This past summer, Noel Malcolm wrote in The Independent that 200 000 journals are currently being published in the English language, and that the average number of readers per article is five (21 July 1996). Having conveyed these figures, Malcolm proceeded to suggest that, just as farmers are paid for not growing crops in certain economic circumstances, perhaps we should begin to pay academics for not producing articles, in the hope that they might spend more time thinking, and less time writing.
Reading this as the general editor of a fledgling electronic journal approaching its launch date, I paused ñ or rather, froze. Our mission at assemblage, after all, was partly to provide opportunities for publishing to graduate students. We had clear reasons for starting a journal, but those statistics were numbing. Would we merely be encouraging young scholars towards an early start on a pointless treadmill of relentless production, with little precious time for contemplation? Did the world really need journal number 200 001? Should we just walk away from our editing in a fit of existential despair?
I thought then ñ and think now ñ that the answers must be, respectively, no, yes, and no, for assemblage has the potential to be something extraordinary.
The journal you see is the culmination of a long process, and the work of many minds and hands. Discussions about a postgraduate publication initiative here at Sheffield began in early 1994, and initially revolved around the idea of publishing occasional printed collections of graduate student papers, with the intent of allowing Sheffield's junior scholars to gain experience in publishing their academic work. As the initiative progressed, there was a shift in the favoured medium, and a concomitant broadening of content and purpose; last winter, as the project gathered momentum, we decided to go electronic, and to include a medley of material from a variety of authors, not just revised dissertation chapters from Sheffield students. Through the spring and summer of 1996, the present editorial team was consolidated, and we gathered and prepared the array of articles included in this issue.
In assemblage's pages, you will find a breadth of material which is not often matched in archaeological journals, for as a volunteer-run publication with virtually no overhead costs, assemblage has been liberated from the need to conform to an established niche in order to sell subscriptions, and we have been able to mold this journal according to our wishes. assemblage will, of course, continue to evolve, but we think we have made a promising beginning on the strength of some excellent contributions. In this issue, as well as peer-reviewed research papers outlining new possibilities for learning about past societies through the analysis of freshwater bivalves, and of ceramics, we have opinion essays on a wide variety of archaeological topics, short reports from the field, up-to-the-minute feature articles, substantial offerings from established archaeologists, reviews, a bit of wicked satire and fun, and a wealth of information and links to Web sites which should be useful to students of archaeology. We think the ideas herein should be discussed, and believe that the medium we have chosen will reach many people (perhaps even more than five), and encourage feedback.
It is our hope that these pages, as well as fulfilling some basic needs of graduate students ñ a forum in which to present their ideas, and a place to find guidance and information ñ will be a place of experimentation and innovation in writing about archaeology, not only in content, but also in form. The Internet, for all its faults, is an opportunity to be seized, and for our part, we have done our best to make a start. For your part, we trust that you will reflect, enjoy and respond.
October 1, 1996
©Kathryn Denning 1996