Edited Collections: Bane or Boon?

Article excerpt

Is there a conference, symposium, workshop, seminar or roundtable whose proceedings are not published nowadays? In our discipline, as elsewhere, publication means recognition and survival. Furthermore, reporting to conferences is a powerful method of exchanging ideas and discoveries and a natural, if not automatic, extension is to turn the contributions into a more permanent account by publishing a collection, suitably dressed up in a theme. Judging by the quantity of such collections appearing in print--more than 30 per cent of all books received annually by Antiquity for review are edited collections, and few get reviewed--it is a trend that shows no signs of slowing down.

But there are problems of course. Some speakers may not wish to publish, others may not quite come up to the standard expected--but it is hard to unseat them when everyone else seems entitled to a place on the wagon. Editors can find themselves making a purse out of a sow's ear rather than composing a set of responses to a well-defined research question. An understandable tendency is therefore to let it go at that; at worst the result is no more than a loosely connected miscellany delivered in a melee of unkempt language. In fact, the editors of one recent collection proudly announce that they are "keeping the individual authors' styles, including their choice of American or British orthography and punctuation." Just saving a bob or two on copy-editing? To a linguist, reading some edited volumes feels like an extended stay in purgatory. …