As mentioned before, I’m participating in a blogging carnival in anticipation of the Blogging Archaeology panel at this year’s SAA annual meeting. My dear friend and colleague Colleen is organizing the panel and this blog carnival, partly to help slackers like me have much of their presentation prepared well ahead of time. My Week 1 response is here, and Colleen’s summary of the various replies (with links to each) is here. Here’s the Week 2 question:
In our last question, many emphasized the public access that blogging brings to archaeology, the option to “phone a friend,” as Kristin Sewell stated. Blogging gives new scholars a chance to speak out, to debunk 2012 foolishness and to give a little bit back to the public that usually signs our paychecks in one way or another. Though it is generally embraced (says she of the Berkeley bubble!), public outreach can be incredibly difficult, tricky, and prone to hidden downsides. Blogging archaeology is often fraught with tensions that are sometimes not immediately apparent. Beyond the general problems that come with performing as a public intellectual, what risks do archaeologists take when they make themselves available to the public via blogging? What (if any) are the unexpected consequences of blogging? How do you choose what to share?
In terms of things that I would define as actual “risks” that I could take while blogging, the clearest one is that I risk having the food taken out of my mouth. My blog is a personal blog, about my experiences as an archaeologist, and I hope I’ve made it clear that these are my opinions only. My experiences are under the auspices of my employer, but I do not represent them in any official capacity, nor are my blog posts intended to represent the views or opinions of my company (SWCA, if I haven’t said that before). At the same time (and one only has to look at recent events) I can say a million times that this is only my opinion, but if I piss off the wrong person, I could easily get fired. As such, I try to be vague about clients and project details. Honestly, a lot of the dead times between posts is because I don’t have anything nice to say and don’t want to possibly get in trouble. I also try not to bitch about my co-workers or superiors (which I honestly wouldn’t do 90% of the time anyway) and definitely don’t name names. I realized this was a potential issue when I started linking my blog to Facebook, where a number of co-workers were friends. I’ve since deleted almost all my co-workers for unrelated reasons, but I recognize that I can’t choose which public reads this.
Since the 2012 foolishness was mentioned, another consequence of archaeological blogging is encountering “fringe” opinions and unethical behavior. This, by the way, is not limited to blogging, but happens regularly anytime you deal with the public in the field (or in a bar). My readership is small and limited mainly to friends, friends of friends, and a few fellow archaeologists, so fortunately I don’t encounter this much here. But a look at some of the comments on the Ceibal project blog on the New York Times webpage (click here for an example) will give a glimpse. Between the mainstream fringe garbage that litters the archaeology section of most bookstores, the dreck on the Discovery and “History” Channels, and misinformation from tour guides and museums…well, it clearly gets me agitated blogging about it. It’s hard to contour the misinformation, and the temptation to mock and scorn rather than respectfully answer the question is great. But by ignoring it (as the Times’ archaeologists have) gives it a sort of credence as well.
Something that happens more often for me, both in the field and in my use of the Internet for engaging the public, is dealing with collectors/relic hunters/looters. It’s against the law for me to disclose the location of an archaeological site in Texas, but when discussing nice sites on here and try to put as little locational information as possible. You never know when a collector/looter is reading or Googling. Likewise, I remove any sensitive geotags from Flickr. Flickr is where I have actually encountered a collector, who commented on some of my artifact photos in relation to his own collection. Of course, I could not encourage the collecting of artifacts, regardless of the legalities, but I also felt like I couldn’t just be out and out rude. Part of engaging in public archaeology is to view such things as educational opportunities, and a chance to create a steward. So in my posts, I try not to scorn those folks who come up to me and want to talk about and/or show off their collections. In fact, I try to engage those folks and landowners in general to tip me off to site locations (or tell me that sites aren’t there anymore), making my job easier!
Well, that was long…no wonder Colleen had to remind me that the presentation is only 5-10 minutes long 🙂