Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Open Access for the Society for American Archaeology (free advice)

There has long been uncertainty and unease about the relationship between the two scholarly journals published by the Society for American Archaeology (SAA). American Antiquity (AA) has been around for 70 years as the flagstaff journal of the society. In the 1980s there were complaints that the journal was publishing too many articles on the Maya and other Mesoamerican topics, and a new journal, Latin American Antiquity (LAA), was founded. LAA quickly developed into an important journal for archaeology in Latin America, but AA maintained its scope as both a regional journal for North America and as a general journal for archaeological method and theory. AA has always had more prestige, both because of its age and because of its role publishing papers on method and theory.

The relationship between the journals was chronicled and analyzed by Rob Rosenswig (2005), who showed a strong measure of bias. Articles on Latin American archaeology were ghettoized (my term) and papers in AA never cited them, whereas AA retained a higher status for both regional and general papers. The message to us Latin Americanists was: if you have a boring technical article, send it to LAA, but if you have something with exciting ideas on methods or theory, send it to AA.

I have a solution for the biased and imbalanced relationship among these journals. The SAA should start a new Open Access journal dedicated to archaeological method and theory. LAA can remain a regional journal on Latin America, and AA can become a regional journal on North America. The method and theory content of AA would move to the new Open Access journal. Because the new journal would be internet only, there would be no printing and mailing costs. The SAA already has a good system of copy-editing and page production, and this system could be applied to the new journal.

The advantages of OA journals are clear. (See my older posts for an intro to OA in archaeology: OA Journals and Archaeology or

Open Access Introduction

The scope of SAA journals would be expanded greatly and many more readers would have access to the journal. This would improve the visibility of the SAA around the world and to other branches of archaeology and related disciplines. Open Access is clearly the wave of the future in scholarly publishing, and the SAA could help take the lead in making archaeological publishing available to a much larger audience.

The Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory is a commercial journal with good content, but it has recently become too expensive for individuals. After raising prices every year by $5 or $10, recently the costs jumped from around $60 to near $100. I’m sure that many archaeologists joined me in cancelling subscriptions. I went to the Springer website today to see what subscriptions cost now, but I could only find institutional rates! This brings to mind the old Texas saying, “If you have to ask the price, then you probably can’t afford it.” What if this journal were to morph into an SAA-sponsored Open Access journal? Springer surely would not like it, but it would benefit the discipline of archaeology and benefit individual archaeologists. Maybe I’m naïve or misinformed, but it seems to me that creative solutions like this are needed to bring archaeological publishing into the twentieth century (better journal web sites for the SAA journals wouldn't hurt either).

Rosenswig, Robert M.

2005 A Tale of Two Antiquities: Evolving Editorial Policies of the SAA Journals. The SAA Archaeological Record 5(1):15-21.


Bill Hooker said...

Springer might not be as opposed as one would think. They recently lost Jan Velterop but he says they have not lost their commitment to exploring OA... they might even be willing to help with the conversion. It would be worth at least raising the idea with them.

Michael E. Smith said...

Since I am being somwehat of a buttinsky here, with no affiliation with the JAMT, it's not my place to worry about what Springer might or might not do.

Melantha said...

Great work.