Monthly Archives: November 2015

Books by their Cover

You can’t open Facebook these days without seeing a profile picture superimposed with a French flag. A year ago, profile pictures had multicolored hues in support of equal marriage rights or gay marriage. At various times of year, social media profiles sport pink for breast cancer, mustaches for prostate cancer, or various other regular designs to demonstrate solidarity or sympathy with this or that cause. Invariably, there are columns that comment or complain about a particular practice, the uncritical and uncomplicated adoption of potentially fraught symbols, and the deleterious effects of “slacktivism.” Most worry that a changed profile picture will substitute for political or social action and superficial expressions of sympathy, solidarity, or awareness will replace genuine engagement with issues. These concerns are so pervasive that they constitute part of the discourse of representation on social media and are in no ways less hackneyed or superficial than the practice that they critique. 

Personal branding on social media is no less complicated than personal branding in any medium and criticizing its simplicity is, in itself, a failure to understand the complications associated with branding and interpretation of branding across various media in our image rich society. My November mustache might be ironic, it might show I’m participating in “Movember,” or it might be that I genuinely like how I look with a mustached lip. Or it might be all these things. Most of us recognize the ambiguities present in these simple personal branding exercises (and even relish the potential for an un-ironic mustache!) and even appreciate the earnestness of people’s efforts to celebrate a cause, negotiate the political landscape, or just to show preference for one brand over another.

When it comes to branding a larger enterprise, we are less tolerant of this kind of ambiguity. I’m waist deep in type-setting a new book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota right and beginning to think a bit about cover designs. I’ve been fortunate that my collaborators on this project have offered images and designs for the cover and these designs are all visually arresting. The book is titled The Bakken Goes Boom and it should appear early next year, but the cover design project represents another chapter in the larger Branding the Bakken project. From Alec Soth’s black-and-white images of the oil smeared worker to Sarah Christianson’s The Skogens’ bedroom window, images have dominated our apprehension of the Bakken boom. It is hardly surprising that my own work documenting workforce housing in the Bakken has generated over ten thousand of photographs and videos. 

The image-driven nature of our engagement with the Bakken means that selecting the cover of the first book-length academic study of the Bakken boom takes on particular significance. Each cover represents a different aspect of the Boom and a different point of emphasis in the book (as well as a different style). 

My co-editor Kyle Conway created an arresting cover image that shows a drill rig situated near his families property in Williston.

Bakken cover off center

Photographer Kyle Cassidy who has worked with our team in the Bakken and has a contribution in the volume offered several fantastic cover designs:

Bakken goes boom cover 1

Bakken goes boom cover 2

Bakken goes boom cover 3

Bakken goes boom cover 4

Bakken goes boom cover 5

Comments and feedback are appreciated!

University Press Week

While The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota does not conform to the characteristics of most “real” university presses, I think it’s probably fair that we celebrate a little at the margins of the event. To get into the spirit of the week, be sure to check out the American Association of University Press’s blog tour with particular attention to Tuesday’s posts on the Future of Academic Publishing.

Anyone who has read my other blog over the past couple years knows I’m incredibly sanguine about the future of academic publishing. Like many of the folks at university presses or mainstream academic publishing, I recognize the first decades of the 21st century as period of tremendous disruption to academic publishing with the rapid growth of digital outlets and technologies reshaping the publishing landscape on a regular basis. The nimble character of many university presses has made it possible for them to position themselves at the cutting edge of academic publishing and to find ways to leverage productively both digital media and the growing expectations of open access movement.

Further hurdles await, of course, as universities race to adopt 20th-century business models (dominated by an image of the efficient assembly line) in their effort to convince legislative and popular stakeholders holding 19th-century attitudes that they’re ready to take on the 21st century. The expectations that all parts of the university bring in revenue (which is often narrowly defined) willfully ignores the tremendous impact that 21st century companies like Google, Apple, and even IBM have wrought from creative enclaves, skunk-works, and policies that divorce innovative from profitability (at least in the short-term). University publishing runs the risk of being squeezed out, at the very moment when its potential to contribute both to the intellectual and, as much as we’re loath to admit it, financial the life of the university and community is greatest. A nimble, adventurous, risk-taking university press can probe the edge of media economy. This is unlikely to be a revenue neutral endeavor, but if we see universities as 21st-century organizations, we realize that ideas have an equal part in the production of value as products.

A few more observations:

1. Collaboration and Cooperation. A number of the established university presses have celebrated the collaborative spirit of the university press. As the academic world has come more and more to embrace collaborative and cooperative work, the university press represents an appealing model. The shading of professional skills (editing, design, marketing, et c.) into craft allows for individuals to move from the production of content (for example, in a traditional scholarly mode) to the design, layout, and editing of a volume with minimal disruption. This allows for a press to scale quickly from a few people to a larger group of folks for a project because so many of the basic abilities are shared across academia. 

2. Grounding the Global in the Local. As big presses look more and more to big books with big audiences, they have left room for local presses to develop. Unlike big presses with established overheads and global reach, small presses can cultivate niche audiences, collaborate with local institutions, and produce meaningful books that help transform big ideas into local realities. This is where the rubber meets the road, and local presses play a key role in this.  

3. Dynamic. Anyone who has paid even a little attention to the publishing industry knows that it is in a tremendous state of flux right now. Books, blogs, ebook, open access, open peer review, price gouging, pirates, and print-on-demand services have transformed how we think about disseminating content. Small presses have an advantage in that they can pivot quickly, experiment with new media types and processes, and focus on media as much as delivery methods. This is especially the case (see my point 1) as the tools for engaging the publishing industry have democratized over the past two decades. It is now possible to produce high-quality, visually interesting, media on a laptop computer, sell it without a storefront, market it over social-media, and disseminate it across multiple platforms from a comfy chair in front of a fire.   

4. Fun. As I have become more and more engaged in the world of academic publishing (as both a producer and a publisher), I’ve become more and more interested in the potential for academic publishing to be fun. When I go to an academic conference or work on an archaeological field project, I have fun. This doesn’t mean that I don’t take it seriously, but I find the interplay between scholars, students, and ideas exciting and entertaining. I sometimes fear that the business side of publishing – with deadlines, formalities, and budgets – robs the process of some of the joy associated with moving interesting content to completed publication. I think small presses provide a space to cultivate a shared sense of mission, energy, collegiality, and fun. The absence of institutional structures allows small presses to develop the same energy as any number of ‘zines, doomed record labels, and academic projects. There’s something about the DIY spirit that makes any undertaking a bit more of an adventure.

Do take some time this week to click over to your favorite University Press website, and please check out our friends at the Institute for Regional Studies Press at North Dakota State University, and be sure to go and download something for free from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota!

University of North Dakota and the Great War

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is very excited to announce the publication of The University of North Dakota and the Great War in collaboration with North Dakota Quarterly

This is the first volume in a series designed to repackage and reprint content from the North Dakota Quarterly archives. 

Here’s the press release:

On Veterans Day this year, it is natural that we reflect on the 100th anniversary of World War I. In recognition of this, North Dakota Quarterly and The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota have published a reprint of nine historically significant articles on the University of North Dakota and the state during World War I. This volume documents the range of attitudes toward the Great War on the UND campus as well as the contributions from across the university to the war effort. The centerpiece of the collection is Wesley Johnson’s recollection of his time in the trenches in France. This volume also features articles by renowned historian O.G. Libby, Sociologist George Davies (UND’s first Ph.D.), UND Law Professor Hugh Willis, and nursing alumna Hazel B. Nielson. This book brings these articles together for the first time and provides a engaging group of sources for the casual reader, historians, and students alike.

“The archives of NDQ have an incredible wealth of material like this that is just begging to be presented in a new context.” Digital Editor Bill Caraher says, “With the 100th anniversary of the Great War and the annual observation of Veterans Day, it made sense for us to release the inaugural volume of the reprint series as a tribute to Veterans.”

The first modern world war involved millions of soldiers drawn from across Europe, North America, and the world. With over 9 million casualties and saw the service of nearly 2 million Americans across various fronts in Europe. Many more Americans were active on the home front training soldiers, producing armaments, and offering economic and intellectual support.

The University of North Dakota and the Great War is available as a free digital download from the NDQ webpage and on the The Digital Presses webpage. The introductory material is free to distribute under an open access license and the essays from North Dakota Quarterly are part of the public domain.

UND and The Great War