Adventures in anthropological content alerting: University of Chicago Press

In my last entry about my continuing quest to survey the state of anthropology’s publishing noosphere I took a look at Taylor and Francis. Now I turn my attention to the University of Chicago Press. The UofC has a relatively small journal division with only one real standout for anthropologists: Current Anthropology. There produce other great journals (Critical Inquiry and Signs come to mind, but you take a look at “their website”: for a complete list of what might interest you). Of course UofC is also one of the top publishers of monographs in anthropology as well, and I’ll take a brief look at that as well. What I find interesting about UofC Press is not just the fact that it is one of the best known academic publishers in the United States, but the way it succeeds (and fails) in embracing the latest trends in digital content for scholars.

First, the website: it is very well designed and has a nice clean look. Things are easy to find. You never have to look around the page trying to figure out where you want to click. Furthermore, the page for “Current Anthropology”: is very well done and includes (for those with the magic cookie) the latest edition of the journal — thus the UofC website is a place to access fresh text that is inside the ‘moving wall’ that blocks recent content.

The UofC is really outstanding for the way it has embraced the latest trends in technology. They have RSS feeds for all their journals in addition to the usual e-toc alerting service, so you can choose just how you’d like to receive information from them. Even more interesting, the press has it’s own “University of Chicago Press Blog”: so you can see what the latest news from the press is — a great way to see not just what UofC is publishing, but what they consider to be the biggest and bestest of stuff that they’ve published.

Taylor and Francis opted for an ‘identity heavy’ interface for their website — in order to receive content alerts from them you have to create an account on their site and log on to it (the problem with them was that they had lousy account management options). The UofC has a very ‘identity light’ site — you do not create a centralized account. Instead they are running a “mailman”: install and have a seperate email list set up for each journal you want an alert for.

Sign up for emailed content alerting is thus quick and painless, and you can use mailman’s well-designed interfact for it. But it is also completely decentralized — You need to create three different passwords for three different journals, and there is no central way to manage subcribing and unsubscribing (at least not that I could tell in the brief time I used the system). This is a major pain, and it suggests that they either haven’t thought about the usability of their site, or else that they are assuming that most people will use RSS. Finally, it’s worth noting that you have to click through two or three pages to actually get to the signup page for any particular journal.

Signing up for content alerts for books is even more of a fiasco — the UofC’s “current page for book alerts”: has some sort of semi-working python script that currently looks really broken. Thumbs down on this — it’s embarassing to see a major publisher have a website that looks like this.

There are other quibbles I could make about the UofC’s website — there isn’t a consistent look and feel across all pages, for instance — but these would only interest the truly picky. For anthropologists who just want to use the Internet to facilitate their research, the bottom line on the UofC site is very straightforward: good ideas, poor implementation. They have a thoughtful and forward-thinking approach to letting their readers know about their books and journals. Unfortunately, the implementation of their technology is spotty. Sometimes it just doesn’t look pretty, sometimes it’s a pain to use, and occasionally it’s just plain broken. A little bit of follow-through would help the UofC Press realize the great promise of its approach to managing its web presence.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

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