Commentary on
Vol. XX, No. 3

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Posted 3 April 2008

Reader Commentaries and Responses on "The Electronic Monograph: A Scholarly Necessity or the Never-Reached Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow?" by Harrison Eiteljorg, II

This exchange between Judith Winters and Harrison Eiteljorg, II, with an additional comment from Phoebe Sheftel, followed the publication of the article on electronic publication of scholarly monographs ("The Electronic Monograph: A Scholarly Necessity or the Never-Reached Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow?" by H. Eiteljorg, II, CSA Newsletter, XX, 3; Winter, 2008:

Comments and responses are listed in the order that they were received, with the most recent last. The latest addition was made 1 May 2008.

From Judith Winters (12/03/08):

I was interested to read your article about electronic monographs, and particularly to read your statement "I know of no e-publisher for monographs in archaeology, no publisher who will treat a manuscript with the kind of care normal in the print world while creating a final publication in electronic form."

It struck me that the distinction between a journal 'article' and a 'monograph' is so much less relevant in a digital environment. In the e-journal Internet Archaeology we have published a number of contributions (journal articles) which are essentially monographs and would have been substantial books if published in print, and (those with substantial data sets) might even have run into 2 volumes, nevermind those with VR or panoramas which would have been impossible to 'print'! And with the LEAP project (, we have been successfully publishing monographs that contain online GIS and databases and which integrate and link to associated digital archives held by the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) ( Furthermore, all Internet Archaeology content is fully peer-reviewed, edited and copy-edited and is archived by the ADS.

In the UK, the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) assesses the quality of research in universities and colleges in the UK and in the most recent round, several publications in Internet Archaeology were put forward for consideration, and it is our experience that it is the merit of the research output submitted, not the medium, that is evaluated.

Harrison Eiteljorg, II, replied as follows (14/03/08):

I take your point and would certainly agree with the idea that the distinction between monograph and article is artificial in an electronic setting. However, a monograph -- from the point of view of a tenure committee -- is a different animal from a journal article. The electronic medium may well minimize the difference, but I am not sure a tenure committee would see no difference. (The use of electronic media for such features as panoramas or data sets seems to me to be a separate issue. I am a proponent of electronic publication, partly because of these kinds of possibilities.)

My question is therefore still the same. Would I "seriously recommend to a junior scholar the creation of an e-publication."? If (and I think only if) Internet Archaeology were the publisher, I might. But I would first need to be assured somehow -- and I am not sure how -- that any tenure decisions for that junior scholar would include an evaluation of the publication as a monograph, not as a journal article. I wonder if there is any experience to guide in this.

I must add here that I should have noted in the article that Internet Archaeology exists as a venue for the kind of electronic publication I deem necessary. In the U.S., however, there is no counterpart, and I continue to believe that the professional organizations in our field have been and continue to be missing in action. That is a conclusion to which I am forced by the (lack of) evidence. It makes me both sad and angry.

Judith Winters replied as follows (24/03/08):

I would only add that in the UK, the academic context is different (no tenure committees of the kind you describe). The RAE is what matters and there is no difference between article and monograph - the peer-review is on content.

You mourn the lack of a US counterpart to Internet Archaeology, but I would like to stress that IA is an international journal and would of course be very interested in publishing substantial U.S. sourced contributions (of the kind we've achieved with LEAP). The question is whether an international journal like Internet Archaeology can lead the way in the US academic context, and thereby encourage those professional organisations to take up the reins as it were.

Phoebe Sheftel added comments as follows (24/04/08):

Interesting. The web site for LEAP only mentions the possibility of supplementing data in a manuscript already posted, presumably always under the control of the original author. But what about differing interpretations of the data? Might it be beneficial to allow others who access the data for their own research purposes to have an opportunity to append their interpretations and maybe even add links to their own data? This would have to be done in a way that keeps the original author's work unchanged. But it would offer a forum for an ongoing, online development of the knowledge base, rather than isolating information in separate silos.

Even if people agree electronic is the way to go, let's not get stuck in just translating an old technology (printed paper) into a new format with a few whiz-bang new graphics features. The technology does present an opportunity to step back and start from the question "what can this new technology allow us to do that will increase knowledge through sharing and discussion?"

Harrison Eiteljorg, II, commented further (24/04/08):

The original article included suggestions that the author should be able to change his/her text, but it made no mention of changes by others. Ms. Sheftel's final question, in any case, is surely the right one to ask: "What can this new technology allow us to do that will increase knowledge through sharing and discussion?"

Judith Winters replied as follows (29/04/08):

In response to Phoebe's first point, I would love to see people submitting new and rival interpretations of data in Internet Archaeology. I certainly see no barriers to making links between the original paper, the supporting data and the new interpretation. LEAP publications draw on as well as link to digital archive data and we have always envisaged that this could even be extended to pulling in data held elsewhere (preservation and longevity assumed).

No-one has yet taken the opportunity to publish with us their re-analysis of data we've published, but we have had some minor successes in this direction. For example, in our Digital Publication theme a lengthy response to one article was able to be published in the same issue at the same time, highlighting the potentially rapid turnaround that the journal can offer. And discussion went further on our email discussion list. Maybe with the introduction of better tools, such as wiki technologies, there can be more options for comment and discussion.

However I think it is right that Internet Archaeology never goes back to change a published article text in light of the author's (or anyone else's) new findings. As a journal of record, it is important that the author creates a piece of work to which others may safely refer for years to come, safe in the knowledge that the article they referred to will still say the same thing when a new reader follows their reference to it. But equally, IA has always stated that new interpretations (by the original authors or indeed anyone else) would be welcomed as new articles but more minor comments could be incorporated as addenda and all elements, be they from the original interpretation or the digital archive, can be linked together.

Harrison Eiteljorg, II, replied as follows (29/04/08):

It is good to know that Internet Archaeology welcomes revisits of data and interpretation. Links certainly provide an easy way to permit that.

I do not agree, however, that an original publication should stand forever without any kind of modification. As I said in the original article, "it would be my view that the alteration progress should normally retain the original and add changes in ways that permit readers to see any and all versions, from first to last." So I agree that there is a need to preserve the record. At the same time, it seems to me that the electronic world offers an excellent opportunity for those of us who have made errors in print (does that leave anyone out?) to correct them without, if you will, erasing them. I offer a personal need to do such a thing. My monograph on the older propylon was reviewed by my friend and colleage, Tasos Tanoulas in the American Journal of Archaeology. He found factual errors, one that I would like to correct and one that we jointly agreed was not, after all, an error. I have been threatening to write something for years to set the record straight, and Mr. Tanoulas has agreed to join in. I should do that, and there is no excuse for not having done so. Nevertheless, it seems to me that it would have been wonderful to have been able to put the corrections into the original -- marked out in any way found suitable, but made a part of the original in the sense that both the actual error and the correct observation could have been made crystal clear for any reader of the monograph without requiring a search for a possibly obscure follow-up item.

I return to Phoebe Sheftel's fundamental question, "what can this new technology allow us to do that will increase knowledge through sharing and discussion?" I think we should be willing to discuss all possibilities and should do so in an open and thoughtful way as we enter this new electronic universe, and I think that requires that we not cling to ideas that arose because of the limitations of the print world of the past.

As I re-read Judith Winters' last paragraph, it occurs to me that we may be debating a distinction without a difference. It seems likely that the only real disagreement is over what might amount to "minor comments" and what falls outside that limit.

Kris Hirst sent the following note to continue the discussion (01/05/08):

There is technology available to create electronic anti-palimpsests, at least the last time I looked at Adobe's In Design (included in the latest version of CreativeSuite, CS3), the software can automatically track multiple copies of the text/graphics as you make changes--and create PDFs of each version. �

Personally, speaking as a writer, I don't like the stacked versions idea. No one is going to read through several versions of the same text, except perhaps literary archaeologists, if there are such scholars. That's really not part of the collaborative process towards science anyway. It may be interesting from a literary standpoint, but not from getting scientific problems explored. And I can't imagine the storage issues involved with keeping several versions of a multitude of texts online -- not to mention troubles with citations (e.g., Eiteljorg 2008a1-3.4?). So, if I want to cite a particular version of a particular text, I'd link to it -- but would that force the reader who is familiar with that text but not that version, to read the particular version to understand where I'm coming from? Sounds like a road block.

What people might find useful -- what I would find enlightening -- is open discussion of the issues generated by a particular publication, discussion of the faults or good points of a particular issue or additions or changes as new data come in. That doesn't really need special software; blog software does that today, by allowing freeform commentary. What we need is an organized structure, perhaps some way to add signed electronic footnotes to a completed text. Is that something you would consider, Judith?

An interesting example of the possibilities may be found at the PLoS One Site ( - "An interactive open-access journal for the communication of all peer-reviewed scientific and medical research"): an article entitled "Dental Microwear and Diet of the Plio-Pleistocene Hominin Paranthropus boisei," by P.S. Ungar, F.E. Grine, and M.F. Teaford (

Of course, in my wildest moments, I think the whole fixed paper entity should be discarded. I've been told, I couldn't tell you how many times, that the main hindrance to any �model of collaborative research is that people don't earn tenure points for such efforts and they're simply too busy teaching and conducting their own research to do something that doesn't further their careers. Speaking as someone who neither teaches nor conducts original research, I find that disappointing, but I can't really complain.

RETURN TO PRIMARY ARTICLE, "The Electronic Monograph: A Scholarly Necessity or the Never-Reached Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow?" by H. Eiteljorg, II

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