Scholarly Roadkill

Mitch’s Blog

That Afghanistan Project

Thursday, July 06, 2017

The memories only come back in flashes now. Standing atop the 100 foot high dune watching the sun set over an endless vista of sand. The howling winds shredding our camp as we sought cover from wind, sand, and water in the Land Rovers. Crouching next to a teenaged Baluch workman carefully tracing a plastered floor with trowels and brush.  Watching our historical architect Jim Knudstad scrape away at piles of mud and magically reconfigure the plan of a Parthian house. If not for the photos, I am not sure I could convince myself that I…

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Six Helpful Tips for Your Book Proposal

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

In a recent post I noted that getting a book published does not, as is generally believed, begin with the book proposal. There’s a lot of field work involved first. But, having done the work, it becomes time to craft a proposal that will convince a publisher to invest $20,000 or $40,000 or more in your book.

Where do you look for guidance? That’s an easy one. Every publisher, that means every one, has guidelines for putting together a book proposal on their website. Usually these guidelines are brief and vague. Some publishers want you to…

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The Ends of Anthropology, A to Z

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Two profound endings for the field of anthropology took place this past week, one at either end of the alphabetic spectrum. In New Mexico, ethnographer Michael Agar succumbed to ALS. News meandered to Walnut Creek through his former affiliation at the University of Maryland. In Indianapolis, a suburban backyard retirement party was held for archaeologist Larry Zimmerman, retiring from decades at Indiana U Indianapolis. In one week, two of the most creative and caring members of our community leave anthropology and leave a deep chasm in the middle of the field.

 One cannot say enough about the brilliance, commitment, or…

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Marching for Science… With Mastodons

Sunday, April 30, 2017

It only took a couple of days after the March for Science that demonstrated why there was a March. The importance of science is amply demonstrated every day somewhere in the academic world, but in my own corner, archaeology, there were two big stories that broke within days of the March that highlighted the differences between science, crowdsourcing, and political posturing.

First came the news that was not yet news. Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist working in South Africa became a media star two years ago with the discovery of homo naledi, a large collection of bones of a human ancestor discovered…

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Step 1: Write the Book Proposal. No, That’s Step 2.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

One of my Facebooks friends recently put out an all points bulletin to send her copies of successful book proposals to help her craft one for her next project. She should have asked for something else instead— the email addresses of acquiring editors at publishers that they knew. That would have been much more useful.

I’ve written about how to get a book accepted at a press before, both in articles and in my book for qualitative researchers. The secret is a simple one—publishing is a socially-driven activity and your ability to engage with the gatekeepers…

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Pretending to Profess

Friday, April 07, 2017

The last time I presented a professional paper in archaeology was 25 years ago when I was in the throes of finishing my dissertation.  Not that I haven’t been up on the podium since then. But talking about publishing in archaeology or any other scholarly field is pretty easy. I’ve lived it for the past four decades, and scholars listen to publishers speaking about publishing with the timidity of someone stumbling upon a necromancer in full spell-casting mode.

This one was different. It was my first attempt to speak about the Helmand Sistan Project, the archaeological dig that I participated…

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Is There a Future for Scholarly Publishing?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

It was almost the last question, from the always perceptive Ruth Tringham: “This all sounds so depressing. Is there no hope for a future for scholarly publishing?”

Until then, I thought I was out of the woods. I had been invited to speak to the Berkeley archaeologists about changes in the publishing landscape as part of my role as a new Research Associate at the appropriately named Archaeological Research Facility, ARF.

I thought I had done well, dancing through industry consolidation, the growth of aggregations of content for sale, the “Big Deal” publishers jousting with library consortia (no, not jousting,…

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An Amazon Adventure

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Amazon adventures of the 19th century are legendary. I am reading a biography of Alexander von Humboldt, the German polymath, and his experiences traveling the tributaries of the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers in 1800. His journals refer to herds of 15-foot long crocodiles, endless boa constrictors drifting by their boat, unexpected encounters with vicious jaguars, and piercing screams of unknown creatures in the night.

Amazon adventures of the 21st century are somewhat different.

It began at Left Coast early in 2015 with the good news that an 800 page reference book had quickly sold out and required reprinting.…

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I Was A King Once

Friday, March 10, 2017

I was a king once. Four days a king. And I didn’t even remember it until last week.

It was in the journal I kept in 1975 during my archaeological fieldwork in Afghanistan. Reading it after 42 years, I got to the entry for October 6, where I was in my fourth day of sitting in a desert encampment in the Registan (“the land of sand”) surrounded by boxes of food, jerrycans of water, and mounds of field equipment, “guarding the goods.” The truck we had hired to carry these supplies got this far before miring itself in sand dunes for…

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Dancing Through China

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

There’s a large plaza before the soccer stadium in Khotan built for the 2008 Olympics. A large urban park leads away from the Jiaotong University, just outside the ancient walls of Xian. A small square is nestled by the roundabout featuring Marco Polo’s statue on West Street in Zhangye.  Centennial Park in the center Aqsu consists of an endless expanse of stone tiles. Traveling through the burgeoning cities the Hexi Corridor of Ganzu Province and the string of desert oases of Xinjiang Province—the Chinese end of the ancient Silk Road-- offer a consistent diet of large public spaces. And they…

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