The digital alternatives appear

At the start of the 1990s, scholars in various disciplines, but most prominently physics, began experimenting with new forms for the publication of primary data (Ginsparg 1998). The first innovators, numbering some 200 researchers in an area of high-energy physics, created an online archive through which they could share ideas and data in the form of preprints. Unlike a bulletin board or newsgroup, the material was archived from the start, and as Ginsparg (1998) notes, 'researchers communicate exclusively via research abstracts that describe material otherwise suitable for conventional publication'. The archive grew very quickly, and has mutated into many similar archives that by 1997 contained more than 64,000 submissions. Others, such as Stevan Harnad, working from an already-established p-journal and an experiment in a moderated electronic bulletin board, created Psycoloquy, an electronic journal/archive similar in structure to the physics experience but also, as I was pleased to discover, based on the p-journal Current Anthropology and its system of review and discussion (Harnad 1991). These experiments have been transformed into a multiplicity of forms, but as I will show, debate continues on the viability of each experiment.

Despite an earlier start, the evolution of the e-monograph has been much slower. One of the first digital book projects was Project Gutenberg, which began back in 1971 (Hart 1990; see also The philosophy was simple: to create ASCII versions of important public domain (i.e. whose copyright has expired) texts through the collaboration of volunteers who did the editing, scanning, and preparation. Hart called this his 'Replicator Technology', whereby texts could be infinitely reproduced for future generations in the simplest, most accessible form. The project does not do 'definitive' editions; rather, it creates e-texts said to be 99.9% accurate. However, the notion of creating definitive editions of important texts did catch on early in the humanities, where so-called electronic (or e-text) projects have become a fixture in the publishing landscape (see Bailey 1999 for numerous case studies), and one of relevance to archaeology is the Perseus Project, which got its start as an e-text archive, but which has become something very different in recent years (Crane 1998; 1999).

The e-monograph, however, seems to be a different beast. As defined by Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913; a good time for p-monograph production), a monograph is 'a written account or description of a single thing or class of things; a special treatise on a particular subject of limited range'. Although the contents may be important, they are not meant to be texts as humanists have conceived of them, but are instead vehicles for information dissemination and archiving. A number of publishers experimented with e-monographs during the 1980s and the early 1990s, but few of these experiments, such as volumes mounted on floppy disks, could be considered as successes. Some observers of the scene declared that the scholarly p-monograph was dead, and that e-monographs, should they come into existence, would and should be very different things that would enhance, rather than constrain, the process of information dissemination and communication (Arnold 1993). However, dire predictions such as 'Some of us believe that we (p-monograph publishers) have no more than five years to reinvent ourselves' (Arnold 1993), have not come to pass. It seems that, if anything, p-monograph publishers are becoming even more sceptical of the appearance of robust e-monographs in the near term (Dorman 1999). This does not mean, however, that the p-monograph is not very much threatened by the rapidly deteriorating economics of publishing, but simply that no one has developed a truly interesting or suitable alternative, despite no lack of trying (Wasserman 1998).


© Internet Archaeology URL:
Last updated: Thu Jul 15 1999