SAA 2011: Blogging In Archaeology

Over the next four weeks, the Campus Archaeology team members will be participating in answering a series of questions posed by  Colleen Morgan (@clmorgan), on her blog, Middle Savagery, in order to prepare for the SAA Conference session on Blogging in Archaeology. Terry Brock will be presenting a paper in the session (read his responses here), but we will all participate in answering the questions over the next few weeks.

Question 1: 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?

Katy Meyers: Blogging as Community and Open Access Knowledge

Blogging in archaeology is a powerful tool for the transmission of information and opinion in a more accessible and open format. It allows for a range of both knowledge, often not covered in professional journals or magazines, to be dispersed among the discipline and the public. However, as blogging increases as a form of scholarly communication, the question is how we fit this type of knowledge into our preconceptions of academic work. These brief snippets of archaeological data are critiqued as unmonitored, un-refereed, and not subject to the same standards as the classic forms of scholarly work. However, this is not entirely true. As much as the author does have free range over their opinions, they are subject to the critique of the greater archaeological audience. Blogging is a way of throwing your ideas into the academic community; your work is open to criticism and debate.

This new form of information sharing is a way to open the conversation to all levels of academic, and speed the growth of our collective knowledge. Instead of open dialogue between scholars around the world limited to large professional conferences, blogging serves as a way to continue the conversation throughout the year with anyone who can access a computer. In the MSU Campus Archaeology Program, blogging is a way for us to share what we are working on, but also to open the conversation up to the whole community. By writing these short, more informal posts, we are making archaeology more accessible. When we share our data, we open ourselves up to critique, but the benefit is that we increase the public’s awareness of the presence of archaeology in their own community and that way that their history is being constructed.

Chris Stawski: The Blogging Paradigm

The short form, or blogging, has revolutionized authorship and writing, and has coincided with one of the largest trends in the computer world to date: social media and smart devices.  The key word for this dramatic paradigm shift that blogging has brought about is access.  Blogging is many things, but first and foremost, it is accessible.  With the use of mobile devices, laptops and pads of all sorts, information is so readily available and so easily created and shared, that people are scrambling to keep up.

In the realm of anthropological archaeology, blogging is creating a niche.  It has been used to create journals in the field to more professional publication-style entries in the office.  It has been used as a public forum for engagement where the audience may be infinite in composition, and it has been used, well here for example, in a more structured format where the audience is more specialized.  Once again, the beauty in blogging is its accessibility, its adaptability.

My hope is that for archaeology, we do not try and usher blogging into one course or the other, but instead utilize its ability so that it can adapt to many forums and to address a range of audiences.  Many think that blogging in archaeology needs to be refereed, and taken down a more “traditional” path.  Yes, that is one course that may be explored.  We must realize, though,  that when we do that, we are challenging the basic principles on which blogging was founded. We are limiting its accessibility, and instead of blogging, we are now just creating an on-line, short-form publication.  I would like to see blogging in archaeology continue to create a link between the public and the archaeologist, to enhance the public’s perception of archaeology and continue to make this knowledge accessible to any and all.

Kristin Sewell: Blogging: What’s in it for writers?

My colleagues have shown the benefits of the short form and how blogs as a medium of knowledge transmission have opened the world up for immediate and unlimited access to information exchange. The internet is, after all is said and done, the modern oracle. To borrow a phrase from the popular game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire, the internet is the best “phone a friend” lifeline anyone could ask for. Blogs offer access to all with the only requisites being an open internet port and moderate curiosity. For archaeology, that means knowledge that used to be accessible only through professional membership and admission to university is now available to anyone. Blogs clearly have a benefit for scholarly researchers and the reading public at large.

But why write?  As a graduate student, I am advised by a chorus of professors and advanced students to write, write again, and write some more. Practice the craft of composition and analysis! Whether you struggle for an hour and produce 200 words or churn out 10 pages of text with the greatest of ease, the advice is always the same: write and write every day. There’s a universe of literature on the subject of how to become a better writer – much of it in the blogosphere—with advice on exploring topics, generating ideas, and producing words for the page. But in this case, the answer is in the question, young grasshopper. Blog! Not only does blogging allow the writer to concentrate in a single area of  interest—a luxury for many students—but blogging allows the writer to get ideas  published and reviewed by a broad audience of critics many of whom are avid and knowledgeable readers in the very subject area of interest! The short form provides an opportunity for readers to read and writers to write with near limitless possibilities. So, I say, blog, blog again, and blog some more. Have a voice. Be heard. Be read.

Lynne Goldstein, CAP Director: Blogging and Engagement

From the perspective of Director of Campus Archaeology, blogging (for us) has accomplished a number of things that traditional forms of writing and engagement have not been able to do. First, we are able to reach many more people in many more places (both academic and public) than we have ever been able to reach by traditional means. Second, readers are far more likely to engage with a blog – they will post comments and ask questions that might otherwise never get asked or answered. A professional can try to explain or clarify a concept for an amateur, or a member of the public can ask direct questions from an archaeologist. Professionals themselves can use blogs to discuss issues with other professionals. We have had the experience of all of these types of engagement with our blog. Finally, blogs can provide some basic discussion and ideas for more traditionally published papers and books. In trying to understand some of the comments, one may well develop an important aspect of a paper that might otherwise not happen.

Although a seemingly extraneous example, we have found that people become so engaged with our program and its social media that we routinely get visits from many when we do fieldwork, and when we complain that it is cold, folks even bring us coffee! It’s great when that happens and we are very appreciative, but it also tells us that we have an engaged, supportive,  and committed audience for what we are doing.

How should blogs count in an academic setting? I’m not sure, but I think they should count in the tally of what the individual has done. Blogs are certainly the most directly reviewed kind of publication, by professionals and others, but I think they represent an extremely productive way to set forth ideas and concepts that can be subsequently turned into more traditional academic works. Blogs can also be further developed into different forms of public engagement, and academics who do such work should really be rewarded for this.

One thing that most people don’t talk about in terms of blogs and social media – the responsibility that it places on professionals to respond to inaccurate or problematic material. If we want effective tools, we have to take part in the discussions and fulfill our obligations as professionals.

I have to admit that before I created the Campus Archaeology Program, I had not given a lot of thought to blogging. However, after my experience over a 2.5 year period, I would never begin a project without blogs and other social media. The great thing about blogging and other social media is that it is not static and that people understand that the form is improved with engagement.

Grace Krause: The Missing Link

Others have put very relevant emphasis on the role of blogging for easy distribution of academic knowledge and debate, but for me short form plays a slightly different role.  Blogging is news, whether the individual updates of our CAP field school students or the international solidarity expressed in finding truth during the recent internet blackout in Egypt.  Much of the information and opinion expressed on blogs is transient and will never be formally published, but this does not mean there is no value in fast-paced reporting.  Rather, blogging represents a missing link in the academic thought process that was rarely seen before the rising popularity of digital media.  This is what is happening, this is what we’re thinking about right now as opposed to waiting months or years for an official publication, if it ever comes.  Blog entries are Polaroid pictures of archaeological ideas, instant and unpolished, but nevertheless the perfect way to watch those ideas germinate and develop over time.

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