May 1, 2012 § Leave a Comment
It was about 5 years ago that I started this very blog to “keep our friends, families, donors, and colleagues up to date on our work both in the field and back in the office.” Here’s a link to that first post tucked away deep in the bowels of the Archive for the Archaeology of the Mediterranean World. Our hope was that we could provide a window into the daily work, social relationships, and experiences of archaeological work to provide a context for the sometimes de-humanized empirical data produced from our time in the field.
Since that time, most archaeological projects have developed some social or new media aspect to their work (or have chosen not to for reasons grounded in the discourse of social and new media rather than just naiveté or petty resistance). With near ubiquitous mobile phone coverage it is now possible to use microblogging platforms like Twitter from almost every corner of the world. Twitter and its rather more reckless cousin Facebook have provided important places for the circulation of up-to-the-minute updates on projects and for the development of community among the researchers, volunteers, staff, supporters, and interested observers around the world. Projects have worked to produce guidelines to help folks new to blogging and social media negotiate the world of archaeological blogging. Conferences and conference panels, both virtual and real, have occurred discussing the virtues and potential pitfalls of blogging and archaeology. In general, projects have found new ways to use the internet to engage a longstanding fascination with archaeological work among a wide range of people and to feed the almost insatiable hunger among professional archaeologists for news from the trowels edge.
Our field staff and volunteers have become more tech savvy. For example, this year, our three trench supervisors – Brandon Olson, Dallas Deforest, and Aaron Barth – all have blogs. My two co-directors, David Pettegrew and Scott Moore, are experienced bloggers as well. I expect that we’ll continue to provide a platform for our students to blog on their experiences. This may be rather more foreign to them, but our Twitter hashtag for the season (#PKAP12) and our volunteers’ Facebook or Twitter accounts will provide them with their own communities and audiences for their reflections on their work. We (well, Scott Moore has) a YouTube channel.
This summer, we’ll extend our social and new media reach into the field. Messiah College – one of our three co-sponsoring institutions – will provide the project with iPads for the students to use in the field, the museum, and the hotel. They should be able to publish photographs, video, and reflections directly from the field. Prof. Sam Fee from Washington and Jefferson College, has developed an application for us that we will test this summer to collect data from our trenches. We are very close to being able to publish our raw archaeological data from the side of our trenches in realtime. In an era where “transparency” is becoming a watchword for academic, political, and institutional integrity, we are very close to achieving complete transparency in archaeological data collection and analysis. Every step of the process could be made visible to an outside observer.
There are reasons, of course, to limit some of our transparency and these have little to do with issues of integrity and much more to do with issues of security around a site that has already suffered significant degradation at the hands of looters. Moreover, we have done little to provide tools for a wider audience to interrogate raw archaeological data “from the trowel’s edge”. The data rich immediacy of the trowel’s edge perspective rarely serves even an experience archaeologist as any more than a starting point for their own understanding of a trench. It is only in aggregation and comparison of stratigraphy, features, objects, and relationships that real archaeological knowledge emerges.
So over five years, we’ve moved from the rush of providing a window into life and work of an archaeological project to the prospects of almost immediate data transparency.
April 18, 2012 § Leave a Comment
When I started this blog several years ago, I regularly included more news-like updates about my day to day academic life (whether here in North Dakotaland or in Athens, Greece). At some point, the blog drifted more toward being a research journal. In the end, I don’t have a tremens personal or ideological commitment to one form of blogging or the others.
So, I’ll offer some photographs from last Tuesday’s Working Group in Digital and New Media event at the Firehall Theatre in Grand Forks. The presentations were lively and the food was amazing (and generously provided by the Cyprus Research Fund).
The photos are by Ryan Stander.
The assembled masses
Prof. Crystal Alberts served as an able M.C.
One of Prof. Paul Worley’s characters from the Yucatan where he works with Prof. Joel Jonientz to produce Maya language animated films.
Prof. Travis Dessel, the newest Working Group member, discusses the use of volunteer computing to document Wildlife@home.
Graduate Student Jim Champion presents his marvelous melting sculptures
Prof. Tim Pasch and Prof. Mike Wittgraf make digital music together
The event saw over 50 people come out to see the fantastic digital and new media works of my colleagues, and we considered that a great crowd for the first effort to showcase the efforts of the Working Group in front of the wider university and local community.
March 26, 2012 § Leave a Comment
It feels like I haven’t done a metadata Monday for a while, so maybe, a slow early spring Monday is a perfect time to rectify this oversight.Since I last metadata-ed, I’ve made 123 posts for a total of 323 and have moved from right around 56 page views per day to just over 70. There has been a steady climb in page views as the quantity of content grows and my blog has become more visible and as new readers discover the brilliance (cough, cough) of my musings.
One of the cooler new features offered by the service that hosts this blog (wordpress.com) tracks the location of various readers. They’ve been tracking my readers for about a month now, so I have at useful little dataset.
Only 48.6% of my visits come from the United States. The rest comp from a mix of other places. The UK ranks second (8.8%), followed by Greece (8.6%), Canada (3.6%), and, oddly enough, the Philippines (3.3%). Australia ranks sixth (3.2%), with Italy (2.7%), France (2%), Turkey (1.9%), and Spain (1.5%) filling out the top ten. The vast majority of the countries (99%) on the list have more than page view. It’s interesting that I don’t receive any views from China or Iran. These were countries from which I consistently received views in the past (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and, of course, here (which doesn’t actually have metadata but was delicious!)). I wonder if my blog is blocked now?
UPDATE: I just heard through a friend of a friend that wordpress.com is blocked in China which accounts for the lack of page views from there.
Over the same 30 day span, my internet community looks a bit different. The vast majority of page views (72.5%) come from search engines. My old blog, which I leave up as a cleverly set trap for crawling searchers pushes 6.6% of my page views in my general direction. Kostis Kourelis blog send 2.6% my way (although the author has admitted that many of those might be his views; they still count!). Research News in Late Antiquity, Surprised by Time, Corinthian Matters, Paperless Archaeology, all send right around 1%. I still haven’t quite figured out the extent to which I should use Twitter and Facebook, but the two combined for about 1.6% of my views.
So, if you’re an regular reader, I apologize for turning you into a number, and I appreciate you taking time to view my little pseudo-literary adventure here! Keep coming back!
January 18, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I feel like I probably should do something to recognize the potential damage that the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) could have on the free circulation of information and knowledge via scholarly blogging. A few months ago when the threat seemed a bit more distant, Eric Kansa offered some observations on the legislation. Here’s Google’s take on it. Here’s a more generic take by CBS News. Here’s Gizmodo’s take (and a silly song).
The biggest concern with an act like SOPA isn’t that bloggers will start being dragged from their laptops and thrown into rat-infested jails, but that the infrastructure (companies like WordPress.com or even universities or companies that provide server space) that supports blogging (for scholarly and, indeed, other untoward purposes) could suddenly become liable for copyright infringements by their users. While I’m in a business that relies, to a large extent, on a profession and largely unpoliced respect for copyright, I also depend regularly on the free circulation of information through the good graces of numerous highly risk-adverse institutions. As Eric has pointed out, universities and libraries seek to implement policies that minimize risk particularly in these difficult financial times. The harsh penalties and expansive view of liability proposed by SOPA would have real implications for those of us seeking to discuss, circulate, and archive copyright information on the web as universities and libraries work to limit their exposure to the vague rules and harsh penalties.
While it is unclear how significant the support for this legislation is, several sites on the web are taking it seriously enough to stage a protest. The open web has made my life better. I am not particularly afraid of SOPA passing, but I do think that bloggers should join the chorus of voices who support the open web against organizations and corporations who seek to curtail the free circulation of information to protect the interests of a small group of content producers. In fact, as most scholars’ livelihood depends upon respect for intellectual property, it is particularly important for the academic community to speak out when possible to show that rigorous protection of intellectual property and the free circulation of information are not mutually exclusive propositions.
January 17, 2012 § Leave a Comment
A few people privately and publicly have asked that I post the program for the Conversations on Byzantine Archaeology meeting this past weekend. I hadn’t realized that the program was not public, but it obviously should have been.
Hopefully, the comment threads in blogs like this can continue the conversation beyond the meeting. In particular, I suspect that conversations like the one held this past weekend should resolve rather quickly into action. The last conversation, for example, inspired me and Kostis Kourelis to begin work on an edited volume that focused on the intersection of Byzantine archaeology, method, and theory.
This year’s conversation focused less (it would seem) on the work of Byzantine archaeology and more on the location of Byzantine archaeology at the margins of complex institutional concerns. It perhaps should follow that some kind of action focusing on the marginal and scattered positions of Byzantine archaeology should result. In short, how do we maximize the benefits of standing outside of so many institutional structures.
The risks of our position are obvious: I know that I am often comfortable sitting back and waiting for institutions to show value and support for my work. This kind of apathy or more positively (as Nikos put it in a comment on yesterday’s post) our “deliberate stance” outside disciplinary structures, could lead our field to wither as tenuous, largely personal networks of scholarly contact succumb to institutional pressures and our dispersed positions rob us of the ability for concerted actions. On the other hand, digital media and the internet provide a space for conversation and action outside of traditional institutional structures. It might make sense for the next conversation on Byzantine archaeology to happen in a series of blog posts or via social media. A recent conversation on blogging archaeology moved almost seamlessly from a panel at the Society for American Archaeology to myriad blogs across the interwebs, to Colleen Morgan’s blog Middle Savagery (here are my concluding remarks with links to Colleen’s summaries) and is heading to publication.
I was happy to learn that some of my colleagues – many of whom I had never met – read this blog, so I am pleased enough to offer a little space for informal organization and conversation. As most people know, the internet has come increasingly to provide a place for conversations that skirt institutional authority.
So, I am willing to offer my blog as a place for people to post their reflections on the place of Byzantine archaeology in the academy (if you do not have a blog of your own!). If the statements are substantial enough, we could look for someplace to submit them for publication or at least self-publish them as a small volume.
Oh, here’s the program.
January 9, 2012 § 3 Comments
This pas week there was an interesting article on academic blogging by Andrea Doucet in the emChronicle of Higher Education. Doucet is a “midcareer” scholar, securely tenured, at a research school who decided to take up blogging. The article reflects on her decision to begin blogging and touched on many of the common reasons for wanting to try a new medium. She wanted to expose a wider audience to her work, cultivate the reader-writer audience, and get works into the public eye in a more efficient and timely way than allowed by the traditional peer review process. These are all noble goals and are probably common to most academic bloggers right now.
Where her article becomes interesting, however, is in her experiences blogging.
First, she made the somewhat unusual decision to limit the length of her blogs to 1000 words. While I have to admit, a 1000 word blog post does hit a kind of sweet spot in terms of web writing (tucking in right beneath the floating “tl;dr” barrier), it is not at all cast in stone. Numerous, famous bloggers write much shorter posts or much longer posts depending on their intended audience and personal style. In fact, there is an entire culture that has grown up around long form writing on the web. Moreover, scholars frequently write at varying lengths. A conference paper might not exceed 2500 words, a book review 1500, an article 10,000 and a book 120,000 words. Older forms of scholarly writing, like notes, correspondences, and comments, could be less 1000 words in length, yet still contribute to ongoing scholarly discussions. Ironically, these shorter forms of writing have declined at just the time when technologies have made it issues to overcome issues of efficiency and timeliness.
Next, she notes that bloggers are like hares, whereas scholars “are like tortoises” who “plod along” through their in-depth research. She goes on to describe her own struggles to write posts quickly. Moreover, she noted that her greatest challenge was to make sure that her work remained high quality and complex while still being clear and concise. I certainly sympathize with her struggle, but I wonder if the distinction between the pace of academic writing and the pace of blogging obscures the real advantages of academic writing in a blog format. Most academic bloggers combine timely commentary with their own, usually pre-existing research. In other words, blogs provide opportunities share the research produced in a plodding, thoughtful way, but, at least from my experience, rarely lead scholars to do new research. What makes academic blogs valuable is that our perspectives are grounded in the tortoise-like research. Blogging, on again, fits into well-established academic traditions such as academic conversations, comments on papers at academic conferences or panels, quick reads by colleagues, and peer reviews. This kind of writing and speaking tends to be shorter in length and less complex than an original article or book destined for peer reviewed work, require a kind of timeliness, and draw upon research expertise acquired from years of plodding.
Doucet’s commitment to blogging as a medium that requires simplified argument and writing perhaps derives from her expectations that blogs “implore people to read quickly, to “Like,” to share, to comment.” going so far to ponders whether it is “possible that the move from scholarly writing to blogging constitutes a fundamental ontological shift in who we are as writers and readers?”
At this point, I must admit that I’m at a loss. I am not sure how a blog as a medium implores the reader to read quickly any more than a book or article demands careful attention. No scholar would deny that it is possible and often preferable to read articles and books quickly looking for particular ideas or arguments. At the same time, there are blog posts that I read slowly, think about for weeks, and return to for inspiration. That being said, it is probably safe to say that blogs are read more quickly, but if authors’ write quickly and simply, what is the motivation for me the reader to lavish more attention on the work?
Interesting, even if we accept that blog posts reward quick reading, Doucet goes to suggest that the experience of blogging and reading blogs seems encourage a dangerous and distracting kind of immersion in the network of links connecting one posts, commentary, and idea, with one another. ”When I blog, I find myself getting caught up in that web of “likes” and “tweets.” On the one hand, it can feel like an exhilarating roller-coaster ride; on the other hand, it strikes me as completely and uncomfortably at odds with how my work is usually received and appreciated.”
This, again, strikes me as strange. After all, when I read an article, I often pay as much attention to footnotes and citations as the article’s text. I frequently loose myself in the web of associations especially when fortified by a good library where it’s easy to have access to a range of periodicals and books. And, while I am not a huge proponent of measuring “scholarly impact, based on citation counts, it is always gratifying to see an article cited by another scholar whose work I respect.
Despite the opportunity for immersion, Doucet ultimately concludes that “blogging is fast and thin; the process of academic writing is slow and deep.” This is disappointing conclusion. I have always supposed that blogging is what we as scholars make it. If we see it as a place to write quick, easy to digest notes, then I suppose the best we can hope for it providing our readers with a quick, cheap intellectual high. The best we can hope for is that blogging will be an academic gateway drug leading someone’s interest toward the harder more life consuming and habit forming drug of full on academic culture.
On the other hand, I’m not sure there is anything intrinsic to blogging that insists that it limit its influence and power to being a quick, superficial high. In fact, it seems like most of the criticisms Doucet offered were grounded in her approach and expectations of blogging rather than a technical limitation to the medium or the limits imposed by a strictly enforced generic standards (e.g. like academics tend to enforce on an academic book reviews or certain kinds of conference papers)./p pIn the end, Doucet’s reflections made me sad. I suspect her work reflects the narrowing of the horizons of what blogging could be; expectations are becoming ossified. As any number of writers have suggested, the golden age of academic blogging may be behind us, perhaps ushered out by honest reflections like Doucet’s.
December 27, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Three things have happened over the last few days that led me to take a short hiatus from my blog.
First, I woke up Christmas morning and began to think about what I wanted to blog about on Boxing Day. This seemed a bit messed up to me. I didn’t think of baby Jesus, the Christmas tree, warm Christmas breakfast by the fire, friends, family, or anything else; I thought about my dumb blog.
The great things about blogs is that they force you to write every day or every week or whatever. They’re hungry little buggers that need to be constantly fed. The medium creates an expectation that the author ABC (borrowed from Michael Bérubé via Glengarry Glen Ross): Alway be composing. This is really quite a grind.
Next, I realized that I didn’t really have anything pressing to blog about. I’m an ancient historian and archaeologist, for heaven’s sake. If what I need to say hasn’t been said for 1500 years, then any sense of urgency is false.
Finally, I cut my finger the other night while doing dishes. I dropped a coffee mug and instinctive grabbed for it just as it was shattering. The cold white ceramic cut the tip of my warm, fleshy, finger instantly. As a four-fingered touch typer, my right middle finger is a vital contributor to my workflow. Without this finger, _ am hav_ng tr__ble wr_t_ng w_rds w_th the letters i, o, u, or p, and can barely operate my MacBook Pro’s touch pad.
I’ll be back after the holidays are over!
And if you’re really missing my Mediterranean musings, go and check out the second volume of my blog’s archive.
December 19, 2011 § Leave a Comment
With the holiday upon us, I am sure many of my readers are frantically looking for that perfect gift to give to their Mediterranean archaeology lover that has everything.
Well, I have JUST THE GIFT for you. Behold Volume 2 of the (New) Archaeology of the Mediterranean World Archive. This wondrous archive compiles the texts from all the blog posts composed over the past 365 days. This means over 400 pages, spanning 250 blog posts and120,000 words of New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World goodness. Unlike the Volume 1 of the Archive, Volume 2 features a table of contents of the most popular posts (those posts with more than 20 individual page views). The table of contents provides you with the number of page views per day and the date of original publication. All told the blog received over 23,000 page view.
The only drawback of the amazing Archive Volume 2 is that it lacks images and still contains some residual markup. I left some of the markup in for aesthetic reasons. I thought it was good to include some markup as a way to remind the reader that this transmedia object was originally produced for the web. As a paper object it’ll lack hyperlinks, easily displayed web images, video, audio and other features that we have come to expect of the internet.
But, unlike a web based object, the Archive Volume 2 can be easily bound (I’d suggest Rich Corinthian Leather), features luxuriously simple Bergamo Std font (the cover is in fantastic Futura). Page view statistics are at your fingertips and each post has a link to the web location of the original post.
And the best thing about this? It’s FREE!!!
October 11, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I want to send a special congratulations to David Pettegrew on the one year anniversary of his blog Corinthian Matters. David’s blog regular features interesting and timely pieces, good documentary photography, and, often, original translations of works important (or overlooked) in the study of the Early Christian and Late Antique Corinthia.
In his most recent post, he looks ahead to the next phase of life for his blog. He has not only invited scholars interested in the Corinthia to contribute to his blogging efforts, but also articulated a set of objectives for his effort. These objectives seek to promote the study of Corinth and the dissemination of Corinth related scholarship. This is a perfect example of the utility that an academic blog can provide for the scholarly and “lay” community.
On of the most inspiring thing about David’s blogging effort is its explicitly external focus. In other words, his blog is not a reflection of his own scholarly interests (per se), but meant to be a contribution to the scholarly, educational, and even religious or spiritual interests of others. This puts this blog is rather stark contrast to many web based initiatives which tend to focus on the idiosyncratic interests of the authors and are grounded in the assumption that these interests will coincide with a group of readers among the almost infinite audiences available on the web. David’s blog seems far more intent on tapping into and contributing to an existing conversation that extends far beyond the hyper-fragmented audiences of the internet. The range of popular and scholarly audiences interested in the Corinthia makes it an ideal match for a thoughtful blog.
The decision to focus his blog on a specific external audience, of course, has made it possible for David to open the doors to external contributors. I’ve been invited to add content from time to time – in fact, as I write this I’m cross-posting my blog post from yesterday to Corinthian Matters and I’ll probably make it a point to cross-post any Corinthian related content to David’s blog. If other bloggers take advantage of David’s interest in collaborating, Corinthian Matters has a chance to succeed where other group focusing on various aspects of the ancient world blog have fallen short. In fact, David’s blog hints at the increasingly blurry line between a self-published blog and a collectively published magazine or journal. The potential is there.
My blog, in contrast, remains a far more selfish endeavor. In fact, part of my blog’s purpose is to attempt to find the links between my various, disparate research interests. If my blog ever does succeed in finding these links, the interest to anyone other than the author will likely be voyeuristic rather than scholarly. In this way, my blog follows on a long tradition of early blogs (think: Justin Hall’s Links from the Underground or Jorn Barger’s Robot Wisdom) which were idiosyncratic collections of links or live, public journals.
Perhaps David’s blog is the future of the internet publications as the forms and practices of the traditional media have come to colonize more and more fully the world of instant self-publishing. The resulting form is a hybrid situated at the explicit intersection of authorial interests and public demand.
June 30, 2011 § 1 Comment
I can’t count how many fascinating things I encountered in Cyprus this summer, but five things stand out in my mind. I think I might develop these more fully over the next few weeks, but with our work here mostly done, my bags mostly packed, and my attention span pretty limited, I thought I might put together a quick list of thoughts.
So, here they are:
1. Modular research designs beget modular publication designs. We’ve had to rethink how we plan to publish the results of our work at the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project. From the very first year of the project, we set modest single season goals. As the project grew from a single season of work to almost 10 seasons of work, we expanded and adjusted these goals. We kept true to our basic research questions, increased our pool of evidence incrementally, and designed each season to make clear contributions to our questions. As a result, we will be able to publish a part of our project as a self-contained and substantial contribution (the survey), leave part of our project for publication in the future (the results of excavations at two specific areas: Koutsopetria and Vigla), and cut part of our publication goals entirely (the Bronze Age material at Kokkinokremos) without jeopardizing the integrity of our work. While we came to our project as a group of fairly junior scholars (I was still a graduate student!) and this justified our tentative approach, I can’t imagine designing a field project in any other way. The age of grandiose, multi-season field projects may be over.
2. Churches are not floor plans. I spent the last four weeks studying the architectural remains, plans, and excavation reports from the 6th-13th (?) c. basilica at the site of E.F2 at Polis. The church underwent an amazing series of modifications through its lifetime. The beautiful state plan prepared by the site architectures communicated only a tiny bit of the information that walk around the site can give. Looking at the relationship between walls, the extent of mortar, and the differences in various wall construction styles reminded me that buildings like this were dynamic living entities. The convention of depicting them as floor plans reduced the architecture to a static entity without history. Looking at the walls and floors careful returned the building to life.
I also was fortunate enough to travel around the area and look at various standing churches which proudly displayed their own histories. These buildings – like our basilica at E.F2 – not only showed signs of their life as sacred Christian structures, but also revealed that another aspect of sanctity through the attention of formal archaeological and architecture study and restoration.
3. Arches. When you do not have sources of marble on the island, arches often do just fine. I think that our church at E.F2 must have been framed with arches across its narthex and a dramatic south portico..
4. Video is easy. Scott Moore and I have discovered that we can produce pretty decent video using inexpensive equipment and publish it over the YouTubes. How did it take us so long to understand this? Why don’t more archaeological projects use the YouTubes to publicize our sites? Why are we talking about blogging (here and here) when video is so much more interesting?! Check out our antics here, here, and here.
5. The World Still Exists. The longer I’m in academia, the more I have to face up to the reality that the world back home – in Grand Forks, North Dakoty, at the University of North Dakota, in the realm of students, committees, and colleagues – still exists when I go to Cyprus to do research. M.A. theses are submitted, committees meet, obligations (almost responsibilities) proliferate, students enroll, and all the other stuff happens when I am pondering archaeology, architecture, and arches. Who knew? And how do people manage this?