Archaeolog.org: 2005 to 2011 to . . .
Timothy Webmoor and Christopher Witmore
Last month archaeolog.org turned six years old. And in the blogging world this ripe old age is quite an accomplishment – a veritable geezer. But this birthday passed unacknowledged and in the midst of one of the longest dry spells in archaeolog.org’s history. Since 2005 we have been silent for longer than a month on only three occasions. And there is a reason for this.
Archaeolog.org was fashioned in the creative crucible of the Metamedia Lab at Stanford University; a hub where energies run high and ideas are always effervescent. In October of 2005 Michael Shanks was already a familiar presence in the blogging world with archaeolog.com (thus, we retain the .org domain here). Still, there was a need for an outlet that was community driven; one that captured the spirit and ethos of the lab; an outlet where thoughtful, candid, and substantive exchange merged with inclusivity and a spirit of openness. All archaeologists deserved a channel to say whatever needed to be said. And to state it in whatever way they felt best. No matter what the piece, this was clearly not another blog with off-the-cuff reflections on burnt toast in the morning or the latest episode of X (although it could have been). From the beginning it attempted to provide voice to archaeology’s rich diversity and fill a gap between journals and assemblies for immediate debate with the speed that is indicative of this fast medium.
There was also a need for a forum that recognized that the best way to establish a foothold and set an agenda was to make it visible; to say what needed to be said in public. And to allow for on-going peer-review and appraisal; a key feature of the political ecology of digital media. Archaeolog.org was an answer – one of many co-produced by the Metamedia Lab.
Christopher Witmore, Timothy Webmoor, and Alfredo González-Ruibal, three of archaeolog.org’s original founders and editors, set to priming the blog with a series of statements on archaeology and modernity, archaeology and STS, the practicalities of fieldwork, and Heideggerian angles on things. These statements were bold and refreshingly honest (or at least we think this of each other’s work). And almost immediately the net was cast much wider.
The ever-prolific Patrick Hunt shared his research on the effects of altitude and climate on the archaeology in the Grand-St-Bernard Pass, on the iconography of Greek vases and on Roman spolia at the Medieval Church of Bourg-St-Pierre. It wasn’t long before Matt Edgeworth, fresh on the heels of a session at TAG Sheffield, joined archaeolog.org becoming a regular and energetic contributor and later an editor. For the next few months, entry after entry consisted of daring statements and thoughtful responses. There was a wonderful fervent of activity.
In the summer of 2006 the original archaeologers dispersed. Witmore went to Brown. González-Ruibal returned to Spain. Webmoor continued his dissertation at Stanford then left for Oxford. As a result, the archaeolog net was cast even wider through new institutional connections and communities.
Between 2006 and 2009 the graduate students and faculty of Brown University’s Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World – John Cherry, Elissa Faro, Keffie Fedlman Weiss, Ömür Harmanşah, Alex Knodell, Elizabeth Murphy, Bradley Sekedat, Thomas Urban, among others – became contributors. Krysta Ryzewski, a driven historical archaeologist became another archaeologer and editor for the blog. At the same time an international cadre of contributors began to blossom, thus adding to its diversity with new work and often on awkward topics. Andrew Cochrane shared his work on teaching archaeology and exhibitions. Cornelius Holtorf discussed a range of issues related to heritage and theory. Fotis Ifantidis shared personal ornaments from his work with Neolithic sites in Greece. Alessandra Lopez y Royo presented her research on the crossovers between archaeology and dance. Slobodan Mitrovic discussed the excavation of mass graves in Serbia. Many entries have been cross-postings with other blogs – pointing the way to work which deserved far more recognition. Numerous entries have been expanded into articles, chapters and even books. Just a sampling of these successful spin-outs for analog (we might say accredited) publication include: Edgeworth’s book, Fluid Pasts: Archaeology of Flow; numerous pieces by Webmoor and Witmore including their argument for understanding things are us in Norwegian Archaeological Review, and work by González-Ruibal. 70 contributors from dozens of different countries – India and Iceland, Spain and Serbia, Germany and Greece, Turkey and Tunisia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, the UK and USA. And over the years graduate students have been the major source of energy behind archaeolog.org.
The blog peaked at various points with as many as 50 thousand hits a month – and not just spam bots. Archaeolog.org was embedded in the public sphere. “Impact”, “public outreach”, and other fuzzy concepts we’ve had to accept as part of the academy’s audit culture have come to denote, if not stress, social media and popular/trade publication. Now even citation indices, like Google Scholar, partially track these links between public and academic literature.
Archaeolog.org was palpably part of the shift to web-based scholarship. And all in all it has been extremely successful. None of this, however, could have happened without the willingness of contributors to embrace archaeolog.org as a space to take risks. There seemed some genuine desire to have an outlet for realizing the collegial ideals of openness, serious debate, public and peer scrutiny, and, most importantly, to share ideas and work that were not already polished – or should we say armored – for more mainstream academic reception. It signaled a willingness to take stands but also engage thoughtful commentary and feedback, from anyone and everyone, and, at times, reign in one’s hubris.
So now that archaeolog.org has reached six years old and 167 original posts it is an opportune moment to offer this retrospective and urge a renewal. We note that the dynamics of blogging have shifted dramatically since 2005. Now there are a host of self-publishing platforms that require very little to get started. And server hosting and management itself is no longer as difficult as it once was. Spam no longer requires daily vigilance on the part of bloggers and, fortunately, design and usability have benefited from an expanding blogosphere. Gone are the days of 'midnight runs' to the Metamedia Lab to restart the 'server' (an old converted desktop Mac). Blogging has also become more mainstream, more predictable and, yes, even more boring. Some, but certainly not all, of the daringness that accompanies a new medium has waned. The fruits of acclimatization and accommodation. Content is tailored to our repertoire of readerly ingress and smoothed in light of professional standards. For instance, at some departments and universities it is expected that we’ll each have an accessible web-based ‘profile’ page. Though some may stubbornly resist, at the least most of us as academics feel the pressure to have a 'presence' on the Internet.
Archaeolog.org has also, in a way, followed the trajectory of its founders. Professional maturation, from PhD students to Postdocs to Professors, has meant a professionalization to the content of archaeolog.org. A preponderance of ruminations, reflections, and provocations have yielded, perhaps inexorably, to stand-alone pieces, the ready-for-print and announcements of ‘analog activities’. We have new sets of responsibilities and accountabilities and, as a result, maybe we have fallen back onto traditional press. We have, perhaps, to use a phrase borrowed from Mel Pollner in prodding STS, “moved out to the suburbs”(!?).
Now, with a multitude of personal blogs that tend to resign themselves to self-promotion or the tallying of uninteresting details, the idea of a collective blog seems strangely antiquated, even if it is in the minority. Yet, we continue to affirm that a collective blog enacts a unique mix of media and colleagues that supports the collegial ideals. Blogging does not have to be ranting, self-promotion, narcissistic or most of all boring.
Archaeolog.org has built a community of shared interest. It has delivered on its mission to be forum where all practitioners can assemble and share ideas, enter discussion and debate and, importantly, invest in thoughtful experimentation. The rough edges of many of our own ideas have been smoothed here. This space has been a help to many young people in the profession, including us, and it will continue to be.
Our aim here is to look back in order to push ahead. Thus, we reaffirm the spirit of inclusivity. We invite archaeologists everywhere to send us new submissions, to share their work, to reflect on what matters to them, and to do so with the honesty and passion that has been a driving force behind archaeolog.org over the last 6 years.
If you would like to contribute have a look here (http://traumwerk.stanford.edu/archaeolog/want_to_contribute/).