I just stumbled across an article in the New York Times:

Anthropologists have been thrown into turmoil about the nature and future of their profession after a decision by the American Anthropological Association at its recent annual meeting to strip the word “science” from a statement of its long-range plan. The decision has reopened a long-simmering tension between researchers in science-based anthropological disciplines — including archaeologists, physical anthropologists and some cultural anthropologists — and members of the profession who study race, ethnicity and gender and see themselves as advocates for native peoples or human rights.

As an archaeologist who’s never really seen himself as an anthropologist but, truth be told, more as related to historians (I was originally trained in Belgium), I must admit that I wasn’t too much aware of this issue. So I went over to the Savage Minds group blog, my usual source for what goes on in anthropology. Two posts seemed most relevant: “Why anthropology is ‘true’ even if it is not ‘science’” and “Ethnography as a solution to #AAAfail.”

… we don’t have to go that far afield to recognize forms of knowledge that are rehabilitated when anthropology jettisons its label as ‘science’: history, epigraphy, historical linguistics, and the humanities in general. The opposite of ‘science’ is not ‘nihilitic postmodernism’ it’s ‘an enormously huge range of forms of scholarship, many of which are completely and totally committed to accuracy and impartiality in the knowledge claims they make, thank you very much’.

At times I feel like the real distinction here is between thoughtful people who are aware of the complexities of knowledge production, and those who are for psychological reasons strongly committed to identifying themselves as scientists and everyone else as blasphemers. This approach is, of course, not very scientific and verges on being the close-minded inversion of the fundamentalist Christianity that thinkers of this ilk so love to oppose.

What do most anthropologists think anthropology does? What do the terms they use to evaluate it mean to them? To the best of my knowledge, we simply have no answer to this question beyond our impressions that ‘cultural anthropologists are taking over’.

The Neuroanthropology blog has collected a lot of  the online discussions. Hmm… How would I normally characterize what I do to the general public? Luckily, archaeology is sufficiently popular that I can just use that term and leave it at that. Only occasionally does someone engage me on whether it’s a science or not. I guess I associate “science” with empiricism, in other words, can my explanation be tested, measured, replicated? Obviously, archaeology which destroys much of what it studies in the act of excavation is not fully empirical though we do use a lot of empirical methods to describe what we excavate. To me, it seems that the context for the question “Are you a scientist?” determines my answer. Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not an empiricist. I’m not even going to venture into the issues surrounding the formulation of theories which then are tested in a targeted excavation. Food for thought for sure.

By the way, this latest AAA meeting saw an uptick in the use of social media. Finally, Savage Minds posted some thoughts on what I guess one could call “anthroblogging”  :-)  (see my SBL post).

The recent Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) Annual Meeting in Atlanta had a new Blogger and Online Publication session (November 22, 2010). It was actually one of the best attended sessions! The academic biblical blogosphere and online world, even though they are more the domain of linguists and historians than archaeologists, provide interesting comparative material and ideas. Here are the titles, web links, and audio (on the Targuman blog):

This session has been and continues to be discussed, reviewed and expounded upon, often very thoroughly and insightfully, in a range of blogs:

Last but not least, a few more fun contributions:

It sure seems that “bibliobloggers” are a very active and numerous (see Jeremy Thompson above) group, full of ideas. Is it just me or are they more so than “archaeobloggers“? It could have something to do with the former’s field’s history of popularization and sermonizing which lends itself easily to blogging. They are maybe a little less locked up in their ivory towers? Of course, there are so many more of them compared with us (dwindling?) archaeologists… There were even organized blogger lunches and dinners at the meeting (pics on Targuman). By the way, the SBL meeting is nowadays no longer organized together with the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR; archaeological association with a focus on Israel/Palestine and region). They are still organized in the same city but subsequently rather than concurrently. One ironic fact: the hotel where the meeting took place didn’t have decent wi-fi thus prohibiting prompt blogging of the meeting (the wi-fi that was available although not necessarily usable was charged by the day and by device!).

Finally, there was also a related seminar organized by our good friend Chuck Jones (NYU), entitled E-Publish or Perish. I’m sorry but I didn’t track down all the relevant blog posts… I’ll just give you one:

Crime is up along the Dead Sea? Nope, a son of a University of Chicago Judaic Studies professor (Norman Golb) used dubious and possibly illegal means to advance his father’s theories about the Qumran/Dead Sea scrolls. He launched a smear campaign against his father’s academic “enemies” by impersonating them and using so-called “sock puppets” to poison the debate online. “The attorney, Raphael Golb, went on trial Tuesday on criminal charges of online impersonation and harassment for the sheer sake of coloring opinion. The case is a rarity: While impersonation claims have generated civil lawsuits, prosecutions are few unless phony identities are used to steal money, experts say.” Don’t let it be said we academics aren’t passionate about our work  ;-) Golb Jr.’s line of defense now seems to be that NYU’s Lawrence Schiffman, who took him to court, is a plagiarist of his father and therefore deserved to be “cyber-bullied.” Odd how Schiffman can both be an opponent and a plagiarist of the same colleague…? Golb Jr. also uses the freedom of speech and parody arguments…

Jim Davila (St Andrews University, Scotland) of the PaleoJudaica blog provides excellent coverage of the whole tawdry affair. You can start at his latest post and work your way back if you’re interested. A few snippets:

But new court documents point to evidence suggesting that Norman Golb, his wife, Ruth, and their other son, Joel, were aware of the alias-based campaign and may have assisted in carrying it out. (PaleoJudaica)

This defense is rather insulting to conscientious bloggers and commenters, and I doubt that there were “legions” of other sock-puppeteers debating with the author of these posts and e-mails, but it’s true that sock puppetry is sometimes used on the Internet. But the issue is surely not the sock puppetry per se, which is pathetic but I can’t see anything illegal about it. Rather it is, first, the impersonation of Professor Schiffman and, second, the defamation associated with the impersonation. (PaleoJudaica)

This is an odd situation, where the son denies the impersonations and the father defends the son for doing them. But this could be the result of media garbling or misunderstanding and I wouldn’t make too much of it. (PaleoJudaica)

“But there is something called the curse of the Dead Sea Scrolls because it would happen quite often that people just go overboard regarding the scrolls.” Over the decades, some scroll scholars have become alcoholics, gone from sound research to fringe theories and suffered other crisis, Prof. Schiffman said. (PaleoJudaica)

Robert Cargill (UCLA) has actually made an extensive study of Golb Jr. a.k.a Charles Gadda’s cyber-mayhem.

This Summer, Bill Caraher (University of North Dakota) is digitizing old field inventory cards from the Ohio State Excavations at Isthmia (Greece). He shares his thoughts on his The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World blog: “First off, this was incredibly boring work.  It involved taking pictures of roughly 5  7 inch inventory cards for about 6 hours straight.  I managed to photograph about 1500 of them.  It reminded me that most of academic life is, in fact, tedious and archaeology – despite its somewhat exotic image (and genuinely exotic locales) – mostly involves a level of unparalleled tedium.” (blog post) Yep, been there, done that, got the t-shirt…

“The cards were hand written (mostly) and included a photograph of the inventoried object, pasted, generally onto the card itself.  I was translating these images into a digital image, which would eventually form the basis for a textual image of the object in a relational database.  The transition from one media to the next always constitutes unique challenges in any discipline and it is particularly challenging to translate physical objects like cards – which are as much artifacts as documents of the artifacts collected – from one form to the next.  The most obvious loss is the physical appearance of emendations, additions, and corrections (inscribed in each instance in different hands, colors, pen types, and styles) and the attendant humanizing of the interpretative process over generations.”

But it’s not all dry relics of excavations past: “One great thing about photographing all the inventoried cards is you discover remarkable finds, many of which are unfortunately unpublished. Amidst ordinary inventory cards was the following:

It is a tragedy that the camera was ‘broken’ than day.”

The Center for History and New Media (CHNM)  at George Mason University organized One Week, One Tool. A Digital Humanities Barn Raising during the last week of July.

… a unique summer institute, one that aims to teach participants how to build an open source digital tool for humanities scholarship by actually building a tool, from inception to launch, in a week. … A short course of training in principles of open source software development will be followed by an intense five days of doing and a year of continued remote engagement, development, testing, dissemination, and evaluation. Comprising designers and developers as well as scholars, project managers, outreach specialists, and other non-technical participants, the group will conceive a tool, outline a roadmap, develop and disseminate an initial prototype, lay the ground work for building an open source community, and make first steps toward securing the project’s long-term sustainability. One Week | One Tool is inspired by both longstanding and cutting-edge models of rapid community development. For centuries rural communities throughout the United States have come together for ‘barn raisings’ when one of their number required the diverse set of skills and enormous effort required to build a barn—skills and effort no one member of the community alone could possess. In recent years, Internet entrepreneurs have likewise joined forces for crash ‘startup’ or ‘blitz weekends’ that bring diverse groups of developers, designers, marketers, and financiers together to launch a new technology company in the span of just two days. One Week | One Tool will build on these old and new traditions of community development and the natural collaborative strengths of the digital humanities community to produce something useful for humanities work and to help balance learning and doing in digital humanities training.

How did it turn out? Find out more at these blogs:

O yeah, the project result was Anthologize: “a free, open-source, plugin that transforms WordPress 3.0 into a platform for publishing electronic texts. Grab posts from your WordPress blog, import feeds from external sites, or create new content directly within Anthologize. Then outline, order, and edit your work, crafting it into a single volume for export in several formats, including—in this release—PDF, ePUB, TEI.”

Chuck Jones one more time drew my attention to an interesting website, this time by Tom Elliott, a colleague of his at NYU’s ISAW institute: Atlantides: Feed Aggregators for Ancient Studies. Elliott created 7 blog aggregators for our convenience:

  • Maia Atlantis: Ancient World Bloggers
  • Electra Atlantis: Digital Approaches to Antiquity
  • Concordia: News and Views
  • EpiDoc: News and Views
  • Pleiades: News and Views
  • Merope Atlantis: Ancient Inscriptions
  • Taygete Atlantis: Excavation Blogs

Middle Savagery blogger Colleen Morgan is proposing a special session on archaeological blogging at the next SAA Annual Meeting. There is indeed a measure of ambiguity still about archaeological blogging and other such internet phenomena. Comments, emails, etc. may express appreciation but at the same time it still is seen more or less as a stepchild—at least no longer as a bastard child, I hope! It is the future but remains un(der)appreciated by the powers that be in academia. Maybe I’m wrong? What are your thoughts? Please leave comments here or, better even, at her blog post.

In the Ancient World Bloggers Group blog (AWBL), an interesting discussion was brought to my attention on the impact (or lack thereof) of anthropological blogs on the discipline. The Savage Minds blog features prominently as it was quoted in the title of a recent American Anthropologist article by David H. Price. Savage Minds has a blog post on the AA article, with comments. AWBL contributor Michael E. Smith notes:

“I haven’t seen anything remotely similar in archaeology. AWBG occasionally gets some interesting discussion going, and I’ve seen a few interesting discussions on other blogs here and there. I often post things on Publishing Archaeology that are deliberately provocative, hoping to generate discussion. But almost all of the interesting responses I’ve gotten have come in the form of emails to me, NOT comments on the blog. People want to respond, but evidently don’t feel comfortable doing that in a public venue. I don’t have any grand conclusions, just a sense of disappointment that archaeology doesn’t yet seem to have a vibrant and exciting intellectual venue on the internet. But anthropology sure does – check out Savage Minds, its great.”

A quick note to draw attention to an article in the latest issue of The Art Newspaper: “Facebook is more than a fad—and museums need to learn from it.”

A few quotes: “Social networks and blogs are the fastest growing online activities, according to a report published in March by research firm Nielsen Online. Almost 10% of all time spent on the internet …” “… a major factor in the success of social networks is that they allow people to select and share content. This has become a hobby, even considered by some to be a serious creative outlet, with web users spending time ‘curating’ their online space. Museums are well placed to appeal to this new generation of ‘curators’because they offer rich and interesting content that can be virtually ‘cut-up’ and stuck back together online in numerous different ways to reflect the individual tastes of each user. If remixing, reinterpreting and sharing interesting content is, as Nielsen suggests, the kind of engaging interaction that draws people to social networks, then museums should embrace the idea that ‘everyone is a curator’, both online and offline.” “For example, the Art Museum of Estonia has gone against convention by actively encouraging visitors to photograph its collection; the MoMA website helps users to co-create content and share these creations with friends.”

I’ve been distracted by the work lately, and I almost missed a very interesting read that comes from Nisha Doshi, Publications Assistant for the Public Library of Science.

In her March 17 post to the PLoS blog, Doshi provides an informative summary of the archaeology-related publications that have come out recently in PLoS ONE, a peer-reviewed scientific journal for the speedy publication of research in science and medicine. The nine publications and one interview she highlights in her post are primarily in the field of archaeogenetics and will be of interest to many DDIG members. Peter Suber, over at Open Access News picked up the story here (and scooped me :) BTW).

Doshi sees these recent publications as indicating that “the open-access model has an important role to play in archaeology.” While this suite of high-caliber publications is encouraging, we still have a long way to go in promoting open access. PLoS ONE is not necessarily a suitable publication venue for many of the less science-heavy archaeological and anthropological studies. Access to archaeological research would be greatly improved with more open access venues dedicated to the field (such as Fornvännen <>, the Swedish journal of archaeology and the Journal of Intercultural and Interdisciplinary Archaeology<>), as well as a dedicated repository for self-archived copies of non-open-access publications in archaeology.

A subject repository would be wonderful. Does anyone know of ongoing efforts for this in archaeology?

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