Reflection time: Why blog about archaeology?
The 79th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology will include a section called “Blogging in Archaeology.” I won’t be able to make the meeting next year, but Doug Rocks-Macqueen at Doug’s Archaeology has come up with a cool way to both build buzz and expand the topic beyond the SAA session. He’s launched a blog carnival and invited archaeology bloggers to contribute in the months leading up to April. Each month, anyone who blogs archaeology is invited to respond to a prompt or question, and Doug will be curating the posts for easy access. Also, we’ll be using #BlogArch on Twitter both during the carnival and at the SAA session. Take a look at Doug’s November question/master post here.
To start things off, Doug asks a simple question: Why are you blogging? I’ve been doing this since February 2012, so it’s a good time, I think, to step back and consider the question.
Why are you blogging?
I noticed a couple of interesting things about this blog after looking back on the nearly two years I’ve been doing it. First is that it’s very easy to track the ebb and flow of my employment by looking at the posts I’ve made. Long stretches of silence during the meat of the academic years, and lots of action over summers and semester breaks. You could chalk that up to available time, but I think there’s more to it, and it touches on my answer to Doug’s question. I blog because I like doing it. And I like doing it because it makes me a better scholar and writer. And it makes me a better scholar and writer because it lets me stretch my intellectual and creative legs.
Whenever I teach a class with a large writing assignment, I give my students lots of leeway in choosing a topic. I tell them to write about things they care about. When you write with joy, it shows through. I try to never blog about something simply because I think I should – rather, I try to show my readers why something that I think is important or interesting, really is, by taking pleasure in my writing. So I blog more when I’m on break because even on break, I enjoy thinking and writing.
The second thing that’s become clear to me in considering Doug’s question is that this blog has shifted in its mission a bit. My About page lays out the vision I had in the beginning:
… the mission here is twofold: First, to highlight the many connections between past and present by drawing attention to and discussing historical material culture and documents; and second, to share my interest in historical objects and archives in the hope that some readers will come to share it.
I still think that’s true. But I’ve noticed that I’ve started to use this platform for more advocacy. Blogging is particularly good for advocacy work because it’s relatively immediate, it’s open, and it’s shareable. My second most-viewed post of all time, “A bad day for a relic hunter,” falls into this category. I’ve also explored issues in higher education, particularly regarding anthropology, like in my most-viewed post, “Anthropology is useless? Not to my students.” Finally, I’ve recently gone a lot more into issues of class and capitalism than I had intended to when I launched (as in here, and here). Aside from a chance to link to a few of my favorite writings, I think this highlights the value of blogging: You can tailor what you write to your interests. To me, teaching and advocacy and all that capitalism stuff is really intertwined. It all fascinates me, and like I said above, that means I write better. (At least that’s the goal: I leave to the readers to judge.) And because of the immediacy of blogging, I can explore ideas in a smaller, more informal format – blogging helps me clarify my thinking, and exposes me to helpful criticism of that thinking early on in the process.
Beyond the question
I’d like to extend Doug’s question a bit, and ask aloud why more people in archaeology aren’t blogging? Last week I was at the annual convention of the American Anthropological Association, and I had the pleasure of meeting one of my favorite social-media-savvy archaeologists, Bob Muckle (he’s on Twitter @BobMuckle and writes a monthly column for Anthropology News). In a talk on the state of the field, Bob wondered aloud where all the American archaeologists are on social media and in the blogosphere. In part, this blog carnival should help make us a bit more visible. But his point is well-taken: Why will Doug’s call draw from (likely) dozens of bloggers, rather than hundreds?
I suspect there are a couple of reasons. First, most American archaeologists work in cultural resource management, and there could be a fear of releasing information that might be proprietary or reflect badly on an employer. Second, and in line with the first, blogging takes time, and time is in short supply for CRM archaeologists, many of whom are not permanently employed. And third, blogging is not considered to be a direct benefit to academic archaeologists – it typically doesn’t count toward tenure, for example.
I think all of those reasons can be dealt with, and I think they’re all worthy of exploring (maybe in future carnival questions?). For now, I’ll open it to readers for suggestions or comments.