board. This is enough to keep our head above water and to survive the occasional emergency, but isn’t really enough to innovate in a sustainable way. 

Recently, several editorial board members suggested that we install a reading fee for submissions. Other members of the editorial board pushed back arguing that the submitters and contributors MAKE the journal and they shouldn’t be charged for that privilege. While I’m not entirely convinced by this argument, I share its broad sentiment that submissions should remain free as a way to encourage the widest possible range of potential contributors. Moreover, ideologically, there’s something democratic about allowing anyone to contribute and, practically, I think even a modest reading fee might discourage contributions from marginal writers especially in the global south.

What if instead of a reading fee, we included a link to a Patreon or Memberful account or created a formal NDQ newsletter using Substack subscription. To be clear, these wouldn’t be subscriptions in a formal sense — that is money provided in exchange for a product — but they’d unlock the commons and make more of the same creative content that typifies NDQ. More than that, the synergy between a funded newsletter and the regular publication of NDQ will be complementary. After all, the print version of NDQ is what makes us NDQ.

The second interest that I have in Carmody’s new project is that we built The Digital Press, in part, on Amazon’s print-on-demand infrastructure. Whether we like it or not, the world still loves paper books, and the ability to distribute our paper books from the nearly global Amazon marketplace is a massive advantage to a small press like ours.

At the same time, we realize that using Amazon is problematic. First, it limits our reach to small book sellers in the region who have not really warmed to Amazon’s direct sales to retailers. Second, Amazon’s labor practices and corporate culture are in many ways antithetical to the values that we have at The Digital Press. Thirdly, our relationship with Amazon’s production system, platform, and marketplace is completely outside of our control. Of course, as our catalogue expands, we will likely have other opportunities to partner with distributors, but at present, we’re stuck with Amazon whether we like it or not.

Carmody’s regular columns exploring Amazon as a company will offer us insights into both the present and future of the current distribution model for The Digital Press. 

A Year in Blogging

Over the past couple of years, blogging has attracted some renewed interest. Folks have become increasingly wary of social media for obvious reasons. There continues to be an interest in long-form writing on the web, and the long-standing interest in public outreach and low cost of entry has always made blogging an appealing option for scholars in the humanities who want to expand the audience for their work. 

At the same time, blogs have become a bit passe and fit awkwardly into changing Internet culture. On the one hand, this risk of exposing oneself to the wilds of the internet feel greater than ever as social media has accelerated and amplified growing coarseness and incivility in public discourse and created a space for the worst elements in our society to operate behind a veil of relative anonymity. On the other hand, the rise in podcasts, email newsletter, and a new generation of high-quality multi-author sites (and the decline of blogrolls, aggregators, and other web infrastructure that made the famous blogosphere possible) has created a new web landscape that makes blogging seems rather more pointless than maybe it was a decade ago.

That all being said, I did somehow manage to write slightly over 158,000 words in 225 posts on my blog this year. That’s just over 700 words per post which is the longest average post since I started blogging in 2007. This year also saw the fewest post since 2008. 

As far as traffic goes, I’ve had about 28,000 views from 17, 378 visitors. This is slightly higher than the last couple of years, but nowhere near as busy as 2013-2015. The main drivers of traffic is search engines, followed by Twitter, Facebook, Wordpress Reader, the WARP website, and various places that have reposted or linked to various posts. The most popular posts for the year were my review of Donna Zuckerberg’s book, my list of links to various ASOR Annual volumes, a post on Wesley College at UND, a review of Andrew Reinhard’s Archaeogaming book, and my little discussion of Sarah Murray’s recent article on Hesperia.  

Finally, I’ve been toying the idea of doing something different with the blog. Maybe making a weekly or month newsletter to draw attention to my post, as well as those by other people, that I really enjoy. I’ve toyed with the idea of opening up my blog to more, different voices. I’ve even pondered ramping it down to three posts a week or focusing more on projects in 2019. In the end, this is all probably unlikely, because as much as I probably need to change things up, I’m more pre-occupied with other projects to have time to think through what this change could and should be. In short, look for more of the same in the coming months.

Happy New Year!

Reflecting on Blogging in 2018

For whatever reason, I tend to think of blogging at the end of the calendar year. In the past, I’d publish (mostly tongue-in-cheek) an Archive of my blog which was really just a pdf of the blog posts, lightly edited, and made available for download. I believe the last one that I did was in 2015.

This week, I actually decided to look at my blogs statistics for the first time in months and, at around the same time, I started to think a bit about how I prioritized my time, how I wanted to make an impact on my field and the world, and whether maintaining a blog even matters as we come to the end of the 21st century’s second decade.

Readers of this blog know, of course, that I’ve taken on some new responsibilities over the past few years, from publishing The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota to editing North Dakota Quarterly (and, at the end of the year, the Annual of ASOR). This work is very gratifying because it allows me to work and learn from a remarkable group of authors and editors and bring their work to a wider audience. In fact, it gives me the same sense of excitement that I had in graduate school when each quarter introduced me to new books, new ideas, and new approaches to studying the past. 

It also stands in distinct contrast to my work on the blog which tends to be about my own work and ideas. It’s not that sharing my views on things is bad, but it’s just not the direction that my career is going. The time I spend writing here and promoting my own view of things detracts in some ways from my ability to work with the words and ideas of others. At the same time, I do think that I’ve learned a good bit by writing my own words. I’ve wrestled ideas on this blog into articles, books, and edited volumes (and I have a couple of more of those in the pipeline) and learned about the publishing business from the perspective of an author as much as from the editor’s perch or working as a typesetter, reviewer, and marketer for my little press. 

There’s also the issue of audience. Over the past two or three years, the audience for my blog has plateaued at around 80 per day. I suspect partly because there are more really great bloggers out there than in the past (although to be fair these aren’t all new bloggers!), there are more remarkable web-based projects too, and social media occupies a more central role in academic and popular communication about our field. At the same time, my blog posts have gotten longer. This year, my average post was over 700 words which is about 20% more than my average post over the past 8 years. I’m averaging about 240 posts per year, but only 230 in the past couple of years. I think I’ll manage to fall a bit short of that mark this year (this is my 203rd post for 2018), but still write about 150,000 words which is a bit more than my 145,000 word average for the past 7 years. I’ve written about 1.1 million words on the blog (and others have contributed an additional 50,000 or so). This is a lot of words that probably could be used somewhere else.

Finally, I do wonder whether blogging as a medium has entered into hoary middle age. I don’t think it has revolutionized academic communication (although it certainly has had its moments), and it doesn’t really represent a transgressive medium (if it ever did), although I suppose it has helped some voices be heard that would not have otherwise. Despite my optimism in the past for the place of blogging in an expanded and decentralized academic publishing ecosystem, I wonder whether other forms of communication, from the email newsletter to the collective web journal (like Eidolon) represent the development of web based communication (and allow for individual readers and authors to escape from the increasingly commercialized and commodified world of public internet). More than that, I wonder whether the vulnerability of individual voices on the public web has created a space that is unfriendly for solo voices and projects. 

The purpose of this is post is not to propose that I end my blog or stop blogging or whatever, but to think out loud about how blogging fits into my career, what it means to blog in the changing landscape of the internet, and what triggers would make me consider cutting back, transforming, or closing up the old blog shop. In the new year, I want to think a bit more explicitly about the goals of my blog and public humanities scholarship more broadly and figure out whether being a public voice is the only way to promote humanistic (and academic) values to a wider audience.