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How to Get Published in Anthropology & Why

January 9, 2012

An issue that I pursue rather relentlessly with students is the need to publish their research.  I argue the point less from the “publish or perish” perspective of higher education  – a view that is undergoing radical revision now and will continue to change as the very concept of what constitutes a “peer-reviewed” product evolves.  Rather, I argue the point from several different perspectives.  First, I look at my file drawer of graduate school papers and projects filed and forgotten after the end of long-ago semesters or when another commitment came along, despite the potential of the research.   Second, I point to our obligation to inform the public who foot the bill for the research projects through grants, tuition waivers, and fellowships.  Third, I note that having a GPA between 3.5 and 4.0 is not a big deal in today’s era of grade inflation.  The student or emerging professional needs a mechanism to have their abilities and accomplishments stand out from the rest of the pack when applying for graduate school or entry level jobs.

A publication can be the mechanism to highlight the student’s ability, whether in a peer-reviewed journal such as American Anthropologist, American Antiquity, or Curator, online peer-reviewed journals such as Tennessee Archaeology, Museums and Society, or even in blogs.  (See this link for an interesting discussion on the use of blogs in tenure and promotion processes.)

A colleague, Judson Finley requires graduate students in his courses to write and submit a book review to a professional journal for publication.  This practice seems a good first step for students to take toward publishing.

Another tool is the recently published How to Get Published in Anthropology: A Guide for Students and Young Professionals, edited by Jason E. Miller and Oona Schmid, published by AltaMira Press.  Like the Anthropology Graduate’s Guide that I reviewed last spring, Miller and Schmid’s volume answers many of the questions students either did not know or felt they should know and therefore were afraid to ask.  The book is divided into three parts.

Part 1 contains five chapters that lead the reader through basic instructions and advice that follow a logical progression from the initial concept for a presentation through to publication in a professional journal.  The chapter subjects include the relevance of attending professional conferences and the process of participating in and organizing sessions, creating posters for conferences, paper presentation techniques and skills, and turning dissertations and conference papers into publications.

Part 2 contains five chapters that address the specific publication considerations of anthropology subdisciplines including archaeology, applied, physical, sociocultural, linguistic, medical and visual fields.  The individual chapters discuss the types of publications and advice specific to each subdiscipline.  The individual chapters also take up more universally applied themes such writing styles, deadlines, web resources and more.

Part 3 contains four chapters that review topical areas specific to the publication process such as press and author agreements, issues of copyright, and author collaboration.  Hugh Jarvis’ final chapter “Online Opportunities and Challenges” is a good read on several levels.  Jarvis, a true pioneer in Anthropology on the internet, challenges the reader to consider their online persona, along with the worth and limitations in online publication, and the internet as an information source.

Two appendices list peer-reviewed anthropology journals and publishers of anthropology monographs.

Overall, the volume is balanced and practical in its approach.  The reader however is cautioned not to take the advice as gospel.  For example,  the admonition to heed the maxim of “No chapters in edited volumes until tenure” (p. 39) assumes that all readers are tenure track academicians, a notion that is simply out-of-step with career trajectories of not just anthropology but the social sciences in general.  In such instances, the volume would benefit from taking the broader intent that the editors note in the Introduction that the “book focuses on publishing that plays a role in your ability to secure a job and have a career as an anthropologist” (p. ix) regardless of where that career might be.

As I note at the outset of this post, the public presentation of research should not simply be a means to achieve tenure but an integral responsibility of all public research efforts.  If we are not vigilant in this regard, then folks such as the Florida Governor can rant away about the inconsequential nature of anthropological research. Regardless, How to Get Published in Anthropology is an excellent primer for getting your feet wet in the publishing business.

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