Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ulterior Motives in Discussion of Looting Issues?

One of the arguments that have been made against archaeologists advocating for the preservation and protection of archaeological sites against looting is that this advocacy is a veiled attempt to discredit and exclude independent scholars. In a recent posting I asked some stakeholders in the looting/indiscriminate collecting debate to abandon the obtrusive personal attacks and insults which are not relevant to the issues at hand. In the subsequent comments to the posting, the discussion between me and Wayne Sayles, the ACCG Executive Director, turned toward a discussion of "ownership" of the past and scholarship on the past, and thus it is worth starting a new thread.

While I disagree that advocacy for the preservation of finite archaeological resources serves an agenda to exclude the work of independent scholars, Mr. Sayles raises some points that are perhaps worth addressing. As archaeologists we have a responsibility to make our research and findings available to the public for their own edification or study. What use is there in studying the past if we cannot share our passions and the revelations of our research with other enthusiasts whether they be fellow academics, collectors, or laypeople?

Through the course of the discussion, several points about access to literature and material and the ability to publish scholarship were raised.


I explained that scholarly journals (archaeological, numismatic, philogical, art historical, historical, etc.) are peer-reviewed and that affiliated scholars and non-affiliated scholars would be on equal footing during the referee process since submissions to such journals are reviewed blindly.

Mr. Sayles countered by stating that the American Journal of Archaeology has publication guidelines prohibiting the publication of material in collections that were unknown before 1973. While this is true, it is wrong to view the AJA's guidelines for ethical publication as a malicious attempt to exclude independent scholars. Clearly the policy was enacted as a means to discourage the illicit and unethical trade in recently looted antiquities. Nearly twenty years ago, Fred S. Kleiner, a well-known archaeologist, art historian, and numismatist, and who was also the Editor-in-Chief of the AJA at the time, attempted to clear up some misconceptions of the AJA's publication policy through a short editorial in the journal (F.S. Kleiner, "On the Publication of Recent Acquisitions of Antiquities," AJA 94 (1990), 525-527 [JSTOR]). Some of his comments regarding the policy and its goals are worth noting (all italics in original text):

"While condemning the illicit trade in antiquities, the Archaeological Institute of America and the American Journal of Archaeology will not, however, stand in the way of legitimate scholarly discussion of antiquities so acquired once they have been published elsewhere. The AIA resolution does not ask scholars to pretend that illicitly acquired objects do not exist and does not require that such objects never be discussed at an AIA annual meeting or in the AJA. To do so would be contradictory to the vey principle of free and open scholarly inquiry for which the AIA and its Journal stand" (p. 526).

"...The policy has had its intended effect, namely to put the Archaeological Institute of America on record as taking an unequivocal stand against the illicit trade in antiquities and the attendant destruction of the archaeological context of those artifacts; to focus the attention of scholars, museum curators, collectors, and the general public on an ethical, legal, and scholarly issue of paramount importance; and to prompt many institutions and individual collectors to reevaluate and amend their acquisition policies - while not putting the AIA in the way of scholarly inquiry and discussion. The AIA's is a carefully framed, balanced policy; I personally support it without reservation" (p. 527).

Pertinent to Mr. Sayles' criticism, I would also add that the current publication policy allows for the publication of undocumented artifacts for which there is no history or provenance provided that the article emphasizes the loss of knowledge resulting from its unscientific excavation. Since context is such an important facet of study for the material remnants of past events, whether an archaeological site or a modern crime scene, it certainly should not be difficult to highlight the loss of information caused by a loss of context.

Access to Literature

The second point we discussed was access of study material and resources. I explained that unaffiliated scholars can usually join university research libraries for a small fee and make use of the same resources that affiliated scholars can.

Mr. Sayles disagrees about access by claiming that university libraries reserve parts of their holdings for faculty and doctoral students and pointing to institutional affiliation as necessary for access to JSTOR, which archives past issues of some scholarly journals.

To this I can only point to my own experiences. I am currently affiliated with the University of Missouri - Columbia, which maintains a very important research library relating to archaeology, ancient history, and classics. We even have a respectable collection of numismatic resources as well. There are no parts of the library collection which are reserved only for doctoral candidates or faculty. If a member of the public were to join the library, he/she would have access to the same resources to which I and everyone else there would have access. Library memberships typically also provide use of the Interlibrary Loan Program so that one can order any book or article which is not held by the library. The library membership also grants access to JSTOR and members of the public who do not join the library can certainly access it from library terminals. Many public libraries should also provide access to JSTOR. It is true that JSTOR does not yet offer access for private individuals, but it does have a page suggesting ways of accessing it until non-affiliated researchers can subscribe directly (Institutional memberships are only possible at present). Mr. Sayles is a Missourian and so it is highly likely that if he wishes to conduct research, the University of Missouri library would be the most sensible choice for him as it is the best library for ancient world research in the region. I highly recommend the resources we have available for any research he would wish to conduct.

When I studied at the University of Evansville and the University of Reading (UK), the libraries of the institutions did not have collections reserved only for doctoral students or faculty. When I was at the ANS seminar in 2004, I made use of the library at Columbia University and got a visitor's card. Many of the works were not in the main library but divided up around campus and housed within individual departments. I was able to use my visitor's card (which did not indicate I was doctoral student) to access the resources that were housed in the Classics Department.

Personally, I have always been an enthusiastic researcher and between my undergraduate degree and M.A. I had a four or five month long summer break because of the differences between the American and British academic timetables. During that time I made use of the Texas Tech University library in my hometown and I inquired about joining the library in order to make use of Interlibrary Loan since the numismatic and archaeological resources were not that great. If I had joined the library I would have been able to make use of the program.

Certainly, affiliated scholars have an advantage in living in the same town and working at universities with research libraries, but there is no reason that unaffiliated scholars cannot make use of these resources for their own study. One may have to pay a small fee to join a library, but this will open up access to that collection, JSTOR, and virtually anything else one may wish to read could be attained through Interlibrary Loan.

Access to Material

Mr. Sayles also claims there is a bias against independent scholars in the implementation of fees necessary for the reproduction of copyrighted images. Again, I can only speak from personal experiences, but I have had to order images several times. My impression is that fees for the reproduction of images are standard across the board - everyone is expected to pay. When I published my first article this was an overwhelming notion given my small graduate student budget, but a senior colleague informed me that if you explain your financial situation you can often get the fees waived. I tried this and it worked. I explained I was a poor, unwaged graduate student and would not profit financially for the article and so they waived the fees. When I conducted my die study of the Colosseum coins this worked as well for some places, but other museums would not bend the rules and it did cost me about $120 for photographs from one institution in spite of my affiliation and unwaged status! There were other institutions which also refused to waive fees, but their prices were not quite as high as $120 for images of one coin. I know several fellow graduate students who did not explain their situations and simply paid the fees as requested, going further into debt in the process. I have told several of my unwaged colleagues that they should explain their situations when ordering images - it never hurts to ask.

In short, independent scholars are not the only ones who have to battle exorbitant fees in the reproduction of images. Affiliated scholars fight with them equally. I know of some more senior colleagues who have already published books, for which they will not profit in book sales on account of printing costs, and have had to invest their own money and savings in the publication of those books. One academic acquaintance informed me he had to cough up $20,000 for the image rights on one of one of his more amply illustrated scholarly books!

My impression is that institutions are more willing to waive fees for the reproduction of images for unwaged individuals or for people who will not be profiting financially from their published works (e.g. for an article vs. a popular book). Generally, reproduction costs are not based on affiliation or lack of it, contrary to Mr. Sayles' view.

Mr. Sayles also criticized the ANS for discounting him as a participant in the ANS seminar when he expressed interest some years ago. While I am not familiar with the specific circumstances relating to his inquiry, I do know that the ANS seminar is designed for active graduate students or very recent PhDs - individuals who are pursuing scholarly careers. Mr. Sayles said at the time of inquiry he already had a graduate degree and was not enrolled in a doctoral program and so I suspect that would be the reasoning why he would not have been accepted. Certainly he would not have been dismissed as a potential applicant because he is a collector/dealer. At the time I attended the seminar I personally was still collecting to some degree and many knowledgeable collectors give and have given lectures and instruction to seminar participants.

There is also some question about access to museum collections. Here I must simply say that we all struggle with this - affiliated or not. Peter Tompa and I have already shared stories about difficulty accessing material. I was affiliated and he was not, but we both had difficulty with various institutions. With some of these inward-looking institutions you simply have to find a contact who will vouch for you to gain access as I had to do and as Mr. Tompa also had to do. Its absurd I agree, but even as an affiliated academic I have fought with it as well.


Mr. Sayles says I am "naive" to believe that independent scholars are not consciously excluded by affiliated academics and that concern about looting is unrelated to a maligned agenda to exclude independent scholars. He references SAA Bulletin 11.5, in which archaeologists Jon L. Gibson and Joe Sanders stated: "Archaeologists must be more than just stewards of the past. They must serve as the public conscience. They must act on society's behalf even when society is insensitive or objects."

I do not read control in this statement the same way that Mr. Sayles does, and I agree wholeheartedly with the statement made by Gibson and Sanders. I maintain that the archaeologist's concern for looting is easily and naturally comparable to the concern of environmental scientists who are worried about climate change and zoologists who are worried about the extinction of certain species and poaching. Would one argue that these specialists simply want to own or control environmental science and endangered animals? It would be a very idiosyncratic view indeed, but that is essentially what is being said about archaeology and its concern about looting issues.

I fully understand that access to research materials can be difficult in some circumstances; even affiliated scholars have battled with access to collections and resources. But I do not think the problem is as grim for independent scholars as Mr. Sayles paints it and I do not believe there is a conspiracy to exclude them from an informed academic discourse. I have read peer-reviewed articles by unaffiliated scholars a number of times in academic journals and I normally see several "At Large" members at the annual AIA meetings. If an independent scholar has the will to access a research library or other resources, this can be accomplished. And let us be honest, the "Good Old Boy's Club" syndrome is just as prevalent in the "real world," perhaps even more so than it is academia. Equally, personal connections can certainly aid the advancement of a collector or dealer in the ancient coin and antiquities trade and I wonder if many of the large auction houses would open their own reference libraries to the public.

Undoubtedly, access to research materials could be improved and the wider scholarly community needs to put pressure on insular institutions to allow access more freely for legitimate research. Nevertheless, this is an issue unrelated to looting and indiscriminate collecting. It is a red herring injected into the debate and meant to distract from the real and pressing issue of systematic looting. Archaeologists have a duty to act as the "public conscience" on looting and are naturally in a position to call attention to the destruction of the material past. An archaeologist's relationship to the material past is analogous to that of zoologists to endangered species or environmental scientists to climate change. Should they not act as the "public conscience" on such issues or should they be demonized for doing so?

Related Discussions


Anonymous said...

I am an independent scholar for the time being, and I have nonetheless been able to do some research and publishing. However, the practical aspects have not been as easy as when I was affiliated. You have to show a special amount of initiative to get the research done, or pay the $60 a month to Lexis for their Journals access. But every library, academic and otherwise, that I've ever attempted to do research in has accommodated me in some fashion or another. For the past eight months I have just not been located near a library so it's been a bit more of a trial.

I personally have not experienced any sort of systematic exclusion due to my independent status. To the contrary, most scholars are happy to share whatever resources they have with me. The focus therefore shifts to networking, and making as many relevant friends as possible, even if just through the web.

I do want to take the opportunity to tell people outside of the academy that you can ABSOLUTELY do scholarship without being affiliated. It is not particularly "easy", but most worthwhile things in life aren't. By keeping up on scholarship you ensure that you will be able to easily transition back into academe should you wish to do so (I'm banking on that anyway!)

I will say one of my articles published this year went against controlling ideologies in the field, so there was some difficulty in finding a journal to publish it. But, eventually someone saw the merit and took me up on it.

Just my experience.


Hi Kimberly,

Thanks for the note. I think you are right that not being in close proximity to a research library is the biggest obstacle facing independent scholars. Unfortunately, there is nothing anyone can do about this hurdle until every book and article out there is digitized. Certainly if one can make it to a library, they can usually access most anything anyone else can.

Just a side note, you mention Lexis, which I believe is the online archive for legal periodicals. Coincidentally, concerning access to research materials, I have had particular difficult accessing legal works. At the University of Missouri (where I'm doing the Ph.D.) I could not access much of the Law Library since I was not MU law student even though I as an MU doctoral student. If I wanted something from the special section I had to order it and wait unlike law students. If I recall I could also only access this online archive for legal article (Lexis maybe?) from the Law Library as well. Do you know if it is normal for law libraries to be a bit more exclusive than normal research libraries or was my experience an exception?