Why I [Write a] Blog [SAA 2014 Blog Carnival Post #1]

Doug of Doug’s Archaeology invited me to participate in the blog carnival that is, apparently, occurring in the run-up to the 2014 Society for American Archaeology conference. This is the first post offered in response to the questions Doug is/will be positing to a number of archaeologist bloggers.

Why did you start the blog?

I started the blog as both a means for making content about my work available to the public (see below), and to get me through the dissertation process. I recently completed my doctorate at The College of William & Mary, and part of the way I wrote a 350 page dissertation in about half of an academic year was by writing blog posts along the way. For me, writing has been somewhat like a muscle that needs to be exercised to remain strong and loose, so pulling together blog posts helped keep the dissertation pages flowing.

As I’m writing this, it strikes me that I’ve written many fewer posts since I finished the dissertation… Huh…

Why are you still blogging?

I’m going with this option as I still put up the odd post, so I guess the Trowel N’ Transit is still a thing that happens. I have strongly ambivalent feelings about blogging. I’m going to start with the positives, as they are the stronger feelings, and the more tangible and service-oriented.

Basically, as an employee of the Arkansas Archeological Survey, I’m tasked with doing public outreach work in my designated station territory, bringing archaeology to the people of this state. Properly stated, I am the station assistant for the Survey’s research station at Southern Arkansas University. This means that I assist Dr. Jamie Brandon with doing public archaeology for 13 counties in southwest Arkansas (basically everything below the Ouachita River).

I flat. out. love. my, job.

I get to work with great people (both in the Survey and from communities around the state) and do a lot of different kinds of research in service to Arkansans.

Most of the people from the community that we interact with are not going to read something if I publish it in Historical Archaeology or any other of the big peer-reviewed journals. Those journals are for fellow archaeologists. More of our constituents will see a publication in The Arkansas Archeologist or Field Notes: Bulletin of the Arkansas Archeological Society, both publications of the Arkansas Archeological Society, the state’s group that unites all with an interest in archaeology, with which the Survey collaborates in many ways.

The blog is something that anyone with an internet connection can access, and since I can push links to posts out on Facebook and Twitter, it helps spread things quickly and *fairly* democratically (though the rural/urban digital divide in the U.S. maintains some significant barriers, I’ll grant). Knowing that the content can reach people more formal publications cannot helps keep me blogging.

There is also an aspect of state patriotism at play. We in Arkansas have been maligned and cast aside as backwater rubes since the early 19th century. Seriously, for that long (read Arkansas/Arkansaw for a nice breakdown)… Blogging about the work we do here helps get Survey research in front of the eyes of peers around the world, and we archaeologists here in Arkansas have much to say to many academic constituencies on a huge number of subjects. That fact is something that Arkansans should be quite proud of. Also, Arkansas’s place in American history is much more central than most folks from elsewhere realize. Far from being a backwater, we are a crossroads where almost every major process in American history comes together. The blog content is part of a larger effort by the Survey and most of the state’s academic community to fight that hick imagery, which is largely held in place by the outside world’s grating provincialism.

OK, now for the other side of the coin. There are things that don’t encourage me to blog. The biggest of these is that I’m not someone who enjoys attention. I named the blog “Trowel N’ Transit” in part to avoid using my name as the blog’s title, because to do so seemed too attention-hungry. That probably runs counter to the need I have as a young(ish) professional trying to build some name recognition to help grow my career, but I couldn’t comfortably do otherwise. I accept that my career requires various forms of public presentation of me, and I accept that and engage in it without major reservation, but it can be acutely exhausting for me, so I approach it with some trepidation.

The other thing I fight against is that I spent years as an archaeologist for the U.S. Army, where blogging was not encouraged/discouraged, and any public dissemination of knowledge about research, no matter the content, was to be shopped through a public affairs officer (PAO). We don’t have PAOs with the Survey, and while I get that I’m in a different job that encourages this kind of outreach, blogging still feels… just wrong at times.

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