Thursday, October 14, 2010

Latin American Antiquity book review update

In April, I asked "Has Latin American Antiquity abandoned book reviews?" This was occasioned by the LACK of book reviews in volume 21(1) of the journal. Issue 21(2) did have a single book review essay covering three books. But since the books were published in 1992, 2002, and 2005, this essay hardly serves the purpose of reviewing current books in the discipline. Issue 21(3) is now out, and we are back to NO book reviews (zero). I posted a graph of book reviews through time in an earlier post:

"The book review crisis in Latin American archaeology." (August 21, 2009).

For other posts about book reviews and their importance, click the "book reviews" topic in the list on the right.


Dimitri Nakassis said...

I wonder if it makes sense to house a large number of reviews in major journals like LAA, since if reviews were published in any number they might overwhelm the journal. (I do understand the need to review books that are judged particularly important in major journals, however). In Classics we have the electronic journal Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews ( which provides many timely reviews of books in a purely digital format. It would be excellent if there were an archaeological equivalent of this.

Michael E. Smith said...


I think the BMCR is fantastic, thanks for mentioning it. Sometimes I wish we had something similar for other domains, such as New World archaeology, or perhaps anthropological archaeology. One (minor) drawback to BMCR is that the reviews tend to be longer and more in-depth than permitted in most journals. While this is very good for specialists, it makes it harder for people in other areas to get a concise picture of the contents and quality of a book. In my own reading, this is a major use for book reviews - I think I sometimes read more book reviews in geography or planning or urban history than in my own area, Mesoamerican archaeology.

Also, Classics has far better private funding than anthropological archaeology, and I have no idea how one would fund and organize a similar (free) online journal.

Dimitri Nakassis said...

Michael, it's interesting that you say that, because BMCR has tried to impose stricter word limits on their reviews and has encountered some opposition! The other option that occurred to me would be for major journals to publish some reviews only online; the AJA has increasingly been going this route. Perhaps LAA could do the same.

J. Heath Anderson said...

Ha! You were the first person I thought of when I got my new issue, Mike.

I wonder if a solution might be to get people (especially grad students) to submit unsolicited reviews. Call me Marcel Mauss, but is it silly to think that this might shame some folks into giving this part of the journal more attention? I mean, if they start getting lots of publishable book reviews on important volumes, wouldn't they be dumb not to go ahead and publish them? It's a win-win for the submitters (lines on the CV) and the audience (book reviews to read), and maybe...just maybe might send a signal to the editors that there's *something* missing in their journal.

Am I crazy? (don't answer that)

Would this have any effect at all on the editors? Or would it just reward bad behavior?

Michael E. Smith said...


I'm not thrilled with your suggestion, for several reasons. Unsolicited reviews are in greater danger of being biased than are solicited reviews; many journals forbid publication of unsolicited reviews. Also, graduate students should only do book reviews under controlled circumstances. Some journals forbid student reviews. There are many reasons for this, but the main ones are (1) because of their vulnerable status, students are less likely to write objective reviews, and less likely to write controversial reviews. (2) many student reviews are boring and lack the broad context of a good review. When I was a book review editor, I accepted student reviews, but only when I knew the student and knew the professional context of the book and the field.

As for LAA, I don't know what the problem is, and I am not willing to speculate about the situation or possible solutions. All I will say is that being a book review editor is a thankless task that requires lots of time and effort.