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Why I Blog About Archaeology

November 28, 2013

rails to trailsSo Doug, over at Doug’s Archaeology, launched a blogging carnival leading up to the Blogging in Archaeology session at the Society for American Archaeology 2014 meetings in Austin.  The idea is that Doug will pose a question each month, folks will blog away on their own blogs in response.  Doug will then summarize the individual posts at the end of the month, and post the set of links.  The carnival and SAA session have the Twitter hashtag #blogarch.

So, if you are up to writing a response to the monthly question on your own blog send the link to Doug’s Archaeology and/or email him (drocksmacqueen@gmail.com) the link.  Sounds like party!

Doug posed two questions for this month to which I respond below:

Why did you start to blog?

I wrote my first archaeology blog post four years ago (next week) that included in part:

In early November of 2009, I participated in a session at the Southeastern Archaeological Conference held in Mobile, Alabama.  The session focused on taking Archaeology into the Community.  The papers addressed diversity of issues including a traveling ArchaeoBus, site visitor programs, archaeology fairs, museum exhibit development, Native American representation, archaeology in the classrooms, and more.  The session was a blast!  I learned a lot was able to meet folks with an interest in what I think of as applied archaeology and engaged scholarship – basically a reciprocal and symbiotic relationship between us as museum/archaeology folks and the communities who through their tax dollars are our employers.

Besides exposure to innovative and creative ideas, a couple of other things stood out to me about the session.  First, ours was the only session at the Conference that directly addressed archaeology or museums as educational resources for the broader community.   Second, the first speaker at the session, Nancy Hawkins Outreach Director at the Louisiana Division of Archaeology and a 20-year plus advocate for Public Outreach, commented that it was nice to see “the choir” assembled – noting the small but loyal cadre of advocates for the mission.

However, coming away from the Conference, I am optimistic that there are quite a few more singers in the choir in the Southeast United States.  One important idea was that the session participants stay in dialogue, reach out to others, and continue the conversation.  This blog is meant to be a part of that process.

So that was four years ago.

And the second question Doug posed, Why do you keep on blogging?

Just recently, I was quite surprised that my college chose my blogging as the basis for a “Faculty Spotlight” story, that read in part:

Dr. Robert Connolly, Associate Professor in the Anthropology Department and the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa launched his blog Archaeology Museums and Outreach about four years ago. . . . The posts include interviews with cultural heritage professionals, reports on innovative research projects, book reviews, and more. Connolly notes that the post that received the most hits and reblogs was the recent “Thoughts on How to Get a Museum Job.”

In evaluating his blogging efforts, Connolly says “I am really somewhat lazy about promoting the blog. Primarily, I focus on a specific niche of the cultural heritage student or professional interested in public engagement. If you Google my blog title, you will not find another blog with that focus. So I definitely fill a niche and the interest continues to grow. Unique hits per post range from as few as 500 to many as 3000 per week.”

Connolly also believes that blogs are more accepted in academic circles today. He points to The London School of Economics and Political Science as one of the leaders in academic blogs. He also cites Paul Mullins’ blog Archaeology and Material Culture as an example of a blog with well researched and referenced posts. Mullins, chair of the Anthropology Department at IUPU and the President of the Society for Historic Archaeology is a strong advocate for considering alternative academic products as legitimate scholarship.

Archaeology, Museums and Outreach also provides Connolly with numerous networking and professional opportunities. “I have published three peer reviewed articles from invitations by editors who asked me to expand a concept I presented in my blog. The blog also brings national and even international exposure for the C.H. Nash Museum. A benefit of blogging that I enjoy a great deal is developing “colleagues” who I will likely never meet in person or even speak to on the phone. For example, I regularly engage with a vibrant network of museum professionals in Australia, one of whom has reviewed my article drafts prior to publication.”

Connolly acknowledges that reading and writing blogs can be a huge time drain and produce little. But ultimately, he sees a bright future for such user-generated content. This semester he is teaching an Undergraduate Honors Forum titled “Wikipedia as a Research Tool.” Like blogs, he is convinced that Wikipedia has a place in academia. “In my Museum Practices graduate seminar, we spend about 45 minutes of one class period discussing the ethics of repatriation using the Elgin Marbles as a case study. I had been using a brief chapter from an archaeological text as background reading for the students. A couple of years ago, I went to the Wikipedia page for the Elgin Marbles. I found a balanced and up-to-date 5000-word article with over 100 references that approached the discussion from multiple perspectives. I realized that for the purposes of a single class case study discussion, I knew of no better single resource than the Wikipedia entry.”

Connolly notes that the aspect of Wikipedia that most surprises the students in his current Honors Forum is the rigorous editing and referencing process in creating Wikipedia pages. “One aspect of user-generated content that I enjoy the most is the need for critical assessment of the printed word. We did an exercise on the first day of class this fall where the students were able to see that the Wikipedia entry on a particular topic was actually better researched and more reliable than a report on the same topic in the Smithsonian Institutions Contributions to Anthropology. We continue to move in a direction where the venue of presentation does not always determine the worth of the written word, rather the scholarship on which the text is based. Blogs and other forms of user-generated content clearly have a place in that discussion.”

That’s it for me in a rather large nutshell.  Ultimately it comes down to the exchange of ideas.  If I think about the most stimulating and interesting information I come across on a regular basis, the starting point, whether a research update, innovative approach to programming, a book review or whatever often is in the form of a blog post.  I enjoy participating in that process.

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