2019 is an important year for bloggers. It marks the 20th anniversary of the Blogger platform which appeared in August of 1999. Four years later, Typepad and WordPress appeared and the Blogosphere emerged as a significant space for politics, creativity, and academic expression.
In 2008, I wrote a little piece on the “Blogging Archaeology and the Archaeology of Blogging” for the now-defunct AIA blog. I followed this up in 2015 with a piece co-authored with Andrew Reinhard in Internet Archaeology: “From Blogs to Books: Blogging as Community, Practice and Platform.” In both of these pieces, I imagined a world where blogging would complement or at least slowly encroach on traditional scholarly practices (a view shared by several other bloggers). Blogs would not only reveal how the sausage of academic knowledge was made by being an outlet for preliminary drafts, rough and raw ideas, and fragments that have value, but don’t fit the argument of the moment. I also thought blogging would provide a place for academic conversations, critique, and comment that would lead to formation of new communities unconstrained distance or academic affiliation or rank. Finally, I thought that the gap between informed readers in the general public and academic readers was relatively small. This view of blogging has largely informed what I write on my blog.
I also think that it’s probably wrong. I didn’t really anticipate the growing impact of social media. I probably underestimated how deeply entrenched traditional writing, publishing, and knowledge making practices were. Blogs continued to be fairly marginal spaces for serious scholarship in archaeology with a few notable exceptions (like Andrew Reinhard’s Archaeogaming blog , Colleen Morgan’s blog, Jeremy Hugget at Introspective Digital Archaeology, or Shawn Graham at Electric Archaeologist). More than that, I think I misread the interest by the general public in how academic knowledge was made.
What I missed in my narrow interpretation of academic blogging is that this practice also provided space for sustained and meaningful critiques of institutional practices in archaeology and related fields. To be clear, I don’t see academic work and institutional or disciplinary critiques as mutually exclusive, but when I consider the impact of academic bloggers over the last few years, I see their incisive and thoughtful criticism of academic practices far more valuable than the smattering of academic or popular citations that my blog has seen (as just one example).
The online work of Sarah Bond, for example, while taking nothing away at her steadfast effort to engage a diverse audience, has offered brilliant and distinctive commentary on the political and institutional character of ancient history (and her work with the SCS blog likewise highlights recent debates in the discipline of Classics). Rebecca Futo-Kennedy’s blog is another remarkable space for disciplinary critique in matters of race, gender, and civilization. Dimitri Nakassis’s blog has also provided insights and offered arguments along similar lines and Andre Costopoulos’s blog has consistently critiqued academic publishing and recently the character of field work projects. Larger projects like Eidolon or Sententiae Antiquae provide remarkable platforms for conversations about the future, past, and present of the discipline. Eidolon’s commitment to a wide range of often-marginalized voices represents an important expression of the egalitarian spirit present among some of the earliest academic bloggers who wrote as the “Invisible Adjunct” or BitchPhD.
What is more, it is pretty clear that there is an audience for this kind of commentary and critique. Even my modest efforts along those lines saw a 50% increase in page views, but also comments both on the blog and across social media. My more academic posts don’t get nearly as much attention. In other words, there’s an audience for this kind of work among academics.
In particular, this new Golden Age of Blogging (in caps!) is backed by a robust and consistent social media presence and a willingness to engage with readers in near realtime (rather than occasionally as commenters). It shows that while blogging may not have toppled traditional publishing practices or provided an outlet for a wider audience to engage with scholarly practices, methods, and knowledge making at a provisional stage, it nevertheless has played a key roll in challenging academic orthodoxies through direct critique of institutional and academic practices. I’m pretty happy to have a venue to contribute my little part to making academia better (or at least trying), and while I probably still want to believe that there is an audience for the academic process, I’m also not disappointed that a new Golden Age is doing something quite different with the venerable old blog.