Scholarly communication is changing. By reading this blog post you are part of the change. By tweeting about this post, you are part of the change. The internet is drastically altering academia at all stages of research, with dissemination at the forefront of this change. The landscape of scholarly communication is no longer between individuals, or limited to conferences, and resources are not only found in libraries. The rise of Web 2.0 has created new methods for communication and dissemination of information. While some academic disciplines have shifted their practices and evaluation of scholarship with the changes in technology, others cling to their traditional roots. Change in technology does not mean correlating changes in academic practice or evaluation. As Kathleen Fitzpatrick notes in “Planned Obsolesence”, the change is institutional and social, we need to change the way that we perceive scholarship. This is especially relevant to archaeology, a discipline that could benefit greatly from increased digital scholarship. While archaeology has often embraced new technology, such as radiocarbon dating, geographic information systems or statistical programs, there is little change in the methods of communication of dissemination.
There are a number of important developments with a switch to digital scholarly communication which vary drastically from more traditional mediums, and a number of similarities. It is important in archaeology for us to know how the landscape is changing. Three major benefits from the move to digital are the change from static to dynamic pieces of scholarship, the integration of primary data and visualizations into publications, and collaboration.
A major switch in perception of scholarship is that a change to digital means a change from static journal articles and manuscripts to dynamic online documents. With digital publications, such as CommentPress, there is a need for constant interaction and maintenance. In traditional paper journals, comments and interaction takes months if not years to reach the author in the form of written responses published in the journal. However, there is instant commentary for both readers and authors in digital formats. Digital also means that the author can update or change the work in response to comments or as new data is integrated into the research. This requires not only for previous versions to be stored, but also consistent curation of the document. Instead of publishing an update in a journal, the author can immediately edit their work in a digital format to make room for changes. For archaeology, this change is extremely beneficial. With new data constantly being analyzed and recovered, we can begin to publish results and interpretations instead of having to wait until the entire excavation is complete- a process that can take decades!
Most important to archaeology is that digital publications allow for integration of primary data and new visualization techniques. One’s primary data is just as valid a publication to the discipline as the interpretations. While the two should not be evaluated under the same criteria, it is the duty of archaeologists to share our information according to the Society for American Archaeology. Within digital publications the primary data can be easily linked to the interpretation without wasting precious printed pages. Primary data is fundamental to archaeology, and should therefore be shared along with the interpretations. With this, visualization is becoming increasingly important, and many formats cannot be accurately displayed in print. Geographic information systems (GIS) has been used in the discipline for over a decade, and is pivotal to many projects. However, GIS is dynamic and often loses meaning when displayed as static images. Digital documents have the potential to be linked to the entire GIS so that the reader can interact with the program itself. Another important visualization is three-dimensional simulations, such as Rome Reborn. While the static images are impressive, actually interacting with the program is much more valuable and more revealing.
Collaboration has become increasingly important in archaeology since the rise in specializations. Archaeologists can rarely work as an individual, often needing to seek the help of bioarchaeologists, paleobotanists, radiocarbon specialists, statisticians, and various others. While collaboration has occurred between the specializations, it is often done on a one to one, or one to a few, basis, with email the primary medium of communication. However, by opening the discussions to a wider community, new and potentially revealing collaborations can be created. Discussing issues and ideas among our field is important, but gaining insight from other disciplines can be potentially revealing. By staying within small communities and maintaining limited collaborative teams, knowledge is kept within silos or echo chambers. Opening up the discussion allows for new ideas and new relationships to be built. There may be techniques and methods that we are currently unaware of that have great potential in archaeology. At the same time, an archaeological perspective is a unique historical view that may be important to other disciplines. Collaborations between bioarchaeologists, modern pathologists, and DNA specialists have done amazing work on analyzing the plague. Perhaps it would be fruitful for us to stop looking at the discipline as being archaeology or anthropology, and start seeing the discipline as academia or scholarship.
Scholarly communication is changing, whether we want it to or not. It is up to us to determine how best to make use of these changes, and to take advantage of them.
Kathleen Fitzpatrick, 2011. Planned Obsolescence. http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/mcpress/plannedobsolescence/