Scholarly Roadkill

Mitch’s Blog

Garage Archaeology in Pasadena

Friday, March 03, 2017

“Want me to grab you a couple of bottles of wine from the garage before I go?” I asked Bill. We had just finished three days of poring over draft descriptions of seventeen Parthian sites on the Malakhan Plain. I was ready to head back to Northern California.

“There’s wine out there?” asks Bill, incredulous.

“There’s lots!” I reply.

I knew this for a fact because I had been through his garage several times in the past year looking for field notebooks, photographs, slides, maps, plans, and photocopies of research articles with titles like “Notes on some volcanic and other…

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The Meaning of Life

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Rome 1969. July. Heat wafting up from the cobblestones. The smell of rotting vegetables. Sultry. Hot. Flies.


I was in the streets all day, my first day in Rome. Walked from Via Veneto to the Spanish Steps. No shade. No place to stop. An occasional ice cream. But now a moment’s rest along the Tiber. I captured a spot on the stone wall. How many legionnaires and senators and popes and dukes had walked over these same stones. Open-eyed farmers, wizened grandmothers, woodcarvers with scarred palms, children liberated from school or convent. How many had also stopped for a…

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Don’t Look Now But You’re Probably Writing for a Database

Thursday, February 23, 2017

My friend Ann is probably stewing this week after having received a very mixed review of the book she coedited, the Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant. The review spent two paragraphs congratulating the authors and editors and the subsequent seven criticizing what didn’t appear in its 58 chapters and 900 pages.  I was not part of this project, but have been publisher of many other handbooks— on Sociology,  Rock Art Research, Gender in Archaeology, even one on White Power, among others —and know that creating a handbook is a five year process involving endless work…

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The Monograph is Dead! Long Live the Monograph!

Friday, February 17, 2017

It’s been going on for a while, proclamations of the death of the scholarly monograph. Too expensive, no audience, not sustainable economically. Here, I’ll try to explain some of the reasons for this obituary and some of the workarounds scholars, universities, and publishers have been using to try to keep it afloat. This is prompted by a report released last Friday by ace publishing consultants Joe Esposito and Karen Barch and funded by the Mellon Foundation. The report tries to estimate how many scholarly monographs are published annually by American university presses.

What is a scholarly monograph? The…

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A Year Later

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Transaction Publishers closed its doors this month. Lost in the political din of alternative facts, illegal orders, and Superbowl commercials, this fact is a verifiable one, and a sad one. Founded in the early 1960s by sociologist Irving Louis Horowitz, Transaction existed as an independent social science press for over half a century, publishing thousands of important books and journals before being sold to Routledge in December.

It was exactly a year ago that I locked the door on the second floor suite on San Miguel Drive for the final time, walked next door and handed…

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College Textbooks: The Next Generation

Friday, February 10, 2017

Remember those big college textbook publishers? They’re gone. Cengage. Pearson (once upon a time Prentice-Hall). McGraw and his sidekick Hill. In their place are companies that provide learning solutions.  McGraw is a “learning science” company, Pearson “the world’s learning company,” Cengage “educational content, technology, and services company.” In the words of a famous crooked politician, “you won’t have me to kick around anymore.”  Each of them had, and still have, sales in the billions of dollars each year, just not so much from textbooks.  

What happened to their expensive textbooks, the prices of which everyone complained about?  Not completely…

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The Night Wind

Monday, February 06, 2017

Late November 1974. The field season was over. We'd packed it all into the two Land Rovers and headed downriver, past the shallow blue-gray lakes ringed with yellowing reeds to where roads consisted of no more than the least bumpy way through fields of rocks and sand.

Since the blistering heat of September, we had been documenting archaeological sites along the Helmand, Afghanistan’s largest river. We had scraped the dusty surfaces of a villa from when the Kings of Parthia held the power in Asia. We dug out the sand from a three story mudbrick houses where the family flipped…

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On Writing About On Writing

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

What should I read to become a better writer?

I give workshops on writing and publishing for academics, and that question inevitably comes up. Almost every time an academic mentions good books about writing, Stephen King’s On Writing is on the list. I’m not much of a King fan, the horror genre always seems to be trumped by real life. But maybe his writing about writing is different. 

Each of my workshops requires handouts, and “Additional Resources” is always one of those. So, along with Nancy Mulvany’s book on indexing, Beth Luey’s guide to getting published, and…

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GUEST BLOG: Far Out: My Life and Hard Times as an Academic Absurdist

Sunday, January 29, 2017

by Arthur Asa Berger, Professor Emeritus, San Francisco State University

            It isn’t difficult to publish things that are absurd when you are an academic. Over the years I’ve had some “far out” ideas. Somehow, many of them find a way into print. Funny, because a colleague of mine at San Francisco State University once told me that my books were unpublishable. Presumably, he thought my ideas were too absurd.  I had published only six or eight books at the time (I now have over 100).  “You find naïve publishers who put out your work.”  When I asked…

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A Day at the Art Museum

Saturday, January 28, 2017

At Elena’s suggestion, we spent the afternoon at the newly reopened SF MOMA, described by Wired as “a slab of glacial ice floating down Third Street” since its opening last spring. The review in the NY Times pointed out that “subtle flexing of the senses continues, stimulated not just by the art but also by the continual surprises of the building’s design and details.” It really is an impressive building, light and airy, but we decided to focus instead on the “details.” A photo essay from SF MOMA.

No question about it, the building is still a work in progress.…

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