In anticipation of the Blogging Archaeology panel at the 2011 SAA meetings in Sacramento, the organizer (my best friend Colleen, also an amazing archaeology blogger and all around smartypants) has asked the participants (including myself) to participate in a blog carnival, wherein we answer a weekly question on our blogs. It might just be a way to goad slackers like myself into a weekly post, but I’m fortunate to be a part of this panel and up for the challenge.
This week’s question:
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?
I’m a little tempted to just link back to my abstract for the panel and leave it at that…but…I blog because my job as a CRM professional (aka non-academic archaeologist) is both interesting (usually) and misunderstood.
I interact broadly with the public, but under their radar, every time I do a job. My work exists because of federal, state, and local regulations, which reflect the public interest in identifying and protecting (as necessary) this nation’s cultural resources. Not only that, but part of my job is to help balance this public interest with other public interests, including cheap and/or greeen energy, new or better roads/bridges/waterlines/sewer lines, and places to shop, live, and play. Naturally, these interests can be contradictory, and the mediating function of my work should be understood by the public. Not to mention the fact that public funds often directly or indirectly fund my work.
Most of this work, while conducted right under your nose, is not seen by the public. This extends from something as mundane as the holes I dig (covered in such a way so they’re unnoticed), to the artifacts I find (either left in the field or stored at a curation facility, where they’re only available to researchers), to the reports generated (often only submitted to the client and the permitting agency, at best a couple of hundred copies are printed). I know that some of the large excavation reports we’ve done for TxDOT are required to have a number of copies available with the site location information redacted, for public distribution, but I couldn’t tell you what libraries have them or how to get one. By blogging about my work (and sharing photos through Flickr, along with Facebook updates and the occasional tweet) I can shed some light on the process and the results, hopefully so the public can understand what I do, why it’s done, and why it matters.
This doesn’t exactly answer the question, so let me try a simple, direct approach (which builds on the above discussion):
The place of blogging in the discourse between professionals and the public discourse is two-fold.
First, it is one of the best ways of direct engagement between professional archaeologists and the public, outside of face-to-face encounters (which usually are rushed because I’m on the clock and have a lot to do and am tired and sweaty and may not have anything cool to show you). Despite the obvious public interest aspects of professional archaeology, the amount of interaction and information is pretty sparse, one-sided, and tends only to happen at the end of a project (and only large projects at that).
Secondly, blogging helps demystify the work of archaeologists. Like most jobs, it’s often mundane, boring, and repetitive. Archaeology is more about hoping to find cool sites than it is about actually finding them; we deal a lot more with “negative data”, which as the saying goes “is still data” (and yes, I know “data” is plural) . CRM archaeology isn’t really like National Geographic or Discovery Channel digs, and while CRM finds do occasionally make the national media, those types of finds are extremely rare. But while our sites aren’t as stunning or rich as the huge civilizations spotlighted on television, the information we recover can be just as significant to archaeology and to local history. If the public can understand this, they can better appreciate why cultural resources management practices are important and necessary, and might also encourage stewardship.