Vol. XIX, No. 2
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Fall, 2006

Electronic Publication at CSA

Harrison Eiteljorg, II

At times I have been obliged to hear my own words regarding best practices in computer technologies and then been required to heed them. In Turkey in 1998, for instance, I was reminded that I had said that a database designer who did not do what the excavator wanted should be fired. As a result, I worked harder to find a solution that fitted the excavator's needs. I was not fired, and the solution I found remains one of my most prized database achievements nearly a decade later.

Similarly, we decided last spring to scan and put on the web all the old issues of the CSA Newsletter that had not been put on the web in text form. We did that despite the fact that I thought some of the early articles seem amateurish today. I have too often written about the need for scholars to preserve their work, and it seemed to me that the early issues of the Newsletter might hold little interest for archaeologists but a good deal for intellectual historians looking back on the ways computers came to be used in archaeology.

Now it is time, once again, to heed my own words. In 2001 ("Publishing Electronically -- Sooner or Later?" Winter, 2001; XIII, 3: http://csanet.org/newsletter/winter01/nlw0103.html ) I said, "It seems unlikely that there will be a mass movement to electronic publication any time soon -- and the need to include a book in tenure documents will certainly slow any momentum. Nevertheless, the strengths of electronic publication are significant. Sooner or later they will become too significant to ignore." In other venues I went further, saying that those who do not need to build a document chain for tenure or promotion should lead the way because younger scholars dare not imperil their futures by innovating with publication formats.

Heeding those words, my co-author W. Fredrick Limp (Director of the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies at the University of Arkansas) and I are in the final phases of preparing a "book" on archaeological computing that will be published as a PDF file (perhaps more than one) available for free downloading from the web.

This book, originally conceived as a text but re-designed as a kind of beginner's handbook (because archaeological computing is not a common course), has been in the works for some time, but it is nearing completion now. Several decisions were affected by the choice of electronic publishing.

1. Layout. The layout had to accommodate both American-standard 8.5 x 11 paper and European-standard A4 paper. Any other paper size would have complicated the printing process unnecessarily, requiring users to find special paper. However, given the two standard sizes, the layout had to work for both without adjustment. Thus, the length of the page was made to fit on the slightly shorter 8.5 x 11 paper, while the width was designed to fit on the slightly narrower A4 paper.

The layout was also designed with a specific set of users in mind. Being a beginner's handbook, the text will most likely be augmented with many marginalia. Therefore, the standard text column is not only narrow, it is set close to the left edge so that wide margins are available on the right for readers' notes and comments.

2. The use of color. Many users will print this book out -- many of them on university computers where color printing is not possible. As a result, the original plan to use color extensively was modified. Though color remains as a useful way to make distinctions in some graphics, other ways to make those distinctions clear have been added.

3. Indexing. Were the PDF file(s) used only on a computer screen, the index could be omitted. Printed files, however, will require a printed index.

4. Updating. The use of PDF files as the final product permits changes without concern for printing costs. As a result, part of the plan is for regular updates.

5. The glossary. I wanted to include a glossary for each chapter, but several people involved in the project, notably Susan Jones, CSA's "Administrative Assistant," which really means my right hand, pointed out that a complete glossary should be available. Therefore, each chapter will have its own glossary, and there will also be a complete glossary for the entire "book." This is simple to do in an electronic publication but not in a paper one.

6. Miscellaneous. Each page will have, in addition to the page number and chapter information, the date of the file. This will permit updates to be produced as required and users to keep track of whether they have the latest version.

This process has meant that I have needed to learn a good deal more about the desktop publishing program used -- InDesign -- than I really wanted to know. It has also required that I work on indexing and building a table of contents. These are distractions from the work of writing; were I to start this process over again, I would try much harder to find someone familiar with layout and the particular program to do that part of the job. It may be appropriate to publish this work electronically -- indeed, I am convinced that it is -- but the process is very involved and requires considerable expertise. Electronic publishing should not necessarily mean self-publishing.

In addition to the comments about who should publish electronically, I have been a staunch proponent of using both print and the web to present information. In the case of the archaeological computing work, there will be a web portion as well as the PDF documents. Questions (and answers), problems (and solutions), and additional examples will be available via the CSA web site. This is not the kind of print/web publication I have often discussed; the PDF portion is not a standard book, though it may be a hard-copy product for the user. Nevertheless, it seems that this approach combines the virtues of hard-copy text in hand and additional information on the web that may be changed and adjusted as necessary.

When the work is complete and available, we will eagerly track the reception and make every effort to adapt as necessary.

-- Harrison Eiteljorg, II

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For other Newsletter articles concerning the issues surrounding computing in the humanities, or electronic publishing, consult the Subject index.

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