Friday Varia and Quick Hits

It might well hit 70 this weekend in North Dakotaland ushering in spring as surely as the start of baseballing seasons, the India Premier League, and the return of Formula 1. It also brings distracted students, exhausted faculty, swarms of deadlines, and summer planning. Good times!

We should also remember that yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entering World War I. Go read Richard Rothaus’s blog post and then download our book exploring University of North Dakota and the Great War.

As you contend with the first days of the rest of the year, enjoy some quick hits and varia:

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Three Things Thursday

This week is layout week and today is layout day. These are good days when I get to immerse myself in the fussy work of book making (usually powered by an appealing soundtrack). 

Because I’ve been thinking a bit about publishing lately and doing more publishing than proper research, but I think that’s a fine place to be at end of long academic year and in the lead up to a month and a half in the field.

1. Guardian Archaeology Blog.

I was intrigued to see that the Guardian is has initiated a new archaeology and anthropology blog called, cleverly enough The Past and the Curious. The introductory post indicates that the authors are not just going to celebrate the big discoveries in these diverse fields, but actually get into the disciplinary wrangling that produce archaeological and anthropological knowledge. The authors rightly point out that this is an interesting time to be in archaeology and anthropology as disciplinary attitudes are changing as well as institutional and academic priorities. Making more of the academic life of these disciplines visible is a good thing, I think, even if it shows the public that knowledge making is far less tidy than many people have assumed.     

2. Manifold

I was excited to see the announcement Manifold, an open publishing platform developed by the University of Minnesota Press and a group of partners. Manifold is open and designed to produce open, interactive, and “living” digital publications. That’s pretty exciting and the works that Manifold is previewing from the University of Minnesota Press are attractive and interesting. A few of the works, like The Lab Book, will show off the ability of Manifold to present projects as they develop.

So far, their website offers a very appealing approach and package for digital publishing and the integration of different media and a high level of transparency in the production of digital works. Let’s see how this develops and whether the technical aspects of installing and running the platform will discourage its wide spread adoption. I’m also interested to reading more about plans to maintain and sustain the platform.

3. OER at UND.

This week the University of North Dakota announced that $100,000 has been set aside to facilitate the adoption (but not really the production) of Open Educational Resources in the classroom. In a meeting this week, our provost said that his goal is the save students $4 million on textbooks over the next year. At first, I was very impressed with this number, but then I did some simple math. If we assume that each student will spend about $4000 on textbooks (which is a bit on the low side) and we enroll around 11,000 undergraduates (or so), then we’re looking at total textbooks spending in the neighborhood of $45 million dollars. $4 million is saving is less than 10% and amounts to about $50 a semester per student or, in a more useful way, one class per year. While this is obviously better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, it’s still pretty modest gains.   

What’s more troubling to me, is that our administration connects this $4 million in savings largely to faculty adopting existing open educational resources in their classes rather than the production and distribution of open resources. This seems shortsighted to me and I wonder if some of that $4 million in saving should be put into the production of OER. What about a $10 fee for every open class that is designated for the production of OER resources. If we assume that each student has one OER class per year, that would amount to over $100,000 to support the production of OERs for specific classes.

Layout Week at The Digital Press

Some deadlines you have to respect more than others. On April 17th, Grand Forks remembers the first day of the massive 1997 Red River flood that reshaped most of the town and shaped the community’s memory.

On April 20th, The Digital Press will release a new book edited by David Haeselin of University of North Dakota’s English Department and produced by a year long course in Writing, Editing, and Publishing in that department. The book is called Haunted by Waters: The Future of Memory and the Red River Flood of 1997, and students, most of whom were not alive in 1997, shaped the content to help them grasp the significance of the flood. The book brings together essays by community leaders, interviews, historical documents, and other reflections on the flood to create a work that looks both to future memories and the past.

I have almost nothing to do with the content in the book, but I am doing a good bit of the layout. I have a few draft templates prepared and I think that they look pretty good:

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I played around a bit with a wavy line both under the chapter titles and under each page number which I located in the margins of the book rather than at the top or bottom. The text is set in Jansen (which I think is appropriate for a book with a bit of a somber tone) and the headings are in Avenir which I thought just looked right against the more formal Jansen. 

This is definitely not a link to a preview page.

And this is definitely not a preview of the cover:

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The Answer is Mind Control through Brain Waves

For the last decade or so, I’ve had a fascination with parapsychology. Some of this stems from the work that I did on dream archaeology many years ago and some comes from puerile fascination with things like Jon Ronson’s Men who Stare at Goats. So, I couldn’t resist reading Wladimir Velminski’s Homo Sovieticus: Brain Waves, Mind Control, and Telepathic Destiny (MIT 2017) this weekend.

This short book examines Soviet efforts to use brain waves and mind control to create their workers utopia primarily in the first part of the 20th century. Velminski locates these efforts not at the fringe of the scientific establishment, but as closely tied to research into psychology, telecommunication, and scientific management in the first three decades of the 20th century. Soviet adaptations of Taylorism (one of my favorite topics for consideration in our contemporary society) explored the link between industrial practices, movement, and observation not as the basis for simply more efficient workers, but as a way to pool mental resources and promote invention and innovation. This research brought together physical and mental activities in ways that are strikingly modern and offered a particularly Soviet definition of inventor not as the contemplative tinkerer, but as the corporate citizen who combined keen observation and optimized physical movement to synchronize brain waves and create new ideas.

The idea that television and radio waves could be synchronized with brain waves to communicate directly to the mind developed in parallel to television technology in the 1920s and 1930s. Both scientific literature and in science fiction expected that broadcasting thoughts could serve to control and coordinate collective actions on a local and even national scale. Broadcasting television brought together the transmission of ideas, electromagnetic waves, and in the physical features of broadcasting towers in the landscape in Soviet thought to bring about new forms of thinking and being that characterized homo sovieticus.    

Scientists interested in the electrical signature of the human nervous system used more sensitive electrical devices to detect “brain waves” that emanate from the connection between the brain and various organs. These, like the earliest forms of research grounded in particular Soviet approaches to Taylorism, recognized that the body, at its core, depended upon the same electrical modes of communication as the Soviet state. The hope was that by registering the communication within the body, one could diagnose and perhaps even heal illnesses.

The book concludes with the remarkable broadcasts by Soviet psychic Anatoly Kashpirovsky who sought to induce mass hypnosis during the tumultuous days at the end of the Soviet Union. Velminski parallels this with the work of Pavel Pepperstein and his remarkable film Hypnosis (which I’ll let you Google on your own!). Velminski returns to his initial case study of the Soviet adaptation of a kind of mental Taylorism and argues that transmission of thought whether through parapsychological means or more conventional broadcasting relies on a kind of neural prosthesis through which we recognize, interpret, and analyze relationships between what is broadcast and what we see.

This book offers a garbled and complicated lens through which to read the current political and media climate in the U.S. Efforts to control the message pushed out via partisan outlets and to obfuscate rival recognizes idea that the media is a prosthesis to mind of the state, but, as Vilminski has shown, a deeply imperfect one. The static, disruptions, and complexities of reception and the recursive efforts to correct, improve, and synchronize the message with the ideas of the transmitter. Far from being distinct from the world of brain waves and mind control, the theories of media and broadcasting that developed over the course of the 20th and 21st century had clear parallels both in their technical dimensions, shortcomings, and goals. 

More on the Budget and the Humanities

Like many people on campus at the University of North Dakota, I’m trying not to fixate of budget issues. After all, most people on campus spend most of their time just doing their jobs. At the same, we do read the media and feel for the students and staff effected by the most recent cuts to athletics.

[This is the seventh and the crankiest in a series of blog posts on the UND budget crisis go to part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5 and part 6.]

At the same time, the drone on social media is becoming really oppressive from both people on both sides of the discussion. While some of this is the product of strategic antagonism on the part of local media personalities, some of it, I’m convinced, is genuine anxiety for the future of the university and higher education in our community.

As someone who has spent their last 20 years in higher education and in the humanities specifically, I am increasingly convinced that some of the current attitude to higher education is both our fault and our problem to solve. On the one hand, we have had the opportunity to promote the value of our field for a generation and it does not appear that we’ve been overly successful. Despite claims that the monolithic political culture of academia leads to brainwashed students, there does not seem to be any local benefits to this supposed practice. If anything over the last 20 years state support to higher education has decline significantly on the state level and more or less stagnated on the national level suggesting that our academic brainwashing was not even successful enough to promote our own interests much less some more wide-reaching and nefarious agenda.

At the same time, our lack of historic success should not discourage us from continuing to make the arguments to our colleagues, our administrators, our legislators, and our students that what we do is important. I worry that declining morale on campus has made faculty, in particular, less inclined to embrace our larger mission of making arguments. I know I feel a sense of fatalism and that the events are essentially beyond out control, but this is just the present situation and the long game requires a certain amount of discipline.

So, today’s post is more an extended dilation on the defeatist tone across part of my social media than any meaningful contribution to the budget discussion across campus.

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

While springtime is finally here in North Dakotaland with temps soaring into the 60s today, we’re thinking of friends and family in Australia where they’re struggling with the flooding and the destruction wrought by Cyclone Debbie.  

Wish nice weather here, though, this weekend will hopefully feature cookouts, drinks on the front porch, and leisurely walks with our two pooches as well as books, papers, and whatever else trouble I can get into.

For now, though, enjoy some quick hits and varia:

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Kicking it Bargepole Style

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You love me more, right?

Open Publishing at the Digital Press

DigitalPressLogoThis weekend, I’m Skyping into an Open Access workshop at the University of Ottawa at the invitation of Kyle Conway, the co-founder of The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. It is a really nice opportunity to think about open and digital publishing in the heels of our recent SAA paper and amid a couple of almost finished projects.

The talk is only 15 minutes so instead of writing it out, I think I’m going to just try to hit on a few main points. Since the conference will feature earlier sections on open data and open publishing (and my paper will be the first in a section on Open Educational Resources), I’ll try to weave together some of those themes into my little talk which will focus on five themes.

1. DIY and Cooperative Publishing.

The first section of my talk will basically tell the story of The Digital Press with particular attention to Punk Archaeology. With the clarity of hindsight, there is a connection between my instinct toward DIY, my appreciation of punk rock music, and my desire to publish my own stuff, my own way. And this connection propelled The Digital Press forward far ahead of any effort to think in a critical way about the nature and character of open access publishing.

It was my relationship with friends and colleagues that gave The Digital Press a pool of willing collaborators and this helped me frame the idea that a cooperative publishing model could work. Today, when we accept a proposal, we work with the authors or editors to decide on our shared responsibilities within the project. For example, I might, as publisher, take on the responsibility for coordinating peer review and, then, doing layout while the authors or editors might coordinate copy-editing and correspondence with contributing authors. We might together work out a marketing strategy. In other instances, I might work out copy editing and review, while the author would take on more technical tasks.

2. Academic Attitudes.

This model for publishing, of course, relies on finding groups of collaborators who (1) see the practice of publishing as part of scholarly and academic work, and (2) want to contribute and control the publication process.

In my field of archaeology, there is a persistent call for reflexive practices in the field and during analysis, but in some ways, these reflexive attitudes stop at the publication process. Once the book or article goes into production, academic work, at worst, stops, or, at best, enters a Latourian “black box” in which a manuscript take on the trappings of academic authority through the process of peer review, the style of formal publication, and the imprimatur of a press. We engage in a pious fiction that these provide a kind of sincere authority to our work, while at the same time acknowledging that many of the trappings of conventional publishing are, in fact, much more complicated.

The point of this statement is not to juxtapose open, collaborative publishing with traditional publishing – after all, they share many of the same authority-making practices –  but, instead, to suggest that cooperative publishing offers one way to open the entire knowledge-making process to critique and to unpack both discipline specific strategies and long-standing techniques from across the academy.

3. Open Publishing Ecosystem.

While open practices can unpack the messy character of publishing (and complicate even the tidiest of books or articles), I am not suggesting that they supplant them. For academic publishing to thrive, a dynamic ecosystem needs to exist. This includes open access publishing, non-profit, non-open presses, for profit-presses, and maybe even the massive commercial behemoths of Springer and Elsevier. Each niche in the publishing ecosystem offers particular advantages from commercial reach to technical expertise, technological sophistication, and speed. As open publishing asserts itself in the academic and scholarly market, we have an opportunity to influence the shape of publishing in all industries by providing a realistic and significant alternative to traditional publishing.

At the same time, open publishing has the opportunities and responsibilities to support the development its own open publishing ecosystem. This means supporting archiving platforms, data publishing platforms, and various open publishing platforms in such a way that our ecosystem remains dynamic, flexible, and diverse. This means making sure that we give to the system at least as much as we take away!

4. Open Education is doing.

Part of what we’re working toward at the University of North Dakota is taking our cooperative model of open publishing and involving more people in the work. For example, this winter, a colleague and I did a “quick book” that collected a series of original essays and reprints on the American Electoral College system. Making this book allowed for a faculty member to understand more fully the publication process and understand the opportunities presented by open publishing. The book was completed in 5 weeks over Christmas break and was released prior to the inauguration.

We’ve also started to work more closely with classes in the Writing and Editing program in the Department of English here. For example, two classes this semester are helping prepare books for The Digital Press: one class is, under supervision, copy editing a small volume of essays, and the other has prepared a book of original essays and documents preserving the memory of the 1997 Red River Flood.

The Digital Press is looking, then, to expand the nature of open educational resources for being open textbooks and the like, to opening the process of producing a book to students and interested faculty. In this model, open education involves cultivating a commitment to open knowledge making that includes participating in the process from the ground up. As readers of this blog know, one of my classroom projects involves having students produce a textbook in a introductory level history class. By pulling publication back into the knowledge making and even learning process, we offer a way to think about what we know in ways that challenge the view of the published work as final and definitive.

5. Balancing “collectivity” and the “gig economy.”

I’ll end my little paper with a few caveats that are lingering in my head as we move forward. Open publishing, in my little corner of the world, relies on the goodwill of lots of people. Some of these people are colleagues, some are students, and some are copy editors, graphic designers, and other people who make a living in the so-called “gig economy.” In some way, small presses like mine and especially small, open presses with tiny margins depend upon certain kinds of economic relationships that range from collaboration and various collectivities to traditional piece work.

As open publishing matures and open educational resources develop, I hope we continue to think critically about it as both a product, but also as a practice. This short presentation sought to locate open academic publishing in the context of collaborative and cooperative academic knowledge making, but as some recent commentary on both the world economy and academic culture has shown, innovation (and worse, “disruption”) carry ethical burdens. By locating publishing in the already critical and reflexive space of research, we can maybe do more to ensure that it protects the world that our research seeks to serve.

From Trench to Tablet: Field Recording, Interpreting, and Publishing in the Age of Digital Archaeology

This week the Society of American Archaeology annual meeting takes place is Vancouver, B.C. Unfortunately, I won’t be attending, but I will be there in person as my colleagues Derek Counts and Erin Averett deliver a paper that looks at how digital archaeology and digital publishing will work together to reshape the future of the discipline and archaeological knowledge making.  

Check out our paper, below, and download some cool publications in digital archaeology from The Digital Press.

“From Trench to Tablet: Field Recording, Interpreting, and Publishing in the Age of Digital Archaeology”

Session: Archaeological Epistemology in the Digital Age

Erin Walcek Averett (Creighton University), Derek B. Counts (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), William Caraher (University of North Dakota), and Jody Gordon (Wentworth Institute of Technology)


Before we get started, I wanted to offer two prefatory remarks: First and foremost, on behalf of my co-authors, I want to thank Rebecca and Michael for the kind invitation to offer a paper in this session, which positions itself nicely as digital approaches to archaeology continue to transform the field. Secondly, I must apologize for our title and the published abstract… and especially to those who have attended our paper on the promise of what we proposed. Seven months ago, Derek, Bill, Jody and I were in the trenches, battling the nuances of digital archaeology on several fronts as we made the final push to complete our book, Mobilizing the Past (Averett et al. 2016), which appeared in October (and is still available free to download at!). At the time, we thought a paper for this session provided a wonderful opportunity to synthesize what we had learned – and to discuss the ins/outs of our publication process and how we harnessed the promise of “digital” and “open” to build our book.

Fast-forward seven months. The title makes less sense and already seems dated. Things are moving that fast. Mobilizing the Past captured a moment in the evolution of digital archaeology. And, while we recognize that archaeological projects have incorporated digital technologies unevenly —especially if you scan the landscape outside of the Mediterranean—most agree that the move to ‘born-digital’ is well underway. Still, archaeologists haven’t fully articulated the benefits and problems of replacing traditional methods of field recording with digital technologies. And, while our recent publication was a step in the right direction, it was more about tools and technology than it was about process and products.  So – the first part of our original title – “From Trench to Tablet” –  is no longer useful for two reasons:

  1. The ship has sort of sailed on paradigm-shifting conversations about iPads; folks are using mobile devices in the field to do archaeology; and
  2. Because it imposed a limit on the conversation by separating the process of field recording from interpretation and analysis.

Field Recording is thus also no longer the focus per se of this paper, in part, because it may not be particularly useful to think of it as a discrete “stage” or “step” within the practice of archaeological knowledge making.

For the record, our title is now: Interpreting and Publishing in the Age of Digital Archaeology. We think this title embraces more fully how digital practices in archaeology impact the entire process from interpretation to publication.

Mobilizing the Past: Goals and Moving Forward

To start, I want to return briefly to Mobilizing the Past. The book grew out of a rather selfish need: as the Athienou Archaeological Project decided to move to digital recording methods in 2011, we struggled with the logistics of incorporating new technologies and digital data into our legacy workflow. On a practical level, we understood that other projects were struggling with the same concerns, but there was a surprising lack of published discourse. Thus, the idea for an NEH-funded workshop and publication was born. Our initial goal was to convene a forum that might begin to establish best practices and protocols for mobile computing in digital archaeology with respect to technologies and approaches to both in-field recording and the dissemination of the results. We structured the workshop sessions around the development and use of software, tools, and systems, but also pedagogy, data curation, and critiques. It soon became clear that our original focus on the practical aspects of digital technologies could not be separated from larger theoretical questions concerning field methods and interpretation. Some of this is apparent in the volume, which while remaining biased toward practical perspectives on the turn toward the digital, often left as tacit issues relating to the interpretation and publication of this rapidly expanding and diversifying body of “born-digital” evidence.

This point was not lost on folks who have commented on the volume. For example, Morag Kersel, in her response paper in the volume, notes her “shock” at the lack of attention to publication in Mobilizing the Past, remarking on “the lack of engagement of what to do with the increasing amount of data produced as a result of these new technologies—most of the submissions stopped at the edge of the square or in the analysis stage of fieldwork; very few mentioned publication” (Kersel 2016: 486).  In a series of blog posts, Dimitri Nakassis criticized the contributions for focusing too heavily on accuracy and efficiency in collecting data at the expense of interpretation.[1]  Making his point provocatively, he notes that the word “data” appeared 1619 times, while variations on “interpret” appear only 164 times.

At the same time, most of our contributors recognized that the perceived division between data collection and analysis is more closely related to the physical organization of archaeological work on the ground than the intellectual organization of the task involved in structuring an archaeological project. This division between physical and intellectual work, while a persistent idea both in archaeology and the larger organization of labor and humanity, has more to do with the separation of the field from the lab or office than any intent to isolate collection from interpretation. Thus, the distinction identified by Nakassis is more illusory than real. Data collection is interpretation. If we’re serious about digital technologies being part of a dynamic ecosystem of practice, then interpretation, and by extension publication, is more than just the result of digital work, but an essential aspect of what we do in the field. 

This perceived dichotomy between data and interpretation, however, belies a general schizophrenia in critical approaches to digital archaeology: as some call for more introspection with respect to the integration of digital approaches in field archaeology, others push for more discussion of how digital technology at large is changing interpretation and publication. Most projects started ‘going digital’ in the last five years—that process is still young, and so is the data that those excavations have produced. Moreover, as Shawn Graham recently blogged: this first phase (and maybe no phase) of digital archaeology is not efficient. It’s experimental; it’s slow; it rarely goes “click, bing! result.”[2] It is difficult to avoid the feeling that chastising archaeology done digitally for not offering ‘more on interpretation and more on publication’ reflects a sense that digital archaeology is somehow ‘faster’ (which it is not) and that somehow it allows its researchers to get to answers and new interpretations more quickly (why would it?).

This view of digital practices that demands efficiency in many ways embraces the linearity of the assembly line that starts with the “lowly” technical and physical task of data recording in the field, progresses through collating and processing the data in the lab, and ends with the most respected phase of interpretation – the final publication. The result of archaeological fieldwork, in this process, is the definitive work: the book or the article. This result carries marks of authority from its form as a printed text through exaggerated expectations of persistence and the symbols of authority imparted by a largely commercialized publishing industry. In this system, the authority of the final publication overwrites interpretations at the trowel’s edge, the selection of technology, or even the iterative process of analysis.  To put it another way, our current model of knowledge production exchanges the authority of methodologically sophisticated, consistent, and rigorous fieldwork for the authority imparted by the publication process itself. Critiques that noted the absence of interpretation in Mobilizing the Past do so because data isn’t recognized as fundamentally interpretative in our current model of producing knowledge, not because interpretation was absent.

While acknowledging that this view of traditional publishing is a wee bit (!) polemical, we wonder if part of the current schizophrenia in the discussion of digital practices could be overcome by embracing a non-linear model of publishing that values reflexive approaches and interpretation that take place at every phase. This isn’t to throw the baby of high quality academic work out with bathwater of traditional publishing, but rather to suggest that critical attention to digital field practices needs to extend through the entire publishing process. The goal isn’t interpretation as an end (pace Nakassis), but ways to demonstrate the interpretive moves that take place throughout archaeological work. These perspectives, of course, aren’t new and are part-and-parcel of post-processual archaeology (see recently Berggren et al. 2015). For example, Morgan and Eve (2012) demonstrated how digital technology could mediate a decentered and participatory approach to fieldwork at the Prescot Street excavations in the UK. Caraher and Reinhard (2015) and Zubro (2006), using slightly different terms, argued that communities of practice extant across social and new media sites provide ways for archaeological information to disseminate to wide audiences with relatively little friction. These models of publishing can be both dynamic and fluid without the unnecessary stigma of being provisional (or relegated to “mere data collection”) if we de-emphasize the linear process of knowledge of production.

The technologies and conventions already exist for more dynamic publishing conventions that both embrace the core values of scholarly publishing and reflect the continuous nature of archaeological publication. Despite persistent anxiety, there are ways to preserve even academic standards such as peer review with platforms like ( and MIT’s PubPub ( allow for threaded conversations to develop texts in ways that go well beyond the limits of conventional paper publishing, and to allay concerns of persistence with the rapidly maturing infrastructure of the stable web with projects like the Internet Archive ( More importantly for archaeologists, however, is that there is a basic consensus for practices fundamental to a linked, open data infrastructure that many of the people on this panel understand. The approaches taken by Open Context (, (, and Pleiades ( provide foundational structures for de-centered, but consciously curated, strategies of publishing archaeological contexts and artifacts, periods, and places respectively. The decisions to embrace digital media both in new ways and within existing scholarly conventions is at least partly in the hands of the archaeological community. At some level, we set the standards for what constitutes legitimate disciplinary knowledge through our own practices of citation and participation.

There are, however, legitimate complications. For example, some countries remain hesitant to allow for digital publication of archaeological data, and it goes without saying that all forms of publication, but particularly those presented in a highly accessible way, must remain sensitive to the cultural interests of communities impacted by archaeological work. A less linear publication model will only exacerbate the overwhelming proliferation of scholarly outlets, publications, and resources (for a similar critique, see Witmore 2009 and Bevan 2015 on the “data deluge”). On a more subversive note: academic and professional institutions increasingly are beholden to the use of standardized metrics to assess research productivity and these tend to be calibrated to traditional publications; it is not unappealing to take approaches to knowledge production that intentionally break that system. But we must also recognize that such institutions tightly regulate tenure and promotion processes that might undervalue (or not acknowledge) forms of publication that do not adhere to the traditional modes. There are long-standing attitudes toward the book as a physical object that makes manifest in its form, a finite and apprehensible body of knowledge, and this stands in contrast to the seemingly limitless space of linked, digital knowledge on the internet.

Despite these challenges, it is easy enough to understand how digital technologies can create wondrous new forms of digital publication. For example, several years ago, Derek Counts and I decided to incorporate 3D scanning into our study and recording of the limestone and terracotta sculptures from the site of Athienou-Malloura in Cyprus.  This new 3D documentation strategy invariably forced a new publication strategy. Most importantly, the broader arc of our research agenda—from data collection to dissemination—was conceived digitally. Recognition that each step in the process requires careful consideration of interpretive decisions with respect to tools, methods, and analysis, ultimately is yielding multilateral control of interpretations that we hope will transform the traditional catalogue. Our collaborator, Kevin Garstki, has just highlighted some of this, but also recently written about the importance of recognizing these interpretive, even editorial, stages in 3D scanning in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory (Garstki 2016). Unlike a traditional printed catalogue, the digital catalogue will include dynamic 3D images with a variety of user-manipulated tools, but it will also harness the potential for multiple forms of complementary linked data not possible in print form from simple hyperlinks to GIS-generated provenience maps. The catalogue can be updated each season with links to new stratigraphic data or information related to new finds, associated artifacts, and existing comparanda. Sculptural fragments published previously can be reunited with newly-discovered joins. As objects are photographed, digitally modelled, formally described, and contextually analyzed, the more traditional interpretive facets of their existence can be integrated with digital dissemination. Narrative analyses can be easily updated and linked to new information and to the range of technical and grey literature, from excavation manuals to published records produced at trenchside, providing relational knowledge that supports various readings of the site, the objects, and archaeological work. In other words, such standard interpretive moves that locate an object within an archaeological context are thus disseminated in an innovative, organic, and open way.

The basic tools for this kind of approach already exist and models are appearing regularly that demonstrate how this or that element could work – from real time recording like Morgan and Eve describe at Prescot Street to artifactual records published by Open Context to the bewildering range of associated files types supported by online repositories like the Internet Archive and tDar ( On a very practical level, there is no need for us to imagine data collection as somehow un-interpretive and just a step toward publication. To the contrary, this type of publication embodies these fragments of archaeological knowledge as digital technologies provide a relational, linked, and largely open platform for a non-linear and transparent ecology of archaeological knowledge making.

When confronted by the potential and challenges of such boundless and infinitely-linked knowledge, it is helpful to return to the field and Mobilizing the Past. One of the major critiques of our book, which applies to many recent explorations of digital technologies and archaeological work, is that we continue to use the language of objective empiricism and industrial process to describe “data collection,” while at the same time acknowledging that we recognize the interpretive character of field work and the influence of digital technologies on the knowledge that we produce. Part of the reason for this perspective on fieldwork rests in the tradition of seeing archaeological knowledge production in a linear way with the final publication marking the culmination of an interpretive and analytical process. A more reflexive digital archaeology in the field, however, pushes us to think how publishing can capture these interpretive processes. Rather than seeing the interpretation at the trowel’s edge as a provisional stage in the way to a final analysis, we’re proposing a digital archaeology that explores non-linear publications to expose, to probe, and ultimately to destabilize the binaries that have come to dominate our field.


Works Cited

Averett, E. W., J. M. Gordon, and D. B. Counts (eds.), Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future. The Potential of Digital Archaeology. The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota (Grand Forks, 2016).

Berggren, Å., Dell’Unto, N., Forte, M., Haddow, S., Hodder, I., Issavi, J., Lercari, N., Mazzucato, C., Mickel, A., Taylor, J. 2015. “Revisiting the Reflexive Archaeology at Çatalhöyük: Integrating Digital and 3D Technolgies at the Trowel’s Edge,” Antiquity 89: 433-448. DOI:

Bevan, A. “The data deluge,” Antiquity 89 (2015), 1473-484. DOI:

Caraher, W. and A. Reinhard, “From Books to Blogs: Blogging as Community, Practice, and Platform,” Internet Archaeology 39 (2015).

Garstki, K. “Virtual Representation: the Production of 3D Digital Artifacts” Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory (2016), DOI:10.1007/s10816-016-9285-z.

Kersel, M. “Response: Living a Semi-Digital Kinda Life,” in E. W. Averett, et al. (eds.), Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future. The Potential of Digital Archaeology. The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota (Grand Forks, 2016), 475-92.

Morgan, C. and S. Eve, “DIY and digital archaeology: what are you doing to participate?” World Archaeology 44 (2012), 521-37. DOI:

Zubrow, E. B. “Digital Archaeology: The Historical Context” in T. Evans and P. Daly (eds.), Digital Archaeology: Bridging Method and Theory. Routledge. (London, 2006), 10-31.

Witmore, C. 2009. “Prolegomena to Open Pasts: On Archaeological Memory Practices,” Archaeologies 5 (2009), 511–545. 

Updates from The Digital Press: Digital Infrastructure

One of the biggest challenges for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is developing (or more properly discovering) the digital infrastructure necessary to support robust and persistent digital context to complement the traditional books. As long as books are just volumes distributed via Amazon in paper or made available as PDFs, a relatively simple system works. 

The challenges get bigger when it comes to coordinating media that exists as both a book – either in paper or in some simple digital form. As a mid-sized institutions going through some pretty significant budget cuts, we don’t have the resources to support an in-house repository (yet!), as a result, I need to use services and resources already available on the open web. Sorting this all out will be particularly significant in the next few weeks as two nearly completed projects require supplemental material. 

My instinct is to use the Internet Archive to support my relatively modest needs. For example, I am almost ready to announce that I will be publishing Corinth Excavations’ Archaeological Manual. This will be the first major, published excavation manual from a project in the Mediterranean published in the last 40 years (probably since the last edition of Dever and Lance’s A Manual of Field Excavation in the early 1980s). The book will include a digital supplement which includes the forms the the Archaeological Manual recommends using in the field. These will be reproduced in the slim book (around 170 pages), but at a size appropriate for the rather narrow (8.5 x 5.5) volume. In the supplemental material, we will make them available at full size to download. Since the entire volume will be CC 4.0-By, the plan is to put the supplemental material up in the Internet Archive for download with the idea that the Internet Archive can produce a persistent URL. But I obviously want to make sure that this will all work how I think it will work so when I include the link in the paper and digital volume, it will work for years to come.

Oh, and I started working on the cover. Corinth is a pretty conservative place and the Archaeological Manual is a pretty technical, specialist book, so I wanted to convey something of the conservative, technical nature of the work. I really like Gil Sans for the title, and think that anything bolder would look overwhelming. I used Times New Roman for the author’s names. There are a lot of authors on this manual so that was tricky.

CEM Cover 01

A similar issue faces my work with Micah Bloom’s Codex project. The book (about books… check out the link) also includes a video. The original plan was to archive the video in our newly minted institutional repository, but my instinct is that we won’t have this up and running by the time that the book needs to be produced in early May. So, like the supplemental material for the Corinth Archaeological Manual, I need a place to post the video that will provide a persistent link so that we can embed connect the book and the video. I’m hoping the Internet Archive can provide this.

With the SAAs beginning this week, I decided to create a little landing page for folks who are checking out The Digital Press for the first time. Just for fun, I’m embedding live views of the books from the Internet Archive. It’s not an ideal layout, but fun and dynamic way to show off The Digital Press’s archaeology catalogue. Here’s a preview


Finally, yesterday I mentioned that my graduate historiography class is working on a project relating to the humanities, history, and the UND budget crisis. Just for fun, I designed a book cover or a poster for the project. If figure it might help promote their work when we release it for local and then public comment. 

It’s nothing that’ll win a design award, but I like it: 

DefendingHistoryCover 01

As you can probably guess, this post is partly a cry for help, but also a little update on recent projects. If you can help, please do! If you’re curious about getting an advanced copy of forthcoming publications, do drop me a line! If you just want to insult my design skills, do that as well!

The University of North Dakota Budget Crisis in the Classroom

At a meeting a week before spring break, one of the student representatives expressed concern about the University of North Dakota budget crisis impacting teaching (and learning) on campus. He noted that low faculty morale and a lack of confidence in university leadership did little to motivate learners and had become a distraction. I think this must be true, but I’m also not sure what anyone can do about it. The entire campus community is being impacted by the budget cuts, and so it is hardly surprising that it is seeping into the classroom.

[This is the sixth in a series of blog posts on the UND budget crisis go to part 1part 2part 3part 4, and part 5.]

In my graduate historiography class, we’ve embraced the opportunity to discuss the impact of the budget crisis, in part, because it impacts the academic careers of the students in the class. Because our graduate program was de-funded, there will be very few courses available for our M.A. and D.A. students in the next year or so, and we will admit no funded students next semester. In other words, these students will witness a lull in our graduate program that will directly impact their education.

After some discussion, we decided that the best response from this class could be some kind of apologia or manifesto defending graduate education in history and the humanities more broadly. We agreed to open to make our work one to the public, first through a series of critiques by faculty and graduate students in our department and then to the wider community for comment. This work would fit into both a broader discussion of public humanities (for the students) and as part of a wider effort to document the impact of the budget cuts “on the ground.”

I read the first draft of their work this weekend with great interest. It’s pretty good, and my point in this post isn’t to call the students out on their work, but to note a few trends in their work that I think characterize the current budget situation at UND.

1. Causal Confusion. One of the most striking things about their work is the confusion about where the budget cuts that impact them originated. Most students blamed the legislature for the reduced funding to higher education, but some vaguely blamed “the administration.” What was consistent is that none of the students entirely grasped the process of budget cutting on campus and the various levels of responsibility and accountability. This suggests that the administration’s efforts to communicate how the budget cuts worked have not made it to the level of the students most effected by them.

While it is easy to say that my students needed to dig a bit deeper to understand administrative processes and the like, it is nevertheless an interesting situation that the regular drumbeat of communication from the administration did not appear to shape their views. Whether this reflects a commitment to a “post factual world,” a bit of lazy research, or a failure of the administration’s communication strategy (or a bit of all three) remains difficult to know right now.

2. Historical Context. The other issue that was a bit disappointing to me was the lack of historical context for these budget cuts. While the first draft showed a broad awareness that similar budget cuts had taken place elsewhere and that cuts to the humanities fit within a pattern that oscillates between seeing universities as workforce training and being seen as places to build civic identities and common values deeply rooted in the humanities. What was absent was any effort to locate these cuts in the history of the state or the university. 

These aren’t the first budget cuts at UND, and there is plenty of evidence available for how the university has dealt with similar cuts in the past. More importantly, there is a long pattern of attitudes toward the larger mission of higher education both at UND and across the state available both in published works, like L. Geiger’s history of the university, and in the university archives. 

Again, my inclination is not to blame the students for this oversight, but, of course, as historians you would imagine that they’d have attacked the problem using their historical toolkit. Instead, students were drawn into current rhetoric which sees these cuts and unprecedented and approaches the problem of the budget cuts in a fundamentally ahistorical way. This frees the administration to act without any kind of commitment to historical practices, processes, or (with all due caveats) tradition. It is difficult to make the case that history matters without engaging history fully in diagnosing and assessing the problems and potential solutions.

3. Petroculture. One thing that I did notice right in the background of many of the contributions to this effort is the looming specter of oil and some linked the budget shortfalls and budget cuts on the decline of oil prices. A subtle strand throughout the work is that history and historical thinking would have helped the state and the university better anticipate and adapt to the mercurial fluctuations in oil prices.

It is curious, though, that unlike many places in the world where oil has had a major impact on the local economies, none of the humanities institutions in North Dakota have yet to promote or develop a sustained interest in petrocultures. Petrocultures or Oil Humanities describes any number of approaches to economy, history, literature, or culture of oil production and consumption across various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. They absence of a focus on oil and the humanities in North Dakota has left the state unprepared to engage the challenges of the oil economy and petroculture. As the state prepares itself to be even more accommodating to extractive industry, there is greater pressure for scholars and students of the humanities to provide a critical foil to these developments.