The Cost of Being Outside

School is on Thanksgiving break which means that I now have time to do some of my own  archeological work. For the last few months I have been meaning to put this event into words here but then the school musical, progress reports, and Women’s Homeless Initiative got in the way. And well frankly, others have already done a fantastic job of sharing the nitty gritty data on this topic (see below for some links). So why am I talking about this again? Well, the reality of academic barriers certainly haven’t changed, but I would like to add my experience the mix.

I’ve been a high school teacher for the past 5 years, so I’ve been outside the academic community for a while. I try my best to keep up with it, but it is a challenge. I’ve had the chance to present at different conferences (but at my own cost) and publish one of my graduate school papers in a journal (but not without the help of friends inside the academy to get the most up to date research) and I continue to travel abroad to work (but after creating a sometimes stressful high school component to help with costs). For the most part, I think I have done a good job staying connrcted with the field of one of my life’s passions. Still, I am continually reminded that I am on the outside looking in.

The most recent episode (which now is a few months back) was when I purchased The Etruscan World edited by Jean Macintosh Turfa. When I was tidying up my graduate school paper that I was introduced to my lacking on current research and saw how helpful this book was. A really amazing friend was able to send me the chapters that I needed to reference for the paper. Still, I felt the intense need to try and be more current in my research about the Etruscans. So I looked towards Amazon to purchase the book for myself (I figured it wasn’t going to hit used book stores, until much later; my main source of Etruscan research). And even though I have read all the articles and reports about the cost of academic books, I was floored by the price tag of $301!

I’m a school teacher, I really enjoy it but I know I’m not going to get rich from it, so $301 (or even the $241 Amazon said they could get it for) was way out of my budget for a single book. I have never been so thoroughly smacked in the face by a paywall before. I could have continued to ask my wonderful friends to break copyright law and send me copies of what I needed but I don’t want to be a burden to them or get them into trouble. Spending that amount on a book would have made me resentful to it and the system it came from; which I didn’t want to do. So in the end, I decided that I would start saving my credit card points. I signed up for the Amazon credit card a while ago because…..well I love books and getting Amazon points is a way for me to get more without killing my budget. So it was at this point (sometime in the fall of 2014) that I started to save. I didn’t do anything crazy with the credit card, I wasn’t going to accrue credit card debt for a book. I just kept my normal spending habits up and didn’t use the points on anything else.

And finally 2 years later, and after finding a cheaper version for $175, I was able to buy the book! I was so happy and only had a twinge of guilt for spending all those points in one purchase but it was mine and not a moment too soon as I was about to start work on a poster for the 2017 AIA. When I finally opened the shipping box, a flood of thoughts flashed through me. It took so much work and patience to get the book and it was already 3 years old. Luckily, we Etruscologists are slow to inovate so not too much of a problem. But what if I wasn’t in a slow field? It would be next to imposible to keep up. It is a huge book and looks like a brick. It reminding me of how much of a barrier is there for those of us on the outside of Academia (either by money, education, or geography). And the book both physically and metaphorically weighs me down, keeping me tethered to the idea that I might go back into Academia (a thought I have been dealing with now for a long time).

In the end I am glad I made my purchase, for even if I never present again on the Etruscans, a topic that drives my curiosity I am glad to have this book to read through for the rest of my life (and I wont need that weight set anymore to get swole). This book also represents the grit that I’ve had in order to continue in this field. Even if I won’t become one of the foremost scholarly names (like I dreamed about as a wee undergrad) I have built a network of friends and colleagues. Everyday, that seems to be proving me more fulfillment and joy, than I imagine the fame would be. And maybe that has made all the difference.


Some articles/posts I’ve read about the challenges of publishing and the Alt-Aca Field:

Ain’t no Paywall Low Enough

Reflections on the Road Less Traveled

What is the Point of Academic Books

Academics are being hoodwinked


About handyatmurlo

I am a Latin teacher at Regis Jesuit High School. I earned my MA at CU Boulder and my BA at UMass Amherst. I have spent my summers working in Italy as an archaeologist at three different sites. One I have worked at for 10 years at Poggio Civitate at Vescovado di Murlo. I have worked at the Villa of Maxentius in Rome for 2 years, before the project ended. I also spent 2 summers at the FSU excavations in Cosa.
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