Scholarly publishing: paper-based forms

Scholarly publishing, described by Harnad and Hey (1995) as the dissemination of esoteric knowledge, has four primary functions: information dissemination, quality control of that information, the archiving of knowledge, and academic credit. Any publication we attempt is a complex mix of these functions. Two products have dominated the scholarly publishing scene: the monograph and the journal article. Data, of course, figure prominently here, and just how is explored below.

Historically, the monograph (henceforth called the p-monograph) has been the focus of publication efforts in our field (Chippendale in press). The traditional archaeological monograph, while it certainly had synthetic elements within it, nevertheless served as a means by which summarised aspects of primary archaeological data were presented to one's peers (Aldenderfer 1999). Although primary data records per se were often warehoused in archives, libraries, museums, and laboratories, many early monographs served as the vehicles for the dissemination of these data beyond the boundaries of these physical facilities.

Although it has proven to be a durable vehicle, its limitations are all too apparent. Most go out of print very quickly, and are never reprinted. They are static, cannot be easily corrected, and are almost never updated in any meaningful way. Their ability to serve as archives of knowledge depends on other institutions, notably libraries, who agree to warehouse them. Moreover, their ability to present copious quantities of primary data have been compromised by economics except for the most important sites or topics. One recent exception which proves the rule is Dillehay's (1989; 1997) exhaustive report on Monte Verde, a two volume series comprising over 1300 pages of text and hundreds of line drawings and photographs. This pales in comparison to the monographs of the early part of this century, which contained multiple volumes and many thousands of pages. Few other projects or sites in the modern era could hope to be published in such a lavish fashion. As a comparison, the massive urban center of Tiwanaku, while it merits multi-volume treatment in the hands of the same publisher, at present only merits some 300 pages with many fewer drawings, tables, and photos, and much less presentation of primary data (Kolata 1996). Although I think that data presentation has been a primary goal of p-monograph publication, I agree with Gaffney and Exon that synthesis has taken on a more prominent role as the economics of the publication process continue to work against more extensive data presentation.

One of the interesting twists in p-monograph publication is the tension of goals between author and publisher. Esoteric scholarly publishing is done for the dissemination of knowledge and the enhancement of reputation. Financial reward is a chimera for most of us. But not for our agents, the publishers, be they university-based or privately-held, who risk capital on our behalf, presumably based upon a favourable peer review. Our goal, of course, is to make the p-monograph more inclusive and larger; our publishers resist this, of course, knowing that all but a very few of their products are likely to sell more than 500 copies. This trend is not likely to be reversed even as publishers begin to demand that authors provide them with digital, fully camera-ready copy. My own experience has shown that while authors often do get more images, maps, and tables of all kinds in the final product, the publisher has successfully shifted the capitalization of the p-monograph from his shoulders to yours (Day 1998).

The scholarly journal article (henceforth called a 'p-journal') has moved to prominence in archaeology within the latter half of this century as a part of the exponential explosion in the numbers of journals and the papers published in them across most scientific and humanistic fields. Unlike the monograph, however, the journal article has served less as a vehicle for data presentation than as the means by which ideas and critical syntheses of data-rich projects and analyses are presented to broader, but still esoteric, consumers. While data are of course present, the economics of journal publishing mean that only very limited subsets of primary data make it into widespread distribution. The advantages of the journal article are the relatively rapid rate at which they are published (although this varies from discipline to discipline; see Raney 1998 for an example), the involvement of peer review as a quality control mechanism and, for the scholar, the academic credit gained through publication in prestigious forums. More frequent publication of numbers of journals invites the opportunity for discussion and limited feedback between authors and commentators. The disadvantages of p-journal articles are similar to those of the p-monograph: they are rarely revised, are frequently very limited in length, are often out of date by the time they are published and, in the modern era, are increasingly expensive such that libraries become the sole location of their warehousing. Unlike p-monographs, however, p-journal articles package information into highly synthesized and often disconnected bits that often prove difficult to integrate with other, similar, bits. Their use as a medium of academic credit and prestige also promotes the possibility that they will be repackaged in a slightly different form and offered to yet another journal. Thus, while p-journal articles are of major importance to the scholarly community, they have very serious limitations as a mode of data distribution.


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Last updated: Thu Jul 15 1999