Blogging Archaeology: Why I Blog

3 Dec

I was recently kindly asked to participate in a blogging carnival started by Doug over at Doug’s Archaeology (a fantastic site) although, as always, I may be late to the party.  So why this ‘blogging carnival’ then?  Well the Society for American Archaeology has decided to host a ‘Blogging in Archaeology’ session at its next annual conference in Austin, Texas, in 2014 but Doug cannot attend it (and neither can I) so he thought he’d contribute by extending it into the online community to widen the participation.  An excellent idea!

jonnytwopac

Image credit, with judicious use of ClipArt.

This is a great opportunity for a wealth of archaeology blogs to become united by the shared passion over our past.  You also don’t have to be American to partake in the carnival nor to be going to the SAA ‘Blogging in Archaeology’ session to join in the online fun.  As Doug states this is open to all archaeology blogs and each month in the run up to the conference (slated for April 2014) Doug’s Archaeology blog will host the carnival and ask different questions.  Join in whenever you want, you do not have to take part each month and each entry that you do will be linked back to Doug’s so it promises to be a great place to find new archaeology blogs and exciting topics amongst the wealth of questions and answers.

So for the month of November there are two questions that Doug has asked of the archaeology blogging community, these are highlighted in bold and my response follows each question.

Why blogging? – Why did you, or if it was a group- the group, start a blog?

I started this blog back in the midst of internet time that was early 2011 for a few reasons.  I had finished my undergraduate degree the year before and had started volunteering for a local archaeology unit but I wanted somewhere where I could start to document my burgeoning interests in human bones in archaeology.  I had also been thinking for quite a while about applying for a Master’s degree in human osteology during and after the undergraduate degree and I wanted to know what sort of blogs out there discussed human osteology/bioarchaeology and its uses after such programs.  I came across two straight away (Powered By Osteons and Bones Don’t Lie) that provided excellent resources of knowledge on the human skeleton from researchers in academic positions.  These two blogs and a multitude of others helped to support and consolidate my own independent studying and, together in conjunction with the core textbooks such as Mays (1999), Larsen (1997) and White & Folkens (2005), helped by discussing up-to-date methods and approaches used in human osteology and bioarchaeology.

The idea of starting a blog was both intriguing and intimidating as I was worried that I could be unintentionally misleading people if I made mistakes and that no-one would read the site.  I had also worried that my site could bring nothing new to the table, that if I wanted to start blogging I’d have to find a way to make my site slightly different.  However I thought the benefits of starting a blog outweighed the negatives and that it would be a chance to improve my own writing (spelling and grammar), provide an opportunity to connect with a wide group of people outside of academia, and it would also prove a testing ground for my own passion for all things bone related.

There was also a personal side to the story- I know first hand what it is like to hear your tibia and fibula snap, to hear the crunch of the femoral neck as it buckles, to have undergone some fairly extensive surgery to re-align and re-enforce the bones themselves.  I was worried that this could bias some of the things I wrote (and still do worry) but I thought that the blog would open up an opportunity to talk about my own bone disease (polyostotic fibrous dysplasia) in a way in which I have had trouble finding online.  Maybe if I could provide some sort of resource other sufferers could see that they were not alone?  (although this sounds perhaps a bit too grandiose when typed onto the screen).

‘Ah ha!’ I thought, no-one has gone through each of the bone elements in turn and described them and detailed their key anatomical landmarks.  This was the first idea of how I could make my blog both stand out and improve my own knowledge at the same time thus the Skeletal Series was born.  I had found my hook and I thought the blog was something that I could at least attempt.

I didn’t really know it at the time that the site would still be up now nor did I think I would still be blogging nearly 3 years later, but there you go.  You never really know the outcome before you actually commit and do something and see what happens.

Why are you still blogging?

I have answered this, in part, in a blog reflection after the latest surgery in a post called Future Steps that details the evolution of this blog.

Why do I still blog?  It is a tough question.  Every post you write you ask yourself whether anyone is going to read it, to want to read it, and you ask yourself why are you writing it?  The passion that fuels such endeavors is invariably lifelong if you have kept it up for a number of years but I don’t think blogs run on passion alone.  You need dedication, time and perseverance.  I think you must have a variety of content on the site, to be willing to expand or to risk change.  The blogosphere is big, immense even, and many blogs don’t last that long altogether.  It is a short form, it is not built for the marathon race or the long haul.  They can disappear easily, can be deleted or altered beyond recognition.

Yet there is something that keeps dragging me back to post each time I think I may watch TV instead.  It is seeing the world map lit up each day with hits from countries that I have only dreamed of visiting, of reading the rewarding comments from people who have found the site useful, of meeting friends and researchers from around the world and swapping emails and information.  As such I have altered my blog a little, started to include interviews with archaeologists or human osteologists to gain new insights into what the world of archaeology is really like.  I want readers of my site to be able to think about how big a topic archaeology and human osteology are, to be able to help learn by offering a variety of content, but also to be able to provide a series of links to other wonderful blogs or sites to learn more.

The Guest Posts are still going strong with a rich and varied content.  I want this blog to have an international reach, topics that will reach out to a wide and interested audience, not just the struggling student or tired researcher but the passionate school pupil and the intrigued father.  I thought (and still think) that if I can provide a free service for people to help learn about the human skeleton and the value of archaeology, that if just a handful of people have learnt something from my site, then the hours of typing, updating or correcting posts and finding articles has been time well spent.

Since completing my Masters program in 2012 blogging has, for me, provided one of the best ways of keeping up to date with the archaeological literature.  This is through the efforts of other bloggers who have either posted summaries of new articles (articles that are often unfortunately locked behind a paywall) or that have discussed the merits of articles or approaches when reviewing or highlighting their own original research.  Another key feature is the rise of the Open Access movement which has called for the free distribution of scientific articles.

A number of academic journals do offer articles for free online view, either as samples or as short timed pieces, and there are a number of publishing organisations that publish online peer-reviewed free access journals or articles (PLoS for example).  Blogging also opens the door to connect with researchers directly and this, for me, has led to the development of the first interview for this blog and it has also opened up new research corridors.  Put simply, I would not be as plugged in and as engaged with human osteology/archaeology/bioarchaeology/human evolution as much as I am if it were not for this blog, the people who read it and the people who have taken the time to correspond with me.

But it is also in reading other peoples blogs, their research and work, that really inspires me personally.  I love browsing the archaeology and bioarchaeology blog sites after being away from the computer for a few days or a few weeks, to see what people have been inspired to write about themselves.  To learning about a person’s idiosyncrasies of how to side a medial cuneiform; to read how accurate Bones really is; to hear the latest about an exciting hominin haul; to wonder about the Mesolithic on my doorstep; to learn about the latest methodological approach in bioarchaeology.  Blogging is all of these things and more.  It is a world of knowledge in which I am learning all the time – I think blogs bounce off each other, you can find your own niche but you can also learn together from each other.  Blogging is also fun and creative, it is a space away from the seriousness of academia, a zone in which you can explore ideas freely and communicate with a world-wide audience quickly and efficiently.

The next blogging carnival question will be up at Doug’s Archaeology shortly, jump in and join!  The summation of the November round is available to read here with December’s question.

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11 Responses to “Blogging Archaeology: Why I Blog”

  1. Spencer Carter December 3, 2013 at 3:47 pm #

    Good write-up. But keep yur ‘ands off mi flints 🙂 Best, Spence

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