This month’s blogarch theme is the good, the bad and the ugly of blogging. I have a spectacularly short attention span since I’m saturated with holiday sugar, so I’m going to break the topic down as simply as possible. In deference to the ever-uplifting Chronicle of Higher Education, I’ll start with the most pessimistic aspects of the medium.
The Ugly: So far I have yet to experience any terrible calamity as a result of blogging about archaeology (largely because so few people read my blog – hi Caroline!), but I can certainly foresee potential issues cropping up in that domain in the future. My preemptive wariness about this has made me careful about distributing content to faculty, because I worry that my outspoken opinions about certain topics may get me into hot water. For example, I spent a lot of time debating whether or not to send a faculty member a post I thought she’d be interested in, largely because my proposal defense was coming up, and I didn’t want to risk anything untoward happening as a result of my extracurricular endeavors. The necessarily defensive attitude I’ve adopted to disseminating nonacademic work is a little sad, given that we’re supposed to be fostering an engaged and creative academic community where the discussion and exchange of ideas leads to better scholarship. Or whatever the university’s mission statement reads. Ah – apologies – we’re supposed to “celebrate and promote diversity in all its forms”.
That being said, graduate students in all programs, no matter the discipline, are familiar with the unspoken directive not to disrupt the status quo. Being Lewis Binford was all very well and good in the early 1960s, when academic jobs proliferated like an experimental colony of Drosophila, but the restrictions of the contemporary job market (see Higher Education, Chronicle of) necessitate a greater degree of concern for one’s public profile. I recently met a well-established, prestigious archaeologist who mentioned off-handedly that he got his first tenure-track position at UCLA….at age 26. That golden age of professional opportunities has clearly gone the way of the dodo. Anymore there’s a fine line between publicity and notoriety, and as a graduate student you have to strive to avoid the latter. Additionally, if you write a post about a controversial topic, you need to be prepared to deal with the consequences, particularly as esteemed tenured professors are not known for their penchant to handle such forms of debate with aplomb.
The Bad: At a smaller, less professionally destructive scale, the problems with archaeology blogging are the same as the problems with any form of habitual writing. It’s easy to grow complacent about content, and even easier to stop blogging altogether during stressful or hectic periods of the academic year. For me, the trickiest part of blogging is keeping posts interesting and engaging without adopting an overly simplistic tone or straying into bland, conventional ‘academicese’. I like being able to rotate between different types of posts, from osteology siding tips, to anatomical identifications and discussions of efficient teaching techniques. However, if you spend a lot of time reading blogs, you’ll find that it can be easy for authors to recycle the same style of posts, which grows wearisome after awhile.
Another caveat I have for new bloggers is that this process is time-consuming. If you’re about to take your quals, have just started student-teaching, or are about to defend your dissertation, it’s probably not the right time to take up blogging. This is especially true because it takes awhile to cultivate any sort of following, and it’s hard to keep writing when you feel like you’re typing into a vacuum. One of the reasons I’ve realized how much I enjoy the blog is that I still manage to set aside time for it, despite the myriad demands graduate school makes (grading! research! publications! bagel consumption!) on my limited time and energy.
The Good: Writing. is. fun. There’s no other earthly reason I would still be doing this were it not for the fact I find it enjoyable. Blogging provides a complementary counterpoint to working on my own research, and switching between different media is often psychologically beneficial in terms of increasing work efficiency.
For an osteologist, blogging is also a great way to preserve siding tips and tricks in a field-accessible format. Many of my favorite tricks are things I’ve scribbled down into cumbersome lab notebooks or annotations I’ve made on the side of element sketches, and it’s getting to be a problem to transport them all to the field. By keeping an open archive online, it’s easy to refresh my memory when it comes to identifying femoral shaft fragments or siding the calcaneus. And, if I wind up in a field context without an internet connection, I’ll likely print out some of the illustrated guides in advance and take them with me.
Finally, blogging has also allowed me to (virtually) meet a number of bioarchaeologists working on different topics in different parts of the world, from british paleopathologists who share my fondness for Jurassic Park, to badass medievalists investigating the aftermath of the Black Death. One of the things I like about this blogging carnival is that it’s exposed me to so many new blogs and bloggers. I’m hoping that at the SAAs and AAPAs this year I’ll actually get to meet some of these people in the flesh.
Until then, I’ll keep blogging, even in the face of my committee menacingly inquiring after the whereabouts of any finished dissertation chapters.