Sunday, February 27, 2011

What can blogging do for archaeology?

I am playing along with a request from  Colleen Morgan at Middle Savagery, who is the organizer of the session on blogging at the upcoming SAA meetings in Sacramento. Colleen is going to post a question a week leading up to the meetings, asking a bunch of us to respond. This is something called a "blog carnival," a phenomenon I don't really understand (and I'm not sure I like the sound of the name).

Yesterday I played the role of the cranky skeptical scientist for a Canadian TV program about crystal skulls (No, they do not have special powers. No, I can't explain why some people believe crazy things). The curmudgeon in me likes the cranky skeptic role, so maybe I will take that in my posts for the blog carnival.  This week's question is:

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?

I really don't know what blogs can accomplish. I see my own efforts with blogs, websites, wikis, etc. as largely experimental in nature. The internet is transforming some aspects of scholarship, and it will continue to have a major impact in the future. I don't see the digital future as a bright new world where things will be wonderful, and neither do I view it as the demise of scholarship and civilization as we know it. I want to know how new media will impact research and scholarship, and this is the theme of my SAA talk.

It seems pretty clear that the best use of blogs in archaeology is to communicate information to a range of audiences beyond professional scholars. Blogs can also be useful for communicating some kinds of professional information (as opposed to scholarly findings) among scholars. That is the purpose of my blog here, and blogs were a major venue for information exchange during the AAA-Science controversy, a  role completely misunderstood by the AAA board and by other senior scholars.

But can blogs be used to advance research in our field? I wax hot and cold on that question. When I submitted my SAA abstract, I thought the answer would be negative. Then I found some examples where blogging does contribute directly to research, and I was more optimistic. After further investigation and reflection, my two main examples turn out to be pretty limited in scale and significance. Do they hold promise for further development? I'm not sure yet. I won't reveal yet the examples that I plan to focus on at the SAA (although clever readers might be able to figure this out).

I don't tweet, I don't do Facebook, I don't text or IM, and I don't own a smart phone. But I do care passionately about research, and I want to explore how new technology and media can contribute to research in archaeology. How does blogging contribute to communication with diverse audiences? I'll leave that question to others.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can comment on one very useful way that blogging contributes to archaeology. If researchers are fortunate enough to get out and get a tenure track job relatively soon, one of the things that often sidetracks young academics is being cloistered away from people who do what they do. I went from grad school to a small, private teaching school with two anthropologists. Five years later I am at another institution with five anthropologists but in both cases I am the only physical anthropologist, and certainly the only bioarchaeologist. I recommend reading blogs about doing research to help young academics keep in mind the need to balance the urgent (teaching, committee work, etc.) with the important (ostensibly, research). I like to think that I would have kept on writing regardless of circumstances because I like doing it (and think it is my job, among other reasons), but reading the Chronicle and a couple of blogs like yours, combined with talking on the phone weekly with a good friend/collaborator at a larger research department has helped me avoid that trap.