Archaeological Communities Online (Part 2)

In the 1st part of this post, I discussed the affiliation of archaeological communities by looking at their top domain names. I also gave some examples of different kinds of communities and related societies/associations. Today, I will share some thoughts about how these communities overlap, how they may be contained within larger organizations, etc. This cornucopia of communities manifests itself online in similar ways. After all, they all want to share information about ongoing research, have a leadership roster, have meetings, maybe publish a journal and/or monographs, etc. How do they differ? Their research may yield very disparate types of data, e.g., chemical analyses of ceramics, iconographic descriptions of painted bowls, palynological analyses of pot residue samples, carbon-14 dates, encompassing syntheses of cultures/civilizations, archives/libraries within their stratigraphic context, etc. The output to be shared runs the gamut from raw numbers to polished, well-thought-through syntheses of sites or regions. Some communities are very specialized hence small in membership while others are huge and all encompassing. Some are interlinked or interact frequently, others don’t. Does their online presence allow the members to collaborate, exchange ideas and so on?

Overlaps

In reality most archaeologists have divided loyalties. To take myself as an example, my communities are Ancient Near Eastern, Mesopotamian, architecture, computer, spatial analysis, etc. Indeed, during our first workshop (Berkeley, January 23-24, 2009), it became apparent that many participants were hesitant to act as the spokesperson for a particular community because they felt that everyone had their own idiosyncratic combination of interests, target audience, resources and requirements. Let’s have a look at some concrete examples.

The British Archaeological Jobs & Resources (BAJR) site combines quite a few different kinds of resources, all serving the UK professional archaeological/heritage community. Central is the job database. The Institute for Archaeologists (IfA, a.k.a. Institute of Field Archaeology/ists) also provides weekly UK job listings, the Jobs Information Service (JIS), but is a paid-for service for non-members of IfA. So isn’t this a wasteful reduplication of effort? On the IfA site, a note states: “An alternative job service, providing on-line details of jobs placed by paying advertisers, is provided by the B[AJR] … IFA’s Jobs Information Service and BAJR are not competitors, but offer different and complementary services for those seeking archaeological staff or employment.” The BAJR repeats this statement and adds: “The IFA Code of conduct is recognised as the highest standard that should be adhered to and as such, BAJR has adopted the IFA Code of conduct as one condition for both inclusion on the database of contractors and to advertise on the website.” The BJAR site includes archaeological jobs advertised in the Jobs.ac.uk and The Guardian‘s job websites as RSS feeds. It even includes some foreign jobs, e.g., in France. It is more comprehensive than the IfA one. The latter started out as a jobs bulletin in paper format but is now provided as an email. Some jobs are also advertised on the general UK archaeology BRITARCH mailing list. If I understand correctly, BAJR consists of paid job ads while JIS collects jobs advertised/announced in many sources. They overlap but not totally. BAJR esp. offers lots of job-search-related information while the IfA also has commissioned studies on the archaeological job market.

At San Diego State University, a website is maintained that caters to the Andean archaeology community: Quipu. It offers: news; “opportunities” (field schools, career development, funding and grants, publishers); language tools for English, Spanish, Quechua, Aymara and Portuguese; reprints and reports (with hyperlinks or author’s contact email address); etc. Mike Ruggeri’s Ancient Andean World surveys some of the main archaeological sites and provides hyperlinks to articles. Mr. Ruggeri also runs the Ancient Andean World Breaking News with summaries of and hyperlinks to news articles. There are also country-specific websites, e.g., Arqueología del Perú(Spanish only). This enciclopedia en linea de la arqueología prehispánica del Perú has articles surveying the important sites, the cultural periods, mythology, etc. as well as a bibliography (last entry dates back to 1997 though). More news can be obtained by subscribing to the Aztlan mailing list, run by the Foundation for the Advancement of American Studies. The latter provides a lot more frequent information than Mike Ruggeri’s website but this is mixed in with discussions and research notes. It has a search function. A lot of archaeological communities still rely on a discussion mailing list though some have been forced to filter and moderate the contributions as well as the subscribers due to abuse and wasteful intrusions of “flamers” and other intolerant “amateurs.” The ANE list, for example, covering the Ancient Near East, was closed down in February 2006 after 13 years because the noise/signal ratio was getting too skewed (archive still accessible at the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago). It came back as a private initiative of a few scholars in a moderated format as ANE2 (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ANE-2), no longer associated with any institution. Mailing lists are frequently dominated by members of a subdiscipline, in the case of ANE/ANE2 biblical archaeology and history rather than Mesopotamian scholars.

Co-operation

At times, online initiatives complement each other in interesting ways. For instance, the iraqcrisis mailing list run by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago documents the impact of the Iraq War on that country’s archaeological heritage. It is moderated by Chuck Jones (formerly with the Oriental Institute, now at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. The Iraq War & Archaeology (IW&A) website/blog, which was run by yours truly through August 2008, had a similar mission. Iraqcrisis gave access to raw news and information while IW&A summarized and annotated published information. When the pace of news about Iraqi heritage grounded almost to a halt, I decided to stop updating my IW&A one-man project. This was made easier exactly because iraqcrisis continues to deliver any tidbits of information through its open but still selective subscriber list. IW&A’s readership though extended more beyond traditional academia and served also as one-stop resource and reference for journalists, decision-makers and the general public.

Even this limited survey of archaeological communities online reveals a wide range of approaches regarding target readership, focus on raw data, artifacts, periods, etc. One could easily while away the hours perusing and reading their output-wait, sometimes I do… My efforts would be so much better rewarded if these resources, which are currently very much “information islands,” were able to communicate better with each other. That way, all the work of gathering and selecting information from my different ares of interest would be reduced and free me up for more creative, productive research (ideally, work that I could then share back on one of these venues). The trend toward online community building shows no sign of letting up. So, how do we leverage all this community-building that’s going on to help make all these resources much more exposed and useful?

One thought on “Archaeological Communities Online (Part 2)

  1. Francis,
    Interesting article. I posted a link to your article on my site, heritagehands.org. I had started this site to help create a framework solution to the problems you mention but on a greater scale. I recognize an undeniable common element shared amongst archaeologists, museums, historians, archivists and historic preservationists when it comes to conservation (my main mission here) and especially academic research. Although I am taking on a great chunk, I am convinced that networking and interlinking these communities under the broader sector of ‘historic preservation’ or ‘cultural heritage preservation’ will result in a much more enriching enviroment with creative and productive research opportunties. Of course, a model solution for the archaeological communitiy would help in this greater process. I’d love to hear more on this topic.

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