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BRITARCH  February 2000

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Subject:

FW: What do people read.

From:

Malcolm Watkins <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Malcolm Watkins <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 1 Feb 2000 11:54:25 -0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (167 lines)



> ----------
> From: 	Malcolm Watkins
> Sent: 	01 February 2000 11:54
> To: 	Stewart Ellinson; 'bhoffm'
> Subject: 	RE: What do people read.
> 
> I couldn't agree more with Birgitta re the Salier exhibition books. I
> was involved in loans to the exhibition, and have found the books that
> I bought are wonderful additions to my library - even though they are
> in German. They are easy to follow and of superb scholarship and
> production.
> But I have found generally that German publications seem to be of a
> different standard to ours, and even though they have to pay VAT they
> somehow come out cheaper. They also make far more use of quality
> coloured printing (drawings and photos) than we seem to get.
> 
> ----------
> From: 	bhoffm[SMTP:[log in to unmask]]
> Reply To: 	bhoffm
> Sent: 	01 February 2000 11:40
> To: 	Stewart Ellinson
> Subject: 	Re: What do people read.
> 
> I am afraid I have to agree with a lot that has been said before. 
> I have spend a lot of time with reports of past excavations in order
> to
> re-evaluate the material or the structures found and in general, the
> summary reports (however glossy) are usually a dead-end. I agree they
> make good reading, but they are very much a child of their time and
> they
> date incredibly quickly. I have had summary reports written in the
> 1950s
> and even the terminology has changed so much that they are over wide
> stretches unintelligible without the detailed reports at their side. 
> 
> While I can still work with some of the reports published in 190x,
> which
> openly admit that they don't know what is going on, but reproduce the
> plans and sections, so that the features can be re-interpreted in the
> view of what we know today. 
> 
> In case you need an example: The early German excavations of Roman
> vici
> were mainly collections of pits and cellars, timber features were not
> easily recognized. Some of the summary reports (and yes they were
> around
> then) refer to these structures as sunken dwellings and put forward
> all
> sorts of interesting interpretations, while the detailed plans
> published
> at the same time allow today the interpretation oas standard strip
> buildings with cellars under the front rooms).
> 
> As to the archives: Accidental fires like Flag Fen are a problem, but
> after two world wars on the continent most old archives are heavily
> damaged because of war damage or even after war looting (perhaps
> somebody on the list can enlighten us as to the state of the
> excavation
> archives in Bosnia, Central Croatia or the Kossovo, I certainly know
> that these things used to exist). 
> A lot of continental sites are know only accessible through their
> published versions, and the statement about an excavation publication
> in
> 1938 'in preparation' or 'more detailed publication to follow' is
> quite
> often the last that was heard of that site. I am afraid there is in
> archaeology a certain security in numbers (the better the site is
> published the higher its chances of survival for further research).
> 
> As to the price for books: Yes, I know exactly what is being referred
> to, a site report of 240 pages for 70 is far beyond any level of
> reasonability and I also wait for them to be remaindered. 
> But let's face it this is actually not an archaeological, but a
> printing
> problem: archaeological site reports are perceived to have a small
> market, therefore they have small print runs and a small print run
> costs
> only marginally less than a large print run, but the price goes
> through
> less copies. 
> Result the books are VERY expensive and nobody buys them, therefore
> the
> perception of a small market.
> 
> Whereas the summary reports are perceived as having a large market and
> the larger number of copies makes it easier to sell the books cheaper.
> That is part of the reason why Renfrew and Bahn has got more pages and
> is still cheaper than the Birdoswald publication. 
> If the proper excavation reports were presented in a slightly less
> boring fashion (and perhaps with a higher input from the campaign for
> clear English), more people would buy them and they would be cheaper.
> Let's face it we all wait until the reports are remaindered at 25
> rather than pay the original 55, unless we really have to. Which also
> means that at 25 the publishers would be able to sell more copies.
> 
> Also at the moment the public perception is that WE (the
> archaeologists)
> don't want the general public to read the full report, therefore the
> general public goes and gets THEIR versions, i.e. the summary reports
> (and then get told that they don't have the right to comment, because
> they don't read the proper books). <this is a literal quote from an
> adult education class that I was trying to get to read the full
> excavation report of Fishbourne, rather than the summary>.
> Most of the general public do not mind reading the large excavation
> results, if they a) are well produced and b) jargon free (or alt east
> the Jargon laden sections, clearly identified as such).
> 
> I have to admit that I am still impressed in this context by the
> publications associated with the exhibitions of the Ottonen emperors a
> few years back in Germany. Apart from a general 'What is that in the
> case there?' catalogue of the exhibition there were 7 or 8 academic
> publications dealing with specific aspects of the era (e.g. Castles,
> rural settlement, archives, administration, gaming and gaming boards,
> the royal jewellery, about 60cm of shelve space all in all). All of
> these volumes were very academic and definitely not summaries written
> for the lay-men, and I suppose most people would not expect to find
> them
> outside a historian's/archaeologist's office. 
> However, some of them are produced in such a clear language (and with
> such good pictures) that they found their way into a lot of peoples
> bookshelves, that only have a hobby interest in the subject (and could
> be for a long-time be found on the bookshelves of 'non-specialist'
> bookshops as good Christmas presents. Similarly the books associated
> with the exhibitions on the Roman wreck of Mahdia, the Alamanni a few
> years back or the Franks. But before the image is created that this is
> a
> German phenomenon, this is actually fashion that has spilled over from
> Italy and to a certain extent from France. 
> 
> Summary reports have their place, perhaps as a site guide or a summary
> to a subject (i.e. the English Heritage or Historic Scotland series),
> but I am afraid I disagree strongly with the idea that they should
> replace the full published reports and send people to some far off
> place
> for further detail. If people were really happy about this solution,
> why
> do we have requests to find copies of rare books and why do we spend
> so
> much time at conferences complaining about the publication strategies
> of
> the communist post-war era in Eastern Europe. They used exactly this
> system: Have a good archive and for those we know that would be
> interested we publish a few copies of the report. If you are not
> sitting
> on the archive this is frankly often perceived by outsiders as
> elitist.
> 
> Just my two pence worth.
> 
> Birgitta Hoffmann.
> 
>   
> 
> 
> -- 
> Dr. Birgitta Hoffmann  -  Dept of Classics - University College Dublin
> -
> Belfield - Dublin 4 - Ireland - 
> Tel: 00353-1-706 8662  Fax: 00353-1-706 1176 
> Gask Project Web Page: http://www.morgue.demon.co.uk/Pages/Gask.
> 
> 


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