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I’ve been toiling away a bit at my paper for next month’s IEMA conference at the University of Buffalo. The paper is titled “Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology,” and it is my first formal effort to articulate what I’m trying to do with The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota into academic terms. After all, I’ve sometimes said that The Digital Press is a laboratory press, but I’ve been less successful in stating what this laboratory is actually designed to develop, test, or produce.

A series of long walks and some serious stewing (and some reading, to be fair), led me back to a few things that I had read over the past year from which I could not shake free. I went back to my paper this weekend and started to play with the ideas that really inspired it (rather than what I think I was going to try to say). This is the new introduction (and the new conclusion):

Introduction 

Over the last two decades, there has been the growing use of the phrase ”digital workflow.” As you might expect, the Google ngram plot looks like the proverbial hockey stick. Workflow has its roots in the language of early 20th century scientific management, and the specific application to digital practices appears to have emerged at the turn of the 21st century in the field of publishing. In this context, the use of computer technology in the production of print media required a new way of organizing practice and spawned a series of “how to” style books. A similar response has occurred in the early 21st century with the spread of digital tools, technologies, and practices in archaeology, and, as a result, digital workflow has come to occupy a distinct place within archaeological methodology.

Today, I’d like to think a bit about workflow in the context of digital archaeology with special attention to archaeological publishing. The paper has two impetus. One is a passage from an article by Michael Given in which he applies Ivan Illich’s idea of conviviality to an understanding of the premodern agricultural landscape of Cyprus. Toward the end of the article, he suggested that a convivial approach between archaeological specialists from soil scientists to ceramicists, bioarchaeologists, architectural historians, and field archaeologists would produce a deeper understanding of the convivial landscape in which premodern Cypriots lived. My first reading of that passages was relatively uncharitable. To my mind, Illich’s notion of conviviality was anti-modern and attempting to reconcile this idea with the assembly line practice of archaeological work and specialization seemed as doomed to fail as the plantation style sugar works established by the Venetian colonizers on Cyprus’s south coast. If convivial relationships mapped the seamless sociability of premodern production, specialization and workflows created Frankenstein creatures which have the superficial appearance of reality, but are, in fact, mottled monsters of recombined fragments.

At the same time that I was thinking about Illich and Given, I read Anna Tsing’s work, The Mushroom at the End of the World and Deborah Cowen’s work on logistics, The Deadly Life of Logistics. Both books, in their own ways, describe the fluid of movement of people, things, and capital around the world. They explore the tension between the local and the global, places and movement, and the dividual and the individual. While Cowen’s work is, as the title suggests, practical and pessimistic in tone, Tsing’s work offers the rhizomic world of the matsutake mushroom holding for the “possibilities of life in capitalist ruins.” My paper today will swing back and forth between these two poles and offer both an angst-filled critique of archaeological practice and then some more optimistic reflections on why maybe Michael Given was right (and maybe I knew that all along) and convivial social practices in archaeology are possible, even in our digital age.

Conclusion

The Digital Press – and digital publishing practices in archaeology (and I’d propose in academia more broadly) – offers at least one way to think about the tension between the fragmenting of digital archaeological data and social practices at the core of knowledge making. The collaborative environment made possible by digital technology is not grounded simply in the relatively ease of using mainstream professional design tools, but in the transformation of archaeological workflow. Following the fragments of digital knowledge along the rhizomic streams connecting field practices to final publications disrupts some of the traditional forms of organization that define archaeological work. The ease with which objects, human remains, and even buildings can move through digital media demonstrates, at some level, how digital workflows can transform the social and disciplinary limits on archaeological practice. At the same time, the Digital Press offers a more convivial view of the future where archaeologists can unpack the black box of publishing and create a new, digitally mediated model for the production and dissemination of archaeological knowlege.


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