This is the fifth and final entry in a blogging carnival that Doug Rocks-Macqueen, of Doug’s Archaeology, started back in November last year. Just another quick recap: the whole idea of this blog carnival was started by Doug after he saw that the Society for American Archaeology are having their 79th annual conference in Austin, Texas, this month (in fact only a week or two away). Doug specifically noticed that they are including a session on the rise of blogging in archaeology and, since he cannot be there himself, he thought it was pertinent to start a blogging carnival online to get the archaeology blogosphere alive with monthly questions. The questions were posted on his site in the first week of each month, and can still be viewed for anybody interested in taking part still.
Last month a total of 13 wonderful bloggers took part in February’s entry for the carnival. The question was actually open-ended and as Doug’s states he thought he had almost killed the carnival! But I think we can all say that February was a pretty busy month all round for most people. My entry, which can be read here, tackled the meaning of the blog, and blogging in general, because I’d largely felt that this whole carnival has been a wonderful exercise in self-reflection. And I have to admit I do enjoy writing about the ecology of blogging, it really is a wonderful world of diversity in the archaeology blogging area with all manner of topics tackled and approaches used. Remember that if you are an archaeology blogger (in any way whatsoever) then feel free to jump right in and join. Answering the past blogging questions is very much welcomed at any time. The previous months questions can be found here, jump in and join – I highly recommend it!
For this month’s topic Doug has asked about the future of blogging, of goals and aims we’d like to achieve or changes we’d like to see implemented. 45 fantastic archaeology bloggers have already replied so far and Doug has done a very nice little round-up of the final entries. I finish as I started, as once again I am pretty late with my entry! So let’s get this final blog arch carnival entry on the go…
Blogging the Future
This blog has recently passed 1 million views, which is pretty cool I think for something that I started in my bedroom whilst thinking about the forthcoming Masters degree, and more specifically about what I could do to try to improve my knowledge before I started the degree. Now I am post-Masters, looking towards a few possible futures on the horizon. My email inbox for this blog has started to ping a bit more than usual recently, with various different requests or offers starting to arrive. Everything from students wanting to know more about the human skeleton and asking questions on essays and research, publishing houses informing me of their latest open access journals, to offers of review books for exhibitions or novels. It is pretty interesting and I am very much enjoying helping out where I can, especially in being able to help share knowledge and advice, or to inform a reader on what collections or museums to check out for human osteological collections. This is something that I should probably write a post about, now I come to think about it.
But I think the future for the blog is pretty obvious at the moment. I want to do more, where and if I can. I repeat my clarion call for guest blog entries. I want to interview more archaeologists and bioarchaeologists, so if you are interested get in touch. I also need to revisit a fundamental pillar of the blog and finish the Skeletal Series blog entries. Those entries in the draft folder that don’t extend beyond a half-finished bibliography and a choice selection of key words? I should finish those! One of my recent previous posts, Future Steps, preempted last month’s blogging archaeology carnival question and highlights some thoughts on the future of this blog, including trying to gather together the skeletal series posts in a PDF or a printout form, and the possible use of photoessays for some future blog entries.
Other bloggers have mentioned that they see the future of blogging utilizing the integration of video blogging and podcasts into primarily written word blogs. Whilst I can definitely see the future potential and audience for this, it is not something that I am currently considering or pursuing for a variety of reasons just yet. What I do think is important is to approach the topic of archaeology in a variety of ways, interacting with an audience using various formats. Bloggers, as a rule of thumb, are quite individual and diverse in their use of style, presentation and technology. This is their strength in maintaining both their independence and in their means of communication to a diverse and open audience.
Bioarchaeology and human osteology are generally well represented within the ecology of archaeology blogging, offering as it does an often intimate portrait of the human being within archaeology itself. This, though, is a fairly recent trend, but it is certainly a trend on an upward surge at the moment. It can be pretty hard to get noticed if you are blogging about archaeology and a specialism within archaeology, therefore I would always suggest that you try to pin point a unique selling point if possible. Something slightly different that other bloggers have not tackled or have only briefly touched upon.
Bloggers are also essentially stand alone operations, where the blog is often tied to that one individual. Plenty of bloggers use their real names and include photographs of themselves, while some just use their blog name as their identity. For a long time I withheld my full name on the blog as I wanted it to truly stand alone, to be attached only to itself. Partly this was due to just outright curiosity as to how it would be received, if at all, and to the fact that I had some privacy concerns. Personal thoughts aside, there has been real strides with regards to the acceptance and value of blogging. But I don’t think funding bodies or academic institutions value the blog format enough as a form of education outreach, and I hope that this is something that changes in the future.
I’m currently re-reading The Rebel by the French philosopher Albert Camus, and in his 1951 essay Camus touches upon a point that I think is pertinent to blogging as a whole:
“In our daily trials, rebellion plays the same role as does the cogito in the category of thought: it is the first clue. But this clue lures the individual from his solitude. Rebellion is the common ground on which every man bases his first values. I rebel – therefore we exist.”
Blogging archaeology is a form of the individual freedom of expression, one that is not typically constricted or gagged by contract or institution. As such it is both an addition to the individual’s expression of educational outreach, but importantly it is also a subversion of the normal mode of delivery for such information and news. Perhaps especially so when blogging bioarchaeology as many of the most widely read bloggers are affiliated with academic institutions. Bloggers can talk to the audience directly – they bypass the formal apparatus normally associated with academia and often reach a far wider audience by doing so. It is mass communication, although it is purely up to the blogger themselves as to how they promote their blogs and interact with their audience.
It is also acknowledgement of the sharing of information of which only a few are privy, or have the access to. In this way it the rebellion of the individual. Jess Beck, over at Bone Broke, highlights the fact that blogging allows her to maintain her interest in bioarchaeology and provide content to others who are interested in osteology and palaeopathology. In a way blogging validates our passion and cements the feeling that we exist, our passion exist and the audience for the information exists. As such by blogging we are offering first hand accounts from specialists to an interested audience. Especially at a time when public outreach and engagement is a foundation that is fundamentally needed to provide the validation of the value and worth of our fields in the face of ongoing cuts and funding issues.
Bioarchaeology and human osteology blogs differ in their approach to topics, but all largely adhere in discussing the latest research published in pay-walled journals, often offering summaries or alternative sources to access the information. By the very vitality of the format, blogging can also challenge the very structure and foundation of formalised academic institutions. However, there must be careful considerations of how far we either stray or maintain the relationships between the two forms of information dispersal. As Doug himself notes it is the very freedom of blogging that makes it so special, that if it were mainstreamed to fit the academic mould then the magic from blogging would probably be gone. It is an analysis that I can definitely agree with, but I do also think that there is some wiggle room for communication between the two. Speaking of blogging generally, I do believe that there must be dialogue, there must be critical analysis, there must be a frankness and an openness in the way we (the bloggers) produce content. But this does not mean that we can not be funny or make jokes, as many bloggers do to great effect.
This also leads me onto my next brief point, the demography of bloggers themselves. In the online bioarchaeological world the bloggers themselves are largely western, English-speaking individuals that dominate the discussion and the main attention of the audience. In the future I’d like to see further diversity in the representation of bioarchaeology bloggers worldwide (1). Language is of course a problem – English is the lingua franca of the world, but there is immense scope for the views of the many bioarchaeologists and human osteologists worldwide. Blogging is, after all, largely a free format in which to produce content. Identity is also an important topic to discuss when considering the future of blogging as a majority of bioarchaeology bloggers tie the blog name and identity to their own name, twitter account and/or professional career. Whilst this is to be expected in a particularly competitive field, I am wary of doing this myself. This blog, after all, is just one facet of my personal being- it is not the whole.
Although I have raised the idea that blogging is rebellion, it is also trapped within a conditioning of legitimacy. Particularly in that of academic institution affiliation offered as a proxy for the legitimacy of the information presented and discussed. As far as I am aware I am one of the few bioarchaeological bloggers not currently a doctoral student, a researcher attached to or teaching at a university, or a commercial unit employee. I do, of course, have the academic background, experience and knowledge to understand the technical terminology within bioarchaeology, and I am actively applying for archaeological jobs and looking at further research.
But I think it may also actively discourage amateur archaeologists or interested members of the public from engaging with blogs or make them think twice on starting a blog themselves. So I think we have a slight disconnect here between what we think we represent, to what we are and to how others may perceive us. Market saturation and the dominance of fields are definitely things that should be considered and discussed when trying to understand blogging ecology. Diversity, for me, is the key to a healthy and developing blogosphere and I encourage debate and critical analysis.
Archaeology is a powerful tool in helping to understand both the human past and to engage critically with our own cultural perceptions (Joyce 2008, Pluciennik 2005). As such I will continue to blog about archaeology and bioarchaeology as they are subjects that are close to my heart both professionally and personally. Blogging can (and has) made a difference both inside and outside of academia and, as an active blogger, I would encourage others from around the world to start their own archaeology blogging journey to see where it takes you.
A Fond Farewell
And so it is with a heavy that I bid farewell to the blogging archaeology carnival as hosted by the fantastic digital curator Doug Rocks-Macqueen. I shall certainly miss the monthly chances to write an introspective post on blogging from the perspective of an archaeology blogger, but I shall miss more the opportunity afforded by the carnival to meet new archaeology bloggers online, to hear views and opinions I had not thought of or considered. This, for me, has been the true beauty of the blogging archaeology carnival and I for one hope it returns, in some form, in the near future. So thank you to all the bloggers who have taken part – it has been a joy to read your entries and to be able to focus some thoughts of my own in my entries.
The final review for the blogging archaeology carnival can be found here on Doug’s fantastic website, as can all the bloggers who have taken part in the last session of the carnival.
(1). Of course there may well be a wide range of foreign bioarchaeology blogs that I am simply unaware of and cannot read because of the language used. If you know any, please leave a comment below as I’d be interested to hear about them!
Camus, A. 2013. The Rebel. London: Penguin Modern Classics.
Joyce, R. A. 2008. Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives: Sex, Gender and Archaeology. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Pluciennik, M. 2005. Social Evolution, Duckworth Debates in Archaeology Series. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd.
White, T. D. & Folkens, P. A. 2005. The Human Bone Manual. London: Elsevier Academic Press.