It is rare that a conference appears to be completely flawless in every way, but by all accounts, the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology this weekend was just that. Personally, it was a productive weekend of workshops, sessions, networking, and bar hopping. I wanted to take the time to address one of the things that really stood out for me at this conference: social media seemed to be on everybody’s lips, and I think you will begin to see historical archaeology taking a larger interest in using this new media to do their work in a more open, engaged, and active way.
A year ago, there was very little discussion surrounding social media. Lynne Goldstein and I presented a poster that examined how we used social media with the MSU Campus Archaeology Program to engage communities. Although it was warmly received by those who stopped by, I never got the impression that most people were hesitant about it. At least, they weren’t ready to take the plunge into something that was still new.
Things have certainly changed over the past year. Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets have taken over the internet, and has integrated into almost all aspects of the social world. A number of historical archaeologists have embraced social media, and we have been actively engaging with each other over the past year. This growth was supported by the development of a Facebook Page and Twitter Account for the Conference (@HistArchConf). Both leading up to and during the conference, the #SHA2011 hashtag was updated constantly by a dedicated group of archaeologists on Twitter including myself (@brockter), Nicolas Laracuente (@archaeologist), Jamie Brandon (@jcbrandon), Myrna Arroyo (@myrnaarroyo), Lynne Goldstein (@LynneGoldstein), Sarah Miller (@semiller88), and Amber Weiss (@ajgweiss), among others. This provided a great backchannel for the conference, and also allowed those who couldn’t attend to check in and see what was being presented on.
There were a number of sessions, a forum, and a workshop that had papers discussing the usage of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, along with other digital technologies, to present archaeology to the public, to teach students, and to conduct better research. One forum, “Into the Cloud: Archaeology and Media in a Borderless Information World” discussed the use of social media and digital technology by the PAST Foundation, and how they are integrating it into a number of different elements of their community engagement activities. The workshop that I both attended and took part in, called “Print and Social Media” was well attended, and included a number of people who were hesitant, but willing to give it a try.
In committee meetings, social media was also on everybody’s lips. I know that it was discussed in the meetings I attended, as well as at least four others. Hopefully, this will result in SHA adopting a more comprehensive, integrated social media action plan that will incorporate all aspects of the organization. There is little doubt that there is interest, both by members and potential members: by the beginning of the conference the Facebook page had over 900 fans, and the Twitter account had over 400 followers. Certainly, a social media campaign that offered more variety of content besides just conference details, would reach even higher levels of engagement.
In all, it was a wonderful conference for the organization and its membership. Everything went smoothly, and I think the organization is in a good place to move forward into the new decade. I’m very excited for next year’s conference in Baltimore, and hope that the interest and curiosity that was at this conference is carried over into more explicit use of the technology by archaeologists and the organization.
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