Publishing in Aegean prehistory

Towards the end of his review of the archaeology of palatial Crete in Archaeological Reports, entitled “Palatial Crete: recent discoveries & research, 2014–2019,” Kostas Christakis writes,

The study of old and new data with a view to examining the political, economic and ideological organization of the various Bronze Age polities and the impact of Minoan culture beyond the shores of the island forms the subject of a series of recent conferences. The most important of these are, in my view, those held at Louvain and published in the Aegis series (Akan and Bárta 2017; Driessen 2018; Schmitt et al. 2018; Caloi and Langohr 2019; Devolder and Kreimerman 2020). The proceedings of these conferences are a source of inspiration, and their themes indicate the broader direction of Minoan archaeology in recent years – which was, in fact, the subject of a special conference in Heidelberg (Cappel et al. 2015). This trend combines theoretical and anthropological patterns and methodological models in the treatment of excavated testimonies. It is worth noting the shift in research interest towards the study of the ‘great unknown’ of the various Minoan communities: the lives of ordinary people, a field hitherto neglected due to the traditional elite-orientated approach to archaeological research. The most recent published example of this is the proceedings of the OIKOS conference (Relaki and Driessen 2020). The desideratum here is for these research efforts as a whole to escape the confines of the narrow regional Cretan context and adopt a broad perspective that connects Crete to the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean, in order to answer big questions about the human past.

(Christakis 2020: 160)

I agree with Christakis’ evaluation. For those who don’t know, Aegis is a series of monographs and edited volumes organized by Jan Driessen and published by the Presses universitaires de Louvain. What’s striking is that whereas in many sub-fields of art and archaeology the most important work is published by ‘major’ university presses like Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, etc., this is certainly not the case for the Aegean Bronze Age, and for many subfields of field (or ‘dirt’) archaeology. A glance at the citations in Christakis’ article illustrates the point nicely:

A breakdown of the citations in Christakis’ article

Of the 176 citations in Christakis’ bibliography, most are articles (‘article’ in the pie chart) or publications from conference proceedings (‘conference’ in the pie chart above). The latter are entirely comprised of papers from two conferences: the International Congress of Cretan Studies and the Αρχαιολογικό Έργο Κρήτης. The articles tend to be drawn from journals that focus on the publication of primary data:

JournalNumber of articles
Αρχαιολογικόν Δελτίον16
Archaeological Reports8
Πρακτικά της εν Αθήναις Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας5
American Journal of Archaeology4
Annual of the British School at Athens4
Studi micenei ed egeo-anatolici3
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology2
Ten other journals (Annuario della Scuola, BCH, BICS, CIG, Hesperia, JMA, KretChron, PloS ONE, Quarternary International, Rivista di archeologia)1 each

The monographs, edited volumes, and chapters from edited volumes display a similar pattern: very little is being published by the “major” Anglophone presses. Of the 14 monographs, half are published by INSTAP Academic Press (Philadelphia); the other are published by the British School at Athens (2), Τα πράγματα (2), the Cycladic Museum (1), The Ministry of Culture (1), and the Scuola Archaeologica di Atene e delle Missioni Italiane in Oriente (1). Of the 10 edited volumes, seven are published by the Presses Universitaires de Louvain (i.e., Aegis), two by the Danish Institute at Athens, and one by Kapon Editions. Individually-cited chapters display the same distribution:

PublisherNumber of chapters
Presses Universitaires de Louvain7
Oxbow Books4
Aegaeum (now published by Peeters Publishers)3
Cycladic Museum2
Kapon Editions1
Oxford University Press1
Philipp von Zabern1
University of Crete 1

One article can hardly be representative of the entirety of publications about Bronze Age Crete or the Aegean Bronze Age, of course, and Christakis’ article is especially focused on new work, which explains the large percentage of papers from conference proceedings. Yet these results are broadly consistent with my experience, which is that the most important new work is not published by the presses that most American and British scholars consider “important” (the Oxbridge presses being the most iconic). When I proposed my book project to one of these presses, I was told in no uncertain terms that they were not interested in publishing a technical volume about Linear B. (Even if we consider more synthetic work to be important, many of the most important and progressive syntheses appear in such publications. A quick perusal of the bibliography of a 24,000 word summary of the Aegean Late Bronze Age that I wrote for the Oxford History of the Ancient Near East [Volume 1 has just come out; my chapter is in volume 3] is dominated by such publications.)

Yet it is precisely in technical volumes that new data and new methods are presented. Most early career scholars have important technical material to present, and these publications will ultimately establish their reputation in the field as excellent practitioners. The big presses, on the other hand, are more likely to send their books out to review, giving them a broader audience. A kind of prestige is also attached to their names that is likely to be important to tenure and promotion committees, and hiring committees. Similar dynamics obtain among journals. This is unfortunate, for it contributes to disconnect between what is rewarded (publication in big journals and big presses) and what is important to the vitality of research in the field (publication of original material and technical methods).

1 thought on “Publishing in Aegean prehistory

  1. Pingback: Scholarly Publishing and Major Scholarly Presses | Archaeology of the Mediterranean World

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