Three Observations about Publishing and the Blog

For the final week of Middle Savagery‘s curated Blogging Archaeology event Colleen Morgan asks how or whether we might publish the conversations that we have had in our blog carnival and will have at the SAA and TAG meetings.  I understand that the word “publication” tends to evoke very strong feelings among academics and particularly those who blog.  Traditionalists stand by the dictum that the only publication that really matters is peer reviewed, iconoclasts have emerged who see blogging and online publications are the only way forward, others have embraced the ephemeral and spontaneous quality of blogging, and others still lament the absence of systematic efforts at curating our digital dialogue.

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In my post today, I’d like to offer some highly fragmentary observations on publishing things like the Blogging Archaeology event in a traditional way:

1. Transmedia Publication, transmedia dialogue. Most recent conversations about transmedia performances and texts focus on the interaction between various forms of web-based media (audio, video, linked pages, et c.).  There is a long-standing conversation about the relationship between paper media and web based media like blogs.

Archaeology as a discipline is well-positioned to contribute to the ongoing interest in transmedia dialogue. Archaeologists regularly take ideas and move them,  sometimes seamlessly and sometime abruptly, between objects, performances (excavating, mapping, illustrating), and texts as we endeavor to construct transmedia arguments that resonate as strongly at the edge of the trowel as on a library shelf.  Our experience as archaeologists has made us attuned the structuring influences of various media, enabled us to problematize these conditions of knowledge, and created the distinct discursive space where we both celebrate and violate very objects that we study.

In short, archaeologists are experts at articulating the kind of transmedia space that would allow us to translate the act of blogging, the object of a blog post, and the arguments in a blog from one media to the next. An approach that understand the blog to be a medium with certain rules, limitations, messages, et c. rather than, say, a genre of writing. Dan Cohen has recently posted on this very issue.

So while archaeologists are typically more comfortable translating the physicalness of pots or architecture into the more elusive realm of practice, social structure, economic organization, and political life, the strategy of moving from one type of object to the next and problematizing this move should not be outside of our experiences.  The question become, what is the significance of blogging as a medium and how are we to move the blog (or blogs) across media (from, say, the space of the web to the space of the printed page)  without undermining its fundamental “blogness”  and at the same time create space for engaging the content of the blog.

Transmedia artifacts are useful because they compels us to attempt to communicate “fundamental” characteristics of one media into another. Any transmedia movement will reveal certain features that cannot be transferred – hyperlinks, are the classic example – and by doing so they force us to problematize the similarities between various media forms.  In fact, most transmedia dialogues emphasize these kinds of tensions which bring to fore the ways in which various media are used and received.

2. Curation: Catalogue, Museum, and Archive. Archaeologists have certain idiosyncratic ways of dealing with objects.  We are archive and collection builders, we produce catalogues and create displays that press objects into new relationships with one another and transform, translate, and transfer meaning from one realm to the next.

So we should build a catalogue of blogs and blog posts related to this “carnival”. Each blog or post should have an entry (a blog might be a type and a post an example, but this kind of typology building, while controversial, could be fairly easily hashed out).  The catalogue would include the various formal characteristics of the blog including page lay out, language, style, length, et c.  And this text – a formal catalogue – would form the foundation for our analysis of the meaning of individual blogs posts in context.  Moreover, it would preserve an archive of a moment in the engagement of archaeology with the web and new media.

Just as catalogues do not serve to replace the actual objects that they organize, a catalogue of the blogs that will underpin a discussion of blogging in archaeology while at the same time releasing the concept of the blog from its immediate physical context of the computer monitor, laptop, web server, et c. Recontextualizing the blog as text in a codex form will enable us to both reify the “thingness” of the blog and deploy it for new, creative and intellectually meaningful undertaking.

3. Publishing Perceptions. As much as my approach to publishing – in paper – our current blog-based discussion is rooted in a light-hearted engagement with more foundational issues regarding archaeological publishing, I do think that preparing a thoughtful transmedia publication of our efforts to articulate the role of blogging (or any new media approach) in archaeology fits within larger conversations about academic publishing.  The limits of any media – even the seemingly “limitless” digital media – habits of practice, aspects of performance, and even the ability (interests, competence, et c.) of those using the media serve to condition perceptions of the media to an audience.

Blogging suffers from a public perception issue. Most academic do not taking the medium serious and do not engage with the content presented in the medium.  This has limited the kinds of discussions that scholars can have about the future of academic publishing because one part of the conversation (I’ve never heard a blogger claim that they do not have time for paper books) refuses to engage the other.  Bringing some aspect of the Blogging Archaeology conversation from the screen to the page offers an opportunity to bring the water to the horse (forcing the horse to drink it is a different matter).  While our contributions will hardly be singular in this regard – archaeology and the media is a hot topic right now – our posts do capture the diverse arrays of doing and talking about (if these things are separable) the use of a particular tool in archaeology.  They have a particular ground in both practice and a specific time and place that makes them significant both as a series of object suitable for a catalogue and a the foundation for arguments about the role of the new media in archaeology.

To be clear, I recognize these observations as fragmentary and ill-formed.  I understand the irony of taking born digital objects and translating them into printed form and have consciously avoided some of the real practical considerations about publishing a conversation like the one we’ve been having about blogging archaeology. Do we imagine the book as a peer-viewed collect? How do we accommodate the conversations at the SAAs and TAG?  How do we include contributing bloggers in the editorial process? Who’s in charge?  I do offer some observations on these issues in a post from last week, however, and will undoubtedly add more as the weeks go on.

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