Meg’s Papers: Just for Fun

I smiled when I read the title of the article on the manilla folder. On the outside, in Meg’s rounded, near-cursive print: MEG’S COPY, PLEASE RETURN. I cracked the folder open and the faint gray type was only just legible, the edges of the book were still visible from when someone copied the original article, many many years ago. Since then the article has been copied over and over again, for the yearly iterations of our introduction to theory class, the class that gives us the indelible stamp of Berkeley archaeology: 229A. It’s also one of the few articles that has made me laugh out loud–Kent Flannery’s Golden Marshalltown. I removed the staple and programmed the copy machine: Flannery_1982, single-sided, output to pdf.

I’ve been back in Berkeley for just over two weeks now. I hit the ground running–I rented a place to live, moved in, and presented my dissertation research to my department in the matter of days, finished up an article with the inimitable Stu Eve, and now I’m holed up in the library. On occasion I’ve been helping Meg Conkey clean out her office after she retired, converting the stacks and stacks of archaeological ephemera she’s collected over the years into pdfs.

It’s a little humbling, looking at all the authors and article titles and fascinating research that I’ve never heard of–or that I have never heard of that particular iteration of. So much diversity in the literature that it feels like we might not actually have made much progress in archaeology, we might just be writing the same things over and over and over again. I get to watch the progression of archaeological publication–hand-written notes, to typed pages, dot-matrix, then laser printing! and finally, pdfs. Monographs of all sizes and colors (particularly annoying for the copier) and notes from lectures given decades ago. Nice notes at the top of the page, marginalia, and occasional backstage-passes to legendary moments in archaeology:

I find these moments so delightful and such an intimate view into a long archaeological career.

But I have to wonder how much I am duplicating efforts, just how many scans of Flannery_1982 we need in the world. I know there are other departments with treasure troves of scanned material and it seems absolutely ridiculous that we have to have our separate stashes, especially when all the state universities are technically owned by the public anyway. It’s frustrating, and I know it will change soonish…but it’s like using a mimeograph in the digital age. Can we have the academic literature Spotify yet?

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