What can blogging do for archaeology?

Courtesy of Colleen Morgan, middlesavagery.wordpress.com

My good friend and colleague Colleen Morgan has organised an excellent session on archaeological blogging at the upcoming Society for American Archaeology conference in Sacramento, California (30 March – 3 April).  Given that the conference (somewhat distressingly, I think) doesn’t have internet access to allow live feeds into and out of the event, Colleen is asking other archaeological bloggers to speak to some of the dimensions of blogs and the blogging process.  Whilst I don’t typically use my own WordPress site for the same breadth of rigorous commentary as others (like Colleen!), I have thought a bit about the affordances of this medium, and have also encouraged students to do so in my teaching.

Colleen’s question for this week:

The emergence of the short form, or blog entry, is becoming a popular way to transmit a wide range of archaeological knowledge. What is the place of this conversation within academic, professional, and public discourse? Simply put, what can the short form do for archaeology?

Although I’m situated within the academic sector, I do not see a fundamental and inviolable division between academic, professional and public discourse.  My PhD research has focused on the fluid relationship between specialist and non-specialist realms of practice—as the priorities of each feed back into the other—and I believe that blogging, like lecturing or public exhibitions, is yet another facilitator of this relationship.

Personally, I read other blogs for inspiration and as a means to take the pulse of contemporary concerns in archaeology (and beyond).  They can provide good, quick access to emerging (not to mention long-standing) resources, and introduce you to ideas and linkages between people and things that push beyond traditional disciplinary divides.  They are a marketing tool, a knowledge-making device, a means of connecting emotionally and politically with others, and a seedbed for action and response.  They can mobilise people and ideas, and I think their power is testified to by the fact that everyone from the individual to the world-renowned institution (e.g., the Smithsonian: http://blog.photography.si.edu/) has invested in their possibilities.

Most importantly, I think they are a forum to allow new practitioners a voice; a venue to enable emerging archaeological thinkers to press outside of the traditional, highly-controlled, paper-bound publication format, and in-so-doing to rethink the communication and creation of archaeological knowledge.

I love that Colleen has put together this session at the SAAs, and am looking forward to hearing about its outcomes—most likely, I think, via following its blog coverage!

5 thoughts on “What can blogging do for archaeology?

  1. I’m so glad to see you and more academics speaking about this topic! I’m baffled by the fact that more academics aren’t blogging–I think that many might be nervous about presenting half-formed or casual ideas in a public forum. That’s too bad, because I think it could be invaluable experimentation for more well-seasoned scholars, and a great outlet for new practitioners looking for a venue outside of the heavily controlled journals you mention above.

    I’m now involved with blogging and social media, but looking back, I wish that when I was doing my Master’s degree in Material Anthropology and Museum Ethnography that I’d had Google Reader feeds and Google Alerts at my fingertips and was able to blog about my thought process as I read hundreds of academic texts. Can you imagine being able to have a daily RSS feed of news articles about museum ethics, for example, to supplement assigned theory articles on the same topic? It would be such rich contextualization and a great way for students to be able to have more casual (and meaningful) back and forth conversations about readings based on real-life goings on.

    Thank you for blogging, and thanks for the shout out of our blog, The Bigger Picture, above.

    Catherine Shteynberg
    Smithsonian Institution Archives

  2. I’m glad you touched on the idea of giving new practitioners a voice. I was going to mention it in my reply but I had already rambled enough (and maybe was saving a few things for the actual paper/panel!)
    In the CRM world, as in academic fieldwork, you have a lot of people physically working on a project, but the results of all of that work get filtered through one or two upper-level people who actually write the report (which then goes into the gray literature limbo).
    Even though I’m now one of the people who gets to do the analysis and write the reports, I like my blog because it’s MY unfiltered (with limits) observations and interpretations of the work (right or wrong).

    John Lowe

  3. Catherine: I am a big fan of The Bigger Picture — and I especially like the detailed captions & identifying information that you include directly alongside the imagery. I completely agree that blogging has an amazing potential for fleshing out the thought process & providing real-time feedback, and indeed, I’m keen on any technology that has this kind of annotative capability. While I’m not naive about their limitations and potential for abuse, I think *all* media have potentially very significant faults — so it’s about judiciously managing their dimensions, and thus being critical about when, why & where we apply them.

    John: Your point about project/site reports is particularly important, I think. We spend a lot of time discussing this in my teaching, as students who participate in archaeological excavations often feel that their ideas are effaced in the final excavation write-up (if they’re even given the opportunity to see that write-up at all!). Looking forward to following your blog & hearing more about your SAA contribution…

    Thanks so much for your comments!

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