Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Doug's Archaeology Blogging Carnival: March Question

As regular readers should be aware, last November I was invited by Doug, of the Doug's Archaeology: Investigating the Profession and Research blog, to take part in a blogging carnival that he had launched to celebrate the build up to the Society for American Archaeology's (SAA) annual conference, at which a session on blogging and archaeology shall be held. Now, I am in no position to travel all the way to Austin, Texas, where the conference will take place from 23 to 27 April, but I was happy to make a modest contribution to the wider discussion by taking part in the carnival. As a result, each month I have answered a question posed by Doug which examine a variety of issues pertaining to the relationship between blogging and archaeology. Although I missed last month's question (in truth, I couldn't actually find the question on Doug's blog), I hope to make up for it by taking part this month, which Doug has declared to be the final planned installment in the series.

As his March question, Doug asks "
Where are you/we going with blogging, or would you like to go ?" That's an interesting question, and one which gives quite a bit of leeway for me to answer. With regard to my hopes and plans for my own blog, Albion Calling, I feel that it will be able to keep on going for a good few years yet. My interview series with academics and independent scholars whose research interests me (whether they be archaeologists, historians, folklorists, or anything else) has been really successful and has generated a lot of interest, so I fully intend to keep on going with that. Perhaps in future, I shall embark on a far more time consuming academic career, and that will limit the amount of time that I am able to spend on Albion Calling and its interview series, but even then, I hope that I will be able to post on the site every now and again. I really believe that public outreach must constantly remain a core element of academic research and scholarship, and it is my sincerest hope that this blog plays its own small role in that process.

My Fears:

With regard to the far wider world of archaeological blogging, my fear is that we will ultimately end up with a problem of oversaturation. In wealthier developed countries, almost anyone has the ability to create and run a blog, and while this does have the benefits of democratisation and multivocality, it can also mean that an awful lot of poor quality nonsense can get posted.
When swamped with quantity, sometimes it can be difficult to determine what is of the best quality, particularly if you are new to the discipline in question. I have begun to see this with archaeological blogs already; there are some brilliant, informative, and above all important specialist blogs out there (Doug's Archaeology among them), but I am also aware of some truly terrible stuff that sadly is of no interest to anyone but the original poster, or which just spreads misinformation and deceives its readers into believing all manner of nonsense. Although not directly comparable, I would highlight the situation which we have at present with YouTube; sure, there some hilarious gems on there that have provided enjoyment for millions worldwide, but at the same time there's a far greater number of pointless uploads in which tone-deaf teens sing the latest pop hits into their bedroom webcams, thereby exposing themselves to nothing but the cruel taunts of spiteful basement dwellers (if you don't know what I'm referring to, you only need to look through the spewing hatred and ill-will to be found throughout the YouTube comments section).

Perhaps I am being too harsh, and too alarmist. After all, surely those blogs that are of utility and importance will stand out from the crowd and will attract the wider readership that they deserve ? Well, I hope so. But I fear that quantity does have the potential to eclipse quality. I wonder if at some point in future we in the archaeological world will find it useful to create some form of accreditation, perhaps a gold star system to mark out blogs that are really good and which are recommended by other academics and professionals active in the field. After all, we have systems of accreditation and peer review throughout so much of our field, so why not blogging too ?

My Hopes:

There are of course some other areas where I would like to see archaeological blogging expand into. Due to the very nature of blogging, it has the capacity to reach non-academics and non-specialists in a way that peer-reviewed papers, academic monographs, and scholarly conferences simply cannot. It is thus a great tool for public outreach, particularly as it gives us a level of control over our words and the way that we present our data (which TV documenteries and newspapers very rarely do). At the same time, I believe (or at least, hope) that it has great potential for bridging inter-disciplinary barriers. A historian might not have time to keep an eye on the developments appearing in an archaeological peer-reviewed journal, but they may well have time to check updates on an archaeological blog.  Thus we can use blogging to bring academics from different disciplines and different fields together. And finally, I mentioned multivocality before but I will do so again. Blogging does allow for different voices (and in particular, marginalised voices) to be heard, something that is of particular value when traditional outlets of academic publishing have had a tendency to ignore many of them. It is my opinion that this is usually a good thing.

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