A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
When I decided that our archaeological project in Cyprus needed a blog, I had never read a weblog on a regular basis. Like most Americans, I was familiar with the idea of a weblog and even understood generally how they function. I had heard the famous success stories about how intrepid bloggers had taken on the likes of Trent Lott and 60 Minutes and created some of the "buzz" that propelled candidates like Howard Dean to the national spotlight. While I was pretty sure that my blog would not challenge the powerful or change the landscape of American politics, the stories about the success of blogs suggested that the medium had potential for reaching a large audience of people who might be interested in a small, but energetic archaeological project on the south coast of Cyprus.
As an academic who studies the past for a living, I find it difficult to begin any project without a theoretic, historical, and practical foundation. This meant that I had to understand what a weblog was in the abstract, how they came to be, and how they functioned. As I researched this, the real potential of the medium became apparent. Weblogs could bridge the gap between working archeologists and the interested public. In this way, weblogs are part of a larger movement by archaeologists toward engaging the New Media and recognizing its potential for changing how archaeologists talk to one another, scholars in allied fields (like classics, history, art history, and anthropology), and, perhaps most importantly, the general public. The opportunity to engage the general public might be all the more important as sudden re-emergence of untrained archaeological enthusiasts, bent on discovering everything from Atlantis to Noah's Ark, has absorbed public money and attention at the expense of rigorous, systematic archaeological research (see Eric Cline's recent discussion in the Boston Globe and reprinted here). Engaging our colleagues and the public in new ways will not spell the end of venerable print venues like American Journal or Archaeology, Hesperia, or the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, but the parallel emergence of a more dynamic and flexible electronic media could improve access to serious and rigorous archaeological information and discussions. The risk involved in engaging such New Media opportunities like the weblogs is minimal. They are easy to update and maintain, capable of accommodating a wide range of media from photographs, to line drawings, to video and audio clips, and, most importantly, inexpensive (and often free)!
When I began my blog, I had little idea of the history, potential, or diversity of the weblog as a medium. I am not sure that I have necessarily found the proper voice for my blog yet. It tends to vacillate between news on my own research and archaeology projects and more general observations on matters that catch my fancy. I've tried to speak at least some of the time to an audience in North Dakota where I now live and teach, and I also try to speak to my academic peers. The result, in hindsight, is a sometime bizarre blend of academic and popular. This uneven character of blogs is what distinguishes them from more formal academic writing, but is also what makes them such a compelling medium. Most academics, after all, drift between the mundane world of daily life and the obscure concerns of their research and writing. The idiosyncratic and uneven cadence of academic blogging perhaps brings out these juxtaposed facets of their lives better than anywhere else. In this regard, those of us involved in blogging archaeology and the archaeology of blogging, bring just a bit more of our life's work to light.
William R. Caraher is the Rhys Carpenter Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and an assistant professor of history at the University of North Dakota.