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Blogging Archaeology – Unintended Consequences (A Coward Writes)

March 7, 2011

As a precursor to the Blogging Archaeology session at the SAA conference in Sacramento in May, Colleen at Middle Savagery has been hosting a blog carnival, posing questions for the archaeological blogging community to discuss. Last week she asked what the short form can do for archaeological writing, with wide ranging and interesting results. This week, after some gentle prompting, I decided to weigh in

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?

Some things cannot be shared, period. Brenna at Passim in Passing has already mentioned examples involving human remains and excavations in countries where dissemination of the results of archaeological work is tightly controlled by government. In my less sunny world of British contract archaeology, there are sites I’ve worked on that I wouldn’t dare blog about due to local ill-feeling about the proposed development. I may be an archaeologist who believes passionately in public access to heritage, but I’m also a paid professional representative of the developer and while fieldwork is ongoing, that has to win out. As a rule, I don’t blog about commercial fieldwork that’s underway unless there’s been an official press release, or until the report is lodged with the local Historic Environment Record (HER), at which point it is de facto in the public domain. I’m looking forward to sharing some pictures with you from last year though.

Another thing: as a blogger, you learn who Googles their own publications. This can be a good thing, as it has put me in contact with some important researchers, although it also has the effect that personal insecurities come into play when blogging, in my case with the effect that my output is very mild and non-combatative in tone (far more so than many of the opinions I share with colleagues at tea break). I’m at the very beginning my career, in a profession where employment is very precarious (in fact, I am about to become the only employed archaeologist of my archaeologist friends in Bristol). As much as the idea of being the enfant terrible of environmental archaeology has some appeal, I’m reasonably careful not to pick fights on this blog. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so timid. Blogging should be about free speech, shouldn’t it?  I’m interested to see what Colleen’s other respondents have to say.

As a final uninspiring thought, I know of a British archaeologist who was dismissed by her new employer, an archaeological unit she didn’t specifically name, for bringing them into disrepute by tweeting a complaint about their unacceptably low pay rate for graduate archaeologists.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2011 8:25 pm

    i hear that. I wonder if some of the north american participants in this carnival have less trouble, just because of slightly different attitudes towards data protection and heritage management? i figure if none of us dug, we would be free to say what the heck we liked within the bounds of ‘academic discourse’… but it’s a bit of a problem if blogging you get your site permit revoked or chucked out of a unit.

  2. March 10, 2011 6:30 pm

    Everything has consequences. I certainly don’t blog about certain things because it may have consequences on my career, or negatively impact the institutions I represent:


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