Blogging Archaeology – Week 4


I’ve been digging midden in the hot sun for the last couple of days, and I’m filthy and tired, but here we go!

A couple from last week:

One of our session participants, Sarah Nohe at Gettin’ Dirty Before 10:30 (or the Middle Eastern version, Gettin’ Dirty Before 5:30, after being woken up at 4 by the call to prayer) discusses blogging at an organizational/regional level, mentioning that “more individual viewers had visited the regions blog than had visited the organizations’ website as a whole.” I found it interesting that blogging was discussed at a staff meeting–I’ve never heard of such official handling of blogging in archaeology before.

Alun Salt mentions not being able to keep up with my questions–neither am I, it seems! He has a great response to week 2, that blogs are both a built-up repository of what you were thinking about over time and “a stream of nowcasting.” I agree with this point and hope that my colleagues are cognizant of this fact, that they are new media-literate enough to understand that blogging is an ongoing process, ever an unfinished product, and that it shows strength as a scholar to refine ideas and be willing to make mistakes in order to get a better result.

On to week three responses:

To illustrate his point, Shawn Graham, the Electric Archaeologist, used Gephi to visually trace the network of relationships between bloggers who are participating in the blog carnival. The true power of blogging doesn’t necessarily show in comment-count, but in the network of relationships that blogging forms. You participate in the conversation not just by speaking your mind, but listening to what other people say. While comments do indeed show that you are listening, linking to the blogs you read is the best way to show your good taste and (to a certain extent) your academic/personal relationships that you’ve fostered or are fostering.

In a complimentary fashion, Bill Caraher at The New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World wrote a similar post, noting that “the influence of a blog and the way that it becomes part of the academic discourse represents are far more complex and (to use an over used term) networked phenomena.” His blog has been cited in academic publications and considers blogging to be another facet of academic experience. He also wrote a post regarding Blogging for Publication in Archaeology, something that is in the works and will be further discussed after the SAA session.

Dig Girl (whom I accidentally outed) was our catalyst for last week’s question, has kept her blog primarily for friends and family to understand what she does a bit better; she pre-digests archaeology news with this audience’s interests and level of understanding in mind. I started blogging archaeology in much the same way. I wrote because I missed my friends while I was in the field and it was an easy way to update everyone at once, and then I had to move away for grad school, and finally it became broader than that. Colleagues started discovering the blog, then my family, and my audience was suddenly a lot bigger and more diverse than I could imagine. I’m pretty chagrined that I slipped and used Dig Girl’s real name–but as she says, nothing in her blog could be used against her. If anything, I think it would be a positive in the hiring equation.

John at Where in the hell am I? also blogs for his friends and family and his next post is one of the best examples I’ve seen that explains the varied Texas  CRM field experience. John’s blog exemplifies a strong tradition in archaeology–storytelling. We make narratives from our gathered information about the past, and pair them with our contextual experience of this process of gathering. I think this is where the short form excels above other methods of communicating archaeological information. Nowhere else are we allowed to tell our archaeology campfire stories, the things that we did or our friends did that make up the stuff of our profession. Most people choose not to share this information, but I think it gives non-archaeologists the best insights into our profession. Do yourself a favor and read John’s experience with a gentleman who drove him around in an old jeep in the Hill Country.

Alun Salt helps us understand why we don’t receive more comments using the 95-5-0.1 rule–wander on over to his blog to check it out. He points to Facebook as the place where people will comment on posts rather than on the blog itself. Blog-commenting isn’t a very visible activity whereas interaction on Facebook has both visibility and a more instant payoff. Even if others within your Facebook social circle do not read the blog post, they can see that you are interested (and are therefore interesting) in the content of the blog post. Alun expands on all of this, it’s really worth checking his entire post out.

Matthew Law (a fellow OG LJ archaeology blogger) at Adventures in Archaeology, Human Paleoecology and the Internet also notes this dichotomy–the blogs set up for outreach projects at Cardiff University weren’t nearly as successful as Facebook groups that were set up for the same purpose. After several years of experience, I am seeing more and more that blogs are not particularly well suited for short-term group projects. Setting up a Facebook page may bring the audience you desire, as they are able to “perform” their interest in your site/research as a “like,” thereby incorporating it into their projected online identity. And don’t fret Matt–you can always change the name of your blog.

The MSU Campus blog provides us with some insight, beginning with Katy Meyers’ appeal to treat blogs as a roundtable discussion rather than a solo activity. Grace Krause suggests that we draw in wider participation by linking blogging with the real world, blogging public events and such. I think this is a great idea–I still need to work on some of the public aspects of my SAA and TAG sessions. Lynne Goldstein views the problem of communication as an historic one and suggests promotion through personal Twitter and Facebook feeds. I’m pretty inconsistent about this last point myself–I post links on Facebook most of the time, and Twitter very occasionally, but I’d hesitate to make a Facebook fan page for a personal blog.

Terry Brock extends this point at Dirt, and encourages us to ask “what would you like to see more of?” or “what questions do you want us to answer? on Twitter or Facebook. I’ll admit that I’m an inconsistent Twitter user, probably because I don’t use it on my phone. I agree with him though, “I consider blogging to be one piece of a larger use of online media for archaeology on the web.” This kind of distributed identity is good for archaeologists and even for archaeological projects whereas webpages have relatively limited use and success conveying the same information. (see Carol McDavid’s excellent and seminal dissertation regarding this point)

Johan Normark uses his blog, Archaeological Haecceities to query the Object Oriented/Speculative turn and notes that timing his posts can get better results. He’s writing for a different time zone, as I am I (at least in part) as most of his traffic comes from the US. He also names his hit stats, which look pretty respectable to me.

A new blog and entry comes from Doug’s Archaeology. He notes that archaeologists rarely solicit comments on their blogs, but I have to say, I have a few times and only rarely do I get feedback in that form. People who will read my blog and who will talk to me about it on Facebook or in person won’t comment directly on the post. Doug’s research sound interesting though, probably something the Electric Archaeologist should talk to him about. I’m also looking forward to reading his publication Making a Living, coming up in the SAA Archaeological Record and will watch the Youtube summary when I have a moment.

Again, a big thank you to everyone who contributed to this week’s discussion of blogging in archaeology. As I wrote to Bill Caraher in email, this conversation seems to have taken on a life of its own! If I missed your contribution, please notify me.

For our last question, I would like to ask you to consider the act of publication for this blog carnival. How could we best capture the interplay, the multimedia experience of blogging as a more formalized publication? What would be the best outcome for this collection of insights from archaeological bloggers?

As always, please email me a link to your post! Seeing as I was so late in responding, the deadline for blog entries is 29 March.

Author: colleenmorgan

Dr. Colleen Morgan (ORCID 0000-0001-6907-5535) is the Lecturer in Digital Archaeology and Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. She conducts research on digital media and archaeology, with a special focus on embodiment, avatars, genetics and bioarchaeology. She is interested in building archaeological narratives with emerging technology, including photography, video, mobile and locative devices. Through archaeological making she explores past lifeways and our current understanding of heritage, especially regarding issues of authority, authenticity, and identity.

19 thoughts on “Blogging Archaeology – Week 4”

  1. I’m not an archaeologist, and anyway I’m way behind with my own posts, so I’ll just add a couple of reflections here if that’s OK. Firstly, on yours and Alun’s points about commenting: I have certainly solicited comments and got none, but these days I have a fairly decent group of regular commentators so that I can usually expect a response of some kind when I ask for one. Now this has taken four years of steadily growing my blog, but actually since about this time last year, stats suggest, it hasn’t really grown in numbers terms at all. What it’s acquired instead is continuity, I guess, both of its own existence and of the comentators’ feeling that they are known there, perhaps, and are welcome to comment? I think that disincentive to speak up is more inherent in the blog as process, especially the academic blog where expertise is at a premium both for the writer(s) and the audience, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve always aimed to answer all comments, even if only to say ‘thanks’. I can certainly think of at least one high-profile academic blog which claims to encourage comments, but where they take literally weeks to come through moderation and are then never answered. There’s some work one has to do there I think, which for some reason (perhaps indeed their raison d’être) other social media are able to shortcut, and I suppose that if I had to guess I would say it’s that you can’t easily have an ‘academic’ Facebook profile, or if you do, it’s not clearly different from a non-academic but unrelaxed one, and Twitter is, well, anybody’s. But a blog privileges a particular person or group as creator and ‘expert’ and that can be hard to break into.

    As for publication, I will say here merely what I’ve said elsewhere before now: from the UK, at least, final electronic publication of any kind looks fairly unwise because, despite outreach components being built into most project proposals that often include podcasts or similar, when it was last run the Research Assessment Exercise that decides the apportionment of most public research money here considered electronic-only output as among the lowest grade of academic work, apparently because it was considered transient (and thus ranked with exhibitions and performances). Electronic journals and e-books may transcend this (though they too may pass of course) but it’s hard to see blogs escaping that ghetto, and there genuinely is an issue about permanence on the web that wants addressing a bit more cleverly than that there.

    Then there is also a pernicious wave of publications in print about blogging, not least the book of Chaucer’s blog (which, full disclosure, was my second ever academic citation–for the blog… oh well ) which does seem to me like dancing about architecture, in Elvis Costello’s famous phrase about music writing. I don’t really see that these contribute to anything except visibility of the scholars in question and surely it has to lose its novelty soon, though I have an invitation to contribute to another such volume in my INBOX right now…

    So it seems to me that we’ve got two separate things here, the possibility of actually publishing blogging, and using blogging as publication, and these two are not the same. With the former, for example, one might want somehow to use a print layout that imitated the page and threw in comments in text boxes at appropriate points, and here I’d think some of the comic artists who’ve used page-inappropriate formats on the web and then had to wrestle them into a book when the need to make money reared its head would have some interesting ideas we could use—or of course publish as an e-book with pop-ups etc. (not unlike MS Word’s tracked changes comments in Print view, the technology’s obviously there) and avoid print problems at all.

    With the latter, on the other hand, a different set of problems arise. How can you satisfy the demand for peer review? Most easily, presumably, by publishing on someone else’s blog, which starts to complicate and lose speed and spontaneity quite quickly. It could be said that comments and so forth provide instant peer review, but it’s hard to prove transparency here and of course, if no-one comments (see above…) then it would appear to have passed muster rather than passed without notice. You would need then to somehow solicit review, either before or after publication on the web. That would be an interesting social exercise but begins to erode the difference between a blog and an electronic journal, perhaps to the point where we’re no longer talking about blogging as publication but just publication in its current form.

    At that point, perhaps mercifully, I seem to have run out of thoughts…

  2. Thanks for the kind words!
    I do feel sometimes a little inferior, because so many people talk about theories and research and ongoing debates in archaeology, while I can mostly talk about walking through a pasture and feeding carrots to a guard donkey. I never think that storytelling (or the “narrative”) in my blog is important, compared to the lofty discourse elsewhere, but I suppose it’s all valid public archaeology. And one of the main topics of my panel talk.

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