Reddit and Archaeological Outreach

EDIT: Sadly, only hours after I posted this, one of the founders of Aaron Swartz, committed suicide. The world lost a brilliant soul, who was facing 50 years in prison for sharing academic articles:


There’s been a growing amount of attention to Reddit in the past year or so, culminating with very prominent appearances on the website including Q&As with President Obama, Ira Glass, Molly Ringwald, and Bill Nye (the Science Guy!). The website is reminiscent of early newsgroups, with “subreddits” devoted to most every topic under the sun. The popular subreddits appear on the default front page and are primarily devoted to photographs of cats, arguments about American politics, atheism, science, and miscellaneous “meme” humor.

The key to reddit is an up/down-voting system that determines the prominence of the content and rewards frequent, useful, or clever posts with “karma” points. This is a boon and its burden, but more about that later. There is also a heavy emphasis on anonymity.

I started using Reddit to read the Crossfit subreddit, which contains work-outs and advice, but soon started looking over a handful of other subreddits, including:

The Archaeology and Anthropology subreddits are relatively low-volume with a mix of news stories, students looking for help with homework or advice about field schools, and questions about specific topics from the more general Reddit population. Sadly, these subreddits are not as robust as they could be, as the emphasis on anonymity undermines discussion of most of the topics. Answering questions and helping students is not particularly valued and can even result in backlash from the students–if you voice an unpopular opinion, Reddit downvotes can bury the discussion, even if this opinion is informed.

More structured subreddits such as AskSocialScience and AskHistorians require areas of credentialed expertise to receive badges signaling this knowledge. These subreddits are also more strictly moderated with stated rules in the sidebar. The outreach potential of these two forums is fantastic, and questions range from “How injurious was tarring and feathering” to “What came first, dance or music?” to “What was the Arab world like before Islam?”

There are also AMAs – “ask me anything” wherein anonymity is shed and the expert invites any questions. An archivist and a curator from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum hosted a AMA and then discussed their engagement with Reddit later in a fantastic blog post on Engaging Museums. Sadly it appears that their participation in the format ended with the AMA and they have not continued to participate as named experts on Reddit.

Most people seem to separate their Reddit accounts from their identities, and Reddit heavily discourages posting personal information of any kind. As such, I have not posted my name to Reddit, but it would not be too hard to figure out who I am.

Reddit offers a venue for archaeologists to directly communicate with interested, engaged, online stakeholders and to answer questions about the past. It is not without its own pitfalls–the anonymity of the userbase and the up/downvoting system can both obscure the credibility of authors and promote a culture of consensus that punishes legitimate opposing voices. Still, with some dedicated work from archaeologists, Reddit could be a useful addition to an outreach toolkit. For archaeologists with a book or a dig to promote, an AMA can raise awareness of your research to a broader audience than a blog or a twitter account.

Failing that, Reddit also turns a fantastic trade in small cute animals. I mean, LOOK at this baby zebra!

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.

4 thoughts on “Reddit and Archaeological Outreach”

  1. Really good post as always, Ms. Morgan. I was sadden to read on another web page that one of the founders of REDDIT has passed away at a tender age of 26. Aaron Swartz was just 14 when he was one of the software coding genuis to start up this valued resource. The world has lost another beautiful mind. As-salamu alaykum from Afghanistan very near the paths of Alexander’s conquests . . . ~~~ freddy

  2. Hi, I’m one of the mods from /r/askhistorians. Thanks for the endorsement. We really do work as hard as possible to make it a resource for people to network a bit, share ideas, and expand their horizons. It’s a source of great pride for us to be endorsed by PhD’s. So thank you very much!

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