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Reflection time: Why blog about archaeology?

November 27, 2013

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.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2013 7:02 pm

    I think you make some good points about the lack of archaeologists on social media but perhaps this is something specific to the US. In the UK and Europe, archaeologists seem quite eager to use social media as tools for public outreach and a growing number of them have taken to blogging. Still, like you, I wonder how many people will respond to Doug’s call to action.

    Unlike most of the others taking part in Doug’s blog carnival, I don’t have a formal background in archaeology but I certainly see the benefits of blogging as a way to educate and inspire others. If you’re interested, my response to Doug’s questions for November can be found here –

    • John R. Roby permalink
      November 27, 2013 7:06 pm

      Hi Kelly, I think you’re right about the U.S. vs Europe issue. In fact, I didn’t mention this, but the other half of Bob Muckle’s comment was “U.K. archaeologists are all over the blogosphere.”
      I like your post a lot. Addressing misapprehensions about archaeology is fighting the good fight!

      • November 28, 2013 7:11 am

        Thanks! I’d like to think I’m doing my very small part in educating people about the realities of archaeology. Anyone embarking on a career in archaeology will be sorely disappointed if they think they’ll be spending their time hunting down mystical treasures and lost cities. πŸ˜‰

  2. November 29, 2013 4:01 pm

    Nice post John. As a contributor in the first Blogging Archaeology session that was held in 2011, I can say that the “why aren’t more people doing this?” question was one that we asked a lot…in fact, much of the session was dedicated to “look, this is useful! Do this!”…Chris Webster, who is chairing this year’s session, actually took up that challenge from that session. At any rate, I think the amount of archaeology bloggers there are now has increased dramatically, and even more so when you consider social media usage in general. I remember two years ago when we were using Facebook in the field at MSU and no one else was doing it. This summer, I couldn’t spend a minute on Facebook without seeing a photo of an artifact freshly pulled from the ground. So, we’re growing. We’re building.

    But, I think that really raises some more important questions, that are directly tied to “Why Blog”. Namely, Why are you Blogging? Why are you using Social Media? Do you have goals? Do you know what audience you’re trying to attract? Are you attracting them? Are they there? Is someone else there? Do you have a strategy? How are you measuring its success? These are all things that people don’t ask, but should. It is time to really start critically engaging the online work we’re doing to determine if we’re doing it well.

    • John R. Roby permalink
      November 30, 2013 8:36 am

      Terry, thanks for pointing out that these questions have been posed before. I think what you suggest about thinking through the audience side is spot-on. I’d like to see much more attention to the issue of “the public.” Who is this nebulous “public” for “public archaeology?” Someone more social media savvy than me probably has a good idea of who s/he is actually reaching. I think blogging, for me, has become more about my own development and interests than serving a specific audience. Like I said, I hope that what I write is at least interesting to a swath of people, but I have no way of really evaluating that.

      • November 30, 2013 9:56 pm

        I think it’s important for all public archaeologists, regardless as to the medium they are using, digital or otherwise, recognize that the “public” isn’t one monolith…there are tons of different publics,with different stakes and interests (or with no interest at all) in archaeology. With digital work, it’s just as important to think about who you are engaging as to who you are inherently keeping out by using the Internet (digital divide, etc). Or how different publics access digital media (mobile phones? twitter vs. Facebook? laptops?). These are all important things to consider when you’re approaching social media, designing your website, etc. etc. They also become important when it comes time to justify the work you’re doing online for tenure or in a grant proposal: “I’ll make a blog!” is very different then “I specifically designed a responsive website and use Twitter because Pew Research says that Twitter and mobile devices are the ways that African Americans access the internet and use social media, and it is important that this research connects with this demographic” and then follow that up with some actual data collection that says, “yes, this worked” or “No, it didn’t here’s why”…I think people will be more willing to accept these as valid means of public engagement if we demonstrate that they are valid, or at least acknowledge that we are approaching them in critical ways that will determine just how valid they are for doing public archaeology.


  1. Blogging Archaeology #BlogArch – All of the Responses to Why? | Doug's Archaeology

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