What can Blogging do for Archaeology?

Posted by on Mar 2, 2011 in Dirt, Research and Engagement | 6 Comments

This spring, I will be taking part in a session at Society for American Archaeology Conference entitled “Blogging Archaeology”. In anticipation, there are a series of questions being asked by the session organizer, Colleen Morgan (@clmorgan), on her blog, Middle Savagery, regarding archaeology and blogging, to be answered by archaeology bloggers. Each week for the next four weeks, I’ll be doing my best to answer these questions. If you’d like to participate, here’s the gist of it all.

Question 1: The emergence of the short form, or blog entry, is becoming a popular way to transmit a wide range of archaeological knowledge. What is the place of this conversation within academic, professional, and public discourse? Simply put, what can the short form do for archaeology?

This question highlights three areas where conversations about archaeology can take place through blogging and other forms of digital social media: academic, professional, and public discourse. My primary focus as a blogger has fallen on the latter, and it is within this context that I’m going to talk about what it is that short form can do for archaeology. In short, I think that public archaeology benefits from blogging and social media in three ways: 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.

Like it or not, when people have a question they want answered, they head to the Internet. And when they get there, those questions are often answered by the first things that pop up on a Google Search: Wikipedia, news magazines, and blogs. Only one of those, blogs, actually has a human being attached to it, and I think people tend to gravitate to other people who they can get to know and trust. It is in this context that individuals like K. Kris Hurst (@archaeology) at about.com are public archaeology heroes: she has been the online human face of archaeology for quite a while, and we are fortunate that she is there to answer questions about our discipline in a highly approachable, understandable, and intelligent way. It is in this context that blogging becomes incredibly valuable to public archaeology: not only can archaeology bloggers provide insider information about our discipline, but we can provide a personal interaction with “real” archaeologists. Simultaneously, if more archaeologists take the time and energy to engage with the public through digital discourse with educational and informative posts, we can diffuse the gluttony of mis-information that makes its way through the Internet.

Blogging and Web 2.0 offer entirely new and exciting ways to do public archaeology. A simple website for an archaoelogy project or program isn’t enough, and doesn’t do digital archaeology in the most effective way. While informative posts about famous archaeological sites are great, the ease and availability of blogs and video allow archaeologists to interact directly with the public, and take them directly into the field, or bring them behind the scenes into the lab. Blogging and social media open the lines of communication to make them real-time, two-way, and global. This type of interaction mimics the in-the-field site visit, as people who want to learn about archaeology “as it happens” can actually do that through blogs, or more immediately, through Twitter. They can be a part of each obstacle, each decision, and each discovery that we are privileged to experience regularly.

This form of interaction is incredibly valuable, particularly considering the economic budget crisis that puts our important cultural resources in jeopardy. Informing the public about what archaeology is, why it is an important, and showing them that it is a scientific discipline that holds real-world, local, and social significance, not Indiana Jones. Blogging and social media allows us to take this information directly to the public, not just leave it sitting in a museum or at our remote archaeological sites for them to come find. Or, even worse, to be portrayed in negative and mis-informed ways through traditional forms of media, such as television and movies. Of course, there are plenty of blogs and Twitter accounts that spread mis-information: this is just more the reason for more archaeologists to be actively blogging and interacting on social networks, in order to drown-out the people who do harm to our discipline. This type of community engagement and public education is the pivotal next step for archaeology, and I think that we are well on our way to making important headway in using short form, digital environments to making archaeology a more valuable and visible discipline.