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Publishing archaeological research

Comparative perspectives on common concerns
Catherine Morgan
p. 279-288

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1Debates about the form and future of archaeological publications have been more or less regular events over the past decade, variously motivated by factors such as the professional concern of archaeologists to reduce the backlog of unpublished fieldwork, the potential of new media, and the concerns of an increasingly globalised publishing industry. Yet two aspects in particular distinguished the round-table presented in this volume.

2The first is the leading role played by the national network of overseas research institutes, principally the members of the Écoles françaises à l’étranger (EFE) but with comparative perspectives supplied by their British and German counterparts. These institutes both publish and conduct research, alone and with national and international partners notably from universities, heritage practices, and museums. They thus represent a broad spectrum of research in the humanities (not merely archaeology). When one also considers that as national authorities they bear a weight of public responsibility and are subject to close public scrutiny, it is easy to understand their potential to play a leading role in defining and exercising best practice on a national and (in consort) an international level. Undoubtedly, as institutes we have not yet learned to use our individual and collective voices as effectively as possible —and it was striking to observe in the course of discussion that the members of the British Academy’s network of Sponsored Institutes and Societies (BASIS) have reached much the same point in the learning curve as our French colleagues in the EFE. Yet the Madrid workshop for once put us centre stage alongside colleagues from universities and other national institutions.

3The second distinctive feature of this meeting was its timing, coming as it did at a critical conjuncture where the effects of a near-global economic downturn have created a variety of sometimes conflicting pressures and constraints on research and publication nationally and internationally. For example, given the long-established principle that the development of an individual’s academic career is predicated on their research and publication record, constraints on university finances and pressures towards public accountability for research funding are creating an unprecedented conflict between the rights of individuals to conduct and publish their own research for their personal advancement, and pressures on institutions to deliver coherent, strategically-directed research programmes with public impact. Publishers also are under pressure globally, as the old economic model of print publication is seen as failing while surely inflated expectations of the profits to be made from e-publication have not been met. Indeed, we are at a crossroads in online and e-publication, facing important decisions notably about archiving, guaranteeing long-term integrity and compatibility of data, licencing, rights and file sharing, with very little collective sense of direction (let alone enthusiasm among commercial publishers to negotiate). Given these needs, it is regrettable that the British Archaeology Data Service (itself the sole surviving part of the once dynamic and creative Arts and Humanities Data Service) now subsists on a mixture of continuing and project-based funding, thus reducing its capacity to play a much-needed strategic role: here the French model of national infrastructure is much more promising. It would be easy to form the impression that electronic publication has lost some of its shine. Yet while initial assumptions about the easy changes to be wrought via this medium were naïve, pessimism misses the point that the plethora of forms of e-publication and the ways in which they may benefit new audiences or enhance research opportunities for individuals at all career stages address core issues of policy (e.g. on open access or equality of opportunity) in ways which print media cannot. Digital output is too important to these wider agendas to permit us to step back. But we are passing through a phase of considerable uncertainty over many aspects of both medium and message, from solutions to problems with particular media, to the politics of research and publication (what we research and how we disseminate/pay for it). As ever, the sciences tend to set the agenda with the humanities left to respond and/or fight, and this is a particularly risky position for archaeology of all humanities disciplines, since archaeological publication places particular demands on data presentation and editorial skills (to the point where certain major international publishing houses will not handle site reports).

4Many of the points raised by individual authors and in discussion came sharply into focus in Britain just three months after the workshop, in June 2012, with the publication of the report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings chaired by Dame Janet Finch (Accessibility, Sustainability, Excellence: how to Expand Access to Research1). The impetus for this investigation was government concern that the taxpayer was effectively paying twice to benefit from state-funded research—once to provide the initial research grant and a second time to purchase the results from publishing houses often at great (some would argue inflated) cost. It is not appropriate here to comment in detail on the Finch Report, not least as major matters of policy and implementation remain unresolved2. But certain underlying points resonate more widely and are relevant to the Madrid discussion. The principal recommendation was that publication costs should be front-loaded, with article processing charges (APCs) levied upon authors (in many cases funded as part of their grants) and costs to the purchaser then substantially reduced or eliminated. This is a science-led model: it focuses on journal articles, barely considers edited collections, and leaves out monographs completely. Yet the fact that the forms of publication favoured by archaeologists largely escape attention is no cause for complacency. As our discussion revealed, the model of the monograph as the ultimate goal of archaeological publication is itself open to challenge, and more generally, the longer-term fate of whatever is sidelined in debates about financial allocations is rarely a happy one. For as long as we see, monographs and edited collections as desirable end products of archaeological investigation (whether or not publicly funded) we will have to make the case for their role forcefully and repeatedly.

5Secondly, the potential impact upon the careers of individual researchers is a source of particular concern to the academic community, especially in the humanities. A shift in university or other institutions’ expenditure away from library budgets and towards supporting the up-front costs of article processing charges will likely have an number of damaging consequences. It will probably limit the quantity and range of research publications available to research library users because reduced library budgets may struggle to maintain international purchases and (depending on the level of APCs set) less research may be funded domestically. There is thus a risk of compromising the quality of research dependent upon these resources (reflecting both on the researcher and on the institution to which they are affiliated), with a potentially disproportionate impact on the humanities (archaeology included) given their emphasis on interdisciplinarity. The shift may also increase the power of institutional managers to decide who should publish what and where. In Britain at least the impact will be increased if, as currently indicated, by 2020 only publications meeting open access standards will be accepted as part of the national audit of university research output (the Research Excellence Framework) on which a proportion of the funding assigned to individual universities rests. Of course there are already tensions between the demands of researchers working as individuals and the needs of teams, be they excavation teams or institutional departments required to operate strategically. Individual achievement—the ability to raise research grants and the quality and impact of publications (with an economy of prestige built on factors including the choice of journal or publishing house, and formally recognized e.g. in the ERIH index)—underpins academic careers across Europe, in hiring, promotion and ensuring freedom of movement. Yet the status of departments and institutions (and thus their attractiveness as employers) rests more on team performance, sometimes collective projects and in general on a sense of overall profile and direction. There is a legitimate concern that a change in financial policy liable to constrain the ability of individuals to make personal choices will damage this delicate balance. Even more serious is the risk to the career development of those attempting to enter the system or vulnerable within it—doctoral students, early stage and short-contract researchers, and those outside the universities and with limited access to funds (including many archaeology professionals). They may suffer the double blow of being at the back of the queue for funding while seeing the quality of the research libraries on which they rely eroded.

6The Finch Report has opened Pandora’s box. Far from being a parochial British debate, the views expressed address in a sharp and focused fashion many of the issues also raised during the workshop, from the cost of publications and the profits made by publishing houses to the role of publication and access to information in developing careers and widening public awareness of archaeology. The core questions about publication posed for debate at the meeting—what information is needed in what format and what medium— cannot be divorced from the sometimes conflicting interests of the actors involved, be they authors, readers, or university/institutional managers. For example, in considering how particular aspects of archaeological research might best be published, we touched upon the needs of researchers and authors at different career stages, and the potential of new media and different kinds of diffusion to further national and European agendas for equality of opportunity and life-long learning. The traditional model of the monograph as the ultimate outcome of a field project, often produced many years on as the «final word» on the subject, may seem an inflexible solution to those seeking to establish themselves or whose professional careers are punctuated or slowed by necessary moves or breaks. The delays imposed are potentially damaging and the particular prestige accorded to monographs per se probably unwarranted. There are thus social as well as academic reasons to examine the modes of publication favoured for archaeological research.

7An important point which recurred throughout the workshop was the difficulty of combining the grand model of the monograph with the basic academic exercise of demonstrating arguments with data now that most enquiries generate very varied but inextricably entwined forms of data often via diverse forms of analysis. Archaeology is now a much more complex exercise than it was in the simpler age of the great, all-encompassing book. Indeed, it is no accident that many monographs derived from Aegean fieldwork focus on single categories of material (often as catalogues) or demonstrate particular methods or techniques. Among major Aegean research (rather than rescue) excavations, a more common strategy is to create a mixed menu, e.g. of article-length field reports covering a particular field season or monument (I resist the term «interim» as whether by accident or design these often turn out to be definitive statements), short focused studies or overviews, and then major collections or book-length studies. Factors encouraging this, which are variously applicable according to national research regimes, include the permit regimes of the host country and the requirements of funding bodies and home universities to demonstrate results. In Greece, for example, restrictions on permit numbers demand competition and scheduling, and there is at least notional encouragement to reallocate material where no publication is forthcoming. The question of the role of electronic media was raised initially in connection with the perceived need to make large quantities of data accessible. Since print publication is by definition selective, the internet was presented as a means of giving open access to documentation previously confined to the archive. However, at the risk of stating the obvious, simply uploading a dossier is no substitute for careful definition of what constitutes archival information and at what level, and of how such information online should be read in parallel with other site publications. Publication is publication: whatever is in the public domain is a document of record whether the medium is digital or print. Not least for this reason, discussion of online posting as an interim solution to enable large quantities of data to appear while definitive publications are prepared seems to miss the point. Different national research cultures place different degrees of emphasis on the process of creating primary data and on analysis and interpretation (in Britain, for example, archaeological doctorates conventionally focus on interpretation, whereas in Greece material catalogues are more common). Yet a focus on analysis and synthesis as the final goal of publication runs the risk of downgrading the intellectual exercise of defining and presenting data to the point where basic levels of skill are at risk. The challenges of achieving a balance between data and argument are clear. Trends in the publication of science-based archaeology offer a good illustration. Following an initial period of what we may crudely characterise as «appendix science», when the results of scientific analyses and discussion of aims and methods tended to be relegated to appendices in archaeological reports with little critical exchange, a better understanding of the importance of close and careful integration of analytical programmes into overall research design has come to be reflected in more integrated publications. Yet even though these demonstrate a close connection between research design, argument and data of all types, there are lingering concerns around the fact that archaeological publications generally lack space to present scientific data fully and allow insufficient scope for discussion of science-specific questions of method or particular challenges presented by archaeomaterials. A common solution is to publish parallel discussions in differently-oriented journals (Antiquity and the Journal of Archaeological Science, for example), and on balance (and for precisely the academic reasons outlined above) this has found greater favour than putting data online and publishing argument with limited data support. The conclusion here is that the perceived risk of multiplying types of publication with the introduction of various types of digital media only really applies if inadequate attention is paid to publication strategy in relation to research design. Media should be selected to allow audiences to access an academic publication in the manner most convenient to them, and not to segregate particular, awkward, categories of information.

8It was argued strongly that the rhythm of archaeological publication differs from that of other disciplines. Certainly, it is challenging to accommodate the regular demands of audit cycles (be they applications and/or reports to funding bodies or institutional audits as the Research Excellence Framework) against the longer time spans of archaeological fieldwork and study. The positive effect is the release of information in more or less polished and considered form at regular intervals through the life of a project, while the negative is the difficulty of making progress with the systematic study of large bodies of data given the pressure to complete smaller reports. In a period of financial stringency, the question of how resources for publication may be allocated to best effect is important. This is both a management decision and a philosophical one. The philosophical decision is one to which I have previously alluded —the need to define what is important and/or distinctive in archaeological publication (what we want to achieve and how). Monographs or large reports are long and costly endeavours: while the assumption that they constitute an automatic «gold standard» for researchers can legitimately be questioned, it is nonetheless true that they permit a scale (depth and/or breadth) of argument impossible in a shorter work. They constitute a distinctive form of intellectual exercise. Where it can be demonstrated that such scale is necessary to convey the results of a particular piece of research, the case for this greater investment is readily made (in Britain it is acknowledged by the double weighting which may be given to monograph submissions by some subject panels in the Research Excellence Framework). The problem therefore is not with the concept of the monograph, but with the role that has been assigned to it as a blanket marker of status and esteem, a privileged way of making a «definitive» statement. The management decision identifies those part(s) of the process that require priority support. My own view is that the costs of archaeological publication in any medium are heavily front-loaded by virtue of the need for specialist editorial skills to cover not only text and picture editing but also complex questions of layout. There may be differences in the exact specifications of print and e-publications (e.g. to meet e-commons standards), but the overall burden of work at this stage does not differ significantly. There can be no suggestion that e-publication is by definition cheaper than print either at the front end of the process or (potentially) at the back (depending on how problematic issues of archiving and data maintenance are ultimately resolved). The role of the editor is crucial, and within the overall field of humanities publishing, archaeological field reports are seen as a niche market for particular journals or a few specialist publishers. This is not simply a matter of skills but a question of perceived production cost and limited market. The relatively close link between archaeologically active institutions and specialist publishers (often in-house) in turn raises questions about the ability of many of these publishers to reach the widest market and to make archaeological work truly visible. Contracting out extended reports or monographs to large international publishers solves these problems but can be financially punishing and hard to negotiate. The experience of colleagues in several British institutes has been that it is necessary to use multiple channels —to keep some work in house at least for the initial stages of production but to contract out altogether specialist services (as the production of e-books), journal publication, and volumes that fit more closely «average» humanities production requirements. Publication services remain part of our institutional culture for good and valid reasons, but it is rarely now practical to maintain exclusive relationships.

9The choice of media in which to publish should be defined primarily by the needs of readers. A number of concerns emerged during the workshop about the continuing viability of libraries in a digital world and the potential of digital media to change the way in which we read academic literature (creating what was described as a culture of «zapping» rather than systematic reading). Yet there is a strong argument to suggest that medium alone does not condition researcher behaviour. A 2011 report by the UK Research Information Network (a body established by the principal research funders and national libraries to investigate the effectiveness of information services for researchers3) drew the unsurprising conclusion that people are conservative in their approach to research resources, and access information in the way that best fits their lifestyle. Libraries are essential as social hubs and as places to gain specialist advice, since unlike most colleagues in the sciences, humanities researchers often work alone. What is perhaps an obvious conclusion for directors of international research institutions with research libraries at their heart is that specialist reader services are vital: the wider the options for access, the greater the support needed, and more essential the role of advisors and/or digital acquisitions specialists. If metrics are required to justify continuing investment, digital resources open a range of new possibilities for defining readership and clientele. However, a greater concern, in the light of shared European social aspirations, is the effect of physical resource location upon the practicality and effectiveness of research careers. If the publication of a work in electronic form enables a young parent to make fuller use of what others regard as a normal working day, then this is simply a matter of equality of opportunity. Colleagues in many of the new universities, e.g. across the Balkans and in Turkey, rely upon digital resources to support their teaching in the absence of well-stocked print libraries, and here the choice of digital or print also opens wider possibilities for exchanges, extending the reach and enriching the quality of European scholarship. And for an archaeologist in the field, access to e-books (and ideally fully interactive e-books, not simply pdfs) improves the effectiveness of a study season when transporting large quantities of print literature is impractical. These are merely basic responses to current needs, with no thought to the wider development of e-research. Zapping has often been seen as a generational question, yet it also links to subject. Archaeologists approach site reports in many ways, looking to characterise and/or date sites, find parallels for objects or features, or assess field methods. The way we raid this literature is akin to zapping and it is no surprise that fully interactive e-books, especially in tablet form, have been an early development for this market since they fit well established approaches to published evidence. Yet this is not an inflexible mind-set: the fact that archaeologists tend not to read site reports in a linear fashion does not automatically mean that they treat historical texts in the same way, for example. There probably is an overall shift between generations, but it is nuanced by the strong underlying tradition of different responses to different literatures.

10The production of a publication in whatever medium is only the beginning: the most serious problems lie in the subsequent stages. Marketing of digital media is currently passing through a phase of unsustainably predatory behaviour, with many major publishers seeking to licence particular versions of applications for particular devices, limit access within group agreements and curtail access long-term. Known problems of interoperability of tools and long-term data curation are only rarely addressed (and then at least at national level) since there is every incentive for commercial publishers to ignore them. Satisfactory deals tend to require very tough negotiation. This situation cannot last, especially when resources like JSTOR buy us time to wait for publishers to become more realistic in their approach to digital products. Against this background, however, it is worth recalling that powerful e-publishers work to maintain their access to internet gatekeepers, the big search engines that guarantee visibility. Even publishers’ own websites are rarely first ports of call for researchers—Google and its peers are the key. There is already a substantial problem in identifying and accessing grey literature in archaeology (rescue archaeology in particular) which is variously addressed in national and European initiatives, and it would be unfortunate if very fragmented digital publication perpetuated the problem. Visibility in catalogue databases and online search results is extremely important, and there are both commercial and national infrastructural routes to achieving this. In short (and put crudely), academics have been guilty of considering online publication as effectively free and commercial publishers of seeing it as a new market to be milked. It is to be hoped that sensible recognition of the fact that there are costs which must be borne somewhere in the chain will soon engender greater realism and allow the benefits of commercial publication to flow.

11Perhaps more serious is the question of long-term data integrity (secure storage, migration and normalisation). The French state engagement and investment in national infrastructure via ADONIS appears highly enviable from the other side of the channel, and the planned integration of publications and archives across a broad range of the humanities and social sciences a major step forward. In Britain, the Archaeology Data Service4 continues essential work to preserve digital archives pertinent to archaeology, but with only indirect state funding via one research council (initial archiving and subsequent refreshment costs are borne by the depositor). The ADS website also serves as a reference point for grey literature on UK excavations and e-journals. Internationally, the academically-led not-for-profit initiative CLOCKSS5 provides long-term guarantees of access to published literature (whether digitised or born-digital), again requiring publishers to subscribe and cover the costs of deposit and maintenance. Especially in a time of financial crisis, it is easy for all parties involved (researchers, publishers and librarians) to see such subscriptions as an avoidable extra cost. Indeed, for archaeologists, the idea that researchers should pay archiving charges is a relatively recent development; fieldwork archives were traditionally institutional problems of little concern once records were deposited, and in so far as institutions could recoup costs, this was achieved via reproduction charges. But here too, the existence of real costs should be acknowledged. Libraries are used to covering conservation costs for print books and there is no reason to assume that e-files are by definition longer lived, yet when publishers retain rights over born-digital products after purchase (as they currently do to a very restrictive extent), the conservation burden cannot be born exclusively by the purchaser. Guaranteeing continuing access to research publications and materials must surely be taken into account in wider debates about funding.

12I conclude by returning to the role of national overseas research institutes. With their dual roles of practising and publishing research (and in the process training the next generation), these institutes are in a more powerful position than they have perhaps realised to make a difference and to lend academic authority to the outcome, be the future digital, print or both. Their engagement at all stages of the process, from planning to fundraising, securing permits, the conduct of fieldwork, and academic evaluation of resulting manuscripts via peer-review for institute publications, gives a unique overview as well as the ability to ensure that publication is fully integrated into research strategies from the beginning and to intervene should projects slip off track. The Madrid round table raised many long-standing problems but in a context of great uncertainty internationally, presenting new solutions but also casting a harsh light on those core infrastructural and funding issues which require a new consensus to solve.

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1  See reports on <>.

2  A flavour of the debates generated in British academe may be gained from the Research Information Network website: <>. The main concerns of the humanities and social science community as the debate has developed can be understood from <> (A Submission from the British Academy to the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee on the Government’s Open Access Policy – February 2013).

3  See <­libraries­-research-and-researchers>.

4  See <>.

5  See <>.

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Catherine Morgan, « Publishing archaeological research »,Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez, 43-2 | 2013, 279-288.

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Catherine Morgan, « Publishing archaeological research », Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez [En ligne], 43-2 | 2013, mis en ligne le 15 novembre 2013, consulté le 21 février 2018. URL :

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Catherine Morgan

The British School at Athens

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