28 March 2011

Blogging Archaeology, Week 4

For this final week of the Blogging Archaeology carnival (see previous weeks here, here, and here), Colleen at Middle Savagery has asked us to consider the curation of our web-based interactions over the past month:

For our last question, I would like to ask you to consider the act of publication for this blog carnival. How could we best capture the interplay, the multimedia experience of blogging as a more formalized publication? What would be the best outcome for this collection of insights from archaeological bloggers?

On the surface this may seem like a simple question. In actuality it really is not! The act of publication, as it is traditionalyl conceived, would go against the very virtues of blogging that many in this carnival have been rallying around: flexibility, informality, and dialog. And yet, I feel this experience has been a unique one that warrants some kind of formal and creative documentation.

There are, of course, the usual (?) digital archaeological data repositories like Digital Antiquity and Archaeological Data Service. However, to my knowledge, these repositories do not cater to the looser examples of "data sets" and records that short form/blogging and other aspects of the web, like social media, represent.

My colleagues Eric Kansa and Sarah W. Kansa over at Open Context have a different take on blogging (and social media in general) as part of the archaeological process. Both have written extensively on digital archaeological data repositories and their need to incorporate more from the Web, which by its very nature of interactivity is producing new dialogs and data on a daily basis. See, for example, user-generated zooarchaeological content on BoneCommons and further discussions of this topic in the forthcoming volume Archaeology 2.0: New Approaches to Communication and Collaboration (proceedings from the 2008 SAA annual meeting in Vancouver).

Overall I think Open Context might be a productive avenue to pursue for documenting the carnival as it focuses on pooling primary documentation of archaeological and related research-- information that rarely sees conventional publication. As stated on their website, "Open Context's technologies focus on ease of use, open licensing frameworks, informal data integration and, most importantly, data portability." In my opinion, this fits perfectly within our flexible, informal, but networked blog carnival.

A final note: Eric informed me recently (and I hope he will forgive me for sharing so publicly) that plans are in the works to have the California Digital Library archive data from aggregated RSS feeds from Open Context (and perhaps other sites in the future?). While this project is still in its infant stages, and therefore not useful for our immediate documentation needs, it is exciting to think that if this idea spreads beyond UC, perhaps one day your rambling posts could end up automatically archived on a progressive digital library system! In that case, better mind your typos...

22 March 2011

New exhibition in Kabul

Last week a new exhibition opened at the National Museum in Kabul, Afghanistan (see Voice of America article here). This marks the first major exhibition in a very long time at the museum and a turning point for the future of the institution. Plans for a new museum building are in the works, so stay tuned for more exciting things!

Check out this video from the exhibition opening (courtesy of VoA):

The exhibition is based on current excavations at Mes Aynak, an ancient Buddhist monastery site that sits atop one of the largest untapped copper ores in the world. French and Afghan archaeologists are racing against time, however, as they only have around 3 years to complete the project before a Chinese company opens a mine at Mes Aynak. A controversial project to be sure, and for many reasons: a) the site is huge and will take much longer than a few years to excavate, but b) the Afghan economy is struggling so profits from the mine are much needed, BUT c) memories of the Bamyan Buddhas, destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, are still fresh and people are afraid history will repeat itself at Mes Aynak.

It is a classic case of heritage vs. modern development. A similar story is echoed in various dam projects around the world like in China, where the building of the Three Gorges Dam flooded thousands of archaeological sites. Similar damming projects in Turkey have realized similar results: flooding of archaeological sites and the displacement of thousands of people, many of them from their ancestral homes. Do we have to have development at the expense of cultural heritage? Is improvement of human lives (say from increased energy and jobs like with the dams) more important than the preservation of history?

19 March 2011

Blogging Archaeology, Week 3

I am very honored to be the catalyst for this week's Blogging Archaeology question from Colleen over at Middle Savagery. Last week I ended my post with a quandary: if an archaeology blogger writes and no one reacts, are we really changing opinions or moving the field forward? To this Colleen has added more: how do you attract readership? Without too much in the way of SEO chatter, who is your audience and how to you interact with this audience? What do you want out of interactivity by means of blogging about archaeology?

Until most recently (i.e., this blogging "carnival") the primary audience for my blog has been my many friends and family who are not archaeologists and who might only vaguely have an idea of what it is I do for a living. That has always been my motivation to start Dig Girl and it is why I continue. I like to think it offers to that very small audience a window into some of what is happening in the world of archaeology in the Middle East and some of the issues and arguments that archaeologists who work in that part of the world are actively engaged in.

Of course this information is offered with a healthy dose of my opinion, so it is certainly not the most balanced report of archaeological news. However, I think my "pre-digestion" of the plethora of news stories helps my audience better understand what the importance and impact of archaeology and cultural heritage issues have on social, political and economic issues of the world at large. This also makes my job harder (and likely affects the frequency with which I post) because instead of simply copying and pasting an article from the New York Times, I am reading, summarizing, and analyzing to offer my readership that "to the point" kind of post. In this way, for me at least, blogging has thus far been an outreach mechanism for a lay audience. I have not been blogging for any field or laboratory project as of yet, but given the opportunity I certainly would/will.

In the early years of Dig Girl, readership was gathered through word of mouth mostly. I think I had a link on my email signature back then too, but honestly, garnering interest has not been a priority. With the development of MySpace and more recently Facebook, adding a link in my profile was the easiest way to let my friends know about the site. Now, with my semi-savvy FB skillz, whenever I post a new entry, a link is automatically generated on my profile, alerting friends and family. A downside to this type of notification is that my friends often comment on the FB link instead of the blog post itself. But I suppose if people are talking, through whatever medium, I'm happy!

On my professional websites and social networking tools, I have never shared a link to this site, primarily because I have wanted to keep Dig Girl as a place for friends. In fact, my real name has actually never been used in association with Dig Girl until MS, but I don't want Colleen to feel bad about that. Maybe the anonymity wasn't to keep the site personal after all, but instead to protect my opinions from prying professional eyes, notably, eyes that might be looking at me across a conference table at a job interview in the future. But really that caution is unfounded. I certainly do not sling any mud about people and most organizations on this site, and my opinions I stand by and would openly share them in the same manner if someone, from within my field or not, were to ask about them. Still, I like separating my tongue-in-cheek commentary from more professional diatribes.

With my blogging for Dig Girl being an expressly outreach activity, it is hard to say what I want out of interactivity. I would certainly like more comments and dialog from my readers, but I think perhaps the subjects upon which I write are too narrow or technical for a lay audience to feel comfortable reacting to (?). This thought might ring true. My "top" posts that have received the most comments are for stories about Noah's Ark, the archaeology profession in World of Warcraft, and privacy issues for mummies. The fact that these types of stories (i.e., biblical stories, video games, mummies) are familiar, and therefore comfortable, for a broad audience make it a little surprise that people have jumped in with their opinions.

On the other hand, blog entries about very specific topics have sometimes resulted in dialog. For example, a post about the on-going legal battle over the Persepolis Archive garnered extensive comments from a close friend who is a lawyer. Still another entry about the misuses of archaeology initiated a dialog with a new commenter who I had never met (in the real or digital world) and resulted in a fruitful discussion about (not surprisingly) the role of public outreach in not only educating the public about archaeology, but also combating the dirge of pseudo-archaeology alive and well in today's mass media of cable television and popular books.

12 March 2011

Blogging Archaeology, Week 2

Last week, my colleague Colleen over at Middle Savagery started a blogging carnival of sorts to complement her SAA workshop on the role of short form writing (i.e., blogging) in archaeology. There was a wealth of pointed and insightful discussion that followed; an exciting indication that the role of blogging in archaeological discourse is one of interest to practitioners, both those who agree it is a useful medium for communication and those who see blogging as too informal to make any real impact. I am part of the former group and you can read my earlier comments here. Now, on to Week 2 of...

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?

One of the risks is something I mentioned last week: transparency. Not every archaeologist is ready to share with the world their thought processes and decisions that were made in the course of an excavation. Many, I imagine, are scared to be "called out" on poor research plans or methodologies. This nervousness I can understand, but the withholding of procedures by those who are adamant about calling archaeology a scientific discipline is odd at best. Our work needs to be reflexive, and it needs to be acceptable within the field to point out the shortcomings in our approaches. In my dissertation, I was my own devil's advocate in this respect, laying out all the possible interpretations of my data (and how that data was collected) to finally arrive at what I thought was the most logical interpretation.

Another aspect of short form that may appear to be a downside or consequence is the ease with which blogging allows us to share our comments and interpretations. Like other academic fields, in archaeology the feeling is "once it is printed, my opinions are out there" and there is no going back. The quickness with which we can create a new post and publish instantly (along with all our typos) likely gives all of us pause. I don't think, however, this stigma of traditional publication applies to short form. Blogs, for the most part, are not treated as gospel, but more often acknowledged as opinion spaces--an outlet for thoughts processes and emotional reactions to everything from the latest movie to the political instability in Libya. I realize this opinion goes against what many participants in this "virtual workshop" are likely arguing: the formalization of short form writing as a serious academic outlet. However, I view it more as a tool and less as an end product.

A final downside to short form is the appearance of dialog. Noting this virtual round table and other blogs (like Middle Savagery) as exceptions, most archaeological blogs that I read have very little in the way of dialog through comments. Often on this blog, I feel like I am talking to myself, which in a way is catharsis, but if an archaeology blogger writes and no one reacts, are we really changing opinions or moving the field forward?

Part of this shortcoming is hardwired into the form of blogs themselves: single author, single opinion. Commenting can also be a drag sometimes, with some blogs requiring comment moderation (i.e., your comment is not posted until it is approved) and jumping through several hoops to be notified about additional comments after yours (I'm looking at you, Word Press). Beyond blogs and even forums, which can be equally clunky, is there a better way that short form writing about archaeological subjects can stimulate true dialog and commentary?

01 March 2011

Blogging Archaeology

Fellow Cal Bear and archaeologist Middle Savagery is leading a round table on "Blogging Archaeology" at the upcoming Society for American Archaeology annual conference in Sacramento, CA. For those of us not able to attend, she has kindly offered to bring her fellow archaeo-bloggers into the discussion by posing questions on her blog every week for the next month and asking people to respond.

It has been difficult for me to blog as of late due to my now steady employment (hurray!) and other projects. However, this challenge sounded fun and a great way for my friends and family (loyal followers of this blog!) to hear other points of view about archaeological matters besides my ramblings. So without further adieu, I present Middle Savagery's...

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 have often reminisced about the early days of archaeology in the Middle East, when such mass-market books like Nineveh and Its Remains by Austen Henry Layard, Ur of the Chaldees by Sir Leonard Woolley, and Troy and Its Remains by Heinrich Schliemann enabled the burgeoning field to reach a wide audience. These condensed works, apart from fueling the mystique of archaeological fieldwork, provided a window into the excavator's thoughts and initial interpretations about the ancient sites and civilizations he was uncovering.

In many ways, I see short-form writing as a resurgence of this type of publishing, one that simultaneously promotes public outreach and transparency in the archaeological process. Short-form or blogging also creates the opportunity for actual dialog with an interested lay audience via comments and virtual discussion groups, providing a distinct advantage to one-sided archaeo-novellas of 100 years ago.

Unfortunately I think we have a long way to go before blogging, in its own right, is accepted as a viable and professional form of knowledge transmission. In the meantime, short form entries on, say, an archaeological project website (like here, here, and here) stand as a dynamic record of the thoughts, concerns, and decisions that chart the course of any given field season (and thus affect the outcome of our data!). Think of it as a digital trench notebook that the whole world can read. The question then remains: is the archaeological field ready for this level of transparency?
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