Blogging Archaeology 1 to 5 and VIARCH – when an archaeologist temporarily ceases to be an archaeologist

Many archaeologists identify themselves rather strongly with their profession and I guess I stand accused. However, even archaeologists can’t always be archaeologist. I was being distracted from archaeology for a while working on our house. It’s about finished now and we’ve moved in. As I returned to the world I noticed I have missed two big events in archaeological blogging and visualisation: Okay, I knew I sadly sadly would not be able to make it to the VIARCH-Conference. The Archaeological Eye has more infos on this.

Secondly, as a prequel to the SAA conference session on blogging archaeology, Colleen Morgan of Middle Savagery, held a blog-carnival. For four weeks, she each week posted a question which was answered by various archaeological bloggers on their blogs. These she collected and synergised. A shame I missed it. However, I think it was a fantastic effort and it’s great to see such a self confident and reflective bunch of blogging archaeologists.

Much of my thoughts were voiced by the many contributors, so I’ll only highlight a few issues here and give a Swiss/continental European perspective on some. (Better late then never!) That actually brings me to the first point. It seems there are not many non-English language archaeology blogs around, or they are not well integrated with the English language bloggers. In fact, I know that there are only very few German language archaeology blogs. And I guess, I once again stand accused as I decided to blog in English and not in German (or any of the other Swiss languages or my native language). It would be great if the interaction could become more international.

The questions C. Morgan asked were: 1.) What is the place of this conversation within academic, professional, and public discourse? Simply put, what can the short form do for archaeology? 2.) on the risk of blogging archaeology. What does one share, what not? 3.) are we really changing opinions or moving the field forward? Who is your audience and how to you interact with this audience? What do you want out of interactivity by means of blogging about archaeology? 4.) and lasty she asked how people feel about publishing the blog-carnival.

Concerning question 1.) I believe that especially fieldwork projects could benefit from this. Especially, developer caused and funded archaeology (in Switzerland executed by cantonal units) could benefit. The only Swiss project that attempted this so far, was the Opernhaus Grabung (although they only posted a short column once a week, and one that could often have been written before the dig as well). T. Brock writes that doing it well “it connects people with real archaeologists, it takes the public “behind the scenes” in ways that couldn’t be done before, and it combats misinformation and educates people about the importance of our discipline.” Perhaps this would be most effective if done in combination with local media (e.g. newspapers) or the local tourist information services. We owe the public, who in some form fund us and whose cultural heritage we are working on, access to our work (see also whereinthehellami). However, Dig Girl thinks of blogging from site as “a digital trench notebook that the whole world can read”. And rightly asks us, whether we are ready for this kind of transparency.

Between archaeologists, I see blogging almost like a modern way of correspondence in the way that in the olden days people wrote their colleagues letters. There might not always be a lot of direct interaction, however, as K. Meyers writes, it does allow you “to throw your ideas and work in progress out there in the open” before they are finely polished and as such help the creative progress that archaeology often is. And like S. Perry, I “read other blogs for inspiration and as a means to take the pulse of contemporary concerns in archaeology (and beyond)”. I already once wrote about why I blog and one of the reasons is that it allows me to practice my writing skills. I also believe that blogging allows me and “emerging archaeologists in general” to find their voice and have a – rather informal – platform. I surprises me that it is not used more by young archaeologists.  Students were also rather hesitant in postingon the departemental alpine archaeology blog of the University of Zürich (see below).

I was rather surprised to read that when asked about the risks and consequences of blogging, so many answers in one way or another mentioned that many archaeologists not only feel consious about, but also find that they have to be cautious about what they blog (e.g. Matthew Law and Passim in Passing). Now, as I am – as far as I know – the only Swiss blogging archaeologist, there is no way to know what others think, blog and fear here in Switzerland. Unlike in the Netherlands, where I used to work, I have never seen anything in a contract or so here that I am not allowed to publish certain things. Also, I am not aware of any “rules” that are set by the archaeological community themselves or are put upon us by the state on what and how we publish.

I am careful, though, especially because of this lack of clarity. I don’t publish exact locations of my sites, I usually wait with blogging until there has been at least a media announcement and am careful with photos. Besides, like M. Morrison, I try to maintain a professional standard: ethical, accurate, logical, well written and appropriately sourced. On the other hand, “Blogs, for the most part, are not treated as gospel, but more often acknowledged as opinion spaces–an outlet for thoughts processes and emotional reactions … I view it more as a tool and less as an end product.

However, the Electric Archaeologist sees it almost mostly as a positive thing that brought him to where he is now. I can only hope that blogging also helps me to find a voice and shape me as a scientist too.

Talking about audiences and interaction, I can speak about my own blog and the alpine archaeology blog that was kept during the past autumn and winter. My own blog changes audience gradually. I started the blog stricktly as a website for my PhD research. Now it’s turning into a blog on anything archaeologically I am interested in or working on, for my PhD or otherwise. I would like to inform about the hard science in an accessible and informative way as well as on the stories behind this. The main audience are still mainly fellow archaeologists, friends and family and to a lesser (but growing?) extend the general public (I think). For me language is a problem here: I write from the German speaking part of Switzerland, work on material from the French speaking part of the country and do not want to limit my audience to Switzerland. Hence I write in English, being very aware of the danger of ignoring the French and German speaking Swiss archaeological community.

The alpine archaeology blog was part of the alpine archaeology term and my e-learning course on alpine archaeological methodology at the University of Zürich. This blog was – for its short duration – very successful in attracting a wide and varied audience. It was accompanied by a facebook page and that is where most interaction took place (see also M. Law’s post). We consider continuing the blog in some form or another, as it turns out to be a very efficient public-outreach tool for an academic department, which otherwise is not that much in the public eye.

As for publishing the Blogging Archaeology Blog Carnival: should one not try to do this digitally somehow? I agree with the notion that yes, it be more efficient in reaching an non-blogging audience if published on paper, but should we really crawl back into the old paper bound publication forms? I see two main options: a website which collects and /or links, or maybe in the shape of e.g. a Diffusion e-Book. As the people at Diffusion say it themselves: playful digital/paper hybrids. Ist that perhaps what we should be trying? Combining paper and the digital?

My complements to C. Morgan on her effort and for shaping this platform and for making such a substantial contribution to knitting a community out of all us archaeological bloggers! And of course a big Thanks to all the contributors, incl. all those I did not mention! So click through the links here and on Middle Savagery, if you haven’t yet. It’s worth it!

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